Our toughest moments in life often arise from a series of unanticipated situations or deep trauma– say a lay off, a chronic illness, or the sudden death of a loved one. Finding peace in the face of our hyper-connected world and overworked schedules can feel impossible, out of sight.
It’s so easy to numb ourselves through entertainment or to stay busy while mindlessly checking tasks off our lists. Yet in doing so, we often (both consciously and unconsciously) prevent ourselves from truly feeling our emotions– until one day, we break.
In order to find peace, the first step is setting the intention to heal. The second is to engage more meaningfully with ourselves and the world by exploring our emotions as well as nurturing our inner artist and our relationships.
Six months ago, I moved to NYC with one suitcase, looking to enjoy this new city as a fresh college graduate, also aiming to find a job. As a former student-athlete who is used to having a packed schedule, I found myself with an empty calendar for the first time in years. In my first two months, I was riding an all-time high, prioritizing fun and downtime– exploring, reconnecting with great friends while making new ones, practicing yoga every day, and simply enjoying the beautiful summer.
The “honeymoon phase” didn’t quite last forever. My “empty calendar”, all this free time, turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. I experienced heartbreak, rejection from jobs, and the passing of my grandfather while being away from my home country, unable to return. I was drowning in a flood of emotions– emotions that I had felt before, but only at surface-level. Fear, confusion, pain, and sadness. I didn’t just want to go home to find comfort by my family’s side. I needed to escape.
Instead of numbing our emotions, we can become intentional about healing.
The reality is that there is no escaping. And in my case, I had all the time in the world to let my emotions sit although I tried hard to shut them down. After many days of feeling lost, fragile, and stuck, I began journaling instead of binging Netflix. At first, I felt uncomfortable and ashamed to be writing about my sadness, labeling it as “overdramatic”. Yet in the process of writing, I experienced freedom and peace. It felt deeply therapeutic to let my thoughts write themselves down on paper. I realized how beautiful my very emotions were– unfiltered and raw. It made me think about the reason so many of us connect so deeply to art every day.
What if we nurtured our inner artist, allowing our emotions to flow through art just like musicians, writers, and artists do?
Why do songs move us so much? How about poems and novels? Artists themselves often find inspiration from their vulnerabilities. Think about how many songs, poems and novels have been written about love and pain. As listeners and readers, we connect to the truth and depth of these artists’ words, and in some cases can even find strength in them for our own journeys. So, if we can find beauty in other people’s emotions like we do through these works of art, surely we can choose to find beauty in our own times of struggles, too, right? Art can be a gentle and soothing way to explore our emotions and reconnect with our senses, letting our mind and soul create without judgment. We just need to find a creative flow and allow our inner artist to shine.
What if we nurtured our relationships— both old and new?
While I was living out of a suitcase and jumping from place-to-place, moving around helped me deepen my relationships with those who hosted me. I learned that the quality of our relationships are just as important as the time we spend processing our emotions in order to heal. I got to become friends with this incredibly caring Columbian couple that hosted me for 2 weeks.
We may have began our relationship as strangers, yet we got to share stories and aspirations, play the piano before bed every night (well, I just listened), and even climb through the kitchen window to take shots with the neighbor. At the time, my hosts were being evicted from their home which they’d lived in for 20 years. While we were undergoing different challenges, it felt serendipitous to find each other at equally pivotal moments in our lives despite our age difference. It also meant a lot to be receiving support from loved ones and having friends opening their homes for me. I realized that relationships can restore gratitude and bring a breath of freshness we didn’t even know we needed; they remind us we are not alone in our times of adversity and that we are loved.
We can heal by engaging more meaningfully with ourselves and the world through art and relationships.
When we tell ourselves we need to escape, like I did initially, odds are our subconscious will likely focus on its distance and duration (going far away for as long as possible). What I’ve found to be most helpful is intentionally channeling my energy towards exploring my emotions through art, as well as nourishing and building meaningful relationships. Instead of running from something, let’s redirect our focus and look for healing.
To all those experiencing pain, we hope VAWAA can guide you through your growth.
May you heal beautifully, through art, relationships, and travel.
Written by Jenny Quenard