Using the Expresssive Arts to Explore What You Are Feeling

Using the expressive arts, drawing and journaling, in particular, is a way to access the more imaginal, non-logical parts of ourselves. We can receive insights and new understanding when we let ourselves listen to the messages that come from symbolism, creativity and body awareness. How often do we truly take the time to pay attention to what our feelings and physical sensations are telling us? At times, it can seem much easier to ignore or judge what we feel.

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Self Care

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© Kryzhov | Dreamstime.com

For many of us, the election last week was hard, to put it mildly. I went through periods of grief, heartbreak, rage, disbelief and fear, among others. These emotions are still percolating in me in varying degrees. What I am most aware of as I sit down to type is an underlying feeling of uncertainty.

What do we do when things happen in the world that feel scary, unbelievable or challenging in some way? We can feel devastated or defeated. We may feel powerless, angry or scared.

For me, today, it is hard to know what to do. I cannot say what will happen in the coming months or how our country may change as a result of this election. I think it has already begun to change - or perhaps I am seeing things more clearly than I had before. Still, I do not know what the future will be.

What I do know is that I want to be part of the group of people who are committed to coming together and standing with those who are most vulnerable among us. I know I want to include my heart in any actions I may take. I know I want to be available to those who are hurting.

Given all that, what do I do? The title of this blog gives it away. I can practice taking care of myself. I can listen to what I need so that I may be more in myself and present regardless of what happens. Some days I simply need comfort wherever I can find it. This can be the healing salve that allows me to go on in the face of uncertainty and fear.

Below I share some of the things that bring me comfort and joy. Even when things are hard, we need to remember there is love and goodness, too. And, sometimes, the most comforting thing can be to allow ourselves to feel our pain with another who knows how to feel their pain.

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© Verastuchelova | Dreamstime.com

Finding Comfort

Here are some of my comforts. I invite you to consider what comforts you, as well.

I will start with the trees, the moon and the stars. The other night I was driving home and saw the Orion constellation rising on the horizon. He was flat on his back, parallel to the ground. I wanted to say, hello dear friend. Nice to see you again. Winter must be on its way.

I find comfort in connecting to the parts of the world and the universe that seem beyond time. Giant, old trees. Big rocks in the middle of a river, shaped by time and water. The brilliant full moon, which continues to wax and wane, again and again. All these things give me pause and remind me of the grandness of life. Then, in some paradoxical way, I feel less small.

Music is next. Music can speak to me and express something in me I did not even know was there. Some songs cut through all my exterior boundaries and land squarely in my heart. I am grateful for that. I can cry and sing and move and, somehow, feel renewed.

I had the experience last week of singing with a group of women, singing so loud I was almost shouting, tears streaming down my face, and I felt alive. I felt powerful in my pain and glad to be surrounded by others who shared my grief and rage and understood.

Lastly I will include two seemingly opposites. I find comfort in community and in solitude. I need both. I need to hold and be held. I need to connect with others and know I am not alone. I also need times to sit in silence by myself, to reflect and take stock, and to feel into my inner quiet places.

I offer all of this as possibilities of nourishment as we journey into whatever is next. May we find our way together. May we go in peace.

Why I Love to Dance

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© Facesgroup | Dreamstime.com

Last Saturday I taught a Mindfulness and Movement workshop. I guided the participants in meditation, stretching and qigong. I invited each person to feel into their own movement impulses as I played songs with various rhythms and tones. We moved and danced, together and separate, around the space. Connecting with my body, my creative expression and others in this way is one of my favorite things.

My body loves to move. The more I move, the better I feel. I used to run cross country and track in high school and college. I loved it. My body felt strong. The rhythmic quality of running was always something that calmed me and reset my mood. Over the years, running started to feel too hard on my body. I looked for alternative activities and could not settle on anything that gave me the same feeling, physically or mentally.

Then, five years ago, I was introduced to moving in my body in a whole new way. I attended my first SomaSoul training with Dan Leven at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. When Dan put on music and invited us to walk around the room, feeling into our hips, legs and feet and feeling the music, I felt awkward, nervous and shy. It was somewhat like learning to ride a bike - my body did not quite know what to do. Still, I remember going to bed that night feeling like there was something to this that I liked and wanted to explore. 

Being in My Body

That "something that I liked" was a connection to my body. This was new territory for me at first. It was also full of richness, depth and meaning. As I began to experience my body's reaction to music, I could feel a new world opening up. This was a world of emotions, sensations, movement and creative expression.

Moving in a creative way in response to music, i.e. dancing, fulfills my body's need to move. I use muscles I do not usually use. I feel energized and alive. I sweat, I laugh and I feel. I feel my arms and legs. I feel my heart and guts. Emotions bubble up in response to some lyric or tone. I am moved and I am moving.

The beauty of moving in this way is that I am listening to my body and letting it tell me what it needs and wants. When I was a runner, I was generally telling my body what to do. Go up this hill, finish strong, stride out here. Now my body and I have a different kind of relationship.

One of the differences is that I spend more time in the core of my body and less time in my head. This is especially true when I am dancing. My body responds to the music and I follow. I am not thinking, move here and move there. The movement comes from some place else. It feels like what creative people say when they talk about getting out of their own way and letting something flow through them. 

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  © Sebast1an | Dreamstime.com

© Sebast1an | Dreamstime.com

Dancing in a group of people also gives us a unique opportunity to connect with people without words. We can dance around others and with others, mirroring their movements or having our own expression. This can be especially powerful for people like me who can feel awkward in social situations and conversations. Here it is our bodies doing the talking, so to speak. We can play and experiment with being together and being apart.

So much can be said without words. Last weekend I also had the chance to attend Night Fall in Hartford. Night Fall is an annual outdoor performance that features dancing and puppets. It was beautiful and moving. I was struck by how touched I was by this story that was expressed almost exclusively through dance, visual effects and music. It went right to my core and my heart.

In a world and culture where we can spend so much time thinking, planning and sitting, we can all benefit from experiences of moving and being moved. Certainly, I need movement and creative expression in my life. They nourish me on many levels. If you would like to join me sometime, check out my Classes and Workshops page to see when I am teaching next.  

NO

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  © Happystock | Dreamstime.com

© Happystock | Dreamstime.com

There is a song I started hearing on the radio this summer. Do you know it? It's Meghan Trainor's NO. You have probably heard it. I am not one to follow pop music, but I like to turn on the radio sometimes when I am driving. I heard this song and liked it immediately. The reason I like it is because she says "No" in so many different ways throughout the song. 

No is an empowering word. Try it on. And really mean it. Feels good, right?

How many of us were taught to be polite and say yes when we didn't mean it? How many of us have a hard time saying no? If you do have a hard time saying no, it may not feel good to try it on as I invited you to above.

That used to be me. My no was so buried I didn't know where it was. It didn't feel okay to say no. I didn't know how to have a simple expression of "I don't want to" or "I don't like that." It is still something I work on and probably will be for years to come.

Meghan Trainor - NO

Meghan Trainor - NO

Since finding my no, I am learning to embrace it. I practice saying no when I need to and I like to go around saying it for the fun of it. That's why I like Meghan Trainor's song. I want to sing along (and I do) saying, "My name is no, my sign is no, my number is no...Nah to the ah to the no, no, no." It feels incredibly satisfying.

When Our Yes is Really a No

What happens when we say yes, but we don't really mean it? In my experience, it doesn't work out too well. Let's say, for example, my friend or family member calls. I am busy or tired and don't feel like talking, but I ignore that part of me and I answer the phone anyway. Maybe we have a simple, short conversation and it doesn't feel like that big of a deal. Or maybe the caller keeps talking and I start to feel resentful because all I really wanted to do was rest for a few minutes. In that case, I'm not really paying attention them and I'm not really paying attention to me, either. Very likely neither of us ends up getting what we want.  

I have done things like this more times than I can count. In the end, it does not feel very good or satisfying. When we have a hard time saying no, it can feel like we are giving away pieces of ourselves. It can feel like we are spread thin and like there is no barrier between us and the world.  

In this example, here are a few simple alternatives:

  1. Don't answer the phone when you don't want to talk. Sounds so easy. And yet how many of us feel obligated to answer our phones all the time?
  2. Answer the phone. Tell the caller that you would like to talk to them and you would like to be able to give them your full attention. Ask if there is another time you could call them back.
  3. Pay attention to the part of you that does not want to talk right now. Really honor that part of you and let yourself have that feeling. There are times in life that we have to do things we don't want to do. We can still honor the feeling of not wanting to do it. You can experiment with allowing for not wanting to talk and at the same time answer the phone. Notice if that feels any different than answering the phone while ignoring your no.

Having a No to Have a Yes

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  © Mike_kiev | Dreamstime.com

© Mike_kiev | Dreamstime.com

The more room we have for our nos, the more room we have for our yeses. As my teachers at Hartford Family Institute say, "You have to have a no before you can have a yes." If we never have a no, our yeses don't mean as much. It can feel like going through the motions without really being engaged in life. Our yeses and our nos give us direction, which contributes to a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.

To turn it around, think of having a yes to you. What would that feel like? If you walked around the world saying yes to yourself first, how might your life be different?

I want to reiterate that we don't always have to act on our feelings. There are times, when watching young children, for example, that it is inappropriate to say, "I need to rest, you take of yourself." Even in that scenario, we can notice what we truly want and bring care to ourselves in that place. When we care for ourselves in that way, we tend to others with more care, as well.  

Sometimes my no turns into a yes after I have really let myself have it. For example, someone may ask me to do something. My initial, internal reaction is often, "Nope, not gonna do it." This is the part of me that does not want to be forced into anything. I want to know I have a choice. When I notice that reaction in me, I pause and let myself land in it. I let myself know that I could really say no and that would be okay. Once I recognize that, I have more space to feel into what I want. Sometimes, then, I feel how I want to do what has been asked of me. At that point, I can say yes more fully and honestly. That's a game changer.

Whatever your relationship is to your no, it is worth paying attention to. Notice how it feels to say no. Are there any fears that come up? Do they seem true? Do you feel freer or more alive when you allow for your no? Try on little experiments; play with it. As you go about your day, what happens when you say no? What happens when you don't? How does it feel to listen to Meghan Trainor's song and sing along or to walk around your home saying, "No, NOOOOO, Nope, nononononono?" Notice how it feels to say yes. And how it feels to say yes and really mean it. Truly, we need both our yeses and nos to live a full life. NO!! YES!!