One of the things I love about life is the many opportunities it gives you to live more peacefully within it. Sadly, peace often occurs only after a struggle, when life has beaten us down enough we finally say "uncle". But it doesn’t have to be that way as I learned a few months ago. Last October, during one of my appointments with my alternative practitioner, Elizabeth, she said (paraphrasing) , “OK. One of the things that is coming up that is vital to your healing is that you need to give yourself permission to be well...”
“I need to give myself permission to be well.” The statement resonated completely. When you have lived with cancer as long as I have it can be difficult to see yourself any other way. I know how to do this “cancer thing”, but could I do the “well thing”? Being well seems so...free!? And, if I were to be well, is it sustainable? Could I handle the disappointment should it return once I was well? That would be too much to bare - to be completely well and free and then to not be. Too much, too painful. (See how the mind…or my mind anyway…works? It has a way of working you into believing it is safer to stay just as you are.) So, I didn’t have an issue with what Elizabeth was saying, it was what she said next that was intriguing. “And the way this needs to happen is through you creating a piece of art that reflects this.”
So, I am supposed to create a piece of art that reflects me giving myself permission to be well? Hmmmm. After a brief moment of resistance to the notion of an assignment, there overcame me an excitement, a curiosity about the possibility of what I could create. I posed the question to myself, “What would something like that look like?” and the ideas started to flow, which brings me to the first realization I had.
Life Lesson #1 - Excitement and curiosity about a task rather than irritation or indifference makes the task easier to accomplish.
In the past, an assignment like that wouldn’t have even begun to take shape until I got through the “I don’t want to,” “That’s a lot of pressure,” “I have no idea how to do it and will it be good enough?” “What happens to me if I don’t do it?”. The creative seeds waiting to sprout CAN’T as long as I was taking up valuable space in my consciousness with a victim train of thought. The creative seeds were always there, right outside my awareness, but waited patiently for me to finish my mind chatter, ultimately floating into my awareness on the coattails of a quiet breeze of silence. As soon as I had reframed the assignment into something fun to do my mind quieted, and I was able to explore possibilities. And the possibilities made themselves known quickly!
“I…need to give…myself…permission to be…well”
There are three of me in that statement - the I, the myself, and the well me that gets created when that permission has been granted. That idea flew into my head of its own accord and I found I liked the concept! A rebirth. I and Myself ushering in a new version of me, the Well Me. So how do I create that?
I draw; I paint; I write; I refinish furniture as a way to be creative. It was rather a shock when the next “hit” I got was this project needed to be 3D...no pencil, keyboard, or paint brush for me. Well what then? Driftwood. Driftwood collected from Whidbey Island. Driftwood that will be carved into those three figures. Again, I found I liked the idea, although I have never carved wood before. Whidbey Island holds a special place in my heart from the beginning of our time living in the Pacific Northwest. We would take our boys there and play with all the driftwood that collects on the beach. A piece could become part of a wall of a fort, a bench to sit on, a baseball bat with rocks serving as baseballs hit into the Puget Sound. This time Wes and I took our dogs. The pieces of driftwood would become doll like carvings for me as I worked another angle of this healing odyssey of mine.
With my newly acquired carving tools in hand and wood collected from Whidbey Island, I began carving the first face. Each of the three figures is about eighteen inches tall. Because I have never carved before, I had no expectation how these figures would turn out which was good, as the first one resembles one of the Moai, the statues on Easter Island! I didn’t care! What mattered to me was the process of creating these, not the end result which brings me to the second realization.
Life Lesson #2 - Expectations cause suffering.
Never once did I think about, worry about, have any idea how these would turn out. Consequently, there was nothing to criticize. There was no comparison happening between how they are turning out and how I think they should be turning out. I simply enjoyed the process. I think about the past and the many times I was frustrated because my drawing wasn’t looking like I wanted it to look; the many times I was irritated because the traffic was worse than I wanted it to be; the many times I was scared because my health was different than I hoped it would be. When all the expectations are abandoned what remains is simply living. Living with curiosity, awe, and reverence.
The first figure took on an ethereal nature as if she were an aspect of me that transcends time. Her gown was made from a linen cloth of my grandmother’s, symbolizing my ancestors' journey with cancer. I hadn’t realized why I had been saving it. The buttons on the gown are baby’s breath, taken from a bouquet I had received for my birthday from a friend. Her hair came from the branches of a cedar tree in our backyard; her eyes from pine cones from the Douglas fir; the feathers shed from birds on Whidbey Island.
The second figure was the version of me that has been walking this Earth. I knew I wanted her to wear sweats. Right? If I'm home, I'm in sweats. I found an old pair of gray basketball shorts. How many games had I played in those shorts? I smiled with the appropriateness of the sacrifice they were about to make. The leftover scraps became the hat for my head. There would be no hair on this version as she represents the one who has been dealing with cancer for a very long time. An old headband from my running days became the hoody. She looks like me as I sit writing this post in my gray sweats, black hoody, and gray hat. It may be time to reevaluate my choice of wardrobe!
The third figure is the Well Me. She stands in vibrant victory, being ushered into existence by the other two, permission requested and granted! She emerges out of Mother Earth. I knew I wanted her gown to flow and be made of moss representing Mother Earth, her arms to be raised above her head in victory, a smile on her face that shouts to the world, "I am happy and free!". None of these images came to me until it was her turn to be carved. Every step of the way I wondered, "What needs to be done now?" and the answer would emerge out of waiting silence. Which brings me to the third realization.
Life Lesson #3 - Answers to the puzzles of life come when it is time for them to come not necessarily when I think they should.
I began to notice something with this project. I was in the moment, always. When the next step to take was right in front of me, I would ask what needed to be done and wait for the answer. It would come. It was perfect. It felt...easy, as if, my job was to ask and wait. It was the Universe's job to provide the answer - from what the figures should wear, to how they should be positioned, to when it was time to stop carving because more isn’t better! Today, when I find myself begin to get frustrated because some answer to a problem isn’t presenting itself, I ask myself, "Am I being present? Am I listening? Is it time?" If silence prevails, then I will ask again later.
I often reflect, three months later, how easy the project flowed, how meaningful it became to undertake, and how well it turned out in spite of, or, because I didn't care...particularly having NEVER done anything like it before. I intuitively know that what happened during the process was a big deal for me. I was shown how life can be. It can flow with ease, grace, and assistance if you just ask. Today I look at "My Girls" particularly the one in green and smile at her vibrant well being. Is it any coincidence that I feel the best I have in four years?