Making Friends With The Darkness

Using your creativity to tap into resilience and move through grief, trauma and tragedy.

(This article was originally published on Thrive Global, March 17, 2018)

This is me. 

This photograph was taken two months after I was violently attacked at gunpoint.  I was trying to hold my head up during a time when my world felt like it was falling apart.  My friend, the photographer, saw the darkness in my eyes and intentionally cast a shadow on my face in the photo.  This is now one of my favorite images of me because it’s real.  It’s honest.  It’s raw.

This turn of events wasn’t my first time on the trauma wagon.  Over the course of 18 months of healing from that attack, I returned to one core truth I had forgotten.

                        My creativity always saves me.

A very long time ago, I learned that darkness was my friend.  When I offered love and forgiveness and a sense of peace to the black space, it got lighter.  Using scent, color, and music to draw me out of the dark gradually meant that I re-designed my future and was able to see things through new eyes and with more wisdom.   It is my core belief that this creativity generates renewal.  It offers me resilience on an altar of change and it offers me a ritual and a cycle to return to any time something bad comes up again.

The author and psychologist Adam Grant has a lovely quote about resilience.  He says, “At the heart of resilience is the belief that you matter.”  It is common for us to look for that sense of ourselves in other people, but when we are moving through trauma, grief, or pain there is no one who can help us in the way we must help ourselves.

You must matter to YOU.

We all have a reserve of native creativity within us.  It’s full when we are children and it empties itself as we become adults.  But we can refill it and find the mattering in even the darkest experiences with a little bit of work and love for ourselves.

Here are the steps you can take to tap into your native creativity and fill the well when you’re going through pain and grief.

TELL YOURSELF THE TRUTH

It’s extraordinarily common for us to hide from ourselves.  Living in how we actually feel is private and very difficult for many people to share, but it’s critical that we are honest about these truths.  The most frequent conversations we have on a daily basis are with ourselves.  Manipulating the self to believe the script outside of us and  what we “should think” resigns us to the perspective of others and doesn’t allow us the access to our real feelings and access to the raw pain that creative healing requires.  If you cannot be authentic with others yet, at least be honest with yourself.

GATHER YOUR TALISMANS

The senses are powerful and they draw creativity out of us like smoke from a fire.  Talismans can be multi-sensory, textural, weighty.  The only rule of a creative talisman is that it must be a physical thing and it must return your mind and body to a state of creative calm.  I do this with color, music, essential oils, natural incense, stones from my travels, and raw crystals and geodes.  I envelope myself in creative love and goodness in my home space and my work space.  When I am out in the world I carry portable talismans on my body in the form of jewelry and the colors and scents that I wear.  If you feel like ‘home’ to yourself, you have succeeded.

CONNECT WITH COLOR

Medium doesn’t matter, but it’s a lot like exercise – you shouldn’t practice in a creative form that feels like work or a burden to you.  My favorite form is watercolor and mixed media, but I also connect scent to color and make mixtures of oils and carriers that “smell” like the experience I want to have.  You can practice in fabric, clay, wood, or for someone who doesn’t feel artistic, even gathering one color from nature is a centering and focal creative practice.  Yellow leaves, yellow flowers, yellow tomatoes – you get the idea.

LET IT GO

Many times we try to work through things by talking to people, telling them how we feel and trying to be understood externally.  And men and women process very differently.  The most important practice for using creativity to tap resilience is letting it go, from the inside out.  This might be in the form of yoga, deep and fascia moving massage, or some sort of ritual.  One of the powerful ways to do this is in a sort of a ceremony.  Gather nice paper, a great pen, and an envelope.  Then write a detailed letter to yourself reflecting all of what you are thinking and feeling – particularly anything  you are holding onto that needs to be let go. The story should be written entirely from your perspective and centered on how you feel about events, not what you perceive was done to you or around you.  Once the letter is complete, read it thoroughly once and let it settle in your heart, then fold it and seal it in the envelope.  Finally, either burn it or drown it.  Letting it transform to a new state which is in pieces and removes it’s power and is transformative.  Note: be safe and careful with the fire option – the water option is available to nearly anyone in any space.  

PRACTICE AND RETURN

What do you do when you’re done with all of this?  Practice it, stick with it.  Gradually, turn the page.  Move ahead.  Remember but don’t dwell.  Look for the gifts that the trauma, grief, and even the anger that came from this experience gave you.  Acknowledge the changes in you and your growth and live from a new point of view.  Then examine how you are living your life and try to let this transformation inform a new way of walking around in the world.

You are better than the pain and suffering you have endured and that you will endure in the future.  You are sometimes broken and sometimes mended.  The darkness is a blanket of comfort and reprieve if you remember  to punch holes in the blanket and let the light of the moon shine through.

Darkness is a friend if you let it be –  and let it go.

Please don’t forget to rejoin the world.

And never give up on the creative power of returning to yourself.