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Use Art to Manage Big Feelings

We have been exploring feelings over the past few weeks. How our art can help us let go of them by helping them move through us and exploring how we can notice the way our feelings impact our minds, hearts and bodies. Today I want to continue our exploration with a simple practice to help you manage those big feelings when they hit and share a beautiful Ted talk by a friend of mind that shows this in action so fully.


And big feelings we have these days aren’t we! It’s almost as if collectively we are being asked to hold everything all at once. Hope and despair, patience & action, to hold things close while also giving them space. For many of us we are feeling frayed as we feel all of these extreme distances and tensions each day.


I too have been feeling so much strain lately wondering how much more I can hold. I find myself feeling exhausted from running back and forth across the spectrum of chaos to joy in my day to day life with my young children. I have been moving from hope to despair as I watch the election unfold for my neighbours to south and watch politics dismantle my home province. And of course, as the pandemic rages on I move between fear and safety each day.


I recognized early October this wasn’t sustainable for me, so I have been slowing down, cutting back and taking solace in a new writing/ mark making project a beautiful healing place for my heart and body to rest. I have also been trying to be intentional about what I do when big feelings hit, or I find myself swinging across the pendulum in a day.


Today, I want to share with you this simple practice for using your art to manage big feelings.


This practice will help you manage any feeling (or feelings!) that you have along with all of the extremes & contradictions. Because if you are anything like me you need to have something in your back pocket for when the world comes ringing! This is a quick and dirty overview but as with any practice if we begin with intention and revisit it again and again, we find ourselves moving with increasingly more grace and clarity in time.


Step 1: Notice


As we have been practicing when we begin to notice our feelings (and perhaps even just do a mental check in of

all the ways they impact us) we are in a way, developing an emotional literacy for ourselves. Learning how to read, understand, and make sense of all of the subtle cues our bodies, minds and hearts are giving us and how they impact us.


· I can see now that the restless tension in my chest at night happens when work gets stressful.

· Every time she walks in the room, I find myself closing off just a bit more.

· When I walk to work in the morning, I arrive feeling less agitated.



These are the subtle cues of our minds, bodies and hearts working together to signal to us to pay attention! But we have to notice them in order to understand them.


· Grab a sketch pad and a few colours (choose something water soluble or a soft medium like chalk pastels or charcoal.) Ask yourself what you are feeling right now and express it through simple shape, line and colour. You may want to label the drawing with the feeling.



Step 2: Allow


Once we notice what is happening then what do we do with it? The answer to this may seem silly in its simplicity, but we allow it to be. What more can we ever do? We allow the sadness, the pain, the anxiety, the grief to be. We notice it and make space for it. Many of us may think we already do that but often upon closer inspection we are resisting it in some way. Trying to solve problems, numb pains, make things go away, regain control and or just make the whole thing end through our influence. The invitation instead is to allow it to be fully as it is and without resistance. To be a curious observer of it as though we have just noticed an animal cross the path in front of us.


· I notice my anxiety is rushing through my body and mind, I feel jittery & can’t settle. I am really noticing the tension moving up and down through my chest.

· How interesting my reaction to her presence, I seem to really want to protect myself from her.

· I can feel so much more space within me when my agitation is gone.


Allowing our feelings to be means making space for them to be undisturbed and then observing them rather than reacting to them or doing something in response to them.


· Once you have sketched your feeling through shape, line and colour place your medium down and set the intention to allow it to be. Spend a few moments really observing what the discomfort, fear, or whatever you are feeling feels like. Imagine that you have just pressed a big pause button and you are going to just be with it for a few moments.


Step 3: Soften


For many of us we feel done too, or out of control, when big feelings sweep in. They seem to grip us and take us on a ride leaving us exhausted and powerless. If we can first notice the feeling, then resist the urge to make it go away, we can then choose the right moment to move from being an observer to an actor in our lives. When we truly make space for our feelings to be, noticing the subtle nuances of how they unfold for us moment to moment we find that we can then detach, diffuse, or simply soften our experience of the feeling. What if all we had to do when a big feeling sweeps us away was to soften our attachment to it? This is one of the ways our imaginations can serve us. Imagine your feeling melting, washing, or becoming just a bit fuzzier.


· I am imaging my chest softening making space for the tension.

· I am choosing to protect myself through softness rather than harshness, I won’t let her harm me.

· I imagine my morning walk washing away my agitation.


This act of softening is where our power comes from. This is the act of letting go, letting things be, and stepping off of the rollercoaster and into where our true influence lies.


· Begin to soften the shapes and lines using water or your finger. As you do this notice how the shapes, colours and lines are still there but relaxing or washing away ever so slightly through our doing. As you soften the lines see if you can feel your attachment to the feeling soften ever so slightly.


Next time a feeling good, bad or ugly sweeps in give this a try! See if you can find your influence through observing and softening and step off of the resistance roller coaster with intention.



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