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By Emelda De Coteau
“Understanding war I do not harm myself.”
It is nearly impossible to hide from violence these days. Even if you turn off your phone or other electronic devices, you may still come across news of the latest police brutality case or terrorist attack. Lots of us walk around numb, closing off our emotions, and still for others, particularly those engaged in organizing and social justice work, there is the tendency to grow weary. Stress feels unmanageable, like an unruly child who refuses to quiet down. But what if it were possible to consciously heal ourselves in the midst of all this chaos? I believe it is not only an attainable goal but necessary for maintaining our emotional equilibrium.
Mindfulness, A Pathway to Healing
Photo Credit: Madame Noire
Although aware of stress, we’re often oblivious to the many ways it impacts us. Clarity, therefore, is essential. Summoning the courage to walk in authenticity and being honest with ourselves, is the beginning of healing and navigating within a stressful world. James Baldwin, noted writer and activist said: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it faced.”
Still, how does one confront pain which is easier to ignore? American culture and modern technology glorify distractions – scrolling through social media aimlessly, consuming, or escaping through entertainment. And yet, our wounds and stresses stay with us, reminders that it’s not all fine. We must become aware, and this is the essential tenant of mindfulness, a practice found in various religious faiths including Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the mindfulness-based stress reduction program at the University of Massachusetts and author of Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment – And Your Life, defines it as “…paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
Living from a place of awareness and understanding instead of denial helps us begin this journey to wellness. Remember these are not fixed destinations, but rather spaces we must work to actively construct. Instead of simply pushing through emotional triggers – systemic racism, sexism, the strain of dealing with difficult people – we observe our reactions, reflect and listen to our bodies. Where do we hold this pain, and how do we acknowledge it without allowing it to overtake us?
Meditation sounds simplistic. Close your eyes, breathe and sit still. Almost too simple to be of any use, right? And yet, these kinds of straightforward disciplines are illuminating. Several months ago, I took part in a mindfulness session. We were asked to consider where we retain trauma in our bodies, and the impact of this on us day to day. As a Mom of an active toddler, I rarely hit the bathroom solo. If you’re like me, the schedule outpaces your energy level. But the longer we talked during the session, I realized this didn’t have to be a lengthy practice. I could start immediately, just 5 minutes a day. Because the alternative, closing your ears to what the body is communicating, in the name of busy, means stress wins.
Get Creative, Break Free
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
Are you a creative like me? Do you dance, write, sing, or craft lovely works of art with your hands? Perhaps you appreciate the creativity of others. The reality is all of us are makers in one way or another, and we can channel these gifts to cope with the chronic stress of life.
Journaling is one of the most accessible ways to express ourselves, whether you prefer writing your thoughts out, or expressing them visually with drawing and collage, it is a powerful tool for beginning to release the hurt which impacts your soul.
Set aside a few moments each day, whether in the morning or evening and freely express yourself. Everyone needs these quiet times alone to move into their truth without shame or hurtful judgment. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, reminds us that “creativity is like crabgrass – it springs back with the simplest bit of care.”
Michelle L. Whitney, artist, creativity coach, and author of Stress Hacks: 166 Tips and Tricks to Free Yourself from Stress and Sleeplessness and Reclaim a Relaxed Life says: “Writing allows me to better understand myself and others while helping me make sense of both global and domestic issues. So many things in the news elevate stressful feelings of helpless because we presume we’re powerless to change them. Writing about these painful things releases the stress and confusion they engender while helping me feel calmer. Even if I don’t find the answer to ending the negativity streaming at me through the media, journaling brings me a sense of peace that helps me approach difficult topics from a calm and thoughtful place.”
Perhaps journaling (whether visual or written) is not your speed. Let your hair down, and get your dance on at home, or sign up for a Zumba class. Have you seen the video of Michelle Obama rocking out in the car to her favorite songs with “The Late Show” host James Corden and artist Missy Elliot? I dropped serious calories around my house moving with them and laughing all at the same time.
There will always be one form of stress or another, but it does not have to swallow us whole. You and I can develop ways to cope, and have fun doing it while being deeply aware of our emotions. Creativity and mindfulness bring refreshing liberation, even during periods of tremendous stress. Commit to cultivating these practices in your life, and watch a lasting joy take root.
Resources on Creativity and Mindfulness:
Magic Lessons, a podcast hosted by writer Elizabeth Gilbert which helps creatives get unstuck. Check out her book, too, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.
Stress Hacks: 166 Tips and Tricks to Free Yourself from Stress and Sleeplessness and Reclaim a Relaxed Life by Michelle L. Whitney and Creative Coloring for Stress Relief hand drawn by Caroline Lehr, arranged by Michelle L. Whitney, and her new YouTube channel, where she shares instructional creative videos.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Check out her online video course.
Like to make stuff with your hands? Check out this awesome site on DIY / crafting.
Emelda is a loving wife and mama, creative, and believer seeking God anew in each moment. She is the founder of Live In Color blog; she writes about faith, inspiration, social justice and motherhood. In addition to her work as a columnist for Beautifully Said Magazine, she is a contributing writer at Our Words Collaborative, a Christian devotional website where each writer shares their personal faith journey daily. She also blogs regularly at Positivity Warriors and Adalmar Life. Resisting all forms of oppression and actively creating affirming spaces for womyn of color is important to her, and she is a founding member of Black Womyn Rising, a radical intergenerational black womyn’s organizing collective rooted in transformative love and global sistahood. You can connect with her on her blog or on Instagram and Twitter.