Painting to Calm My Anxious Brain

I’m a fairly anxious person. I over think and over analyse most things. From the moral, environmental, and health implications of every snack I choose for my kids each day, to how to spend my money (with many of the same worrying implications), or how to prioritise my life.

Often even as the over thinking is stressful and building I am able to manage. But it regularly builds and becomes overwhelming. I am learning that this happens most often if there is a bigger underlying stress. In recent months and years that underlying stress has been changing and I have made progress. But there are many large life questions I have been wrestling with that are still there even as they have shifted.

These big background stresses are complicated and interconnected and are hard to keep ahold of mentally. As I talked about that with a friend recently she suggested that I draw. No rules, no limits, no specific guidelines, just draw something of my mental worries. I am terrible at drawing without judging my skills (I can’t draw stick figures usually without just feeling so ridiculous), so I chose rather to paint abstractly.

I didn’t know what to do, or what my goal was. I tried to just clear my conscious critical reactions, and move the paint brush around. I chose colours that I liked. I painted shapes and colour progressions that somehow resonated. And as I went I thought about the particular life questions that were weighing heavily that moment. When I had finished painting I did some writing – almost captioning – and that also added to the process for me. It helped to solidify the meaning of the progression of colours I had been working with.

And when I was done, my brain was calm. What had been a very tumultuous and upset mental space was calm. I didn’t have “answers” but I did have a better understanding of my own thought processes and even a better grasp on WHY those things were causing me anxiety. It had been a far more useful 20 minutes than I ever would have guessed before I began.

When I talked with my husband about it later and some of the reasons it had been helpful, he offered the idea from the Writings about ultimates. Our higher, spiritual selves are contained within out lower natural selves. And this is true of the world around us. And this way of putting my thoughts into an image outside of me is also like an ultimate of a higher thing. Ultimates can hold and contain something much bigger, and also help us to see the boundaries of that bigger thing. Those boundaries are sometimes extremely helpful to see.

This passage from Arcana Coelestia 4240 is jumping in to an explanation of the phrase “To the land of Seir” but I love the conclusion about boundaries and how the natural level holds the spiritual level:

‘To the land of Seir’ means celestial-natural good. This is clear from the meaning of ‘the land of Seir’ in the highest sense as the Lord’s celestial-natural good. The reason why ‘the land of Seir’ has this meaning is that Mount Seir formed a boundary to the land of Canaan on one side….and all boundaries such as rivers, mountains, and stretches of land represented the things that came last….Indeed these boundaries acquired their individual representations from the land of Canaan contained within them, which land represented the Lord’s heavenly kingdom, and in the highest sense His Divine Human….Things that are last, existing as boundaries, are those which are called natural, for natural things are the boundaries holding spiritual and celestial realities within them. This is so in the heavens, for the inmost or third heaven is celestial because it is governed by love to the Lord; the intermediate or second heaven is spiritual because it is governed by love towards the neighbour; and the last or first heaven is celestial- natural and spiritual-natural because it is governed by simple good, which is the last degree of order there. And the same is true with the regenerate person who is a miniature heaven.” (emphasis added)

So I pass along this exercise to you, in hopes that on a day when you don’t know what to do to get to the bottom of your anxiety, you let yourself draw or paint and put some boundaries for those bigger things to flow into. And hopefully it will provide you some of the same peace it has for me.

About Abby Smith

Abby is a person. She works at being an emotionally intelligent person whose main focus currently is being a happy and loving mother to four kids and wife to Malcolm. Born and raised in a General church minister's family, she has been exposed to the Bible and the Writings since childhood but is enjoying reading and understanding these books as an adult more and more. The amazing knowledge about love and wisdom and all of the emotions that follow have truly made her a happier and more self-assured person. Her husband serves as the head pastor of New Church Westville near Durban, South Africa. While leaving family behind is a challenge, she quite enjoys living in Africa.

One thought on “Painting to Calm My Anxious Brain

  1. Well said, Abby. Your experience shows me an example of recent research indicating that ‘the arts’ help brains to grow and develop, regardless of the area of growth/development being aimed at. Your quote from AC indicates WHY that is the case.
    Though I’m not an anxious person, this suggestion of drawing or painting to help clarify and ease thoughts seems worth trying (despite the fact that stick figures are about the highest level of my artistic ability!).

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