The Art of Mapping Emotional Experience

Existing now within the confines and constant threat of COVID19, each of us having our own unique dance with our reactions and responses this new reality. We are collectively trekking through an emotional landscape of loss, fear, guilt, confusion and compassion. We are trying to find answers, truth, acceptance and peace. I am finding that my emotional states shift daily, if not hourly. So, I began to track my sporadic feelings, like a wolf, keeping on the scent of the experience so that I could fully experience and record my emotional topography. I decided to give my feelings the space required to to processes and eventually integrate. It has been a grounding daily practice.

From my emotional mapping, a short story appeared – a bit of art was born out of my process.

I am not a writer. Actually, I have avoided sharing my written words for years, as I felt I was unable to clearly express myself – no matter how much I tried. To my surprise, creativity is bubbling out of my journal pages and providing me with some new ways to share. To those adept writers out there, this post may seem elementary to you – but to anyone who is currently searching for ways to document and explore their experiences in a more creative way (especially during this unprecedented time)…this ones for us!


Some Days, Other Days and Everyday

A Month of Sheltering in Place

Somedays I am great company. I sauté greens, braise oyster mushrooms and toast pine nuts. I light a candle, whisper prayers to the earth and dine at my table alone in silence.

Yesterday I ate straight out of the fridge, container to mouth with the door wide open. Staring mindlessly into the shelves, in search of answers and easy nutrition. I forgot about dinner it was getting late, so, while standing in the the middle of my kitchen, I spoon fed myself peanut butter out of the jar.

Everyday I pause, and give my heart permission to crack open a tiny bit more so that I can allow bountiful love to flow in and out, the act of giving and receiving…even though my tender heart would rather be sheltering in place, locked up and hidden from you. 

Today I danced twice, walked my dogs in the sunlight, recorded an epic dream I received and spent the evening with a cup of tea, wrapped in an afghan reading a juicy piece of fiction. 

Tomorrow I will sit and stare at my phone for several hours, spaced out. Wondering where you are? How you are navigating all of this?  Which one of you may be experiencing the deep sense of loss, grief and sadness with me in that exact moment? I will feel disconnected, despite the online movement class, the zoom team meeting, the texts, FaceTime and constant meme sharing. 

Everyday I give thanks for being alive in this moment in time. To bear witness to these shifts, to experience the fragility of our humanness and feel the interconnectedness of this planet. I find new ways to express gratitude for this opportunity to listen, learn, grow and be of service. 

The next day I will draw a bath at midnight, anoint it with magnesium, lavender and rose essence. Candles will be lit. Sinking into the warm water, my body will surrender and respond to the gentle care. Sleep will softly invite me into its fold, I will dream of attending a live concert, of hunting mushrooms in the forest and harvesting wild white rose blossoms.  

The other day, I walked down the hill to the grocery store at the bottom of my street and bought a bottle of wine. That very night, I poured glass after glass, savoring every sip, allowing the crimson warmth to take over my body, until I couldn’t feel or think a thing.  I decided to leave for a little while. 

Last week we ordered 10,000 shoe covers, 200 thermometers, 2,000 face masks, 28K pounds of emergency food for our clients and 15 gallons of aloe to make and distribute our own hand sanitizer. I spent several organized hours preparing COVID19 documents for our sub contractors and employees with an attorney. I was focused, precise and effective.

Everyday I commune with death. Nightly, I hold vigil for the departed, the families that were unable to properly grieve in ritual and ceremony, the thousands that are gasping for breath, our community members risking their health and wellbeing to serve and save life. Altars, fires and prayers. I call in my ancestors and guides. 

Somedays, nothingness becomes a routine. 

I greet empty space with pleasure.  

Other days, the void is menacing. 

Fueled by grief, fear and loss. 

Everyday, striving to be present with all that is moving within and around me, as complicated and as confusing as it may be.  I struggle, but succeed, in creating space to honor the unusual, the beautiful, the devastating and welcoming whats on the other side of everything I thought I knew. 

Mapping Techniques

You want to give yourself room to explore and experience all that is moving. Whether it be a terrifying thought or a guilt trip for enjoying something beautiful, now is the time to embrace the mess and celebrate the complexity of your humanness. By taking the time now to acknowledge and record your feelings you are embarking on a journey of self-care, expression and integration.

  • The Setting

Be sure to take notice of what you are doing and where you are when a strong feeling may surface. Be sure to record this part of the experience. I have found that some of my daily routines and activities have shown up as ritual. There is often a strong emotional connection to the task I am undertaking or the place that I am in (right now being extremely limited to walking the dogs in the park, the various rooms of my home and the market).

  • The Characters

Are there any specific individuals, animals or objects that are strongly present in your mind at the time of an emotion? Acknowledge their presence and the feelings that come with honoring their visit.

  • The Feeling

It’s easy to forget to capture these in detail because we are so familiar with our own feelings, but try to name them and possibly develop a metaphor to describe what you are experiencing. Try to be as specific as possible.

  • The Body

Notice any sensations in your body. Places of excitement, tension, awe, and anxiety that the dream evokes. Allow those sensations to guide your writing process. You may want to spend a little extra time here.

Through these four cues I have found a new way of moving with my experiences, which in return emerged as creative musings, resulting in new ways to express myself while becoming more in tune with my emotional body – which feels pretty damn great.