I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book on creativity where she talks about fear, courage and their relationship to creativity.
It got me to thinking about fear and courage in my own life.
The most fearful – and the most courageous – step I think I’ve ever taken is when I quit the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) in 1996. I had been a member for eighteen years and Vice-Chair for eight years. I knew when I quit that I would lose the respect and friendship of people I valued. I knew people in the Party would consider I’d stepped onto the bourgeois path and been infected with bourgeois ideology, and I would be an outcast.
I also knew that I had a drinking problem, due to the stress of the pressures I was putting on myself as well as trying to live up to expectations in the Party, and also knew that one person who was aware of this would use that to denigrate me and trash my name.
I still went ahead and quit.
I felt a huge surge of relief – that I’d finally had the courage to be me, and not the political activist straitjacket I’d forced myself into because it was the only way I could see to express my deeply held social justice beliefs.
I stepped right out of the comfort zone communism had occupied in my life but it took a lot of courage to take the path less travelled than stay on the path of least resistance. I’m proud of my decision and actions which led, eventually, to a far richer, creative and inspired life.
Of course, the next scariest thing is to admit that you were once a communist – a real party pooper. Some people may leave my life, I hope they don’t, but I need to be true to myself, not cower behind cold war poison. And what can I say? I quit the party for a number of reasons: because I’m an individualist, not a team player; because I didn’t like the games people play in politics, even in the Communist Party; I’m an idealist; because I believe – from personal experience – in life after death; because I wasn’t a practical person and trying to pretend to be one was – literally – driving me to drink; and because basically I will not allow my ideas and thoughts to be dictated to by any organisation or political party.
In fact, it was the role of alcohol in my life which started opening doors to a spiritual life and a creative life for someone who had never seen herself as creative in the slightest.
I had to quit my union job in the mid-’80s due to repetitive strain injury and was flailing around a bit trying to decide what direction to take. I came across astrology quite by chance and was drawn to get a reading. I’ve mentioned it previously but the first comment from the astrologer was: “Please don’t get upset, but do you do drugs?”. I was quite taken aback by this insight from a complete stranger, and said no, I did alcohol!
It sparked an interest in astrology and metaphysical beliefs which, I think, had been quietly brewing and, finally, in 1996 burst through the mental and very logical blocks I’d put up to anything but scientific thinking. In February that year I did a mandala workshop where suddenly my artistic skills emerged, I saw myself as a creative, artistic being and I realised my artistic forte is symbols rather than real life images. Then I connected with the Tarot and crystals.
You would say it was 360 deg. turnaround in my life. But in many senses it wasn’t. I was always interested in people, individuals rather than mass movements. I loved listening to people’s stories and experiences. In art, Tarot and crystals I was able to expand that interest into service through mandala art – by creating healing art for people and teaching mandala art to people, through advising people with Tarot readings, and teaching people how to tune into crystals and work with their healing energies.
I am quite sure that many would expect me to denounce the Communist party and beat my chest in attrition at my life as a commo. But sorry, that’s no going to happen. I learned a lot of skills and developed self-confidence. I met terrific (and yes, less than terrific people) in the Party for whom I have utmost respect. They see a life of service through political activism which is entirely right for them because each of us, as I’ve come to realise over the years, is an individual with personal beliefs unique to each person. It was I who changed direction, who understood – finally – that I am too anarchist, individual and eccentric to fit into an organisation with a structured framework, a scientific approach to society, and a belief that the minority is bound by the majority view.
I don’t see myself as a Pied Piper for the world and it’s a huge relief to dump this self-imposed responsibility. I believe in magic, happenstance, synchronicity and a mystical life. I am more often than not off with the fairies although my husband kindly catches my feet as I waft away and brings me back down to earth. I’m happy now to occupy my niche which is to create art and writing which, I hope, helps lift people’s spirits, inspires their creativity and makes the world a better place in some small way.
I still believe in social justice, in equality of all people, in redistribution of wealth to ensure that billionaire corporations don’t behave with complete immorality in gorging on wealth why they screw good, honest working people into the ground. I do my bit with support for social action groups, donating to activist organisations but knowing that they are the practical people and I’m not. Such a relief!
Returning to astrology: it not only tripped my inner lights, it also offered to me an insight into how we, as creative human beings, live on earth. In Australia, I came across the Aboriginal concept of songlines. For European people, this idea is quite puzzling, out of our comfort zone but nevertheless it resonates for me in a quite different way.
Aboriginal people can track Country through songlines – relating earth maps, if you like, through the form of song. I once watched an elderly Aboriginal artist, in the series “art & soul” by Hetti Perkins, an art curator, writer and activist, look at a painting by another artist and start singing the songlines of the art. It was quite extraordinary and, of course, quite outside the norms of Western culture.
But it struck me, watching this programme and reading about songlines, that we human beings have astral songlines – soul songlines, if you wish. We incarnate here on earth, but resonate with the starstuff of the Universe and, by understanding our individual make-up, our heritage, our DNA, we can get a good idea of what our heart and soul yearns for in this life on earth of ours.
One thing I’ve realised is that, by learning to understand my own natal chart, my calling is to explain my beliefs to people through my own personal experiences and to show how you can track your own soul songlines. So in the next few posts I’m going to explain how astrology works, in fairly simple terms, through the main aspects of my own astrological chart and that of my husband, and how that’s worked out in my life until now.
Hah! Until I got repetitive strain injury in the early 1980s.
RSI started me off on the road less travelled health-wise as I turned to complementary therapies when the medical profession was unable to provide answers to my health problems.
Don’t get me wrong: I have respect for medicos and the huge advances in medical care. I appreciated hospitals when I broke my leg and ankle in 1996. I have appreciated the power of antibiotics when I’ve had a severe sinus infection, bronchitis and kidney infection. Blood tests, x-rays and so on are a boon.
And just as the general community are incredibly varied, so there are good, bad, indifferent and very conscientious doctors.
I don’t throw the baby out with the just because conventional medical care can’t provide all the answers. But also, when conventional medicine lead me to a dead-end in recovering from RSI, it also led me to query the power of Big Pharma and the industrialisation of medical care which reduces people to dollar figures and profits for the huge pharmaceutical corporations. I also see doctors too often reduced to pen pushers, overloaded with paperwork, bureaucracy and unrealistic demands on what they are able to offer the general public.
I found myself looking for non-medical treatment in the mid-1980s when I got repetitive strain injury. Ironically, at the time I was working in the office of a small union and had been organising publicity about a new work injury, RSI, which was affecting a lot of women working in call centres as, with new computer technology, they could key in input very fast and overuse arm and shoulder muscles.
I simply never believed it could happen to me. I used to keep going on the typewriter long after I felt a pain in my shoulder. I kept expecting the pain to go away but it got worse. It was agonising to move my right shoulder and arm. Then I started getting pins and needles in my left arm and a feeling which I can only describe as rats gnawing away inside me.
At the time my husband, Bryan, was working away from home in Bunbury, south of Perth, and most evenings I would just rest on the sofa and hope the pain would go away. If I tried to do a simple task like washing up, my whole shoulder would seize up and I’d have to stand stock still until the intense pain abated. But as it got worse, so I started getting severe migraines. I’d wake up around 2am with a violent pain starting at the back of my head, working towards the front at the back of my forehead, and for all the world like it was a brass band pounding around at full volume. I’d take headache pills which got stronger and stronger in order to cope. If I was lucky the headache might fade a bit and I could get to work and cope okay. If I was unlucky, I’d wake up vomiting and it was like a vicious cycle – vomiting exacerbated the headache which me throw up more which intensified the headache, and so on.
I had, of course, read all the literature about repetitive strain injury but tried to ignore the fact that it seemed to be happening to me. That was, until one day and I got into the office with my head pounding from another headache and I just sat there crying my eyes out. The union secretary came into the office, took one look at me, and thankfully for me, took charge. I wasn’t capable of thinking straight or taking action of any kind. She made an appointment for me at her doctor’s, got me in early and off I went to see a doctor who not only was incredibly kind, but also very helpful in supporting me through what felt like a nightmare.
She arranged physiotherapy for me but as this was something new on the medical scene, no-one quite knew how to deal with it. By rights – I found out later – I should have seen a rheumatologist, but I was sent to see an orthopaedic surgeon who was a butcher. He wrenched my head back and forward and side to side with the result that the pain got even worse. He told me he could operate and cut a nerve which might help. That sounded very dodgy to me and even more so when I saw a programme on the ABC about a pain centre in Adelaide dealing with patients, many of whom had had the type of operation the orthopaedic surgeon wanted to carry out on me. And as any small step forward I’d made with physiotherapy was wiped out by his lousy treatment and I ended up worse than when I’d first started treatment, I declined surgery.
I clearly remember sitting in my doctor’s surgery, tanked to the gills with anti-inflammatory medication and a soft collar around my neck. I hardly dared to move because the pain would flare up and feel like a knife being driven into my shoulder. My left arm felt as if rats were gnawing it inside. My doctor asked: “Are you feeling any better?” And I had to say no. She looked at me and said somewhat reluctantly; “Well, I don’t think there’s anything more we can do for you.”
Which is a bit depressing, folks. I’d always been on the go, active, restless, eager to get on to my next project. And suddenly I was sitting on a sofa all day, frightened to move, terrified about what the future held for me and very lonely because Bryan was still working down south during the week and home only on the weekends. I knew an older lady who said very kindly (but not very helpfully, to be truthful): “You young folk always think that life is a straight line that you can set out in front of you without any deviations. Life isn’t like that. All sorts of side paths, obstacles and cul-de-sacs happen. It’s life.”
But in a nice little piece of synchronicity (although I’d never heard of synchronicity at the time), I happened to see an advertisement for a reflexology course at the local community centre. I will be very honest and say that the first time I’d ever heard of reflexology was when a friend said she was going to get a treatment with this alternative therapy. I asked them what it was as I’d never heard of it before, and was quite revolted when they told me it involved foot massage. Errr, yuk, fancy getting your smelly old feet massaged! But, as the old saying goes, never say never.