Shining a Creative Light on Emotions

Special thanks to our guest blogger Shawn Smith. Shawn is a Spiritual director, worship leader, musician, and photographer. He is a frequent collaborator at Horizons and is particularly interested in the intersection of worship, spiritual formation, and the arts as pathways to intimacy with Christ. Thanks for sharing this with us, Shawn!

I consider myself a creative person. I work primarily in the realm of music making, songwriting, photography, and poetry. I am also a person who does not process emotions well, especially the negative ones. When it comes to depression, sadness, or my most neglected emotion, anger. I would rather not feel or even acknowledge these emotions. But, to be human is to experience emotions, so it is better when I attempt to look at them and see what they are telling me instead of my usual response of avoiding, stuffing, or numbing my feelings. I want to take a look at using creativity as a way of exploring, experiencing, expressing, and processing the full range of our emotions. This may require as little as a pen and a piece of paper, a musical instrument, a camera, or a palette and canvas depending on your artistic medium.


As a creative person, I have found that using my creative outlets can be a way to let my emotions out and learn a bit more about what they are teaching me about myself. Now, let’s look a little more in depth at the process of Noticing, Feeling, Expressing, and Reflecting upon our emotions/feelings.


Noticing happens when I become aware of an emotion. This awareness can happen in the moment or it can happen during reflection upon the days events, wondering with curiosity how those events made me feel. Once I have noticed a strong emotion, I am able to then step back and try to name that emotion. It could be noticing that I got angry when I was cut off today while driving to an appointment or feeling sad about a loss I have experienced.


After noticing and naming the emotion, I take a few moments to just feel it. What does this emotion feel like? Where am I experiencing this emotion in my body? What caused me to feel this way? These are all questions that guide and help me to feel or experience the emotion more fully.


If you are like me, this process is good, but it still feels incomplete. I have gotten part of my head around these feelings, but now what do I do with them? This is where the creative process becomes important.

Once I have felt the emotion, I try expressing in music, photography, or drawing. You can try this through your chosen creative/artistic medium. This could be drawing, painting, writing a poem, taking a photograph, writing music. Whatever your medium of expression is, try to capture what you are feeling or what you felt. Take your time with this and try not to judge what you are creating based on artistic standards. The point is to express your feeling not to worry about how it looks or if it is “good enough” this is only for you at this point no one else ever has to see it so take any of that pressure off and just express. Later on you can decide if this is to be shared with others or not.


Finally, take the time to reflect upon what you created. Did you gain any insights into what you were feeling through this process? You may wonder why you chose to draw the image you created or wrote certain words in your poem. Are they telling you anything you weren’t present to in the moment? What memories or other emotions are revealed in your creative work? What desire or longing lies beneath that emotion? How does your creative work reflect that deep longing? What was the act of expressing the emotion like for you? What emotion do you need to understand a little bit more?


One of the unfortunate things about committing a process to writing is that writing necessarily confers an order and structure to a process that may be much less ordered and structured than it appears on paper. For example, sometimes I need to create in order to notice and name an emotion. I may discover something in reflecting on my creative work that leads me back into editing and revising to clarify my feelings. I invite you to not be confined by this process of feeling and creating but instead to use this to feel and create more freely.


Are you willing to try Noticing, Feeling, Expressing, and Reflecting upon that emotion to know yourself and your art more fully?

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