Creativity always brings us into contact with our resistance. The moment we sit down to write or paint or play, like clockwork a force of resistance hits us. Suddenly we feel anxiety, boredom, avoidance, restlessness, or creative paralysis. What we can’t perceive in the moment is that the resistance we experience in our creative work is often an expression of early experiences in our lives, when our relationship to our creativity was challenged.
My challenge for a long time was that I felt a deep sense of shame arise every time I got deep into my creative work. When I was a child I experienced a lot of racism in the schools I attended in the suburbs of Chicago. Shame is also deeply rooted in Indian culture, and some of my sense of shame came from that lineage. Whenever I hit the most authentic places within me, shame would rear its head to keep me from risking the vulnerability of my expression. I was only vaguely conscious of the effect that it was having on all aspects of my life, because I thought it was normal to feel that much shame.
I had various strategies for dealing with it. In my music, I practiced more and more. I strengthened my technique, learned how to control my voice, and studied operatic technique for many years. My voice became strong and resonant. I learned how to use my breath to deepen its power. I lived the journey of my voice intensely. I knew every niche and orifice of my sound intimately, standing at the piano for hours every day, just listening to myself. I trained for years with my voice teacher, bathing in the resonance of her magnificent, stallion voice. I wouldn’t trade all the hours I spent alone doing scales, evening out the edges, building my breath day by day. But it wasn’t until later that I learned that there was a deeper, rawer voice within me that I would never access until I resolved my shame.
If we start to focus on creative process through the lens of the body, we can start to sense the blocks within our creative process internally. We can feel it as sensation within our bodies. We can begin to sense that these creative blocks are tied to deeper patterns within our lives that originate from our history.
In somatic work, we refer to these patterns as imprints. Imprinting refers to the perceptual effects of an event in our history where our ability to orient and regulate the nervous system was disrupted due to a traumatic occurrence. The imprint manifests as unprocessed and compressed energy or information within our system. These traumatic imprints are held within the nervous system as a protective strategy, to defend the system against overwhelm.
Imprints are initiated by a traumatic event, but they continue to have effects within our bodies and psyches long after that event has passed. After the danger is over, the problem is that imprinted places within the body and psyche do not register that they are now safe. Instead, these places within us continue to operate as if they were still under threat. These parts of ourselves respond to the world in a highly patterned way. In our imprinted places we have a protective filter that conditions how we experience life. We perceive danger where there is no longer danger. In our relationships, we may perceive betrayal when in fact this filter of betrayal has more to do with a relationship with a parent from childhood than it does with whoever we are dealing with here and now. In our creative process, we may experience a feeling of writer’s block, but underneath this stuck place there may be a feeling of shame or another emotion from an earlier experience that continues to manifest in our lives and to block our expression.
Unresolved imprints have an impact upon our well-being, relationships, and sense of feeling safe in the world. They also have an impact upon creativity because in the places where we have imprinting, we perceive the world through a dense perceptual filter that prevents new information from entering our psyche. Imprinting is a defense that protects our nervous system from the overload of sensory information that is the very essence of trauma. If we were to have let all of that information in at the same time, we would have been overwhelmed, and might not have been able to survive the event. But after the fact, our imprinting traps us in a perception of the world that is static. We lose contact with the dynamic and fluid metabolism of our being, which is an unending cycle of taking in information external to us, and a releasing of our expression into the world. If we can’t take in new information, we can’t create. And we can’t heal.
If you have a lot of undischarged imprinting, you may feel exhausted a lot of the time, you may feel anxiety, or even a sense of collapse. Learning about where and how we hold imprints from our history is essential to cultivating the capacity to resolve them. Imprints have a tremendous impact on creativity, productivity, relationships, and health. Being able to recognize when we are hitting an imprint and knowing how to work with it to discharge its energy is a way of profoundly increasing our wellbeing and amplifying our creativity. You might be shocked at how much transformation you feel in your body and psyche once you learn how to release imprinting from the past.
For me, metabolizing my imprints around shame changed my life’s direction completely. It impacted the course of my career and radically transformed the depth of my relationships. In my creative life it has meant that I now value the most authentic expression of my voice, and not only the parts of it that sound smooth, resonant, and lush. The jagged edges have a sound that is distinctly mine, a beauty that I now can love and value and express.
In the next post, I’ll explore how you can recognize imprinting as it arises in your day to day experience.
Private embodiment sessions are one of the best ways to receive the tools and contact that you need to release the imprinting that prevents you from feeling empowered, creative, and in contact with your vital health. If this resonates with you, you can schedule a private session with me (in person on or on Skype) or a free introductory phone consultation online. You can also get in touch with me at [email protected] for more information. Somatic work in a group context is another powerful way that you can leverage the presence and contact of others to resolve your imprints. In my workshop series on Embodying Creativity you’ll learn to practice the skills of releasing imprinting from your history through attunement with yourself and with others in the group.
Join me for upcoming evening Embodying Creativity classes at Somaspace (4050 NE Broadway Street Portland, Oregon 97232):
Friday, February 21, 2020, 7-10 pm, $35 advanced registration
Friday, April 17, 2020, 7-10 pm, $35 advanced registration