How I Rise

June 14, 2021

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The theme of resilience is a common thread through many of my art therapy groups. Resilience is the ability to grow through hard times – to bend without breaking and to persevere against the odds. I love to see the spark in people’s eyes when they are able to identify personal resilience in the context of their struggles.

It is easy to overlook our inner resilience even as we see it in those around us. However a key to developing resilience is acknowledging where is it already present. Focusing on resilience contributes to a growth mindset, which can lead us to embrace challenges, utilize constructive feedback, and keep learning through life’s lessons.

Living through Covid times has brought the theme of resilience into sharp focus. We have slogged through some of the most intensely challenging moments of our lives. We have had to radically change our daily habits. We have faced losses and grappled with ongoing uncertainty.

All of these issues can cause us to live in survival mode. Out of necessity we’ve had to adopt a kind of tunnel vision and an intense form of emotional compartmentalization. Survival mode keeps us moving forward during crisis but does not allow for much emotional space to process. As some of us transition out of survival mode, the compartmentalized feelings may resurface slowly or very quickly. For me, the full weight of the past year plus has just recently begun sinking in. This often manifests as a sense of unease, distractibility, difficulty making decisions, uncertainty, and mixed feelings.

Processing with the arts

Art and writing offer themselves as a natural way of processing these times. By its very nature, art making pumps the breaks on life’s frenetic pace. The act of creating requires a little time and space, carved out just for us.

I created the phoenix watercolor painting (top of post) out of an intense need to reconnect with my own inner resilience. For weeks I had been feeling disconnected from myself. I was struggling with daily anxiety. My experiences were very much related to the pandemic and ongoing stressors. During an EMDR session with my own therapist, the image of a fiery red Phoenix rising from my body spontaneously emerged. For those readers unfamiliar with the Phoenix, she is a mythological bird. The myth says that each night she comes back to her nest. The nest spontaneously bursts into flames, which appear to consume the Phoenix. She is reduced to a pile of ashes. However, the next morning a baby Phoenix emerges from the ashes and begins to grow. With each incarnation she grows stronger.

In my mind’s eye I could see the Phoenix wings in vivid detail and almost feel the red, orange, and yellow feathers unfolding behind my own back. I sat down in my studio immediately after the session with my watercolor brush markers. I created the image in only a few minutes. It was cathartic. I spent some time just looking at the Phoenix and imagining ways of embodying her bold and healing energy.

This art experience inspired me to write a poem in response to the painting. I thought about all of the ways we rise. Sometimes gracefully and sometimes awkwardly. Sometimes smoothly and sometimes painfully. But it is the rising itself that matters most.

How I Rise

This is how I rise,
Fierce in a blaze of color and flames like the Phoenix.

This is how I rise,
Slowly and painstakingly like a newborn fawn, trying to find my legs.

This is how I rise,
Groping about in the dark, seeking a sliver of light.

This is how I rise,
Turned in the wrong direction, turning again, and again.

This is how I rise,
Clumsy and shaky, humbled by my process.

This is how I rise,
All at once without warning.

This is how I rise,
Soft like a translucent unfolding petal towards the sky.

This is how I rise,
Jagged and sharp like a mountain peak piercing the horizon.

This is how I rise,
Full of wonder in the rise itself.

-Sara Roizen


Your Turn

Does the Phoenix myth and imagery resonate with you? Do you relate to one of the lines in the poem above? Do a brief scan back over your life. Remember times you rose up from the ashes, stronger than before. Maybe you’re going through that process now. Close your eyes and go within. What do you need right now to begin your ascent? Notice any colors, forms, or even words that appear. How does it feel in your body? Tune in to the felt sense within.

Next, grab any art supplies that appeal to you. Create an image that reflects the rising Phoenix energy. Your art may look nothing like a Phoenix. It may be representational or abstract, big or small, two or three dimensional. For this experience, don’t overthink the process. There is something primal about this energy that does best when given a wider channel. Work on this image until you find a natural stopping point – knowing you can return to it at any time.

Keep the image in a place you will frequently see it. Pause for even a few seconds daily to check in with the image. Do you notice any shifts in yourself? Notice at least one example each day of how you are rising. You can journal about it or just mentally note to self. While you’re at it, see if you can observe the Phoenix energy in those around you. Maybe it’s an exhausted mother rushing home from work who still manages to smile at her children when she picks them up. A client of yours who continues to show up for therapy weekly, despite his heavy depression. A teacher who created a sanctuary for her students during a pandemic. A friend who called his sponsor instead of picking up a drink. Someone recovering from surgery and taking her first tentative steps. Maybe it’s you – slowly but surely stepping back out into the world after this past pandemic year.

If you feel inclined, let your image inspire more works of art. Write a poem like I did, choreograph a dance, or create music to accompany your art. Share the image with others who might need to see it. It will remind you and others of their innate Phoenix spark.







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