6 Key Practices for Transforming Suffering, #4: Creative Digestion

Posted by Lissa Carter, LPCA

We all have that one block, the lie we continue to tell ourselves, the bad habit we can't break, the life lesson that keeps throwing us to our knees.

Over time, we learn that this block leads to suffering. So we avoid it, we push it down, we deny it, and when it inevitably confronts us, we face it from a place of anger, defeat, and despair.

Not surprisingly, considering that we are not at our best when we are in anger, defeat, and despair, nothing changes!

So we suffer. That's bad, right?

This week’s key takes that assumption and turns it on its head.

Suffering, despite the pain we feel when we are going through it, is an incredibly potent and powerful fuel. Suffering drives much of our creativity. Necessity is the mother of invention because when something hurts, we are motivated to stop it!

But we have to consciously choose to engage with our suffering this way, or instead of motivating us, it will paralyze us.

How do we turn suffering into fuel?

Think about eating a tremendous feast. The table is groaning under the weight of fresh fruit, an array of roasted vegetables and salads, aromatic breads and sweets. There comes a point, despite all of the delicious offerings, at which you have to stop eating because your stomach is full. There is no more room; to eat more would cause pain rather than pleasure.

Life works on a similar principle. When we have experienced an overload, even if it is an overload of pleasure, we need time to pause and digest.

When you have experienced suffering that has overwhelmed your capacity to cope, that’s called trauma. Trauma can keep us in a state of frozenness, an inability to take anything further in—even pleasurable experiences.

That’s where creative digestion comes in. Creative digestion allows you to metabolize your experience, to work through it. This then creates room for new information and new experience.

In creative digestion, the focus isn’t on WHAT you create. Some tremendous works of art, music, and poetry have been alchemized through suffering, but that is a byproduct of the process. The focus in creative digestion is owning your suffering and actively working with it.

This may mean writing everything out and then burning it. It may mean writing a song or a poem about what happened to you, or simply getting up to your elbows in paint or yarn or bread dough, using your emotions as a catalyst to create something that wasn’t there before.

This can be a terrifying process. Suffering hurts, and for many of us, we cope with that pain by ignoring it or pushing it down. Coming into contact with our experience is the very last thing we feel like doing!

Or you may not want to address your suffering because to do so would bring the unkind actions of another person into the light. Perhaps you feel that it is dangerous or unfair to make these stories tangible in any way.

In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott wrote:

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

Don’t let anything stop you from owning your stories or your suffering. Use your feelings and memories as creative fuel to metabolize all of the thoughts and fears that keep you frozen.

Create wildly.

If you do not feel safe enough to engage in creative digestion, please reach out to someone who can help. Whatever you are going through, chances are that someone else has gone through it-- and perhaps they have used their suffering as fuel to create beautiful resources that address the problem!

Consultation with us, and with many counselors around the world, is always free for the first session, and counselors in your area will know of multiple other resources that can get your journey started. Transformation begins the moment you request help.

Creativity is your birthright!

Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

1)     Settle into a quiet, comfortable position and begin to focus on your breath. Use your attention to scan your body, noticing any areas that feel tense, where you are gripping or experiencing pain. Breathe into this part of your body and simply notice it for a while. Notice any colors, words, images, or thoughts that come up. Notice the temperature, texture, and weight of the sensation in this part of your body. When you have spent several minutes breathing and noticing, take a paper and some colored pencils or oil pastels and begin to draw a portrait of the sensation. This is only for you, so turn off any inclination to judge your work and simply create. Use line, pattern, color, and symbol to get this feeling in your body down on paper. Then look at what you’ve created and simply observe it. What messages does it have for you? What does it tell you about where this feeling comes from?

2)     First thing in the morning, find a place where you can be completely alone and make it as dark as possible---closing any blinds and doors, perhaps throwing a blanket over any mirrors or reflective surfaces. The object is to feel totally unobserved. Put on a song that has meaning for you, sit on the floor, and close your eyes. As you listen to the music, simply breathe and let your body lead in any movements that it wishes to make. Keep your eyes closed, and allow any thoughts that come up to simply drift through. Let your body lead, and continue to check in with the body to see how it wants to move next. Again, try and refrain from any judging thoughts that might arise. This movement is just for you and is not about technique or attractiveness. It’s about metabolizing your experience in a way that feels good to your body. When the song ends, take a moment in whatever posture you have created and simply breathe, noticing what you are feeling and thinking. Thank yourself for this time before you leave the space.

Everything that happens to us offers us a choice: where will we go from here? I hope fervently that, wherever you are, whatever your story, you will be able to use your suffering as fuel to create something that is completely yours.


If you’d like to experience the magic of creative digestion firsthand, I invite you to join Sweet Relief.

Sweet relief happens the moment you ask for the guidance and support you need to transform your life.

This group is co-led by an Expressive Arts Therapist and a Pleasure Coach. Expect to be amazed by the power that art, movement, poetry, and pleasure create within you. You will learn new skills in each session, along with home practices to speed up your healing and transformation.  From this place of expansiveness and power, you will meet your blocks head-on. We will be with you every step of the way.

Together, we will create your plan for the life you want and teach you the skills you need to get there. And we will pamper you like crazy in the process with guest speakers, herbal delicacies, support, art, and laughter.

For more details or to register, follow the link here:

As always, I love to hear from you. Feel free to comment below or write to me directly at innerlightasheville@gmail.com.