May 31, 2016

My Origami Heart: A Visualization Technique for When our Feelings Take Over.

Shan Sheehan/Flickr

As a person who identifies as an empath, I’m surrounded by emotion. I feel everything.

A few months ago I fell in love, but also felt strongly that it wasn’t going to work out. I had fallen too soon and even though I knew that I wasn’t looking for anything serious at the time, my feelings alone were projecting a painful ending. I didn’t know how to exercise control over my emotions and wasn’t sure how to feel so much love together with so much pain.

On a night when I was restless and seemed to struggle under the weight of so many conflicting emotions, I wanted to write out how it feels to feel so much. The image that kept coming to me was of my origami heart.

I explored this in two parts. In the first part, I wanted to explain how I use the idea of origami to give myself a visual for the emotions themselves. While I do not use actual paper to fold origami shapes, I imagine my emotions as origami forms. By giving my emotions a substance, I can then reshape them, store them and minimize them. The very act of putting a visual to this sensory overload helps me process what I’m feeling.

In the second part, I go deeper into the visualization to describe the way I view my life as an empath and how all of the struggle can lead to great change and beauty. In this way, I take the visualization a step further to try to help myself see that, while challenging, being an empath is not a curse, but a gift. By viewing it holistically, I can see how it takes courage and kindness and love to take the very challenge of feeling everything and turn it into something useful.

May this be of benefit for all who search for peace and balance!


Part I

I marvel at how on this one night of freedom even the stars hide themselves from my penetrating gaze. I don’t remember the last time the sky was so dark. I walked to the park at the center of town, driven by a need I could not even name. It was a quiet walk. Other than the occasional passing car, the only sounds in the night have been my footsteps beating out a rhythm against the pavement and the clicking of the pen clutched in my hand as I walked. Also, you can hear the very soft sound of my breathing, deceptively soft as it feels as if each breath is weighted. In and out. In and out.

On the way to the park, a police officer slows his car to ask if I need assistance. His face is friendly, and he seems truly concerned. It’s not even 10 p.m., but in this town, a walk at night when all the businesses have closed their doors must naturally draw interest. I cannot explain to him that there was an image imprinted on my mind that I must release. There is no way to explain to one who doesn’t write how that image will burn inside one’s head until it is extinguished through words. So instead I laugh and explain that I needed a walk to clear my head, as if it is a simple thing. As if the walk itself is the point at all.

When he drives on, I walk into the park. It’s small and well-lit and is usually used for town festivals. There are tables and chairs set up overlooking the rest of the park, with its stage and swings and fountain. I take a seat. I know that what I have to write tonight will not be easy, but I still can see the image of the girl (me, of course) sitting under a starry sky folding paper into origami shapes.

I contemplate the art of origami. I know that I am truly only familiar with the art in one very personal sense. It is a trick I use to make my life a bit easier. For as long as I can remember, stretching way back into childhood, I have always felt too much. Every feeling raw and too large for me to bear.

Tonight, I envisioned myself folding paper into smaller and smaller shapes. I recognized instantly that this is what I’ve done to my feelings over the years, to better manage the weight of them.

By using this particular visualization technique, I’m able to take out each emotion, find its source, sit with it, accept it and let it go. It is powerful for me because it allows me to take what can sometimes be great pain and transform it into something beautiful, a lesson or a place where healing can begin.

On this night, I sit under a starless sky and begin to take out each memory associated with a particular relationship and fold them into something delicate, small. Something I can carry.

I first take the particular way his voice curls around his words, like my finger tracing the path on a map to his home. I fold a small corner. Then I take the smile in his eyes and fold that in. Next, his unique scent—rich and masculine—and make a corner. I take the feel of his jawline brushing my face, the sandpaper scratch of him against my skin. I fold it away. I take the way he moves in toward me, pulling me in with his whole body, his hands reaching for me, his mouth settling on mine like a beacon. This memory I fold again and again, trying to make it into a shape small enough to bear.

I take out each moment of him, from the very first to the very last, and handle it gently. I hold each fragile second of the time with love and a tinge of regret. Regret, because I’m folding them away. Each piece, each emotion, grows smaller, forced into new shapes so that I can manage to breathe without the terrible crushing weight.

When it’s just small enough to carry, I slip it into my pocket and stand to leave. I look around at the night, no less dark than when I set out. I put my hand in my pocket, brushing it against the folds of the emotions I cannot bear to let free. Soon, the only sound is the occasional car passing and my feet echoing softly against the pavement. If you listen closely, you can hear my breath moving softly, in and out. In and out.


Part II

If an outsider were to get a peek of my heart, it would seem completely broken. What they couldn’t possibly realize is that all of the cracks on the surface aren’t cracks at all.

I’ve simply taken all of the overwhelming emotions throughout the years and folded them down into small, manageable shapes. For example, when I’ve encountered heartbreak so enormous that I thought I would break beneath the weight of it, I shrunk it down and compressed it. I felt it all and then started to slowly make it smaller and remove its power. To do this, I have to understand the source of the emotion. I have to unravel it, tracing it back to the start. It’s a powerful process and one that requires that I accept how I feel.

Once I’m able to accept the feeling, I can express it. Through art. Through music. Through the written or spoken word. I have to set it free for a moment so that I can be ready to let it go. Only then am I able to take that heartbreak and use the visualization to fold it into a crane or a swallow and place it gently back in my heart. When this art is performed again and again over time, what I’m left with is a heart filled with beautiful creatures. Cranes and swallows, owls and unicorns, dragons and all manner of beasts, both real and imagined.

What you take to be cracks in my heart are actually folds from all of the emotions my heart has contained, the people I’ve loved, the losses I’ve endured and how my beautiful heart has triumphed again and again.

I imagine that when I die and my body is but a husk, my soul will fly away to the sound of rustling paper. My heart will break open at all the folds and these creatures will stretch, run and fly away. An empty cavity will stand as evidence that my life was lived fully. All of the beauty and courage and power will simply continue on in another form. I will have transformed myself yet again.

So, no, those aren’t cracks of a broken heart—those are the folds of the life I have lived. I am not broken. I am transforming.


Author: Crystal Jackson

Editor: Nicole Cameron

Image: Shan Sheehan/Flickr


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