Creativity and the Body
July 30, 2021
I’ve been thinking about some ideas I’ve heard recently on the relationship between the body and creative work. I don’t mean a person’s body as a subject, which you can easily find in literature, photography, music, and other art forms. I mean the consideration as a writer that I direct toward my body, and the relationship between my body and the work I do.
Because reading about this is different for everyone and fraught with the complexity of experiences we have of our bodies, this won’t be a chirpy “do this” or “fix that” or “5 steps to happy creative work in your body” kind of blog post. Nor do I ask anyone to comment on the intensely personal, tender landscape of their bodies (or even to keep reading if this is traumatic territory). I’ll stick to my own experiences with a few prompts toward creative work.
Last week I heard meditation teacher Lama Rod Owens refer to the “narrative of the body.” Let that idea sit for a minute. I appreciate his approach, not only to the idea of the body as a story but to navigating the trauma that can linger there.
Have you ever considered your own body as a narrative, a story you may hear and want to tell (or emphatically not want to tell)?
“This is where your body remembers . . .”
Years ago, my friend invited an energy healer to her home to give sessions to her friends (My friend is very generous). At the time I was struggling with an autoimmune disease that had no cure but would require an invasive procedure if it did not go into remission on its own.
I went in with an open mind but no expectations. During the session, the healer ran her hands above my body (no physical contact), and I felt heat above various places where she paused. She gave no medical diagnoses but began to name experiences from my past, some of which she could not have known.
She paused over my lower left abdomen and asked if I had ever been assaulted, “right here.” I had not thought about it for a long time, and it took me a moment to confirm that I had been, in the precise spot she had identified.
“Your body remembers it,” she said.
When her hands reached the part of my body that was sick, she paused again. She described a traumatic situation that had ended a few years before, stating that this was where my body remembered it. She moved her hands above it, and I felt a sudden rush of what felt like fluid around the spot, like water circling around a drain. I also felt as if I were being pulled upward from that spot.
Since the trauma she’d described had not been on my mind, I was surprised by a sudden onslaught of sobbing that began right after the session. Strangely, it was free of actual sadness, or any of the feelings of grief and loss that I had experienced during the traumatic period she had referenced. Rather, it was a forceful physical release and a continuation of the feeling that something was physically being pulled out of and away from me.
As a human in fairly good touch with my emotions, I was familiar with crying when sad. But I wasn’t sure what to make of this!
“How was it? Are you ok?” my friend asked when I finally came back to the group.
For weeks afterward, I felt lighter inside, more energetic. My body craved only healthy foods and rejected the thought of foods high in fat or sugar (I’m a big fan of ice cream so this was a change). It was as if I could hear my body’s voice more clearly than I had before (the only other such clarity would happen years later, during pregnancy).
“Vegetables! Water! Fruit!” it said. “Now!” My body not only knew what it needed but urgently insisted that I provide it.
I also knew I was no longer sick. When I called my doctor and said so, he was skeptical. There hadn’t been enough time, he insisted, and the test results weren’t likely to be any different than before. But he humored me, I went in, and he called two days later stating that the disease was in remission.1 (I tried not to say “I told you so” but kind of failed).
Though the studies that align with the idea that our bodies “hold memories” especially when it comes to trauma also interest me, in the context of creativity I wonder:
What is the relationship between creative work and the body?
How would you answer that question for yourself?
For me, in addition to my effort to listen to and direct kinder eyes toward my body than I have in the past, I appreciate what other writers have to say on their own intersections of physicality and process. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Hiroko Murakami writes about running as part of his writing process.
This makes sense to me as I am also a runner, but as the years have a little too gleefully thrown aging into the mix, I’ve had to make adjustments, pulling back at times and stretching more deeply to accommodate injuries. It helps if I listen to and heed what my body is saying, as I did after the session with the healer. But that is a work in progress and I sometimes ignore or don’t even hear that clear voice. (I pay the price later in lack of concentration, exhaustion, and headaches that can interfere with writing and motivation.)
What is your piece of this question?
Weekend exercise, if you want to: Reflect on the intersection of your creative work and the body it moves through. Is there a physical practice that moves your body into creative work, something you may with kind eyes cast on those vulnerable, memory-keeping places? Is there anything you feel pulled to create from the story your body tells you?
- I should be clear that she made no promises about results. As she explained her work, it was not a magic trick or sure fix, and the sessions did not have the same effect on everyone for those that had an affect at all. She also spent time asking for permission both from me and from a greater kindness/God/Spirit beforehand, so interpret that as you will. She also tried to help my friend’s dog, who remained terminally ill and died later that year, though hopefully she eased some discomfort.