Many CASIGYs feel lost in the Sea of Despair on Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day can be painful for CASIGYs (Creative, Alert-Aware, Super-Sensitive, Intense, and/or Gifted You-s) with broken, hurting hearts. When we have lost a loved one, when our marriage or love relationship is in trouble or has broken up, when we despair of ever finding someone to love and truly love us back, our deep pain can be magnified even more than usual during this time when the whole world seems to focus on romantic love. It can also be tough for us when we have financial challenges and can’t buy our loved one the gift or card we wish we could. There are likely endless scenarios that I could mention, but you get the idea.
Any time that we’re having a tough time, we may try to defend against it, fending off our hurt, anger or despair. On the other hand, it can be easy to get caught up in it and feel like we’re lost in a storm at sea. I was feeling this way about something not long ago. I was reminded (by someone else, of course) that finding symbols to represent my experience can help to both contain and release the negative energy. And for me, a primarily visual and kinesthetic processer, actually making something with my hands that symbolically represents my difficult experience is even better than just thinking about it. So, as usual, I went digging in my fabric stash. I found some stormy, wavy-looking fabric. Now I could visualize myself lost at sea in the midst of all of those waves. But that only magnified my feeling of being at risk to drown in the vast sea of my despair, anxiety, hurt and pain. I needed a container, a . . . Life Boat! Luckily, I had some scraps of leftover fabric-
Not long after that, I was rummaging through the stacks of fabric in my drawers, looking for just the right fabric for a different project when I came across a fabric piece that seemed to represent a stormy sea more accurately. The original fabric now seemed
a bit too bright and friendly, and as I placed the life boats on this new one and imagined the storm to be on the fabric, the hurricane raging inside of me calmed to a mere rain storm. I still felt quite alone in my storm. Then it occurred to me that this other life boat could come in handy. Indeed, as I placed them there together, it seemed that I was no longer all alone in my pain, anguish, and fear. Instead, I felt gratitude that ‘someone else’ was out there facing that same storm along with me, even though that someone was entirely imaginary. I felt less afraid, less lonely, and less tiny and helpless in the face of it all. I no longer felt lost at sea in the midst of a hurricane. The relief came when I let my hands and imagination make some symbols to illustrate my inner state and also as I continued to follow this process until it seemed to complete itself.
It started with a picture in my head of a storm at sea, which I represented with fabric. That was soon followed by another mental picture, this time of a life boat. I made one, (again out of fabric, for that is what I have and what I know how to work with) and then another one, until it seemed to ‘fit.’ Later, I ran across a different piece of fabric that I recognized as representing the stormy sea better than the first one did. My original image also included a hurricane above the sea. For a while, I cogitated on how to create that. Before I settled on a way to start, the hurricane seemed to subside, so finding a way to represent it is no longer on my radar. Right now, I have no way of knowing whether it will return and therefore ask to be represented in time and space or not. For now, it doesn’t matter. What matters at this moment is that I followed this process to its inner conclusion at this time. Later is later, and I have learned that if I stay open and ‘in the process,’ I will know what needs to be done, and when it needs to be done. What I have also learned is that when I am in the midst of a hurricane and lost at sea, that it sometimes takes someone else to remind me of the power of this process, and of the fact that it exists and might be helpful to me right now.
Does this seem a bit silly and childish? Perhaps. It may seem silly, but it does its healing work seriously and powerfully because of how the brain works, and how the psyche works. We know that the brain does not know the difference between ‘real’ and imagined or remembered events. So we can playfully create scenarios with our hands guided by our imaginations that help us cope with our ‘real’ lives. In addition, when we are in distress-pain, anxiety, etc., that often activates our Inner Child (what my husband Gary Barnes calls our Little Genius), and how better to help our Little Genius than through play? We also often find that that actual working with a craft or art medium helps us to connect to our bodies and emotions, and to regain some inner equilibrium as we do so.
Also, when we use our hands to make things that represent our inner experience, the sensation of our hands touching the fabric, wood, clay, yarn, metal, or whatever medium we are using, travels from the hands up the arms to the thalamus, and then to the parietal lobes of the brain, which processes touch. As we watch what we are doing, the occipital lobe will be activated for sight. As this sensory data reaches the limbic structures, symbolic meaning is assigned. The whole experience facilitates vertical integration, linking the body to the limbic region and the cortex in the right hemisphere.
Our hands know what our frontal lobes cannot know. This kind of process is similar to Sandtray work, to Art Therapy and also similar to Jungian Active Imagination. All of these connect the brain and body, and engage our psychic symbol maker that is the meaning maker within. This kind of process is most powerful when it is allowed to unfold naturally, organically and through our hands and intuition rather than being directed by our frontal lobes. We don’t think our way though this; but rather we feel our way along, and later link the feelings and experience with words and/or thoughts. By paying attention to our bodies, listening with the inner ear for intuitive, visceral cues about what is important; we allow our nonverbal, nonconscious awareness and/or memory to lead the way. Doing this centers the process in the symbolic, visual and tactile parts of the brain to the extent that it then can take work to connect it to the verbal and thought centered part of the brain[i]. As Shawn McNiff says in “Art is Medicine”, “It is the artistic imagination, and not the willful mind, that effortlessly transforms the torturing demon into an inspirational daimon.”[ii]
I like to call it Creative Handwork and Contemplative Handwork™. This process likes to show up as Play Therapy for Grown-Ups, and takes the form of a three step process:
Creating is the act of making something to demonstrate and illustrate our inner experience or the issue that we are working with at the moment. We search out the ‘right’ material(s) and create until we find or make what is ‘just right.’ What defines its ‘rightness?’ Its ‘feeling right’ on a visceral or intuitive level. This is a feel-your-way-in-the dark process just like life is. Sometimes we will get a visual image to guide us, sometimes we will get a sound in our ears; other times we are guided by the feel in our hands or our gut or some other body region. Sometimes this comes quickly; other times we never quite get there, and we may struggle with when to hold out for perfection and when to settle for ‘good enough’ or when to hold something in suspension, not knowing when or how or even if it will ever be completely ‘wrapped up.’ Again, just like life.
Contemplation is the act of looking at what we have created-noticing its shapes, feeling the textures, listening with the inner ear, opening ourselves to a communication process in our imaginations with what we have made. As Albert Einstein, one of my favorite wise men said, “Imagination is more important than facts.” We allow our imagination to connect to what we have made and communicate with it, again on a visceral, intuitive and symbolic level. We allow ourselves to perceive whatever deep inner meaning it has for us in the moment. Contemplation can also be an ongoing process over time that allows for its meaning to change over time. We can know that later the object that we have made may hold a different meaning than it does now, but whatever meaning that emerges at this moment is valid for now, and a different meaning that shows up later is valid for then.
Crystallization is the act of connecting the visceral and intuitive with the verbal and thought world, bringing them together in a way that helps us to pull it together and etch it in our memories. We may write about it, we may take photographs, we may draw or use other media than that which we used to make [whatever it is]. This crystallization helps us grasp these new inner connections and previously nonconscious, nonverbal awarenesses and make use of them in our lives.
Outlining these stages may make it appear that this is a quick and easy process. However, I have pieces that I have been working on/playing with for many years. I do some, set it aside and move on to something else. I pick it back up again when it asks me to work/play with it again. Sometimes I think I’m finished, and discover later that I’m not. These Creative Healing projects seem to have a life of their own. Sometimes doing this work in solitude works best, sometimes having the presence of a group or another person is needed to provide safety, support or guidance or all three.
Is this unique to CASIGYs? Not at all.
But it’s especially powerful for CASIGYs.
Our acute awareness, active creative imaginations, sensitivities and intensities make our response to life’s stresses more distressful than it otherwise might be. That begs for even more powerful and creative, intelligent and sensitive ways to cope and heal.
[i] Badenock,Bonnie, Being A Brain-Wise Therapist. A Practical Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology. 2008.
[ii] McNiff, Shawn, Art as Medicine: Creating a Therapy of the Imagination. 1992.