Why do we create? What is the driving force behind the need to explore in the abstract? Because we need to put into the world that which we feel. We need to understand what we are feeling and sometimes that can only be done when we let go and give ourselves the room to explore, poke and prod at our emotions, those bubbles that come to the surface and overflow. How do we embrace these overwhelming bouts of emotion, these painful and difficult moments in our lives?
Intense vulnerability, backed by astounding bravery, and a heaps of healing and joy.
I always had this idea that showing emotion was weak. That being overwhelmed by feelings was silly. So, instead of sitting with my emotions and feeling my feelings I did the old bottle it up and ignore it routine. This resulted in meltdowns at varying intervals and periods of debilitating emotional paralyzation. I preferred reading about character’s emotions rather than dealing with my own. Eventually I realized repressing my emotions, my stress, my fears, manifest physically. My joints lock up, my ankles, knees, hips, back, until I’m walking like a frail ninety year old, or stuck on the floor, or in a half crouch trying to stand.
It was dance that allowed me to engage with my emotions again. I began taking class; I went when I didn;t want to and began to feel progressively better. My year without dance, without really creating beyond school projects and writing papers for class, was crippling. I didn’t process any of the stress that came with post secondary and working and balancing what little social life I had and coming to grips with what little social life I had. I didn;t have an outlet to turn to, I didn’t utilize the outlets I had available to me - my creativity.
The best way to process emotion without letting it drag you under, is through creative pursuits, at least in my experience. Creativity gives space for exploration and discovery. There is no right answer, and when we are processing emotion, trying to sit with our feelings and examine them we cannot be in a limiting space. For a long time dance was my only outlet. It was how I worked the stress out of my body and reignited the joy in my daily life. I would dance while waiting for the bus at the college. I would practice for my Advanced 1 ballet exam between classes. If I was stressed I would take a balance. I needed a space to play to confront my emotions, to finally sit with them and see them.
Dance is how I process emotion as it happens - how I work through feelings. To explore possibility and play with those emotions I write. I give imaginary characters imaginary problems and see how they react. There is so much depth that we have the capacity to feel that we sometimes aren’t afforded the opportunity to explore, but we can do this on the page. I write what I’m feeling to see how I feel about it. And now I journal - albeit it very recently - to really work through growth and change on the pages.
If I don’t cultivate my emotional well I won’t have anything to draw from when creating. If I allow myself to engage in too many projects at once and burn through my creative well I won’t have the energy to unpack the emotions swirling around inside.
It is a delicate balance of give and take. But when we are able to explore our emotions in the realm of creativity all expectation and fear can be removed as we can play and dance and sing and create freely with abandon. We can heal through creativity - art therapy is incredible in its breadth of activity and application. It can be used to explore how we feel, discover the ways in which we connect and disconnect from one another and ourselves.
Through creativity we can learn to express and experience emotions in a healthy way. Instead of internalizing every minutia of our day and burying those difficult emotions, even the joyful ones with fear and shame we can externalize those feelings, breathe life into them and confront or revel in their presence. The way in which we create is less important than the act itself. The process of working through emotion to come to a deeper understanding of oneself is the goal. Only when we are able to express what we feel, to discover and appreciate our feelings will we be able to connect, to empathize. That is the real superpower of the creative - to empathize with others.
But first we have to do the work ourselves and dig deep into our own emotional well to draw up the pain, the joy, the grief and the exuberance we pack away when life gets to be too much.