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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Grumpy Day

Do you ever have a grumpy day? A day when you feel bleh and you don't want to do anything? Maybe you got some bad news or woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Maybe it's one of those days when nothing seems to go right and the whole world looks grey. 

What do you do on a day like that? Do you stay in bed and pull the covers over your head? Do you push through, waiting for the day to end, hoping for something better tomorrow?

Though it may not feel like it, we have options when we are having a hard time. There are things we can do to care for ourselves and treat ourselves with kindness. As Stuart Alpert, Co-Founder of the Hartford Family Institute's Center for Psychotherapy and Healing Arts says, in any given moment, we are either supporting our experience or not supporting it. There is no neutral. 

Supporting our experience is something we can practice. If you want, try it right now. Pause and take a breath. Notice what you are feeling. How connected or disconnected do you feel? What do you notice in your body, in your thoughts and feelings? Are you distracted, agitated, calm, judging, open or something else? Take another breath and see if you can let whatever you are experiencing be here without trying to change it. Can you imagine greeting whatever is present for you with compassion, as if your experience is an old friend coming to see you? For example, you might say inwardly, "Hello, Grumpy. Thank you for coming today. I trust you are here for a good reason. I am here."

If you tried this experiment, what did you notice? Perhaps there was a softening or an opening as you sat with what was present. Perhaps your feelings intensified or felt uncomfortable. Perhaps you did not try this experiment because it seemed silly or you did not want to. Whatever you did or did not do, whatever your experience was, what would it be like to not give yourself a hard time about it? This is how we cultivate self-compassion and acceptance. 

The above is an example of one option we have when we are having a hard time, simply greeting our experience with kindness. As I wrote, I could feel something shift in me and now my heart feels softer. What was your experience?

Sometimes kindness may not feel accessible to us. We may feel stuck. We may need help. When we are in the midst of some inner turmoil, it may not occur to us that we could pause and be with our experience. Being with our experience may be the last thing we want to do.

I was having a day like that on Friday. I was all worked up and not sure what to do. I called a friend, which helped me know I was not alone and get some clarity, at least for a little while. I went about my day as best I could, but my thoughts were still going around and around in my head, chasing each other, trying to find a way out of the "badness" I was feeling.

Later, I went for a walk in the woods. The movement and the fresh air helped, but I still had an underlying feeling of agitation. If I am honest, all I really wanted to do was to get rid of the agitation. I was not meeting the agitation like an old friend. In those moments, I was treating my agitation as an enemy, something to fix, and something I did not want. 

Naming my experience helps me bring more kindness to myself. I can appreciate how much I did not want to feel what I was feeling. This brings me to another option we can try. Journaling or drawing about our experience. When we put our feelings down on paper, we can see them more clearly and, at the same time, get some space from them. They are one part of our experience and not the whole of who we are.

The last thing I did on my grumpy day was to get out of my experience for a while so I could feel something different. One of my favorite local artists, Canyon, was playing at a nearby church. I went. I brought my grumpy self and sat down in the back and let the music pour over me. With little to no effort on my part, my spirits were lifted. The lyrics and the melodies moved me. When I left at the end of the night, I was struck by how different I felt. I savored those moments of feeling joy, feeling touched and alive.  

There is no one magic thing that will make us feel better when we are having a bad day. We all want to feel good and we all want to avoid discomfort. We are all doing our best at living our lives the way we know how. What I notice is the more I practice being with the nuances of my experience when I am feeling okay, the easier it is for me to be with my experience when it is intense, distressful or "icky" in some way. It is also important to me to know I have options. I can call a friend, go for a walk, journal, dance or listen to music. I can curl up in a blanket and treat myself with kindness. How do you take care of yourself when you are in a hard place? Can you imagine taking in a drop of love to the center of your experience?