I took a painting class this weekend that was focused on healing through the intentional creativity framework. The class was aptly named Apothecary – Turning Tragedies to Remedies. A beautiful and inviting call for someone such as myself who has suffered a fair share of tragedies in life. Some small and perhaps unnoticeable to those on the outside. Some monumental, bigger than I thought I could handle, that have left scars which flare up from time to time.
Moving through the creation process led by two artists I so admire and respect, I felt a deep sense of safety and liberation. It helped that I was holed up in my camper, transformed into a makeshift (but pretty fantastic!) art studio, with the tiny wood stove warming the air, a hot and continuous supply of yerba mate, citrus essential oil in the diffuser, and oranges and chocolate for my muse. Mmmmmm. Safe, warm, healing. The act of simply sitting in this mystical and magical space, situated in a beautiful woodland paradise, just steps away from my cabin filled with love and connection, reminded me of just how far I had journeyed away from the sites of my own tragedies. This is beautiful, I thought to myself, participating in a trauma-release art class surrounded by all my earthly comforts, living a life brimming over with goodness. Truly a good life, and one I would not have been able to imagine years ago. There are days I still blink and take a double-take, just to be sure it’s, you know, all real. And it is.
The process for this specific form of intentional healing art involves doing multiple ‘underpaintings’. This is basically a series of layers, all which have a specific intention behind them. They help to identifying what hides in the dark corners of our psyche. In the secret chambers of the heart. What is unspoken or perhaps unspeakable for you. All lending meaning and a powerful charge to each other. As the layers build, they seem to take on more and more potency and meaning. While painting some of these layers, I began to experience the sensation of deep emptiness, struggling to connect to the images, and feeling general frustration with my piece. At this point in my life I have learned that emptiness is not a ‘bad’ sensation or an indication you are doing something wrong. In fact it’s more like a signpost that reads, Hey, there is space for new information to present itself here. Space that might, in time, be filled with the exact revelations we have been down on our knees begging for. Space that is liminal and beyond what we know or are capable of filling with our limited imaginations. Alas, my beloveds, we are prone to imagine what we have already experienced. (And that is truly the limiting factor.) That empty space is part of expanding our imagination and awareness of what’s possible. The black ‘whole’.
It is not easy to accept or welcome empty space. This unknowing. It feels as if we’re missing something…not being proactive enough…not in alignment….sucking at that whole confusing manifesting thing…not pure or deserving…not smart enough to figure it out…not investing enough time. It feels like…sucky town. I will admit, there are times of deep emptiness when I have brazenly looked the Universe in the eyes, cocked my head sideways and challenged, Seriously!?! So this is all you’re giving me to go on right now? Wouldn’t bliss be a better sign that I was on the right path? Getting closer to the mark? Making progress in my ‘healing journey’? I hear this refrain from so many. The idea that bliss or happiness is the Hot and emptiness or sadness is the Cold in the universal game of ‘Where is the Healing At?’ Then…I catch myself in an act of mistrust. Questioning, in a very human and forgivable way, the mysterious processes unfolding across the universe, which I am very much in. A part of. Not separate from. And…breathe. Take it in for a moment. Mystery abounds. The question is, will I trust it?
We are definitely not ‘wrong’ for resisting the feeling of emptiness in our quest for healing. We are human. We are bewildered. If I asked my partner for a glass of water and they brought me an empty cup, I would feel confused and disappointed. When we need something we need something. Ask and you shall receive, we are taught, and I believe this is the truth. But learning to ask (for what you really want) and learning to receive, are part of the journey too. Often when we are in pain, the urgency of our need can overwhelm us. So we desperately ask/pray/beg/push for X to heal, whether it is a physical injury, an emotional wound, an old trauma, a broken relationship. We set an expectation of how the healing should happen and in what time frame, and then we wait for it to arrive in our desired form or as the result of a particular modality de jour.
Whatever feels, sounds or promises to be super healing-y, we decide to be all over that shize. We’ll do whatever it takes, just as long as we can ensure this whole healing process thing runs as efficiently and timely as a Swiss train. All aboard, please and thank you. I paid my money, and I expect to be delivered on time! However…grinding halt….sometimes what we encounter (and create) in our healing journey can feel challenging, lacklustre or oblique. It doesn’t seem to make any sense (based on our ideas of ‘what healing looks like’). Or maybe we start to feel even worse, get sicker, heavier, angrier. And at this point, if we try to interpret it from the lens of a specific need or set of expectations, we will get frustrated and lose faith in the ultimate process.
And…what is that ultimate process? How do we define and perceive the bigness of healing? Well, let me give it a shot…
I believe healing is a layered set of mystical and practical experiences spiraling through our lives that lead to an expanded experience of wholeness and connection. Whewww. Just take that in for a sec.
It is quantum, multidimensional, past, present and future. It is here and now with each inhale and exhale. It is SOVEREIGN. What I mean by sovereign is that we actually create and catalyze our own healing by recognizing that it is wrapped up and contained in everything we do and everything that happens. It is not something outside of us that we must await the arrival of, purchase, submit to, or work for. Truly and honestly, you are the healer. The god within. The remover of obstacles. YOU. And you are complex. You are learning, growing, and evolving. So it will be with your experience of healing.
As you increasingly build self-awareness and make choices in alignment with your values – with your soul – you heal your life. You bring order to your own chaos. You open up the aperture of your heart and allow more light in. You receive more love. You give more love. You move in the direction of wholeness. You come out of separation and into connection. You realize that healing is the natural outcome of a set of crucial experiences – opening, receiving, connecting, expanding.
Opening – to love, to light, to new ways of seeing, and new information…
Receiving – the love, the light, the new information, the help, the finances, the new opportunity, the kindness…
Connecting – to your soul, your essence, to your family/friends/community, to your body, to your food, to your piece of meaning in the world…
Expanding – responding and acting in alignment with all the newness, choosing wisely, creating more and more space inside you, reaching out and touching others in ways that inspires and heals them also…
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. You are healing – I promise.
Knowing this is powerful. Connecting to yourself as healer. As the subject of your own sovereign healing process. Allowing empty space to persist for a time without feeling the need to fill it until you really truly know what needs to go there. Being all the things – the good witch/wizard, the cauldron, and the one who chooses what medicines go in the mix. Patiently learning, through trial and error, what medicines are most effective for you.
In my study of herbal medicine, I have learned that some of the most effective medicines take a few days, weeks or months to build up in your system and get to work in a way you can recognize and feel. For a time, the effects of the medicine might be very quiet and covert within you. This is good to keep in mind when we consider all forms of medicine – physiological, spiritual, and psychological. It might take some time for us to feel the results. That’s okay. Stay in trust. Focus on opening, receiving, connecting, expanding. If you are doing any of those things – in any stage of your process – you are healing. Those medicines are working beautifully in the background. You are seeing more light, and moving toward it. Removing the obstacles that prevent you from it.
And in that place where the sunlight breaks through and touches down, the lotus flower unfolds its petals effortlessly.
Back to a cold winter day in 2011. Living in the Okanagan. I had returned from the hospital the previous night after being violently assaulted by my partner at the time. His life was a series of tragedies, and I was the company to his misery. I couldn’t sit properly and I was in pain – a 12’inch laceration on my outer thigh, stitched up, swollen red, and covered in layers of bandages. My wrist was sprained. My head ached. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I couldn’t tell my family. I was so ashamed of everything I had become. All I had given up. It felt like the light in my soul was slowly…going…dim. I kept mumbling prays out loud that day…prayers to whatever god existed out there. Please help…please please help me. Please forgive me. Help to leave the relationship, help to love myself again, help to heal my broken body…help help help. All the kinds.
After a while I started breathing in and out; deeply, intentionally. Feeling the breath move all the way into me and out of me. Feeling my broken heart even more profoundly than my physical wounds. Feeling, what I now refer to as, Divine Emptiness. Nothing left. Removed from ego. Surrendered. It was…restful. Peaceful. Quiet. Loving. Emptiness. A few moments after this experience, I found my hand moving toward a stack of art paper and some coloured pencils. I heard a voice inside of me – my own voice – saying, Write down the life that you want. Write down the pain you wish to leave behind. Create the answers to your prayers. And so, meekly, I did. I wrote for hours. I drew pictures of a house with a wood stove and a big backyard. I drew trees and birds. Friends. Family. Love. I wrote biiiig words like CONTENTMENT, JOY, PEACE, STRENGTH, HOPE, LOVE, PARTNERSHIP, HEALTH, TRUTH, KINDNESS. I let it pour out of me. I threw it in the face of my despair and hopelessness. I stepped into the role of healer. I became the guru, the shaman, the witch. And I put all of those beautiful ingredients into my dusty cauldron. I started to open. A light switch went on, and I realized…I was the power station.
Almost exactly a year later, I was living in a beautiful home with a wood stove and a big backyard. Eagles flying overhead while I drank my morning tea in peace. My faithful wolf-dog to keep me company. New friends and mentors surrounding me and supporting me with so much love and inspiration. My relationship to my family restored. My body healthy and fit. My abuser far far away and no longer a threat in any way. I had experienced multiple layers and dimensions of healing. I had learned a capital T truth – that healing comes as the result of moving towards your truth. Living everything. Trusting the persistence of your soul.
This did not come fast or easy, but it did come faithfully. Many difficult decisions, many sleepless and fearful nights, many brutally painful conversations, and many moments of sobbing uncontrollably and feeling totally empty later. But eventually all the empty started to fill up. And so it is.
This painting I have been working on over the past few days has reminded me of all of this…multiple layers, one on top of the other, all lending meaning and strength to each other. All the ‘underpaintings’ that evolve into a beautiful portrait of healing.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. You are healing – I promise.
“If you could trust your soul, you would receive every blessing you require. Life itself is the great sacrament through which we are wounded and healed. If we live everything, life will be faithful to us.”