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Issue 48


In this issue ~~

* Working Through Pain

* Creative Tip

* Wise Words

* Bookshelf


Working Through Pain

Pain is no fun. It's something that happens to all of us, and a daily occurrence for some. But despite it, we still have to live our lives – to do the work that we need to do and the work that calls us. It's hard to work when you're consumed with emotional or physical pain. You may feel distracted or unfocused or just want to curl up under the covers and forget it all.

The good news is, we're creative people. Creativity is not just something we use in our art; it impacts every area of our lives. We can use our creativity to discover ways to cope with our pain or as the antidote itself. To that end, I asked you, the readers of this newsletter, to share the ways you've discovered to help you get through those difficult times.


First of all, I search for my center again. I know when I am out of alignment. I will do this via the breath, using various techniques: breathing into various parts of the body or allowing the breath to breathe various areas of the body. I walk in nature to breathe the expansiveness of what surrounds me. This allows for release and loosening of my attachment to the pain. The outdoors allows me to tap into the greater "all that is."

I will usually do yoga in a very free-flowing, meditative manner, allowing the full expression of the "pain" to express itself and be released through the rhythmic movement of my body. Working in my garden, talking to the plants. Again, the physical movement allows for release.

I have been known to have conversations with an area of my body or my emotional state, exploring what is attached to the pain and looking for energetic links to an event of some sort.

I will call friends of mine, two in particular who I consider mentors, so that I can get a different perspective. This usually takes the sting out of the pain or helps me to move into a different position, which eases things up.


When feeling emotional pain, I use my art as a means of expressing whatever it is that I am feeling. Indeed, it is during times of pain that I find myself most creative. It is as though what is inside is expressed through my hands, whether it be through clay (sculpture) or through drawings or words (poetry).

My artwork actually grew out of dealing with pain. If it were not for the pain due to abuse I suffered from as a child, I would not have needed an outlet for it, and thus I would not have needed to turn to my sculpture or poetry as a way to cope. My art has truly "saved" me, having given a voice to my past.


I am going through a divorce that I didn't want – in fact, it just became final this morning – and it isn't a case of how I manage my heartache so I can make art, it's more like making art is how I manage the pain. Being involved in a project, just for myself, both occupies me, so that I'm not focused on the bad stuff, and feels very indulgent, because it's all about me (unlike real life, where I have a child to consider). Plus, there is an actual thing when I'm done, so there is a sense of accomplishment about it.

The change in art for me is from representational stuff to more abstract – that is, I create fewer pictures of things, but explore color and relationships more. I imagine it's an attempt to capture my emotions. Letting them flow out of me into my art is amazingly cathartic. Look, there is "art" right in the middle of "cathARTic," which is how it works for me.


I have found that one way to not only deal with creative blocks, but depression and emotional pain is to take yourself to a nice restaurant. I have found that pasta acts as a natural relaxer, working far better than any medication that I have tried. Two glasses of red wine over the course of the meal also help.

I like to surround myself with candlelight and restaurants that play classical music. This helps to relieve stress and relax my inner moods. Sometimes, I take a special person along and buy them wine or a meal, but at other times, I go alone, seeking the solitude of a good book. Old Victorian novels help to set the mood, but I have found that reading a Jules Verne novel helps to take your mind off of problems. I try to pick books that will momentarily take me away from this world, so that when I come back, it has the feeling of going on a long trip.

After dinner, I like to take a long, relaxing walk at around dusk. Sometimes, I like to view the stars or the constellations. Something about connecting with nature and the cosmos helps to relieve the stress of the day. It can also give the artist ideas or creative spurts, helping to relieve writer's block.

From E.R. . . .

I have been in emotional distress over a severe illness in my family. I have learned to give myself permission to not work, to not "push myself through it," but to honor my grief, to witness it, to grieve and allow healing to happen, to tune into my heart and follow my inner urgings.

It requires faith that my energy will return and the pain will lessen and my creativity will inspire me again. It ebbs and flows. But if I block out the grief, I block out everything else. I cherish my creative energy when it returns, and the process deepens my trust in listening to my soul and taking precious care of myself.


This is for me an ongoing story. Emotional pain and depression are semi-constant companions. However, I have noticed that after a particularly big dip, I wait for a huge creative wave to follow. These surges have at times proven very productive.

Dealing with the pain . . . for me, journaling helps immensely. So does using "creative imagery" or affirmation tapes. Practicing a brass instrument passionately for 45 minutes. Listening to my inner child and letting her out to play. Moving . . . going for a stroll in a park. Remembering to schedule down or alone time as well as playtime. And last but not least, learning to listen to what my body is saying . . . meeting my NEEDS and being sure that I take as good care of me as I do everyone else.

From RON LEMING . . .

I'm disabled, and without decent medical care, so not only am I in constant pain, but poor as well. And jobs have been few and far between. I don't know that I have a strategy to deal with pain so I can do art, so much as that art is a major refuge for me. I can express myself and take my mind off what's hurting, at least to an extent. It's a matter of forcing myself to get up every day, to get on the computer and do SOMETHING, anything, rather than just stay in bed and suffer.

And once I get into what I'm doing, involved in the process, then my mind takes off, and I start to just create without worrying about anything else. I get fascinated by what I'm doing, and it all doesn't hurt so much. Aside from physical pain, poverty causes immense pain as well, and that's something that doing art can't relieve, without being able to get the work. But I still get up every day and work on it. Nothing much else to do. The alternatives aren't terribly attractive.

From SHARON GOOD . . .

When I'm emotionally upset, I call a friend. Besides getting sympathy and support and feeling heard, it gives me an outside perspective and stops me from "awfulizing" the situation – imagining the worst – and running it around in my mind endlessly. Music is always healing for me. If I'm tired or not feeling great physically, I lie down for half an hour with soft music or a relaxing meditation (a plus for working at home!). And finally, I find teddy bears highly therapeutic in all situations!

From JAN GERVAIS . . .

Last year was a whirlwind of creating and shows, commissions, etc. After finishing up orders for Christmas, tiredness and depression wound its way into my life amidst other everyday problems that just mounted up. I went to an illustrator's conference on April 12th. When I got back, I found that my 15-year-old cat, my baby, was sick, and I had to put him to sleep. My van, which was a used, but great-looking van, which I had for only 10 months, burst into flames 2 weeks ago.

A couple of months ago, I decided I really needed a rest from everything. (I hold onto a 40-hour-a-week job as well as doing the artwork.) I am cleaning my house, getting things in order for when I do start painting and then selling again. I am eliminating clutter out of my house and out of my mind. When the family is home, there's 1 or 2 TVs going, the stereo is going, kids' voices all about, it's sometimes even hard to hear the telephone with so much going on.

My point is, if there's too much clutter, you could miss that creative moment. Take time to deal with the clutter in the house, the clutter in your mind weighing heavily on you. The ideas never stop; just write them down. They'll still be there to paint or write about later. You won't lose anything. With things in order, the creativity will have room to flow. You'll have room to paint, because things are in their place. You will feel better, and you will have grown.


Your inquiry could not have come at a better time. I herniated a disk in my lower spine, which precludes any type of sitting. I am a quilter and quilt teacher, so I have had a lot of time to reflect on life instead of rushing around and "doing." It is easy to deal with pain and be a "Tough Old Broad" when one only has to deal with the concept of pain.

I love how life brings you what you need, even though one may not realize it at the time.


Gratitude is THE thing that works for me, whether it is a physical or emotional pain. For years, I thought I "should" be grateful for what I had, when things didn't seem to be going my way. The "should" part got it in the way of true gratefulness.

Now, when some kind of pain creeps up on me, I look at what I'm grateful for in a different way. I ask myself, "What is right or good about this situation, person, etc.?" It takes the "should" out, and I get to choose what I TRULY am grateful for. Which creates and attracts more of those good and right situations.


Expressing oneself in whatever way possible is a consolation itself. This is something I have naturally realized. I have always been one of those people for whom it is very difficult to let out anger; it would hurt inside bad, but it would not come out at the right moment on the right person so truly deserving it (heh heh heh). It is emotional pain.

Writing has always helped me let out my pain, and not just a late anger reaction, but other kinds of emotional pain, too. Expression of any kind, like I said, helps. I generally let out my emotional pain through writing or painting. I would not say I am a great writer or a great painter, but I know a certain part of me relies on it terribly for turning emotional pain into a fairly creative output. It's like resolving with oneself to find something fulfilling beyond it.


Funny you should ask, as I just broke my foot, on vacation in Italy yet! The pain and inconvenience have been awful, as has the enforced dependence. I am currently unable to drive, walk, exercise, or even stand for long. I find that I'm channeling my creative energies primarily into journal-writing and poetry, as they're portable and require no special equipment or physical ability, other than to write. The poems lately have been about the pain, the brokenness of my body, the frustration, the medical process, etc. I find that they're a good way of integrating the experience into the rest of my life.


Some 11 years ago, after I was forced into retirement, I found myself classified as manic-depressive. I refused to take the prescribed drugs, having been able to do [without them] for most ailments I had to endure in my rather stressful life. It was suggested that part of the cure would be for me to join an association that procured social contacts with others. There, I met Madeleine Garand, the then vice-president of the association. She enrolled me, and we became friends. I found that she had done ceramics and was a renowned artist.

Through our outings, trips, dancing, I noticed that at times, she seemed to be suffering, physically. I learned that her ailment was fibromyalgia. She never really complained. Her secret was in keeping busy, holding self-help groups and reunions, painting classes and caring for her four grown-up and grandchildren.

One day, I borrowed her paint brushes and found that it helped me also. My talents were not as great as hers, but I did fairly well. I also joined her reunions, sharing experiences with widowed people, separated and divorced and others like me, shelved in downsizing.

Without Prozac or such, I've learned methods of controlling my immune system, and except for a couple of accidents, never been hospitalized. To me, the power of the mind can be used to overcome many human ailments.


At the ripe age of three, my favorite aunt died. A few months later, my dad went into the hospital, and like any good three-year-old, I thought he would die, too. To help me cope, my mom spent her free time coloring with me. So now, many years later, my art is a way for me to reconnect to that safe feeling that I had when I colored with mom. The more things change, the more they stay the same! My dad died March 22, 2002, and true to form, I am arting my heart out.

~ ~ ~

When I first put out the call for stories, I expected to hear about the strategies people used to feel better so they could access their creativity. Instead, I learned that most of us use our creative work to deal with our pain, both short- and long-term. This speaks highly for the power of creativity to heal and our passion for it.

Healing ourselves and doing our creative work act in a synergy. As we become more creative, we heal, and as we heal, we free our creativity. Thus, we can turn what could be a downward spiral into one that raises us out of our pain and misery.

Our art can lift us up, if only for awhile, and allow the healing process to occur. Living with physical or emotional pain is an act of courage, and it's comforting to know that beauty can also come of it.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My special thanks to all who generously contributed to this article, inspiring us all!



Creative Tip

When you're experiencing pain, the natural reaction is to resist it and try to make it go away. Instead, allow yourself to go into it and feel it fully. Visualize its shape and color (make it up if it doesn't come to you), and imagine it diminishing. Breathe slowly and deeply into the pain, wherever you're experiencing it in your body. Often, that will relieve or release the pain, at least for awhile.


Wise Words

"You can be greater than anything that can happen to you."

~ Norman Vincent Peale, Positive Thinking Every Day

"Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which, in prosperous circumstances, would have lain dormant."

~ Horace

"One cannot get through life without pain... What we can do is choose how to use the pain life presents to us."

~ Bernie S. Siegel, MD




(click on the book or tape graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)

The Soul's Palette: Drawing on Art's Transformative Powers for Health and Well-Being . . Cathy A. Malchiodi

The Creative Connection: Expressive Arts As Healing . . . Natalie Rogers

Life, Paint and Passion . . . Michele Cassou and Stewart Cubley

The Healing Power of Art: A Self-Guided Expressive Art Workshop . . . Barbara Ganim (audiocassette)

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness . . . Jon Kabat-Zinn

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times . . . Pema Chodron

Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma: The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences . . . Peter A. Levine



© 2002 Sharon Good. All rights reserved.

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