Blog : Creativity and Innovation

Transforming With Art Therapy

Transforming With Art Therapy

Transforming with art therapy is simple. Art therapy is a tool used by many to access parts of the brain they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. This is because art therapy has a calming effect on the mind and body, allowing you to relax enough to access your true, authentic nature.  If you undergo the journey of seeking art therapy with a professional, you won’t just be exposed to new and uncomfortable feelings without any sort of safety net. Art therapy is a soft, safe, and compassionate activity, and the tools you learn in art therapy can make you more resilient. Here are some ways art therapy can transform you:

Art therapy helps articulate deeper feelings

Art therapy can help you express emotions and thoughts that might be too difficult to say out loud. It provides you with a safe and empowering space to explore feelings that might otherwise lay dormant or repressed. This is because the creative process helps people slow down and experience themselves and their situation more peacefully. The mind is focused on making art. When you leave your mind idle, you’ll be more likely to get stuck in negative thought patterns and the emotions that follow. However, when you are making art, you are more likely to freely express how you feel without getting stuck in negativity. Art therapy has the potential to set you free.

Art therapy has the potential to set you free.

This is because creating art puts you in a mentally peaceful space, allowing you to freely explore your inner world.  People coping with mental illnesses are under an immense amount of stress, and creating art can be a powerful tool in managing stress. “When we were children, we drew or painted freely and nobody judged us. When I had patients, I told them that here was a safe space. It was fine that they didn’t know how to draw or paint. The result isn’t important. It is about a procedure. [While creating the artworks], we can feel ourselves breathing and are aware that colours gradually change us. Movements of colours imprint into our hearts.” -Vichapa Meethongklang

Art therapy helps empower people.

When people create and complete an art project, they are more likely to feel more empowered, valued, and able to deal with whatever life throws at them. The creators are able to connect to their art, taking in the colors and the movements that go into creating that piece. By connecting with their art, they are also connecting with themselves, which is incredibly empowering because they are getting to know themselves in a new way. They start seeing themselves as a productive person who can start and finish a beautiful project. Oftentimes, mental illnesses make people believe that they are worthless and will never amount to anything. Art therapy can help prove your mental illness wrong, helping you believe that you are worthy and that the beauty in the world is right in front of you. You created that beauty.

*Sign Up for our free 9 Essential Ingredients To Court Your Creativity PDF. Learn nine crucial skills you can implement RIGHT NOW to increase your creativity by stepping back into your right brain! Click here to sign up.

Alli Cravener is a social media coordinator and writer who is passionate about connecting people through words. Alli studied English at Arizona State University and has found her niche uniting concept and content in the realm of mental health and the expressive arts. Alli’s interests include painting, history, learning about other people, and wearing the color pink. She likens herself to a “mouse in a palm tree”, and she loves it that way.

Therapy Won’t Kill Your Creativity

Therapy Won’t Kill Your Creativity

As an artist with mental illness, I’m always fascinated by what other artists have to say about their relationship with mental illness and therapy. Many artists have said really beautiful and inspirational things about their struggles with the stresses of creating under the duress of mental illness. In point of fact, I may not have gone into therapy in the first place if not for the openness of Robin Williams with his experiences with depression, addiction and rehab. But recently, I read an interview with the filmmaker David Lynch that gave me pause. 

“I had a reason for going in [to therapy], and I asked [the therapist] ‘Could this process that we’re going to go through affect my creativity’ and he said ‘David, I have to be honest with you, it could.’ And so then, I had to shake his hand and say goodbye.”’

Although I believe that David Lynch’s quote speaks to a genuine anxiety that many creatives face about going into therapy, I found this statement to be completely out of line with my experience with both mental illness and therapy. If anything, the tools I’ve acquired through attending regular therapy sessions have improved the quality and quantity of my creative output, and I believe any experiences to the contrary to be outliers, not the norm. 

Therapy encourages self awareness.

I would posit that seeking and collaborating with a therapist on the project of my mental health has consistently put me in a better place emotionally to pursue my artistic dreams. In my experience attending therapy, it has encouraged an internal environment of self-improvement and reflection. Introspection and self-awareness are tremendously important aspects for me when I’m assessing any creative work, and the most powerful tools I’ve found in both arenas were gained through my experiences in therapy. Mindfulness, consistent routine, and sobriety were concepts that were out there, but I would never have thought to seek them out had they not been recommended to me by experts in the field. 

Therapy and creativity mix well because therapy is motivating.

Even more profoundly, the long-term effects of interacting with my many talk therapists and psychiatrists has significantly lessened the physical symptoms of my depression and anxiety. In the miasma of depression, I lacked the motivation to eat or sleep. Under the cantankerous thrall of my anxious, intrusive thoughts, I lacked the wherewithal to deeply connect with others and chase the goals I was truly passionate about. When working full-time to fund a self-destructive addiction problem, I lacked the time and energy to dedicate myself to anything other than self-sabotage. And this is a story common among many neurodivergent artists in the public sphere. 

Therapy helps artists’ creative output.

Rachel Bloom was an actress and songwriter who sought therapy to treat her anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive disorder. She used her experiences as inspiration to co-create and star in her award-winning musical television series Crazy Ex-girlfriend. Kesha Rose Sebert was one of the most successful and talented recording artists in the world who nonetheless struggled in an environment of drug abuse and addiction. After her experiences in therapy and rehab, she returned to the public eye and released the most critically acclaimed and personal album of her career in Rainbow. Robert Downey Jr. was an actor and producer in Hollywood who grappled with his own reputation as a drug addict, law-breaker, and sufferer of bipolar disorder. After attending therapy and rehab, he became one of the highest paid and most beloved actors in the world. The general experience with artists attending therapy is not one of decline in their creative output, it is precisely the opposite. 

If you are an artist struggling with mental illness, I wouldn’t recommend avoiding treatment for the betterment of your creative output. Art is always, to some extent, the expression of your own internal world, and seeking treatment is taking a step away from disordered thinking and self-destructive living. You will never lack an opportunity to write about the confines and challenges of your mental illness, but you might find it more incisive to do so with the distance of someone with an awareness of its limitations, pain, and management. I think part of the reason that David Lynch’s quote resonated with me in such a negative way is because he’s half-right: going into therapy will absolutely change your creative output. For the better.

Therapy and creativity can mix well together. If you think that therapy and creativity clash, you are mistaken. Therapy can actually help with your creativity. Click here to read last week’s article on the ways music can help with depression.

 *Sign Up for our free 9 Essential Ingredients To Court Your Creativity PDF. Learn nine crucial skills you can implement RIGHT NOW to increase your creativity by stepping back into your right brain! Click here to sign up.

Sunny Ebsary is a writer and singer-songwriter from Tampa, FL. When he’s not sing-songwriting or just regular writing, he’s probably drinking water with a lot of ice, having a staring contest with his cat, or giving people great ideas. You can listen to Sunny’s music here.

Healing PTSD with Expressive Arts Therapy

Healing PTSD with Expressive Arts Therapy

Today is National PTSD Awareness Day. PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that results from a traumatic event. Those who have PTSD are often triggered by memories of the traumatic event, which causes them to feel as if they are experiencing the event again, accompanied by feelings of intense anxiety/panic, touchiness, and/or disassociation.

In order to heal, those traumatic memories must be processed and digested. Because PTSD is mostly experienced through memories, emotions, and the body, traditional talk therapy does not always help. Expressive arts therapy, however, helps people with PTSD safely process these memories when it is difficult to find the right words to express how they feel.

Making artwork and reflecting on it helps you access different parts of your brain, creating more self-awareness and giving a voice to the traumatic experience through visual art. While painting, drawing, using clay, etc, you are allowing the area of your brain that stores trauma to wordlessly express itself.

Creative expression targets the right hemisphere and limbic system of the brain, which are visual, sensory and emotional in nature. (The right prefrontal cortex is deeply connected to the limbic areas of the brain and is central to affect regulation.) This allows art and imagery to circumvent psychological resistance, which is typically analytic in nature.

The Arts (in all their forms) also allow for the externalization of these very inner experiences and gives them shape and form outside the body and mind. Creativity gives expression to that which cannot, because of the structure of the brain, be spoken. This, in turn, provides an opportunity to re-imagine concepts of self and identity. Scientists have also discovered that the very act of creating – integrating the brain both vertically and horizontally – reduces anxiety, depression and pain, decreases blood pressure, strengthens immune functioning and improves attention and concentration.

Starting your own, personal expressive arts practice will help your mind in so many wonderful ways. Checkout this article here for creative prompts to help you get started. Additionally, Integrative Counsel hosts an Expressive Arts Group the first Thursday of every month. Our next group meets on July 2, 2020. For more information, checkout our groups page.

 

*Sign Up for our free 9 Essential Ingredients To Court Your Creativity PDF. Learn nine crucial skills you can implement RIGHT NOW to increase your creativity by stepping back into your right brain! Click here to sign up.

Alli is our office manager and writer who is passionate about connecting people through words. Alli studied English at Arizona State University, just recently moved to St. Pete and is enjoying paradise. Her interests include painting, nature, and learning about other people.

6 Ways to Celebrate the Sun This Solstice

6 Ways to Celebrate the Sun This Solstice

The summer solstice is about reflecting on personal growth, important cycles, and transformations. It is the day the sun stays out the longest, symbolizing the illumination of our consciousness. In ancient times, the solstice was believed to symbolize the journey to enlightenment. Sacred texts and traditions throughout the world admire the sun and it’s life-giving energy. This life-giving energy is certainly worth celebrating. Here are six ways you can celebrate the sun:

1. Wake up early with the sun as it rises.

Contemplate the way the earth looks as the rays of the sun touch down on it, and have gratitude for the day ahead of you.

2. Do a sun salutation.

At sunrise or sunset, get balanced by doing 12 rounds of sun salutation. As you move through the sequence, meditate on the energy of the sun and its life-giving light. A local studio might even have a virtual class you would like to take. Check out one of our favorite yoga studios, The Body Electric Yoga Company. They offer in-person and online yoga classes.

3. Have a fire ceremony

Using fire is a powerful way to connect with the sun. It will help you fully harness the energy of the summer solstice. To do this, start by creating a relaxing, comfortable, and still environment. Next, light a fire. If you don’t have access to an outdoor fire pit, you can light a candle indoors and create an altar. Then, write on a sheet of paper everything you wish to release from your life. Roll your paper up and burn it in the fire with the intention that all the things that no longer serve you are being burned away.

4. Make a sun wheel

Create a wreath with flowers and moss. Then, get strips of paper, write wishes on them, and tie them with strings to the wreath. Pass it around the group, giving it your good intentions, and burn it in the fire.

5. Make a sun tea

Making sun tea is a wonderful way to absorb the energy of the sun. You will need a large jug with a lid, a tea strainer, 3 tablespoons of your favorite black or herbal tea, and any additional fresh herbs you would like to include in your tea. This can be lavender, basil, mint, etc. Add your tea strainer in a jar with fresh water and let it steep in the direct sunlight for 4-6 hours. Finally, add ice and enjoy.

6. Unlock your creativity and sign up for our solstice expressive arts group!

On June 18, 2020, explore your place in time with a special summer creative practice – and a celebration of the sun at Solstice! We’ll set the mood with a guided, solar-centered meditation and reflect through art-making on the important cycles, transitions, systems, relationships and seasons of our lives. Click here for more information.

 

*Sign Up for our free 9 Essential Ingredients To Court Your Creativity PDF. Learn nine crucial skills you can implement RIGHT NOW to increase your creativity by stepping back into your right brain! Click here to sign up.

Alli is our office manager and writer who is passionate about connecting people through words. Alli studied English at Arizona State University, just recently moved to St. Pete and is enjoying paradise. Her interests include painting, nature, and learning about other people.

How to Reduce Stress with Creative Writing

How to Reduce Stress with Creative Writing

Lately, it feels as if there is this uncomfortable, worried energy that surrounds us. It affects us even when we aren’t at our most vulnerable, and it can be hard to move past that anxiety and worry without the proper tools. Reduce stress with creative writing! Getting creative and writing about your feelings is one of the best methods for alleviating unwanted anxiety.

Creative writing is a wonderful way to reduce stress because it allows us to really sit with our emotions and dig under the surface. Writing reduces stress because it helps people process their thoughts and emotions. It also helps you view the situation in a different way, because your thoughts have to be processed slowly in order to get the words down on paper. Writing is a safe place for you to let go of your bottled emotions without worrying about other people judging you.

In addition, creativity stimulates the brain, and it allows your mind to only focus on the task in front of you. This makes it more difficult for the mind to wander off to dark places. We spend a lot of time and mental energy on our problems–what if we put all that energy into creating another world?

Furthermore, the work that you create allows you to reflect on yourself. Self-reflection coupled with creative writing can strengthen your outlook on life because it helps you become more mindful. If you have a clear idea of who you are and what you are feeling, it is easier to find a solution.

Finally, if you want to start writing, do not let the fear of “not being good enough” stop you from starting your writing journey. Cozying up in a quiet corner, putting on relaxing music and taking deep breaths will help you focus on writing. If you aren’t sure what to write about, here are some helpful prompts.

*Sign Up for our free 9 Essential Ingredients To Court Your Creativity PDF. Learn nine crucial skills you can implement RIGHT NOW to increase your creativity by stepping back into your right brain! Click here to sign up.

Alli is our office manager and writer who is passionate about connecting people through words. Alli studied English at Arizona State University, just recently moved to St. Pete and is enjoying paradise. Her interests include painting, history, and learning about other people.

5 Things We Love About Art Therapy

5 Things We Love About Art Therapy

1. Art therapy helps express what words cannot

Creating art helps cultivate self-expression, communication skills, and the ability to reach out and ask for help. The creative process helps individuals who are struggling slowly begin to express themselves and take the necessary steps to move forward.

2. Creating puts you in a meditative state

Making art puts you into a calm, thoughtful state because you are using more of the right brain and channeling your intuition. This helps you recognize the feelings that are hidden in your subconscious.

3. Making art helps build self-esteem

Creating art makes you feel accomplished, which plays an important role in improving your self-confidence and helps you to better appreciate yourself.

4. Art therapy uses the entire brain

In art therapy, both hemispheres of the brain are being used. Art therapists are able to promote this by encouraging full creativity and spontaneity as well as the ability to communicate and have a logical understanding of what is being expressed.

5. Making art improves mental health

Taking the time to sit down and make something forces the mind and body to sit with the feelings that come up and work through them. Over time, this practice strengthens the mind and mental health sky-rockets.

 

*Sign Up for our free 9 Essential Ingredients To Court Your Creativity PDF. Learn nine crucial skills you can implement RIGHT NOW to increase your creativity by stepping back into your right brain! Click here to sign up.

About the Author

Alli is our office manager and writer who is passionate about connecting people through words. Alli studied English at Arizona State University, just recently moved to St. Pete and is enjoying paradise. Her interests include painting, history, and learning about other people. 

How Sleep Improves the Brain

How Sleep Improves the Brain

     Nothing compares to how refreshing and restoring a full night’s rest is.  Getting good sleep improves the brain and it truly feels as if you have been healed. It is like your brain has expanded its awareness and is regenerating its cells. As a matter of fact, this is exactly what is occurring as you sleep.

    As your breathing slows and your muscles relax, your brain begins to pour growth hormones into the body that help with muscle growth and tissue repair. Additionally, the neurons finally have their break and can rest and repair while you rest, making it so your mind works more quickly and accurately the next day.

     As your brain is resting, it is able to process all the information it has ingested that day, and chooses what to keep and what to fade out. This helps the brain categorize things and create new ideas based on the connections it makes during REM sleep to older memories.

    This helps your brain operate the next day, giving you more creative ideas the better you sleep the night before and leading you towards your “a-ha!” moment where you are discovering something exciting and new. If you didn’t get adequate sleep the night before, your brain won’t focus on coming up with anything new or creative, just rebooting or crawling into bed. 

    To avoid feeling like your brain has gone on vacation, make sure you are getting enough sleep so that your brain has a chance to process and repair. Everyone’s body is different, however, it’s important to get at least seven to nine hours of sleep a night.

    If you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, try setting up a bedtime routine that works for you. Enhance your bedroom by making it cozy with sleepy lavender scents, put on calming meditation music, and cuddle up to a soft, fuzzy blanket. Let your mind breathe and regenerate.

 

*Sign Up for our free 9 Essential Ingredients To Court Your Creativity PDF. Learn nine crucial skills you can implement RIGHT NOW to increase your creativity by stepping back into your right brain! Click here to sign up.

Alli is our office manager and writer who is passionate about connecting people through words. Alli studied English at Arizona State University, just recently moved to St. Pete and is enjoying paradise. Her interests include painting, history, and learning about other people.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Down the Rabbit Hole

In the previous article, I did not outline the stages of alchemy as I wanted to present a broad overview of its spiritual importance. It is very easy to get lost in the many rich contours and symbolic crevices that is the alchemical “map”– as many have before us. However, in this article, I invite you down the rabbit hole. Go on an adventure with me for the next few minutes. I promise; I’ll bring us out the other side.

Alchemy does not shy away from the muck and mire, the putrid and fermenting. In fact, it is sought after as this is where transformation takes place. In the alchemical process, there is always a death before a rebirth. They are inseparable and to transmute, or to change our nature into a higher-order one, the former must be shed; rarely, an easy process.

Again, be reminded that the stages below are not necessarily linear. Nor, is it agreed upon in exactly which order they arrive. That is why I’ve represented them within a spiral. In fact, I believe it is possible to be in multiple phases simultaneously in various spheres of our lives. Furthermore, remember that this is ultimately about awakening consciousness, or the unconscious being made conscious. (Don’t give up on me now though. It will make more sense in just a few lines.)

Now many thinkers on this topic, far brighter than me, believe that to unite the self and the transcendent it takes going through this entire (aka “spiral”) process three times. Enlightened figures of history, such as Siddhartha, are examples of this ultimate transmutation – changing a given substance into a higher one (aka “enlightenment”). The first unites the unconscious and conscious. The second makes the union permanent, and the third unites matter and spirit.

Now, now don’t become disheartened. Even though you and I will likely never reach this state in this life, the guide that is alchemy can provide comfort – no matter where you are in the process there is a way through and something else inevitably comes next, if we are open to the change.

Let’s begin. And, as you can guess, it doesn’t start with levity in alchemy. The process is ignited by fire (calcinatio, mortificato). With this burning and decomposing, comes the breaking down of the parts of us that are prohibiting our own progress. (I’m sure we can all think of a few of these.)

After the fire, water is added (solutio) and there is a dissolution of our once identified persona. Air is next (separatio). With air, refinement begins. We become more aware of our authentic selves. This might sound like the first stage where we get a bit of a breather, but don’t be fooled. Uncovering our shadow is a part of this work and shadow work is, again, rarely easy.

At this point in the transformation process is when we have to dig deep and bring to light that which we have pushed away and repressed. These are sometimes powerful parts of us as well as parts that we haven’t wanted to look at fully. In this stage, it is time to bring them into the air and shed light on what was once dark.

After burning, dissolving and unburying, there is a coming back together of what remains (conjunctio). However, the alchemical process is far from complete. The dark night of the soul waits, just on the other side of this stage. Another type of death and rebirth – a fermentation of sorts (putrefactio) – is about to take place. It is the shedding of the cocoon that had once been secure but is now confining. Within this stage of rebirth is not only the shedding but alas also the rising (sublimato) to see the world anew.

Distilling and integrating these new understandings into our lives so that they can become a part of our daily way of being is the 6th stage of this process. At this point, the process can – and often does – begin again, or is “multiplied”. That is why it is sometimes termed “multiplicatio”.

The final stage in this great work (magnum opus), before one reaches the “philosopher’s stone” where opposing forces are united and spirit is manifested in material form, is to coagulate (coagulatio) – or to stop the bleeding. The prima materia, the formless base matter essential for the creation of the stone, is finally found here. All has been stripped away that is no longer necessary – vital for the coming together of what was once considered opposites.

Now that we’ve found your way through the alchemical stages, let’s return to why this is important.

Ultimately, this is about awakening consciousness. And, through the act of making the unconscious conscious, we are creating meaning and affecting change not only within our own psyche but that can influence the whole of creation. Because as opposites unite, we come to understand that “inner and outer” is a false dived. It is fundamental to do both our inner work and to live out that purpose in our outer lives. That is how the inner and practical, personal and communal, unite.

To close, it is wise to remember that as we allow ourselves to fall down the rabbit hole that is alchemy, there is always a rebirth that comes after the labor of shedding, but it rarely presents itself as we expect.

If you enjoyed this article and want a firsthand encounter with your inner alchemist, click here.

 

*Sign Up for our free 9 Essential Ingredients To Court Your Creativity PDF. Learn nine crucial skills you can implement RIGHT NOW to increase your creativity by stepping back into your right brain! Click here to sign up.

 

Dayna Wood Creative Life Coach

Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed-out professionals how to reignite their innate creative wisdom and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science.

Why Alchemy?

Why Alchemy?

Thoughts of alchemy might stir in you images of deluded men during the Middle Ages who tinkered with dangerous substances, such as mercury and sulfur, trying to create gold from lead. You might then wonder why in the world I’m writing about alchemy.

It is true; there were many charlatans promising riches and eternal life while creating hydrochloric and nitric acid in the process. However, what is less well-known is the spiritual foundation at the core of alchemy.

Alchemy is the art of transmutation, or the transformation of a given substance into a higher one – whether it be lead to gold or higher states of consciousness. It dates back thousands of years and evolved independently in multiple advanced civilizations, including China, India, and Greece and became a discipline of scholarly study in Ancient Egypt.

Throughout its history, alchemy could be roughly divided into two branches – “the practical” and “the inner”. The practical sometimes referred to as “puffers and blowers”, were concerned with creating physical wealth and healing elixirs.

The inner alchemists concentrated on the transformation of the self and facilitation of divine truths. The transformation inner alchemists were actually describing was one of awakening consciousness. They believed that the work of the individual alchemist had the power to inform and influence the whole of creation.

Carl Jung brought alchemy back into Western canon. In his book, Mysterium Coniunctionis, he helped elucidate the spiritual and psychological underpinnings of these ancient and esoteric teachings. Jung emphasized that symbolic expressions of states of consciousness can be made manifest through dreams, creativity, and active imagination. And, through the act of making the unconscious conscious, we are creating meaning and affecting change within the psyche.

Both alchemy and Jung speak extensively about the union of opposites within the psyche. For example, Jung termed the male and female parts of the psyche, within each of us, anima and animus. Further “opposites” to be integrated include shadow and light, young and old and the conscious and unconscious.

In alchemy, the first “conjunction” is to unite the conscious and unconscious. However, the ultimate goal is to join spirit and matter, generating the “philosopher’s stone” or magnum opus. Enlightened figures such as the Buddha and Jesus Christ are thought to have reached this final stage of the inner alchemical process.

An everlasting advantage of alchemy is that it can be understood as “a map” of spiritual development. However, this is not without caution. It is very easy to get “lost in the sauce”. Many brilliant minds have debated “the stages” of alchemy and which steps come first, second and last. And, the debate endures, even today.

It is my opinion that the stages are not linear, and I believe it is possible to experience multiple stages simultaneously in various areas of our lives. This is not meant to mystify the process, but rather to provide reassurance that there is a way through, but it might not be what we expect.

Furthermore, I contend that the separation between practical and inner alchemy is a false divide. It is fundamental to do both our inner work and to live out that purpose in our outer lives. That is how the inner and practical, personal and communal, unite.

If you enjoyed this article and want a firsthand encounter with your inner alchemist, click here.

 

*Sign Up for our free 9 Essential Ingredients To Court Your Creativity PDF. Learn nine crucial skills you can implement RIGHT NOW to increase your creativity by stepping back into your right brain! Click here to sign up.

 

Dayna Wood Creative Life Coach

Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed-out professionals how to reignite their innate creative wisdom and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science.

The Pain of Gratitude

The Pain of Gratitude

There is something fundamentally challenging about gratitude that goes beyond remembering to practice it. If I truly admit how damn fortunate I am, I usually experience a myriad of feelings: pure love, then guilt, and then sheer terror.

Guilt and terror? That might surprise you. After all, we practice gratitude to help us become more positive and serene, and more appreciative of the good things in our lives. But sometimes, when I’m thinking about how grateful I am for the people, places and things in my life, I can become paralyzed by the thought of all of it just…vanishing. And that’s a terrifying thought indeed.

I don’t believe this stems from a fear of abandonment, or an attachment disorder issue. Rather, it comes from a deep understanding that everything is temporary. My four-year old daughter, jumping up and down naked on the bed, laughing with pure glee, will soon be a memory. My almost-seventeen-year-old cat, who likes to snuggle in the mornings, will also be gone. As will my partner someday.

So, the question becomes: how do I allow myself to fully open and experience the absolute love and gratitude that abounds in these moments, while also fully comprehending that it will never be the same again?

This is not a rhetorical, philosophical question. Really, how do we receive and embrace the good, when we know it can’t last?

I’m reminded of a Carl Jung quote regarding dichotomy (the division between two mutually exclusive or contradictory situations): “But there is no energy unless there is a tension of opposites…”

When I practice tools that help me become more comfortable with dichotomy, I’m better able to sit with this tension without reacting. These reactions typically take the form of any number of distractions and unproductive behavior, including negativity.

While our brains are wired for negativity and, as I mentioned in a previous post, it kept our ancestors alive, we now know we can actually rewire our brains. Ironically, gratitude is one of the best ways to accomplish this. (See Rick Hanson’s work for more on the brain’s negativity bias).

However, if the experience of gratitude can be painful, then where does that leave us?

There are a few mind/brain hacks you can use to hold dichotomy or, as I call it, brain integration. To give an oversimplified description, our brains have two hemispheres, the left and the right, and they quite literally understand the world differently. The left hemisphere sees things in black and white, yes or no, one way or the other. But the right hemisphere allows for a multitude of shades and colors. It can tolerate the tension of division, and can begin to detect webs, or patterns, that are impossible to see when viewed only in a linear fashion (e.g., yes/no, right/wrong, good/bad, etc.).

So how do we facilitate the integration of these two parts of our brains? Well, we have to start by flexing the hemisphere that is most atrophied, which is – unsurprisingly – the right hemisphere. When we have an awareness that these right-brain experiences are 1. available, and 2. valuable, we can bring back the subtle, yet powerful, knowledge of the right hemisphere into our everyday experiences.

How do we begin to “listen” to the vast amount of information offered to us from the right-hemisphere?

First, we have to listen in a different way, as the messages we receive will “sound” different from what we’re used to. For instance, our bodies speak volumes and are directly connected to the right hemisphere. We can start to become aware of the ways our bodies “talk” to us. You might feel queasy when you’re about to give a presentation at work. Or you get goosebumps when watching a scary movie.

Our intuition is also talking to us all the time. Intuition has gotten a bad rap over the years, with many people feeling it’s “airy fairy” or “woo-woo”. However, our intuition is actually “the ability to understand something immediately”. It’s a sense of knowing. And it’s the way the right hemisphere works: by instantly taking in and comprehending the whole picture. Think about the feeling you get when you know someone is lying to you. You might not have proof, but you just know. Or when you get a really good “feeling” about an interview candidate. Eureka moments are possible in this state!

I’m not suggesting that analysis and mental dissection, which are classic left-hemisphere attributes, are not valuable. They absolutely are. However, we tend to get “stuck” in this way of knowing without allowing or acknowledging input from the right hemisphere. As a result, we miss out on the opportunity to understand the situation from a different perspective; one in which the whole (or gestalt) can be understood.

The right hemisphere doesn’t use everyday language (which is housed in the left hemisphere) to communicate. It usually “speaks” without words – you get a gut feeling, or an image or diagram pops into your head seemingly out of nowhere. So, we have to listen in different ways:

  • Making art

  • Creativity (crafting, cooking, gardening, etc.)

  • Spending time in nature

  • Stepping back to see the whole picture – what I call “zooming out”

  • Being embodied (practicing yoga, dancing, etc.)

  • Listening to music

These are just a few ways you can practice tuning into your brain’s right hemisphere.

Bringing this information into our daily lives does take a certain amount of trust. However, when we begin to consciously listen and make the effort to become familiar with what might at first feel very foreign, uncomfortable, and maybe even undefined or wishy-washy, and then implement this knowledge, more will follow.

The right brain can become a storehouse of valuable wisdom. And, it can be really fun (humor and wit are also right-brain attributes!). With a bit of practice, we can become more familiar and comfortable with the opaque and the dichotomous. And getting comfortable operating from this place can feel like coming home.

Ultimately, we’ll be able to more easily manage the sometimes terrifying feelings that can come up when practicing gratitude. And that’s something we can be truly thankful for.

 

*Sign Up for our free 9 Essential Ingredients To Court Your Creativity PDF. Learn nine crucial skills you can implement RIGHT NOW to increase your creativity by stepping back into your right brain! Click here to sign up.

 

Dayna-Wood-Blog-Post

Dayna Wood, EdS, REAT

Dayna is the founder of Integrative Counsel, where she shows stressed out professionals how to reignite their creativity and spark new meaning and adventure in their lives through the power of brain science.