I recently attended Madonna’s Madame X show in Chicago. The show was filled with creative expression but only if you were present to notice. Upon entering, we had to silence our cell phones and have them locked in individual pouches for the duration of the show. This was a non-negotiable request to force the audience to be present – albeit on Madonna, but present nonetheless. The theatrically intense opening emphatically punctuated the following sentence from a James Baldwin quote:
“Art is here to prove that all safety is an illusion…Artists are here to disturb the peace.”
Here is the quote in its entirety:
“Most of us, no matter what we say, are walking in the dark, whistling in the dark. Nobody knows what is going to happen to him from one moment to the next, or how one will bear it. This is irreducible. And it’s true of everybody. Now, it is true that the nature of society is to create, among its citizens, an illusion of safety; but it is also absolutely true that safety is always necessarily an illusion. Artists are here to disturb the peace.”
What I love about this quote is how it challenged me to think about art and connection, and how connection is the magic elixir that makes it mean something. Your story is uniquely you. How you chose to share it, and how I interpret it is uniquely me.
Painful experiences in our past can disrupt this sense of safety in our present.
Past experiences can be painful to work through. Sometimes, the only way through is to find a way to creatively express your pain, so that your past isn’t more important than your present. Baldwin also said:
“We are very cruelly trapped between what we would like to be and what we actually are.”
In this space, in which we are “cruelly trapped,” I believe we can use therapy as a creative expression to become our true selves. Is there any greater form of creative expression than to entrust our deepest selves with another?
In addition to traditional talk therapy, I use Brainspotting, a bottom-up neuroscience modality derived from EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) that’s used to help clients work through issues such as, trauma, being stuck and performance enhancement.
Brainspotting stems from the idea that where you look affects how you feel. Our eyes may truly be the window to our soul; creating a pathway that can file memories and emotions based on where we look. Have you ever been talking to someone and notice you’re looking at a particular spot to access your thoughts? Do you think it was just a coincidence? If so, next time it happens try looking to a different spot and noticing any shifts in how you think or feel. It’s a bizarre awareness once you recognize these subtle, but profound shifts based on where you are looking.
Why does this matter?
Our bodies know how to protect and heal ourselves given the proper space and attunement. Neurons that fire together, bind together. Meaning, a smell may trigger an emotional response to an experience that happened 20 years ago. It’s possible to experience emotions attached to a memory without memory of the event or situation.
Rachel is in third grade and she is asked to give a presentation in front of her class. She is excited and nervous. After her presentation, the teacher tells her in front of her classmates that it didn’t make any sense and she should have been better prepared.
A young Rachel feels herself shrink and want to disappear. Afterward, Rachel is crying and comforted by her peers, and family, yet this incident and what feelings it imprinted in her remain unresolved.
Years later, Rachel is in her twenties working at a company that requires her to give regular presentations. Before each presentation, Rachel experiences intense anxiety, fear of looking foolish, and a constant need to prepare over and over again. Even when presenting to a small group that she meets with regularly. Her fear inhibits her ability to comfortably present to a group and feel present.
Rachel’s fear was attached to a memory from third grade. Brainspotting helps the body access memories that our cognitive, prefrontal cortex brain is unable to access and process.
When the brain is in a state of trauma — which activates a fight, flight, or freeze response — the prefrontal brain instinctively goes off-line. This is important because that part of the brain helps us use language, executive thinking, imagination, ideas and learning to cognitively processes and makes sense of our lives.
Trauma state can inhibit cognitive processing. Instead, trauma prompts the brain to go into a self-protective state where the limbic lower brain takes over. This part of the brain is responsible for rapid unconscious thoughts, emotions, habits, avoidance of pain, and attachments. If Rachel was comforted the day of the event, she may have been unable to process the comforting because her brain was still operating in survival mode.
If we find healthy ways to process our past, we are more open to the present moment.
Painful experiences don’t have to disrupt our sense of safety in the present moment. Finding ways to process painful experiences, whether through creative expression or working with a Brainspotting practitioner, can help redefine our own unique stories.
If you have any questions about Brainspotting or you would like to schedule a time to chat you can reach me at Hilary@millenniumhope.com.