I just had the joy of leading a process painting workshop this last weekend for a group of 25 women as a part of a Creative Renewal Retreat. The room came alive with courageous wild women who were ripe ‘n ready for creative expression, dipping their brushes into a vibrant spectrum of tempera paints and seeing where the brushes wanted to go. Process art (and painting, specifically) is very much about shifting from the head to the heart and seeing how the body wants to move with color from moment to moment. In fact, one of the ladies shared with me after the retreat that moving more into her body and heart was her greatest take-away.
For me it’s been a long journey to come back into my body, one that has lasted decades and is still happening on some level. I imagine this is true for many people and especially for women. We’re taught from such an early age that the body is “bad” and has to be kept in line through some form of control. We’re taught that it’s dirty and smelly and needs lots of products to keep it presentable. We’re taught that its needs are not always in our best interest and that our hungers and desires must be monitored. We’re taught that its natural appearance is not good enough and that we have to spend a lot of money and time to make it look a certain way. We’re even taught that others get to make decisions about our bodies for us, and that we don’t always have the freedom to choose.
It’s no wonder that during my formative years I developed an eating disorder. I was uncomfortable with my body and its natural hungers. I was terrified of feeling heavy emotions. I was even skeptical of my sexual energy. And more than anything, I felt a need for control in my life.
Painting for process was one of the tools that helped me unlock the door to this physical form and reconnect with my body and her needs. In fact, my teacher used to suggest when there was discomfort in the body to symbolically “hand the paintbrush over” to that part of the body and see what it wants to paint. This can be a powerful practice indeed. When we’re feeling a gripping tightness in our belly, what does the gut want to paint? Perhaps interlaced swirling snakes? Or a primal scream? Maybe tears flowing out of the gut’s eyes? If we’re in judgment of our bodies and our sexual expression, what would the body paint when we metaphorically hand the brush to the pelvis and let it express?
Psychologists understand that the body and the central nervous system can hold and carry unexpressed emotions and even trauma in need of healing. I find that allowing the body to move and express and paint without the interference of the mind and inner critic is one of the many ways to access that which is unspoken, unfelt and needing expression. I am not a therapist, but painting in this way has helped me find wholeness in my own life and reclaimed that parts of myself I had abandoned or abused.
In addition to using process painting, here are some other ways I’ve worked to come home to my body:
- Turn each meal into a meditation: When I was working to heal my eating issues, I began to “bless” my food before I would eat it, then imagine the nourishing qualities filling my body as I ate, and finally sit silently for 5 minutes with my eyes closed when I was done in order to relax and breath into my belly and envision that healthy digestion was providing my body with every nutrient it needed.
- Move in joyous ways: Our bodies are made for movement, and if we sit at a desk for most of the day chances are we need to add conscious movement to our routines. I recently started attending a weekly fitness class (having a buddy really helps to keep one accountable)–but I also love to dance, to swim, to go for walks and hike in the mountains. Other joyous ways to move include love-making, playing with kids, silent discos, yoga in the park, and hula hooping.
- Carve out time for restorative care: These days I’m better about noticing when my body is exhausted and my nerves feel fried, and (when I’m conscious) I take an evening to find balance. Sometimes this means soaking in my tub with epsom salts and essential oils; sometimes it means attending a restorative yoga class; sometimes it’s as simple as laying down with an eye pillow over my closed eyes and listening to soothing music until my body feels restored.
Our bodies are gifts. They allow us to move and express in this physical world. They allow us to feel pleasure and pain and ecstasy and everything in between. I am grateful for my body and I now do my best to take care of her… to feed her when she’s hungry, soothe her when she’s stressed, rest when she’s exhausted, move and dance and play and pleasure her in every way. She is my vehicle for expression in this world. She is my home.