I’m not ashamed to cry. Throughout my healing journey, I have singlehandedly kept the Kleenex and Puffs corporations thriving, so abundant are the tears I’ve shed. For me, releasing emotion with tears allows me to fully validate and feel emotions, a process that is vital to my transformation. While I recognize that sometimes I need to practice containment when the tears begin to flow (e.g., if I have an important work commitment), I generally don’t censor myself when my emotions flow in the form of tears. I’ve wept on a tarmac waiting for a delayed plane to take off, I’ve cried in a restaurant in full view of professional colleagues when I connect with a sad story I need to share, and I no longer fear what people think of me if tears begin to flow during a difficult conversation.
Every year I engage in deeper layers of my own healing and guide people through their own trauma work, I’m convinced that our emotions do not cause us as many problems as the things we do to keep those emotions stuffed down and buried. To honor the role that crying plays in my growth and transformation, an expressive arts practice recently came to me that I wish to share with you in this posting. I call the process “Transforming Our Tissues.” The process allows us to take the tissues that absorbed our tears during meaningful conversations and turn them into works of art. Not only can this work be a fun expressive arts practice, it is deeply symbolic of how true trauma healing happens at the level of our cells and tissues within our body.
In May 2019, I attended my first Ram Dass Spring on Maui retreat, where I was blessed to attend 12-step meetings with the writer Anne Lamott. Annie is very open about her involvement in 12-step recovery and did not think twice about welcoming those of us in recovery into her space for nightly meetings. During one of these meetings, I cried very deeply about the great struggle of my life connected to a person I love very deeply. I fought through some initial urges to censor myself (“Come on, Jamie, you’re in the presence of someone important”) and just let the pain of my heart flow. At some point during this very helpful catharsis, Annie handed me a tissue that I very badly needed. Later in the evening when I changed out of my clothes, I noticed that the tissue was still in my pocket. Of course, my fan girl side kicked in: “This is the tissue that Annie Lamott gave you! You can’t throw this away!”
In that moment, the inspiration struck me to use that very special tissue in my art journal, and in the coming weeks I accepted the challenge. Through some trial and error, I learned that tearing the tissue into workable pieces and matting it into my art journal with a substance called Gel Medium created a beautiful texture on my pages, over which I could paint. On that initial page, themed along healing my stuff in the six realms of experience on which the Buddhists teach, I marveled how painting over tissues with acrylics and gauche created the effect of a healing wound. And I realized that any special tissue that holds my literal and figurative blood, sweat, and tears could be repurposed in this manner!
Several weeks later, I experienced two similarly deep cries over love and grief with two of my oldest and dearest friends, Allie and Amber. I saved the tissue from the 12-step meeting at which I hung out with Allie on a July morning. The next day, I shared my tears with Amber at our local Panera (another instance of crying deeply in public with little regard to what those around me thought). As Amber validated my pain, she kept offering me brown Panera napkins. Our friendship offers a powerful container for me to share so honestly, and the vulnerability I can show with Amber has allowed me to make some of the deepest healing connections of my life. This day at Panera was no exception.
I decided to mount Allie’s tissue and Amber’s napkin on pages facing each other in my art journal. I affixed them to the page with gel medium (refer to the before pictures in the slide show). Like many pursuits in my expressive arts processes, I had no idea what the process would reveal. I just “went with it,” playing around with acrylic paints, using my fingers to apply them over the dried tissues. The tissue on the left from my conversation with Allie began to take on the character of a cell for me, appropriate since I am being called into a period of deeper rest and non-doing in my life. As I engage in more yoga nidra practices and periods of time where I challenge myself to put down the doing and embrace the being, I can feel myself healing at a cellular level. This challenge is very difficult for me as someone who has long struggled with beliefs like “I’m not doing enough,” or “I’m only valued because of what I do.” On the page that holds Amber’s tissue, I also see a cell, although one that is much more fluid and open to growth.
You can take a deeper look at the how-to of the process and the specific pages in the slide show that accompanies this blog. In the spirit of expressive arts therapy my aim isn’t to interpret these pages; rather, to treasure what they reveal for me personally. What I am learning from this revelation is that my tears and vulnerability are important to the overall process of transformation through release and rest. Healing my tissues—healing at the cellular level—invites me into all of the healing arts that I discussed in this blog. I appreciate that honoring my tears and what they represent is the core of all expressive art that flows through me.
Dr. Jamie Marich
Curator of the Dancing Mindfulness expressive arts blog: a celebration of mindfully-inspired, multi-modal creativity