Until a few days ago I was at a retreat center in upstate New York. Twenty women and the facilitator, Jalaja Bonheim, came together for a week, experiencing the powerful geometry of the circle, allowing sacred space and silence to fortify us and help us move from “head thinking” to “heart thinking,” connecting us to ourselves, each other and to the Divine (discussion of this powerful shift is in Bonheim’s book The Sacred Ego: Making Peace with Ourselves and Our World).
I arrived the day before the retreat began. As I talked with other early arrivals that day, I learned that several of the women had experienced this process many times, some of them quite recently. I hadn’t been in circle this way for maybe ten years. The women I met seemed confident, articulate and powerful, doing important work in the world.
Soon inner voices began to tell me that who I am and how I’m living is inadequate: I’m not doing enough with my life; not activist enough; too introverted and self-conscious; I’m too emotional and can’t speak clearly; too wishy-washy; I’m too controlling and opinionated; I won’t like the food; I brought the wrong clothes; and on and on.
Familiar voices, but noisier than usual. Surprised by all this insecurity, rather than listen to the voices or fight with them, I tried to send love and compassion to myself, crooning, “poor worried Annie.”
Maybe that’s what gave me the sudden impulse to draw these thoughts somehow, to get them out on paper without words. My pens and journal were nearby, so I went at it. I began by drawing a “blobby” shape, the way I was feeling about myself overall. Then, without thinking too much, I added more images, representing my judgmental thoughts and my fears—droopy ones for tears and being wishy-washy, sharp points for wanting control, soft rounded shapes for trying to undo the damage from over-controlling; a boot for sticking my foot in my mouth or “coming down hard” on an issue. And so on. I drew quickly, allowing shapes to appear, some triggered by my negative voices and some just flowing out of my pen.
I felt relief at pouring these thoughts out in images. Emotionally detached from what I was hearing. Already I felt lighter. Curious about what would evolve on the paper, it began to be fun.
When I felt complete I examined the drawing. The crazy mix made me laugh. I felt affection for some of the images and intrigued by others. I saw amidst the negative messages a vine, roots, circles and spirals—so maybe there was life here, too, and growth. I liked the drawing, and wanted to enhance it with color, so I allowed my intuition to guide me where to color and which colors to use.
My critical voices were nearly inaudible at this point. And my worry had transformed into amusement. I ultimately shared my drawing with the group during one of our check-in times.
While I have used intuitive art to work with my dreams, to respond to a question, to discover my feelings, as prayer, meditation or simply for fun, I had not until then used art to illustrate my (racing) thoughts.
But I will definitely do this again.
Have you discovered any fun or effective ways to move through feelings of inadequacy, or to respond to your critical voices? I’d love to hear.
(FYI: The Circlework process we experienced is described in The Magic of Circlework: the Practice Women Around the World Are Using to Heal and Empower Themselves, also by Jalaja Bonheim.)