Stepping outside the circle

I mentioned a few posts ago a workshop series in which I’m currently involved, called Stepping Outside the Circle, presented by Amanda Moffatt of Bowerbird Creative Programs. Amanda works within the remarkable Edgeware Creative Entrepreneurshop group. My husband and I did a business course with Edgeware at the beginning of 2012. It ranks among the best courses I’ve ever attended. If I’d actually applied the principles afterwards, I’m sure I’d now be wildly successful. But then, as now, I was very unclear what direction I wanted to take.

When Amanda invited us to attend her workshop series, we readily accepted.

One of the exercises in the first session is very relevant within my self-searching journey. It involved a visualisation where we were encouraged to go within and see our reflection. As so often happens when I try this sort of exercise, I saw only changing patterns … no sign of a ‘reflective me’. To the question “What qualities does this reflection resemble or embody?” I had no answer.  

When I told the group I could not see my qualities, they said, “We can.”

I realised immediately the lesson taught by the Cello Story and the Healing Doll was being reinforced. No doubt I’m not unique in not recognising in myself the qualities that make me ‘special’ to others. And maybe the way to appreciate these qualities is to look for my reflection in those around me.

Better start looking sideways.

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The arrival of the Healing Doll

Some days are just magic. 24th June was such a day.

In the morning post a package arrived. I knew it was no ordinary package because—how shall I say—my name was ‘emblazoned’ on the front. A little scrutiny revealed that it came from Barb Kobe, artist doll maker specialising in Healing Dolls. If you haven’t encountered Barb’s work, check out her website immediately.

Some years ago I took part in one of Barb’s online Healing Doll courses. It was quite wonderful, but (as is my usual habit) I didn’t complete all the assignments, making only 2 out of the 4 dolls required. Though we didn’t communicate a lot during the intervening years, there was  an affinity established between the two of us and I knew I had made a friend. 

Earlier this year Barb invited me to join her new 12-month Healing Doll course.I told her what had happened since I last wrote to her … Ie the saga of the brain tumour. I was afraid I wouldn’t have time to do the course justice, but allowed myself to be persuaded. Clearly, the timing was perfect. It was agreed that I would send Barb a number of my ebooks (which are mostly digital versions of artist books) and she said she’d make me a paper Healing Doll.

I sent the ebooks straight away, and waited eagerly for the doll.

I knew it would be lovely, because all of her work is, but I was totally unprepared  for how lovely it would be. 

 I opened the package and inside was another package, beautifully wrapped in hand-painted paper.

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I opened it carefully so as not to disturb anything.

Inside was a truly beautiful folder, collaged with contrasting papers, some glossy, some matt, some textured.

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 For some moments I was unable to speak and felt close to tears. I called my husband and son, who were both amazed at what they saw. I told them I was quite overwhelmed that someone I barely know would go to this much trouble for me. What you can’t see in the photos is that everything is hand-painted and lettered, and the finish is exquisite. It’s not just beautiful to look at either. Barb had given me a list of searching questions to answer, and she has been able to incorporate so much of what I told her into the doll. 

There I was, thinking “I don’t deserve this”, when my son said, “She must really appreciate your work”. (In fact, Barb had told me so … she was lavish with praise for my ebooks).

It started me thinking. Maybe all the wonderful people I know, who give me so much, do so because they think I’m wonderful too. I’m not quite ready to say “I’m wonderful”, but I guess I must be OK.

The doll had begun her healing work.

 

The missing cello

The seach for the missing ingredient

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Following is a summary of a story from the Introduction to Arjua Ardagh’s book, Leap before you Look.

Fred had always felt something was missing in his life. After years of research he came to the conclusion that he had lost his cello. From then on Fred became a dedicated cello seeker. He travelled the world, sought out teachers, and attended countless cello music concerts. He even joined support groups of people who were, like him, trying to rediscover their inner cellos. Fred became a professional cello seeker, subordinating everything else in life to the quest.

One day, when he was rushing to yet another support group, he ran into an old friend. Fred said he couldn’t stop to talk because he was on his way to his cello finders’ support group. But the friend brought him to a halt and said, “What’s that thing on your back?”

Well, you’ve guessed it, haven’t you? The thing on his back was a cello. Fred was amazed and overjoyed … he had at long last found what he’d been looking for.

There was a corollary to the story … having found his cello, Fred then had to play it, and practise so that he would get better and better and bring his gift to others.

(If you’re interested in reading the full story, which is beautifully told, go to the Sounds True website  where you can purchase the softcover book, ebook or audio download.)

The lesson to be learned, of course, is that many of us already have what we’ve been looking for. But while we can’t see it, others often can. With this in mind, I asked several insightful friends what they thought my missing cello could be. I’d rather hoped they’d all come up with the same thing, and that my path would then be clear. No such luck. It seemed I had a whole orchestra hanging around my neck.

One said I often needed the affirmation of others, because I couldn’t find it in myself. He pointed out that I already had the affirmation of others … and I had to admit he was right. People frequently praise me and my work, but a critical inner voice says they don’t know what good is. This is really stupid, because many of these people are very accomplished themselves.

Another said it was my ‘artist’. She said everyone else considered me an artist, though I didn’t accept it myself. I protested against this because, though I acknowledge that I have the potential to be an artist, I so rarely practise. You can’t call yourself an artist if you hardly ever create art.

Yet another, the amazing dream coach Jane Teresa Anderson , asked me what I yearned for in childhood. The reply came spontaneously, “excitement and adventure”. “That’s what my life lacks,” I continued, “excitement and adventure.” Jane began to laugh. “I’m sitting with a woman wearing a pirate scarf and an outrageous eyepatch, who’s lived in a very challenging situation for many years, and she tells me her life has no excitement and adventure.” I saw her point, and giggled. I thought about it a little, but then realised it wasn’t the same thing at all. What I had experienced was not excitement and adventure, but danger and insecurity. They can all go together, but they don’t have to. One could discuss this at length, but at another time perhaps.

I certainly don’t yearn for danger. I want the sort of excitement that makes me eager to leap out of bed in the morning.

It doesn’t have to be something ‘big’. Small stones will do.

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Maybe finding your true self IS the life purpose?

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For some time I’ve had the suspicion that, once you find your ‘true self’ (whatever that may be) it’s probably time to leave this world. Perhaps that thought has been holding me back. After all, I don’t want to leave this world just yet … because there are still lots of things I want to do, and there’s that life purpose. Now we’re in a circular argument. So for the moment, I’ll assume that life purpose involves doing something you love and are especially good at.

I mentioned earlier that I’ve long been bothered by the feeling that there’s something missing in my life. Something special that I’m supposed to do. As a result of feedback from friends, and several comments on this blog, along with some recent events in my life, I’ve been slowly coming to the realisation that what we think is ‘missing’ is something we already have.

Three things in particular have led me to this realisation.

  • The reading of a book called Leap before you Look by Arjuna Ardagh
  • The arrival of a wonderful Healing Doll from dollmaker extraordinaire, Barb Kobe
  • An exercise in the first session of a workshop series, Stepping Outside the Circle, presented by Amanda Moffatt of Bowerbird Creative Programs.

I’ll be talking about each of these in more detail in the next week or so.

Inner wonders

Yesterday Colleen (from The CAN Company) and I spent a lovely day photographing cross-sections of fruit and vegetables (for a calendar we’re producing).

Often we gasped with delight … slice open a tamarillo or guava or kiwi fruit and you’ll see what I mean.

Later, when we loaded the images on Colleen’s laptop, there were even more gasps of delight when we magnified details …Image
I wonder if there’s a way of taking a metaphorical  cross-section of me 🙂

On with the journey: finding a life purpose (or something like that)

Sometimes you can think too big (my parents would have said so).

Ever since childhood I’ve wanted something ‘more’, something ‘different’, something ‘special’, something ‘beyond the ordinary’. Probably because of my parents’ attitude, I came to believe that only special people did special things. ‘Ordinary’ people like me didn’t become great opera stars, for instance (they do, of course, but I didn’t know that then). My mother even told me that a friend’s daughter was an opera singer, and that it was a ‘terrible life’.

My parents only ambition for their children was for the two girls to get married and have children, and the two boys to get good ‘safe’ jobs. I suppose that’s not uncommon for people who had been through a world war and a depression. ‘Adventure’ didn’t come into the picture.

My siblings and I, in today’s education world, would have been put in the ‘gifted and talented’ category, yet nobody encouraged us in childhood to consider being artists, writers, scientists, travellers, university professors. Wanting to be anything but ordinary, to my parents’ minds, was ‘having tickets on yourself.’

So I grew up with a yearning that my conditioning told me could never be fulfilled.

Fast forward fifty+ years …

Mine is not a long-living family. My father died at 67, my mother at 71, my sister at 68. Then came my cancer diagnosis. OK, so, for the time being at least, I’ve survived that. But even if I live another 20 years, it’s not long is it. Twenty years is nothing.

Having faced my mortality, I find that I don’t want to die before I do that ‘special something’. Trouble is, I don’t know what that is. Before the cancer thing, I would have said I wanted to be the best artist I could be, but now that doesn’t seem to matter … especially as I haven’t developed any area of the arts to any great extent. There’s a feeling that the ‘something more’ I yearn for is something I haven’t yet discovered.

Or is that just another side-effect of medication!

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on all this over the last year, and in the absence of any answers, I thought I’d better push on with the stones project, even though the impetus had slackened.

Back to wrapping stones.
I explored online, and found lots of people doing lovely things with stones. Then I came upon a Japanese tradition of stone-wrapping

I rather liked this idea of tome ishi, or Sekimori ishi, and made my version as a present for a friend on her birthday. She thought it too nice to put out in the garden and has it on display inside her house.

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I think I’ve just had an enlightenment! The paths I’ve really wanted to follow in life have all had ‘stop stones’ on them.

Oh my!

Perhaps my life purpose is to identify and remove them.

(Or could it be that one’s life purpose is to discover one’s life purpose.)  

Things weren’t what they seemed to be

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The fourth MRI scan, in June 2012, indicated that the tumour was growing towards the brain stem. The neurosurgeon strongly recommended an operation which, he said, was at that time ‘safe and easy’, rather than allow the tumour to grow, making the operation more difficult and less safe. I had come to trust this handsome, charming, compassionate man who had made no attempt to push me further than I wanted to go.

Reluctantly, but feeling I was doing the right thing, I agreed, believing it would be 2–3 months before my turn came up. It was a mere 10 days!

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So on the early morning of 10 August my husband delivered me to the Royal Brisbane Hospital.

I don’t know why I didn’t feel scared. I had only ever had the most minor of operations before, and this ‘safe and easy’ one was a biggy, expected to take 3 to 5 hours (though I didn’t know that till shortly before the operation). All medical staff involved were quite wonderful and I found myself joking with them … “None of this ’personal best’ stuff,” I said, as I was wheeled into the theatre, “let’s go for the gold.”

A few moments later, it seemed, I was looking at the surgeon’s smiling face. “It’s a good tumour,” he said, “and I got most of it.”

I recovered quickly, and a week later, just before I was about to leave the hospital, the surgeon came to wish me well and said he wouldn’t need to see me for 6 months. He was intercepted as he was leaving, came rushing back in agitated fashion, and told me the final pathology report declared the tumour was not a ‘good’ one at all, but a metastatic carcinoma. Probable primary—breast cancer.

Perhaps I was too stunned to feel anything much, but once more there was no sense of panic.

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A multitude of tests followed. No sign of breast cancer was found, but a CT scan revealed probable cancer in one hip, and various other ‘suspicious’ spots in other parts of my body. No symptoms whatsoever, however, and blood tests revealed no cancer markers. I was considered ‘most unusual’.

Still no panic. The predominant feeling was an awareness that I could die tomorrow, in 2 years, or 20 years … just like everyone else. An inner voice said, “I’ll die when I’m good and ready!”

My husband and son were marvellously positive and supportive, without minimising the seriousness of the challenge.

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I had declared that I would not accept any treatment that made me feel worse than the disease. This was a challenge, because the ‘disease’ wasn’t making me feel bad at all. I accepted a hormone medication which was supposed to inhibit the phantom breast cancer and deter any further metastases. After a month I changed to another drug because the first made me want to sleep all day … not refreshing sleep either! As I had no energy to do anything, I was bored out of my mind—a fate worse than death to my way of thinking. The second drug was better.

I also agreed to a short course (5 sessions) of low dose radiotherapy to the brain. My hair fell out, as the radiation oncologist predicted. I didn’t know radiation could make your hair fall out. Most people don’t. It’s only, logically enough, when you have radiation on the head.

Other side effects … the double vision grew worse, and the hearing in my right ear was more or less destroyed.

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Complementary medicine had been my first preference over the previous 35 years, and naturally I investigated this area. I’d already done a lot of research 6 years ago when my sister was dying of mesothelioma, so I had accumulated quite a bit of useful information. In a fairly undisciplined way, I began taking various supplements which are reputed to be beneficial when the body is dealing with cancer. I also meditated, did QiGong, and eye exercises (which eye specialists said would have no effect). And I went on a course of homeopathic medicine. My doctors were OK with anything that couldn’t hurt me. My GP had no doubt I could heal myself, and gave me regular acupuncture to help.

Whether any, or all of this, helped, I can’t say. But the outcome is that, according to the last MRI scan, the brain tumour has completely vanished. And a visit to the optometrist recently confirmed that the double vision is all but non-existent.

I don’t know the state of the other suspicious areas, but I find I don’t care.

I know I mustn’t get complacent about all this. It’s early days yet, and tumours can come back. I even felt a bit guilty that the tumour had gone so quickly. I hadn’t ‘suffered’ enough (doesn’t that tell you heaps about the writing on my wall!). Some people go through years of awful treatment, and put themselves on a restrictive diet, eliminating any food that’s not specifically beneficial. I’m too self-indulgent for that. I’ve changed my diet a bit, but not to a point where it hurts.

I’m a bit disappointed too … I’d hoped there’d be some sort of ‘enlightening’. A change of direction perhaps. Instead I feel a complete lack of direction. All I can do at the moment is go with the flow … I’m trying to say ‘yes’ to anything that sounds intriguing.

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There have been two major ‘gifts’ from this cancer journey so far:

The astounding outpouring of love and support from relations and friends in various parts of the world. I’ve been made to feel treasured, and it’s done wonders for my self-esteem. My family could not have survived the crisis, emotionally or financially, without these wonderful people.

(I’m being facetious here … this one is minor by comparison with the former). I lost around 20kg last year as a result of the time in hospital, followed by loss of appetite occasioned by the hormone medication. I’m now in the ‘ideal for my height’ range.

NOTE:  I’m not ruling God out of all this. My own understanding of ‘God’ is a bit hazy, but so many of my friends have been praying for me that I’m more than willing to accept God as an ingredient in the mix … if not the ingredient.