Tag Archives: therapy

Inviting Mara for Tea

“Even if ed takes a bite out of the teacup, we can still continue the dialogue.”

Many of the clients I work with suffer from racing thoughts and negative self-talk. Often times this results in low self esteem with sabotaging, self-defeating behavior such as self-injury and addiction. It’s a continuous cycle of fighting the beast within, succumbing to its ways then engaging in self-hatred afterwards. In her book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and ChangePema Chödrön shares information about how our thoughts are possibly the biggest culprit of our suffering. If we could learn to sit with the 90 second surge of emotion that takes place when we are triggered, we might learn to let go, but instead we “fuel it with our thoughts”  and “what should last for one and a half minutes may be drawn out for ten or twenty years” (p.12). 

Last week as I was preparing for an adult art therapy group that I run for women who experience eating disorders, I came across this article written by Thich Nhat Hanh for plumvillage.org that explains the relationship between Buddha and the demon Mara, the tempter. Although Buddha had already achieved enlightenment, Mara continued to pay Buddha visits on a regular basis. Upon these visits, Buddha would not turn Mara away as you might expect, but would instead invite Mara in and greet Mara with “Dear friend, how have you been? Is everything ok?” and then the two would sit down for tea. Mara would tempt Buddha to become a politician with wealth and beautiful women, or even ask to simply switch roles with Mara. And in the end, Buddha would not fall for temptation. Buddha does not become Mara and Mara does not become Buddha. To me, this story doesn’t really seem to speak as much to Buddha’s sheer willpower and ability to resist temptation as much as it speaks to the power of understanding and compassion for self and others. Compassion for the inner workings of one’s self. It doesn’t matter if you think you don’t deserve it, compassion is the medicine; it’s the prescription that will make you better and you practice it with intention,  out of necessity.

The story reminds me of a scenario that most people have likely witnessed at least once in their lives: two or more people engage in an argument or deep conversation and while many words, maybe even harsh words are spoken, the underlying emotion of it all is never really addressed. I asked the women in my group to create artwork that would depict what it might be like to sit down to tea with ed – the eating disorder – while meditating on the underlying emotions, rather than getting caught up in the gibberish and nonsense that that it throws at them. How would you depict yourself sitting down for tea with your inner demon(s)? What is the underlying emotion that might be revealed when you let go of the nonsense and chatter? Send images to info@artandtherapy.net and I will post them here, on the site.


Copyright 2014 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders. 


Mindfulness: Don’t Kill the Messenger!!!

Recently I was asked to present the closing ritual for the alumni reunion at the eating disorder facility where I work. The theme was “shaping recovery” and since I’ve been reading Pema Chödrön’s writings lately, I decided to offer a guided visualization that would somehow embrace her teachings on mindfulness and compassion. In particular, I was drawn to a couple of her videos posted on youtube regarding fear and fearlessness. She talks about our tendency to perceive every situation as a either a threat or a promise. And she says that when we are able to trust that whatever we say or do in the world we will get a message back, perception begins to shift to a stance that the world is “rich.” I love that. I want to live in a rich world as opposed to one that feels so polarized.

Ever since one of my mentors introduced me to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction several years ago, I’ve been hooked. The power of learning to be aware of feelings as they arise and to be open to sitting with all emotions, has been a transforming experience for me. As with learning anything new, I initially went through the motions and wondered if I was getting it right. But when one of the instructors read aloud Rumi’s poem, “The Guest House”  during a practice meditation, it all started to fall into place for me and I’ve been continuing to practice ever since. Maybe it’s because I’m a visual person and can see myself opening the door to my emotive self oh so clearly; to welcome meanness, anger, sadness, joy… and more… to realize that I could sit with feelings of hatred, disgust, fear, jealousy and not only not turn them away, but to find that I could have compassion for these feelings… it made me understand what it is to be a whole person. We experience sensations physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually; sensations from within our bodies and sensations as we interact with our environment. When we value the messages we are given instead of turning them away, it gives us a whole new way of operating in the world.

Coincidentally, I’ve also been reading Attachment in Psychotherapy (2007) by David J. Wallin, PhD. While I can’t begin to scratch the surface of the wealth of information Wallin offers in the book, a few things do stand out at the moment. For one, the idea that no matter how much we may be aware that we’d like to parent our children with a different attachment style than the one with which we were raised, Wallin indicates that there remains a strong unconscious pull to repeat the same pattern all over again. Yipes. And later in the book when he addresses trauma, Wallin shares that “most of us have ‘islands’ of trauma and dissociation in our history” and “there does appear to be a link between an unresolved state of mind… and psychological problems” (p.242). It seems that we all experience some degree of trauma and as a wise person once pointed out to me, some of us get 99 pennies and others get the dollar bill. Trauma comes to us in varying degrees of severity, and thankfully Wallin seemed to confirm what I’ve been hoping all along: mindfulness will save the world. As Pema Chödrön states in her “5 Reasons to Meditate” article, “Meditation helps us clearly see ourselves and the habitual patterns that limit our life. You begin to see your opinions clearly. You see your judgments. You see your defense mechanisms. Meditation deepens your understanding of yourself.” Mindfulness can help to treat attachment issues and trauma, it will make your relationships better. It will make you a better person in this world.

Here’s the visualization I came up with for the alumni reunion, for inspiration:

Imagine that you can see beneath the surface of the earth and watch as a flower seed begins to germinate.

Watch as buds emerge, some of which find their way deeper into the earth, foraging for nutrients in the soil.

And watch another as it breaks through the surface, climbing upward as it tracks the sun.

Below, roots rest momentarily as they find nutrients, then grow deeper as they search for more. 

Above the earth the seedling appears vulnerable and yet it is blessed with the magic of its surroundings.

What are the messages that this seedling receives from the universe that will encourage it to grow?

How does it brave the storm? How does it find light when at times it seems that there is none? 

How does communication from what’s happening below the surface support the growth that takes place above the surface? 

And vice-versa. How does communication from what’s happening above the surface support the growth that takes place below the surface?

As a flower, how does it know when to blossom? 

How does it interact with butterflies and bees?

How does it know when to release pollen and nectar and eventually, its petals?

Life is fluid, ever-changing, circular. 

Take a moment to reflect on your own growth. 

How are you open to receiving the rich messages the world has to offer you? 

Where is the synchronicity that supports you in being the best person you can be? 

How does communication from what’s happening inside, shape the growth that takes place above the surface? And vice versa. 

I’d like to end with a quote from Pema: “When you turn toward fear, what do you find? Vulnerability and shaky tenderness. Place your fearful mind in the cradle of loving kindness and nurse it with the profound brilliant milk of doubtlessness, and in the cool shade of fearlessness, fan it with the fan of joy and happiness.”

Related link and videos:

Female governor brings meditation to prison in New Delhi


Copyright 2014 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders.