Turning Poison into Medicine

“Turning poison into medicine” is a concept I heard many years ago, and I was told it was a Japanese concept. I Googled it today to provide you with a more solid explanation:

Hendoky Iyaku is a principle that may be used in order to remain undefeated even in the face of the greatest obstacles and challenges of life. It means that the greatest sufferings and problems can be turned into a limitless source of joy and wisdom. All human beings are confronted with sufferings, without exception.

Buddhist Terminology: Changing Poison into Medicine
by Quotes and Sayings

I was reminded of this expression when I read existential ergonomics‘ post Seasons of Creativity, where she writes from a point of long-term illness, and how her writing creativity evaporated for a few years and how she is taking steps to bring it back into her life. She has also written a tip filled post on The Heart of the Matter: Creativity in the Time of Cholera (or Whatever Else Stands in Your Way) which give so many excellent pointers, which are basically about reorienting our expectations and even our methods to still be creative.

“Think of the pearl when feeling particularly discouraged. A grain of sand–an irritant–gets into the oyster and, over time, that pain is crafted into something beautiful, cherished, and long-lasting. We, too, can transform our suffering into something magnificent.”

The Heart of the Matter: Creativity in the Time of Cholera (or Whatever Else Stands in Your Way)

I related to so many of the points she wrote, having use them myself through they years.

I have been through many ups and downs both with chronic health issues and severe, debilitating stress, so my creativity has ebbed and flowed. I let go of my expectations many years ago, and just allowed myself to follow where I was being led, whether it was a couple of years spent ripping up colorful art papers and then gluing them down onto cardstock, channeling my anger or grief into physical, dynamic art or just doing something simpler, and easier. Through all of those moments, I had artwork eventually come out of the pipeline.

I went through a couple of years where I was unable to paint or draw, and for an artist that’s devastating. I called it my apple-sauce period, for all I was able to do was to first rip up the many scraps of high quality colored art papers into different color-sorted bags: greens, blues, red, etc. Then I spent hours just gluing those small scraps onto cardstock. I felt like one of the old folks in a retirement home barely having the strength to eat applesauce.

Once I came out of the stresses that were killing my creativity, I started to incorporate those colorful collage pieces into other pieces of artwork and they looked amazing. It was all part of the process of turning poison into medicine.

By the way, I did this before collage was seen as a “real” art form, so I got a lot of criticism from some people, telling me I needed to channel my talents into recognized art forms, or I wouldn’t be taken seriously. Pfff! Really? Use my therapy against me that way? Shut up! Thankfully now it is seen as an art form that is acceptable, but I would have done it anyway!

The kind of artwork or creative piece where only pretty results are created may not serve us through all our storms. Expectations of society tell us we need to create something nice, of good quality, to be acceptable.

I think especially for women, this is an extension of the messaging we receive through our lives: “Be nice! Don’t make waves, and don’t make people feel uncomfortable!”

What if we gave ourselves permission to go beyond that?

Sometimes we need to capture and channel the storms, and other times we need to find a quiet corner just to be able to doodle! There are no rules, no right or wrong, and creativity can be used selfishly, just for ourselves only as a therapy tool. It can be ugly, imperfect, scary. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else or have anyone’s approval. It is a conduit we can use to go through in life!

Giving ourselves permission to explore wilder or different sides of our creative spectrum is wonderful a method of regulating our emotions.

As PERFORMANCE PSYCHOLOGY writes in What is emotional self-regulation? regulating our emotions gives us more resiliency in life!

“Resilience is usually thought of as the ability to bounce back from a difficult situation. In the meantime, however, a newer and broader definition has also emerged. According to the new definition, resilience can be defined as the ability to prepare for stress, adversities and trials, respectively to recover from them and to adapt to new situations.”

Being resilient means having a 100% charged battery. This way you have a greater ability to stay calm, think clearly and be in control of your mind and emotions. You can better adapt to the situation and manage along the way. You have the ability to go through challenges by going with the flow – like a surfer riding the big wave instead of sinking. This inner posture and balance will help you succeed.

PERFORMANCE PSYCHOLOGY in What is emotional self-regulation?
quote and photo – Unknown

I remember the events that I went through which I described in Purge by fire… could this help you? where I created wild, scary artwork where I had poured my anger out:

My most intense healing came from a piece that went through a few stages. I had created a moody Jackson Pollock-style piece with deep blues, and vibrant primary colors, which then served as a substrate to which I glued words and paragraphs of my angry thoughts I had written on various art papers I had laying around on my work-table.

When my second husband saw it laying on my table he was deeply disturbed by the extremely negative and aggressive appearance of it; unfortunately, that triggered yet another fight between us, and I ended up ripping the piece up, shouting at him “Are you happy now?” The more heated the fight got, the more I ripped the artwork up, crying and devastated that I had felt “driven” to destroy a powerful piece simply because he wasn’t able to see that I was doing my best to purge the old anger and pain from my heart.

He suggested I take the pieces up to the mountain and burn them in a BBQ pit. Even though his suggestion made sense, I became angry with him for being so critical of my work and my process. I was sure he was motivated to just get the artwork out of the house in any way that he could, but I decided to give the process a chance.

I packed up those pieces, plus a bunch of other random art supplies, not knowing exactly what I was going to do, but allowed my hands to make the choices for me. I went up to the mountain, lit some sage in a shell to try to calm down and start my process.

My second husband’s reaction to the artwork was strong, and that triggered more fighting between us. (I will admit, those were some dramatic, violent colors and words I used, and the overall effect was a little scary.) At his suggestion I took the ripped pieces up the mountain and did create a little burn ceremony, without knowing I was creating one at the time.

That whole process taught me that I could use artmaking as part of my toolkit for dealing with intense emotions, and that the whole process could redirect me into a place of release and calm.

It was absolutely amazing to me to learn I had this power within me!

I felt giddy with the realization that I had freed myself from needing to produce pretty pieces that would be acceptable to others, and instead just let my emotions guide me until I reached a better place.

You may not be an artist, maybe your creative interests are differently oriented.

Have you used your writing or other creative outlets to release, and to regulate your emotions related to something you’re going through? Have you changed your creative habits to work with your current situation or are you still struggling to be creative in the old ways you knew so well?

Maybe it’s time to give yourself permission to shift gears and do thing differently.

Here are some new things I have tried when the old things just weren’t doing it for me:

  • Tried painting very large format canvasses not using any refence photos of ocean waves, but tried to create a portrait of how they felt to my soul
  • Used watercolor paper, edges thickly masked to create Acrylic abstracts
  • Took up jewelry making when my body became hyper allergic to metals, except for copper, so I make my own jewelry
  • Explored abstract art and collage work when I had no attention span left to create anything realistic
  • Taught myself calligraphy, using my own handwriting as the base, because learning special alphabets was too difficult for my brain to absorb
  • Collected found objects on the street and incorporating them into collage pieces I had wired onto artboards

I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things, but that’s okay too.

Sometimes we just need to give ourselves permission to do ugly, fierce, imperfect stuff! Sometimes we need to ugly cry. Sometimes going through all those emotions, facing them head on in a creative storm is exactly what we need to be able to release, and get moving again in our lives.

Stuffing them down inside of ourselves is the poison that slowly kills our spirit. Creativity can release them in powerful ways!

Think about some powerful music pieces where the composer channeled their emotions into it. Think about how some sculptors or choreographers channeled their emotions to give us incredible pieces of artwork!

How can you use your creative spirit to move through what you are currently experiencing? Trust your hands and your spirit, as they guide and show you what your soul needs!

quote and photo – Unknown

Creativity as therapy is powerful. If you currently feel blocked by what you are going through, I encourage you to explore using creativity in new ways to face that inner storm and to give yourself an opportunity to expel the negatives that are blocking you.

You don’t need to try the old subjects and methods you used to engage in. Let your spirit tell you what the new direction could be and just embrace it!

Want to take a clay class to throw mud around? Go for it! Want to refinish old chairs or dressers and transform them? Why not? Thinking about taking up a welding or glass blowing class? Sounds good to me!

Whatever your spirit whispers to you, listen, don’t ignore it!

Maybe as you were reading some ideas started to float into view. Don’t dismiss them! Write them down and investigate what’s going on in your area! Who knows, maybe you’ll meet some like-minded people!

Go for it!

Your emotions: the quiet lazy River or the roller coaster?
“Keep your energy in a bottle” – advice I received during chronic illness,

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31 thoughts on “Turning Poison into Medicine

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Tamara. The quote at the beginning really resonated, and I’m sure I’ll be writing about it in the future.

    I also like your applesauce metaphor. We all have an applesauce moment, I’m sure. Creativity is definitely underrated, in terms of how it can support us through challenging times, especially when family and friends begin to judge it as “good” or “bad,” instead of simply seeing it as “is” or a state of being.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Kathy! I look forward to reading your future post! Yes, creativity is definitely underrated for our healing, though thankfully more and more people are using poetry and writing to help themselves. Those are usually easier to conceal from the prying, and judgemental eyes of family and friends, and can serve as a great outlet!


  2. Thank you for such a useful post Tamara.
    I’m going to have to read it again to digest further. I don’t consider myself a creative person but I know the value of art for many people has been transformative. Fascinating to see results from children’s art as well when utilising in family therapy.

    “ I think especially for women, this is an extension of the messaging we receive through our lives: “Be nice! Don’t make waves, and don’t make people feel uncomfortable!” ……
    Oh Yes! Whereas boys/men are praised and rewarded for demonstrating leadership and strength for portraying similar characteristics.

    I find writing is cathartic for me when going through personal trauma, the only problem being I don’t consider myself a writer!
    However, 17 months ago I started blogging and it’s proving to be useful for me, plus I’m enjoying it, plus my writing has improved.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’re doing exactly what this Japanese concept shows us to to, by using writing as a means of self expression! We don’t need to be a writer or a dancer or an artist or a musician or anything else, if doing something is helpful to us! Many people will just strum a guitar and sing made up lyrics., others will push paint around on a canvas. If it is helpful, then it’s doing its job!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love love this post. Being creative in whatever way feels right at the time is great therapy. I dabble in painting, jewelry making, photography, crafting, and of course writing. Thank you for sharing this Tamara, many people don’t realize how therapeutic being creative can be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right?! The therapeutic benefits of allowing our creativity to bubble up and free ourselves is incredible! No one needs to be a “great artist” just to use whatever method of expressing themselves as a way to release emotions. I love how you are multi disciplinary in your approach! You’re using so many different aspects of your creative spirit to attend to your soul!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing this empowering concept and details about your “apple-sauce period” that can help others in a similar situation. Great quotes, too! Enjoy your weekend, Tamara. 🌻

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Michelle! It’s a very powerful concept and helped me turn the “why me” into “why not me?

      You too, I hope your weekend is awesome!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I am glad you mentioned Jackson Pollock, Tamara. He was one of the great abstract expressionists. Mark Rothko, another one, aimed to arouse some of the darkest emotions, as you might know. Many people have reported breaking down while spending time in front of a gigantic Rothko canvas.

    I wouldn’t recommend these as therapeutic or thought to be produced spontaneously by the artist, but they are a world away from earlier painters such as Renoir and no less significant.

    I hope your mention of Pollock will extend your readers attention beyond the possible therapeutic act of creation to the soul shaking experience of confronting the work of the masters.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I absolutely agree with you, these connections are very powerful! Artists will often create from deep within their soul. The whole process of creating a piece from start to finish is very cathartic and allows those old poisons to be pulled out. Having experienced the transformational process myself a few times, I will attest to the power.


  6. That’s such an interesting concept. I hadn’t heard of it before but it does make a lot of sense for certain things. And so agree about creativity being like therapy. I’m not a great artist or anything but I do really enjoy drawing and whenever I do I feel amazing after.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No one needs to be “a great artist” to be able to enjoy creating something! If you feel better then that’s the most important thing! What kind of mediums do you like to work in?

      Liked by 1 person

          1. We draw what we feel connected to a lot of times. I love looking at paintings done by talented animal portraitists, and they amaze me!

            Liked by 1 person

  7. Synchronicity at work again, Tamara 🙂 When I left the convent, I lost my passion for drawing and painting while I focused on finding my way again in the secular world. When my creativity returned, it had transformed into storytelling. Now, that creative voice has gone silent as I work at “turning poison into medicine” through the Zen practice of mindfulness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve learned that there is a time and a season for everything and if your spirit is shifting then follow where it is leading you instead of fighting the river! Blessings on your journey, may you soon discover your next joy!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Beautiful, Tamara! I love the suggestions you included of things you’ve tried when the old stuff wasn’t working for you. And this paragraph: “Sometimes we need to capture and channel the storms, and other times we need to find a quiet corner just to be able to doodle! There are no rules, no right or wrong, and creativity can be used selfishly, just for ourselves only as a therapy tool. It can be ugly, imperfect, scary. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else or have anyone’s approval. It is a conduit we can use to go through in life!”

    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    Thanks for a powerfully inspiring post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your loving support! I was devastated initially when it happened, but became very curious to follow the faint new path when it first appeared. It truly helped me move forward into greater sanity and peace!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I was unfamiliar with the Hendoky Iyaku principle, so thanks for teaching me something new, Tamara. This whole article is great, and I’m so glad that what I shared resonated with you. Your phrasing of reorienting (rather than lowering) expectations is amazing–YES! I’m so glad that you found a way to channel your creativity during those rough periods, and do so in spite of the critics. I’m so grateful to have met you, Tamara. ❤️❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m grateful for our connection too! Yes, going through any situation that affects our creativity is very difficult, because we used to use that to blow off steam and feel better. Learning how to shift those energies into something different is very empowering and very freeing, because we move into creating for ourselves and tapping into the rawness of our emotions, the very things that blocked our normal creative outlets!

      Liked by 1 person

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