I just returned from a week long expressive arts teacher training and was once again, SERIOUSLY blown away by the magic that happens when you bring a group of creatively courageous souls together, ask them to go to their creative, emotional and spiritual edges with the intention of becoming more whole and healed, and then stand back and be absolutely blown away by the how they bloom and blossom in all KINDS of incredible ways.

One thing I have learned in my many years of facilitating this expressive arts/ intuitive painting process is that THE primary mechanism that allows for the deepest healing to happen is simply giving people TOTAL permission to express ALL of who they are fully and completely.

There is NOTHING…and I mean NOTHING… that is off limits, too much or taboo in these healing circles. 

Which is apparently kind of a radical proposition. In the beginning of my career I never really got HOW radical this was, but over the years I have gotten the message loud and clear from so many of my students that it is actually pretty rare to find a community where the permission to be utterly and apologetically yourself is so total and complete.

At my workshops and retreats people can express EVERYTHING they are and everything they feel. And that includes all KINDS of taboo emotions like grief, anger, neediness and sexual energy.

In my circles it’s OK to fall apart and not have to have it all together, to be emotionally needy and to ask for comfort and support.

There’s no prohibition around wanting to be the center of attention and expressing a deep desire to be seen and celebrated. There’s wild encouragement for going big and taking up space, both in the painting studio and in the sharing circle. You can unabashedly own the fact that you are powerful, and the only response you will get from your sisters in the circle is “ More please.”

There’s always plenty of room for grief and tears of all sorts, including racking sobs where you can’t even speak. Sometimes people in the circle spontaenously break out in song. And of course you can never be too wild, or whacky or weird.

There’s also total permission to be deep and tender and soulful. To be celebrated for being shy and quiet and introverted.  To not have to fit in and be like everyone else in order to experience a deep sense of love and belonging.  To take up space in your own way by being silent and inwardly focused.

To ask for and get attention simply for being without DOING anything at all. To share unconventional spiritual experiences without fear of judgment. To claim ALL of your gifts and talents and be celebrated for them with great joy and not have to worry that someone else will be threated by your brilliance. To know that your successes will be responded to with joyful celebration.

To have boundaries when needed and to be able to say without hesitation a full YES and an equally powerful NO.

This is a place where being self-centered…. AKA…. being centered in your self is seen as a VERY good thing, where selfish is not a four letter word, and saying clearly and unapologetically what you want and need is greeted with joy and jubilation.

One of the main things that gets healed through this experience of radical acceptance by a loving community is that deep sense of shame that so many of us carry.

Over the course of our lives, we learn in a multitude of ways that core aspects of who we are is simply seen as bad and wrong. Of course, that’s never really the case. Who we are is beautiful and amazing. But over the years we get the message from family, school, work situations and even friends that we are too big, too much, too weird, or woefully not enough.

Maybe we’ve told that we’re too loud or too silly or too emotional. Maybe we hear that we’re not smart enough or pretty enough or loveable. Maybe we get criticized for the size and shape of our bodies or the way we think.

Whatever the message is, when an essential aspect of our being is denied , shut down or criticized, it creates horrible feelings of shame. We believe those messages because we hear them when we are very young and have no way to combat them. And then they often get reinforced over and over again, either through the outer world or through the messages we have now internalized and continue to give OURSELVES.

When we are in a shame cycle we desperately try to hide the thing that we’re ashamed of… if possible. And if we can’t hide the thing itself, whether it’s our skin color, body size or a physical disability, we definitely try and hide the feelings of shame. 

Shame thrives in the dark and only becomes stronger the deeper and longer it is hidden. Shame is SO incredibly painful that we try to avoid feeling it at all costs. But there’s really only one thing that heals shame and that is to bring the shameful feeling or characteristic or way of being out of the darkness of self hatred and into the light of love.

Which is why healing circles where you can be FULLY accepted and loved just for being yourself are SO powerful and effective at healing shame. When you are part of a community that values you and sees you as worthy and lets you know in no uncertain terms that you are treasured and revered and esteemed it really DOES change everything.

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