Many of the clients I work with suffer from racing thoughts and negative self-talk. Often times this results in low self esteem with sabotaging, self-defeating behavior such as self-injury and addiction. It’s a continuous cycle of fighting the beast within, succumbing to its ways then engaging in self-hatred afterwards. In her book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, Pema Chödrön shares information about how our thoughts are possibly the biggest culprit of our suffering. If we could learn to sit with the 90 second surge of emotion that takes place when we are triggered, we might learn to let go, but instead we “fuel it with our thoughts” and “what should last for one and a half minutes may be drawn out for ten or twenty years” (p.12).
Last week as I was preparing for an adult art therapy group that I run for women who experience eating disorders, I came across this article written by Thich Nhat Hanh for plumvillage.org that explains the relationship between Buddha and the demon Mara, the tempter. Although Buddha had already achieved enlightenment, Mara continued to pay Buddha visits on a regular basis. Upon these visits, Buddha would not turn Mara away as you might expect, but would instead invite Mara in and greet Mara with “Dear friend, how have you been? Is everything ok?” and then the two would sit down for tea. Mara would tempt Buddha to become a politician with wealth and beautiful women, or even ask to simply switch roles with Mara. And in the end, Buddha would not fall for temptation. Buddha does not become Mara and Mara does not become Buddha. To me, this story doesn’t really seem to speak as much to Buddha’s sheer willpower and ability to resist temptation as much as it speaks to the power of understanding and compassion for self and others. Compassion for the inner workings of one’s self. It doesn’t matter if you think you don’t deserve it, compassion is the medicine; it’s the prescription that will make you better and you practice it with intention, out of necessity.
The story reminds me of a scenario that most people have likely witnessed at least once in their lives: two or more people engage in an argument or deep conversation and while many words, maybe even harsh words are spoken, the underlying emotion of it all is never really addressed. I asked the women in my group to create artwork that would depict what it might be like to sit down to tea with ed – the eating disorder – while meditating on the underlying emotions, rather than getting caught up in the gibberish and nonsense that that it throws at them. How would you depict yourself sitting down for tea with your inner demon(s)? What is the underlying emotion that might be revealed when you let go of the nonsense and chatter? Send images to email@example.com and I will post them here, on the site.
Copyright 2014 © Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.
Rachel Braun, ATR-BC Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA
Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders.