How did an artist accidently learn healing visualizations and improve his life? How can you do the same? Read on.
Last year a family counselor approached me and said, "You're an artist, why don't you do up some feeling cards for us?"
Looking confused, I asked, "what are feeling cards?"
"When all else fails, she replied, we use them to stimulate therapeutic conversations with clients and their families."
She showed me a set of improvised cards with pictures of facial expressions on them and on the bottom of each card was the appropriate emotion word: anger, happy, sad, etc.
"What's wrong with these?", I asked.
"For one, we don't have kids in the set, and for two, there aren't any female faces either."
I thought the idea was intriguing, and designed a set with her criteria in mind. She found my new set quite useful, and based on her positive evaluation, I decided to print up a batch and make them more widely available to service providers in helping professions.
Suddenly, I was in the "therapy" business, something I didn't know anything about, and worse, I didn't think that I would ever use my own product. The cards seemed too simplistic, and moreover, I just "made the faces up" and knew them all too well. If they didn't have value for me, how was I going to introduce them?
Was I surprised one day, while preparing for a counseling conference, to notice that attention to detail began to look a lot like unhealthy obsession over too many details. It hit me that my obsession had a name when one of the feeling card faces popped into my head.
Worry! The instant I "saw" and named the feeling, I immediately relaxed and found humor in my own reaction.
Wow! I thought, these family counselors are really on to something. I began to "see" other things as well. For example, my long time partner and confident happens to be very astute, generous, and unfailingly helpful. She could see that I was looking a little anxious and knew that I felt vulnerable as a reclusive artist about to exhibit at a professional convention for the first time.
While I may have looked anxious, I actually felt terrified. I spend most of my time in the studio, and as far as I was concerned, this was really "steppin' out. I irrationally interpreted her suggestions and ideas for improvements as criticism, as being wrong. I thought she was being mean and I reacted in kind. She, in turn, wondered what she was doing with such a jerk and began to get frustrated.
"You know," she said, by this time she was really angry, "there are lots of things you're good at, but you're not perfect, and you really need some help." "Stop being a nincompoop!"
"You mean like this?," and I crossed my eyes, pulled at my ears, and stuck out my tongue.
She was right of course. Our combined energies were so much more effective and powerful than anything I could do myself. Yet there I was, unconsciously sliding into fear, and the angry defensiveness that came with it. The more I began picturing anger or fear as a face, the more I began recognizing and naming the emotion as I was feeling it. The benefits were almost immediate.
We still disagree, being strong individuals with differing ideas, but the time spent "defending" diminishes with each glimpse of a bigger, more meaningful, picture. It is a satisfying feeling, and "coincides" with increasing moments of feeling thankful.
I don't think visualizing emotions is a cure, but it may well be a healing process. Irrational fear wounds, and any moment of emotional recognition, no matter how small, is an opening. In spiritual language, it represents a victory over the cold isolation and restriction of fear and a big move closer to the warm family of emotions centered in love.
Much has been written about love. Recently, my son Alex, a math and physics major at university, began telling me that he loved me. I felt uncomfortable to hear it at first.
"What are they teaching you in math class?," I wondered out loud.
"Nothing about love, I can tell you that," he said, "and that's the problem. "In mathematics, we learn that the infinite exists, but that it doesn't have any purpose."
"What's that got to do with love?," I queried.
"Being centered in love," he said, "is like living with the infinite, which I think is divine."
"That's an interesting twist on science and math, I said, "you're talking about freedom with purpose."
"That's it, dad!"
My son is smarter than his father, but I don't tell him that..I do, however, feel comfortable these days when he says, "I love you dad".
So, with help from Alex, I'm adding my personal observation to the vast literature on love by stating that love emerges when fear is conquered and the freedom of choice begins.
How human is that?
Anyone deciding to visualize emotions can draw and paint facial expressions on their own. It doesn't matter what the art looks like, as long as it is personally meaningful. Assemble your separate faces on a poster and put them up on a wall for convenient reference. I highly recommend trying it out and you don't need to be an artist to do this.
Professional feeling faces are available, ranging from simple icons to the more complex and expressive depictions found at this writer's site.
Happy visualizations and may the Face be with you!
John Beder, BFA, AOCA, artist and Kids book illustrator lives and walks his dogs on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. He began Feeling Faces Cards last year.