Yesterday, I was very happy to participate in a brave and optimistic project called The Art of Life After―a collaborative art and healing project for survivors of sexual violence.
I led a workshop called "Grounded Words," one of five healing-centered art-based workshops that took place over the weekend at the Meeting Point House in Jamaica Plain, Boston. My own workshop used a combination of very simple yoga postures, a bit of yogic philosophy, and a writing exercise designed to help expand the possibilities of what is sayable, as so often memories of trauma feel beyond the reach of words due to feelings of shame and the protective psychological phenomenon of dissociation.
Above is my slightly un-Kosher drawing of the "koshas" that I handed out during the workshop. The koshas are a yogic conception of the body's various layers (one physical, four subtle). Usually they are depicted as being nested one directly inside another, like Matrushka dolls, but to me it makes more sense to place the mental body higher up, and the intuitive body closer to the belly. The reason I wanted to share the idea of the koshas with survivors of sexual trauma is because, according to this philosophy, there is untouchable joy at the center of our beings. No matter what happens to our outer "sheaths," this sheath (often described as being "no bigger than a mustard seed") remains constant and invulnerable. If we lose track of it, it is only because it has been obscured by confusion or disorder in the outer sheaths. It is not gone. If it feels remote, our task is to uncover it by working with the other sheaths, gently and diligently bringing equilibrium, steadiness, and strength to them through practices like yoga, meditation, walking, cooking, dancing, gardening—basically, whatever activity gets you fully (all 5 sheaths) into the moment, into your body, mentally focused, breathing freely...
We followed the meditation on the koshas with a writing exercise, then open discussion. Healing from sexual violence is difficult, deeply confusing, and lonely. I was inspired by the willingness of the participants to share their stories and honor their own and one another's experience. Their determination to heal and grow was awesome.