Mapping the Swamp
I gave birth last month. In the days and weeks following the birth I have found myself feeling porous, watery, emotional. The lack of sleep, the hormones, the shifting family constellation have me wading through a swampy inner landscape that is at turns light, euphoric, mundane, melancholic and muddy. I have felt moments of drowning – an experience that overtook me for months last time I had a baby.*
A few days after the birth, my midwife (how I love her) suggested that I ‘map the swamp’: to find a way to make my inner world visible. And so I did. I took a pen and paper and mapped with words:
the sparkling shallows
the skittish fish
the slippery edges
the truly putrid
hollows (you know the ones I mean --
when you fall in, it feels like the whole world has its back
turned to you)
I mapped the diligent reeds
and the boardwalk where you can watch dragonflies
with dry feet
I considered the sanctity
of wetlands --
Forty percent of all plant
and animal life on Earth
lives or breeds
The process of mapping my inner landscape returned me to something which I have arrived at many times in my life: when we make the intangible tangible, it transforms. This simple calculus is the heart of the healing power of making art.
When we bring something of our inner world into the physical world – through writing, drawing, singing, moving, sculpting, it has the opportunity to be seen and recognised, and to evolve through the act of creation.
Whatever the intangible thing is (a story, a feeling, a worldview), when we ‘make tangible’ we aren’t simply recording something which is fully formed within us; we are creating it anew. Our relationship with it changes.
When I mapped my swamp, my relationship to the different parts of the swamp changed. When I arrived in the ‘sinkhole’ in the middle of the night, it was no longer a dark, nameless and endless place that stretched forever into my past and future; rather it was one place within a wider landscape, and I knew it was possible to come out of it onto drier land.
What is alive in your inner landscape at the moment? Tell me – I always love to hear from you!
P.S. I'll be running a new course starting in the middle of 2022 which I am incredibly excited about! It's an Open Floor 'Art in Motion' online group programme, and it’s for anyone who wants to connect with deeply with their inner world, and experience the fire of potent self-expression through creative writing. I’ll be announcing all the details soon. If you want to be the first to know about it, make sure you are on my mailing list.
*I wrote about this in my Arts Therapy dissertation Dreaming with my Body: Arts-Based Research, Expressive Arts Therapy and New Motherhood. You can read excerpts of it here and here.