While process painting this weekend I tapped an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach and – although its message is still partially mysterious and unknown – I can identify the feeling itself as shame.
It’s difficult when these moments emerge and I usually feel as if I’m somewhere between the ages of 3 and 13. With my adult awareness taking a conscious seat in the background, as if to say “I’m here honey…Go ahead and show me what I need to see…”, the young and tender rawness of the child self steps forward into the feelings (that I wasn’t able to fully experience at that age in real life) and paints.
And also writes…
Pre-verbal rawness arises…the pit of shame…the unseen & forgotten parts. They reach their dark hands up from the depths of heavy throbbing stickiness. They are emerging from a place of forgotten abandonment. As I start to see them, tears begin to stream down through the barriers and lightly kiss the hands with cool wet light.
Shame makes us want to bury our head and hide…which perpetuates more shame. What else can we do when shame arises? The answer is simple but not easy: We can shine light on it with compassionate awareness. Allow the eyes of compassion to see in. It sounds so easy, but it feels like death. Death of our constructed sense of self. Death of illusion. Death of the hope of things being different than they are.
My humanity shines as tears stream down my face. My role as “process painting facilitator” fades to the back as the raw, broken yet pure human self takes precedence. In this moment, I don’t need answers. I don’t need to figure it out or work though it. I simply need to be seen. “I see you. I hear you. And I am here for you.”
Reclaiming the abandoned parts of ourselves is the most important work we can do. Otherwise we’ll always feel a sense of lack and uneasiness. Or worse, we’ll project those parts in us that we’ve rejected onto others or the world itself. Avoiding these feelings can lead us to addiction or perpetual numbing out. But these abandoned parts in the deep dark shadows are not the monsters we think they are. They are like children who simply need to be seen and loved. Invite the abandoned children back in to sit and feast at your table.
This poem by Derek Walcott so beautifully describes this self-compassion:
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
—Derek Walcott, from Collected Poems 1848-1984 (©1986 by Derek Walcott)
My shame reminds me that I’m human. And my higher awareness gently reminds me that I am loveable still. Just as I am. Process painting is my chosen tool for revealing, illuminating, and reclaiming the abandoned darkness that is ready to be seen and loved.