I’ll admit it. I’m clumsy in my body, and prone to gathering little bruises from bumping into things throughout my day. I blame it on being: an Aries—often stuck in my head; an “ideas” person—a visionary big-picture thinker who can hyperfocus on details; and a person bearing the weight of autoimmune diseases and past traumas. Often in physical and emotional pain, I can dissociate from my body easily. I forget to be in my body.
Yet to truly know Spirit—how Spirit loves me and would move me—I need to admit the physicality of divine guidance. I try to maintain a practice of listening with my entire body for God—to allow my body to be a liminal space. As I allow Spirit’s love to guide and heal me, I learn what Spirit sees when seeing me—all of me, including my body. Tapping into my body’s wisdom is essential to my creative and spiritual discernment practices.
Jesse White, discernment, 40″ x 40″, oil on canvas.
When something enters our bodies that tries to harm us, antibodies form to defend our health. Fevers spontaneously arise to overcome something unwell in our bodies. In a crisis, our bodies may flood with adrenaline so we can garner the strength needed to survive. Our bodies intrinsically know how to create. We all are creative in our bodies.
Bodies accept information and either store it or express it. Several years ago I completed a course in “somatic visioning” with Lee Fogel of the Visioning Body, based in Philadelphia, Pa. Lee walked us through a meditation on our bodies, beginning with being a single cell in the womb. She explained that our first lesson as a single cell (before we became multiple cells, and then multiple organisms—before we were more than our simple biology) was to take in information and to express it. Our bodies’ primordial cellular functions are to learn and to create.
Our bodies tell us when change is needed in our creative work through somatic symptoms. I get headaches, stomach aches, and fatigue. When I spiral into thoughts such as, “This piece is not working” or “I am not working/creating well” or “I’m not a ‘good’ artist/writer/creator,” I often develop a sudden onset of physical discomfort. When this happens, I want to throw down my brush or pen and take a nap, eat some chocolate, or otherwise distract myself from the “failed mess” I’ve been creating. For me, this kind of somatic response in my body reflects the need for a big creative change. When I discern what could be changed in my creative work and make that change, I will almost always feel well again—even renewed.
There is that of God in each of us, and there is that of you in you and that of me in me. This deeply rooted Quaker understanding that we are both uniquely ourselves and simultaneously connected to everything is essential to practicing embodiment in our creative work. To recognize God’s nudgings in our creative work and in our life, we must become familiar with where we sense God in our bodies. Those Quaker shakes in worship are a physical response to mysticism. I test them by seeing if what is rising from my gut to my heart to my throat in turn settles (as in messages only for me) or if it bubbles over, into my mouth, into my pen, onto the canvas or the page—into ministry. Knowing where Spirit lives and moves in our bodies helps us to hear where God is leading us in every aspect of our lives.
Jesse White, Tell Me Where It Hurts, 35 3/4″ x 20 3/4″, mixed media on wood.
I have also learned that emotions are physical and can be our spiritual allies.
Anger. Anger makes my body rigid. When I remember to move my body, or to laugh, or otherwise express my anger, I find that it can be a great teacher. Anger always points me in a direction: toward justice. Creativity is essential in dismantling oppression and living into a healthy and just society. Creativity allows us to lament, to express anger, and to envision a better existence.
Pain. Pain exists to remind me that I must bear witness to my own life journey and to practice resiliency. Our bodies insist on living. The blessing of pain is that it alerts me when something is off and I need healing. Pain can be a physical mentor. Often, creating provides vital healing for my emotional woes. I dialogue with Spirit through my poetry. Painting provides consistent healing for me. Regardless of if I like what I paint, I almost always have more energy at the end of a painting session than when I began. Creativity learns from pain. It names the pain, releases it, and contains it in the art.
Fear. Fear inspires self-protection. It begins in the body, in the limbic system, and does not need to move to the brain first for us to react. Our physical reactions are personal: fighting, running away, freezing in place, fainting or disassociating, or fawning or placating. Fear can awaken the inner critic, which tries to protect us from our fears, especially those that are rooted in old wounds and toxic shame. I have practiced getting to know my inner critic. She begs for perfection and efficiency. Sometimes I need her help and sometimes I need her to go on vacation. The secret is curiosity: I have found that I cannot be curious and afraid at the same time. When I am afraid, I practice asking myself a question and allowing myself to daydream in response. When fear and anxiety invoke my inner critic, curiosity lulls her to rest.
Forgiveness. I am practicing gentleness and forgiveness with myself when my creative experiments or life choices don’t pan out as expected. I am practicing kindness when I forget the importance of being connected to my body—when I gather those clumsy bruises, or simply get stuck in my thoughts or emotions. Forgiving myself is a healing superpower.
Gratitude. We are most happy when we are grateful. I try to regularly practice thanksgiving. I laugh from my belly and hug from my heart, holding on to my loved one until it feels wonderfully awkward, on purpose. I practice breathing into my abdomen. I lovingly notice the texture of my skin, and the strength in my hands. It is a blessing to be both God’s creations and God’s creators. I am so grateful that we were created to create.
God asks me to remain spiritually open, and to stay vulnerable to the Word. When I succeed, I experience mystical revelation through my creative practices and in my daily living. God asks me to feel divine physicality so I might better discern divine guidance. My body is a spiritual frontier that I’m continually exploring, a practice that brings me closer to God and to myself. I am called to allow my body and my creativity to be the reeds through which God, and I, might sing.