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Emotions are Toil and Trouble

As a self-identified artist, I want to believe I’m pretty in tune with my emotional intelligence. After all, art is what people turn to to make sense of their own feelings. My favorite music, film, literature, visual art, and even live performance usually derive from the emotional depths of personal experience, even if it’s deeply implicit.

But a rather poignant little secret I’ve unearthed in my artist development research is that while creativity feeds off emotions, the artist can rarely control it. Just because someone can express it doesn’t mean they’ve learned to manage it. American conceptual artist Glenn Ligon speaks for artists when he says artwork is, “the way that we figure out who we are, rather than express who we are. …the making of the work is an exploration of what we are.”

There is something to be said for the power of releasing that which has been swimming around in your embodied experience unconsciously. When you can name that which you feel, the feeling loses some of its unrestricted reign over your life.

But making your emotions conscious doesn’t immediately translate to mastery over them. In some cases, those emotions can take on a weird life of their own. That’s why some kind of mindful, holistic practice is essential to sustainable artist development. #DevelopmentNeverEnds

I know this, but I also have an artistic sensibility that can get lost in the intricate poetry of emotions. Sometimes that comes at the expense of my own conscious, sustainable living. This phenomenon is described beautifully in Pixar’s Soul, in the scene where Joe learns that souls can get lost in “The Zone.”

So when I shared my Ayahuasca journey recently on the Mamas Boys Podcast, I was caught a little off guard by some buried emotions that surfaced. Having never spoken publicly about my experience with plant medicine, I was blissfully unaware of how much of it had gone unprocessed.

There is something transformational and somewhat magical about putting words to buried emotions. What I learned from this process holds valuable lessons for artists regarding unexamined thinking patterns. Here are my three biggest takeaways:

1. Some experiences defy description, and that’s what art is for.

Mere words can not fully contain the bizarre world of Ayahuasca and I have still not yet settled on the best way to explain it cohesively. I have, however, been able to touch it at one time or another through various mediums such as literature, song, dance, image, and more.

I realize now that my book on artist development is meant to express this experience - it’s my creative process. Maybe I’ve always known this on a subconscious level, but it’s only now that I can articulate it: my book is an artistic representation of the lessons I’ve learned from plant medicine, as told through the mediums of literature (Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey specifically), image (with some help from Dave Law Art), song (follow me on Apple Music), and other multi-media (still in development).

2. Our life experiences are framed by our state of mind.

So much of my Ayahuasca Journey was tainted by the jaded disillusionment I felt from navigating the concrete jungle of New York City. Although I have composted most of that in my head, I was surprised by how negative my memories sounded when I recounted them out loud.

I was physically ill for most of my stay in Peru, which was easy to write off as altitude sickness, food poisoning, and the dieta I was on pre-retreat. I felt hopeless while Ayahuasca was drawing me into the oneness of Love. The moment I was able to let go and truly embrace this LOVE, all my physical symptoms lifted. It now seems so clear to me that my negative judgements were simply manifesting into my physical experience.

3. Insecurity is a distraction from staying present.

After the podcast, I felt immobilized by a familiar insecurity: I tend to get stuck in the past at the expense of moving into the future. In this case, I scrutinized every word I said, fearing it would be misinterpreted hereafter. Hello, ego!

As a Daoist, I recognize that the wisdom of the Tao lives in the present, a perfect balance of duality (yin/yang). That means I try not to dwell too long on one side over the other, the past versus the future. But what sometimes happens, as a result, is that I can get lost bouncing between perspectives. I'm not changing the past, I’m not moving forward, and I'm definitely not present.

This happens in the second stage of The Sustainability Cycle, which I also call “The Bounce.” In my book I explain that the further you go in your awakening journey, the faster the bounce of perspective happens. But it can also be an intellectual trap that is easy for visionary artists to get lost in (back to “The Zone” in Pixar’s Soul). I’ve been feeling more like Alice Through the Lookingglass. Maybe the Cheshire Cat is right, “We’re all mad here.”

In those moments I turn to my box of tools to ground myself back into presence. I like to remind myself that we are all exactly where we need to be. And since Time is Relative, you can’t fuck up your own journey. This helps my anxiety when my ego is making a lot of noise. #DevelopmentNeverEnds


Perhaps I’ll never be able to capture Ayahuasca in its majesty and it will keep swimming around unexpressed as I stumble through life. Who knows what hidden emotions will be revealed if and when they do surface. But grounding into presence, being here now, feels more manageable than worrying about what will be or what has been.

So now that I’ve processed the recounting of my Ayahuasca experience, there is still the wisdom of the plant medicine left to digest. The love that I felt, and now know I hold inside, can consume any and every negative experience past, present, or future. I can even love myself, which feels strangely radical to say out loud.

But that simple takeaway is worth all the disillusionment that came before. So while I continue integrating these lessons into my life, one day at a time, I can never erase the visceral messaging I received atop that mountainside in Peru: Love is always the answer.

Listen to The Mamas Boys Podcast: Ayahuasca, Creativity and Artist Management

Emileena is writing a book on artist development called ANOTHER WAY. If you are an artist looking for development, consider Emileena's E-Velop program.

Original Artwork by Dave Law, freelance visual artist and illustrator. For more, please visit


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