Bearing Gifts to the Feast is probably my favorite part, so far, of my healing journey. This model was created by Stephen K. Levine, and you can find it in a chapter of their book, Poiesis: The Language of Psychology and the Speech of the Soul. My professor implemented bearing gifts throughout the entire spirituality in Art Therapy course. Then our final was creating a presentation around this concept. This was the catalytic moment for me in accepting my suffering.
What is, Bearing Gifts to the Feast?
How the presentation works, is students were instructed to pick a specific hardship in their life and present it through any form of art. We were expected to be vulnerable, authentic, and share our suffering. Students were telling a story while bearing parts of their suffering soul to the class. The presenter was gifting the listeners with this information, the previously hidden parts of self. It became an act of emptying oneself. Following the presentation, the listeners then gave verbal and artistic feedback. This feedback was also a gift. Gifting the presenter with how their suffering touched them, which in turn fills the presenter back up after emptying themselves. This act of emptying, giving, and receiving in the presence of others is the feast.
Levine says, that the presentation does not always work. In order for it to work we have to be willing to present our suffering, which means we have to be willing to feel our pain, and not everyone is willing to go deep within themselves. The presentation also has to be completed with the use of art, from the presenter and listeners, in order for everyone to be completely present. Levine believes, and I agree, that expressing oneself by just talking keeps us emotionally distant. By communicating the pain through art, it takes everyone directly into how the presenter was feeling in that exact moment. It gave people the opportunity to tap into the energy of the presenter and feel what they were feeling.
Bearing Gifts to the Feast is considered a rites of passage.
Levine goes into the history of this, which I highly suggest you read if you are interested in this concept! But I am going to focus on describing the process of the presentation. Another important factor in getting the presentation to “work” is the student embracing the liminal state. Liminality can be defined as shedding the old parts of you. That this previous you then becomes “dead” and you are “reborn.” (I feel this also describes an ego death) This liminal state is the student accepting their suffering that they had previously been so distant from. They can feel quite “naked” because they just shed all these parts of themselves. The barriers are gone and they are simply left with their feelings. They are in the void. Only within this state, going this deep within the self, can one hear their inner wisdom.
There is great wisdom in owning our suffering, and that is the gift.
Now, when I first read that idea I thought, “What do you mean? How in the world can suffering be a gift? This was painful! I never wanted this.” And that right there is the point. Gifts are often given to us outside of our control. We then have the option to accept or reject it, but we cannot give it back because the exchange has already happened. I see this notion being directly related to time. We cannot go back in time to change the past and prevent experiencing trauma. When trauma happens, it is outside of our control. What’s done is done. All that’s left is to own our experiences.
Once we accept our suffering, then we embody the ability to give it away. That is, we are now capable of sharing this part of the self and its lessons, but “we cannot give what we do not own.” So, if we are still rejecting these parts of self we are rejecting the gifts of healing life has to offer.
When we choose to own or accept all parts of ourselves we allow ourselves to feel the suffering. On the other side of feeling through our suffering is our inner power, but it is impossible to tap into that power without that inner confrontation. By bearing our suffering we can perceive its gifts and then share our story with others in communion, the feast. Through our vulnerability it has the potential to light others up within the feast and inspire them to do the same.
Is your mind blown? Because mine sure was! Learning about Bearing Gifts to the Feast gave me the opportunity to begin claiming responsibility for my healing. I understood that this is the only way forward. It shaped my entire outlook in the way I approach all life experiences. The next blog post I will share my process of digesting all of this information. In the meantime, go read the Bearing Gifts to the Feast chapter in Stephen K. Levine’s book, Poiesis: The Language of Psychology and the Speech of the Soul.
When we see the light in ourselves, we create light in others.