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.
In 1993, Bryan went to Queensland on a company excursion. He phoned me to rave about how beautiful it was and, although we didn’t realise it at the time, it was as if this visit was a flag for changes which would come to us in the following year.
But while I was on my own that weekend, I came a hell of a cropper on our front porch which was made of raw bricks. I managed to smash my new glasses and the force of the fall left me with slight concussion for the rest of the weekend. Although I thought I’d recovered okay, I started having severe headaches again, not migraines but intense pain on the right side of my head. This led me to another alternative therapy, interestingly via some other treatment I was getting at the time for a painful back which had also got worse after the fall.
I had come across the homeopathic practitioner quite by chance when I was walking through Fremantle and came across a heap of people sitting on the stairs of the Mall and chattering among each other. “What’s going on here”, I asked, out of curiosity. “We’re waiting to see the homeopath who works in this office”, a young woman replied. “He does give us appointment times but he never sticks to them, so we just queue until we see him. He reckons the inter-action out here is part of the healing process.”
Ever curious, I decided to join the waiting queue and see what homeopathy was about as I’d vaguely read about it in one of the growing number of books I was accumulating on alternative health practices. I do have to say that the homeopath seemed pretty whacko to my still conservative outlook. He came from a very traditional medical background, but he was definitely very eccentric. He had quit the teaching hospital he’d worked at in the UK when he wasn’t allowed to practise homeopathy. He’d check your tongue, pulse and skin colour, then prescribe some homeopathic drops, make up a bottle of the drops, bang it a number of times against a Bible, then send you on your way. Interestingly, though, over a few weeks my spinal pain improved and I began to feel a whole heap better.
But after the fall in front of our home, I felt I needed something else to deal with the headaches. As I was seated in the waiting room, I noticed a sign advertising cranial-osteopathy and decided to give it a go.
I met an amazing woman who eased the headaches in the first session. It was quite extraordinary. She tuned into my body and made what felt like incredibly minute adjustments. I got up off the massage table and felt lighter, a bit dizzy and in far less pain. This was my introduction to cranio-sacral therapy.
Shortly after my first couple of treatments, I was eating in a restaurant and a friend commented that I didn’t eat a lot, and I realised he was watching what I ate as a commentary on my weight. He also let slip that a couple of other people had made similar observations (she doesn’t eat a lot, how come she’s overweight) and I was absolutely furious. If there’s one thing that really gets to me, it’s knowing people have talked about me behind my back. It goes back to my childhood when I felt on the outer in my family, and on the outer at both primary and grammar schools.
When I went back for another cranio-sacral massage, Gilda touched me then said: “What on earth has happened? All my work feels completely undone.” I told her what had happened and the anger I felt. She said she could feel it raging in my body, so with a sigh, went to work to release all the tight feelings. It took a few more treatments but my headaches were gone and I felt heaps lighter. My body loved it then and still loves it. As I now have fibromyalgia, I can’t tolerate deep massage but somehow this therapy brings me back to centre in my body and relieves a lot of pain.
I do believe that healing isn’t an instant process. It can involve lots of therapies or just one, but it’s a matter of trial and error, tuning in to what happens for you, what works or what doesn’t, and trusting your intuitive response. No one therapeutic path is correct for everyone or will work for everyone. It’s the beauty of this world that there are so many alternative therapies, which offer a rich smorgasbord for a person to experiment with and work towards the best possible healing results.
Each time I’ve worked with a cranio-sacral therapist, the approach has been different. Gilda, in Perth, worked with past lives as she gently adjusted my body. In Ipswich, Queensland, I worked with a lady who asked me tentatively if I’d ever been exposed to extra-terrestrial energies. I guess she asked tentatively because you never know how people are going to react. But I knew what she was talking about.
I’d been in a psychic development group and, during one guided visualisation session, I’d suddenly had an out-of-body experience. I found myself floating in the air and facing Mt Barney, a huge, magical mountain in the Border Ranges mountain range south of Boonah. As I hung there, suspended in the clear, cool air, the mountain broke open and a being came out and hurtled towards me. We both screamed “Oh, no!” seconds before we collided. And then I found myself back in my body feeling utterly drained.
The therapist’s words brought it all back and she looked very relieved when I didn’t scream and bolt out of her treatment room, but nodded. “You are completely dried up”, she said, “As if you’ve had a bolt of electricity go through you and fry everything in your body.” On this occasion, it took a few treatments but I felt heaps better than when I’d first stretched out on the massage table.
I also came across Ka Huna massage when I was living in Boonah, Queensland. Again, I love this massage as all the practitioners I’ve encountered seem to sense just how much pressure I can take on my body – with fibromyalgia you get really sensitive to pain. I can’t bear the slightest pressure on my bones and I certainly can’t tolerate deep tissue massage any more.
I’ve worked with my herbalist friend to support my body nutritionally and with the support of herbs and vitamins. She is brilliant and has given me very kind, loving support which has helped no end in handling fibromyalgia and its various manifestations in a more holistic way than the medical profession. Even though medicos do their best, there are limitations in conventional medicines which can often be addressed by alternative practices.
In 2009 I experienced incredibly high temperatures in Traralgon, Victoria, when bushfires killed nearly 200 people. On the Saturday we reached 47C and it was if I became sensitised to the heat. When we moved to Bowraville, on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, I got heatstroke the first day we moved in, with a blood pressure reading of 220/165 and a pulse of 40. The ambulance officers thought I was going to have a major stroke and die, but somehow I survived. It left me with high blood pressure though: 165/105. I didn’t want to take blood pressure tablets so went to see an acupuncturist who had trained in China. Within a couple of months my blood pressure stabilised at 135/75.
In the UK, I was doing Tarot readings in a New Age tent at a community fair. The day before, I suddenly got a voice in my head telling me to charge only £5. I listen to these little cosmic hints so, with an eye to Feng Shui principles, on the first day I set up facing the entrance with a big sign saying; “10 minute Tarot readings – £5”. It was on for one and old. I never stopped and, as it turned out, no-one had more than £5, because they hadn’t realised the New Age tent was in operation. I thoroughly enjoyed myself as everyone I saw needed a reading and everything went like clockwork.
For me, it was a lesson in listening to that inner voice, which can be whatever it means to you. It’s like a whisper from the spirit world. But you can call it god, spirit, the light, your inner wisdom, your higher self, your goddess or whatever has resonance for you. It seems to me there are no fixed ways to approach the matter of spiritual guidance and you need to go with whatever flows for you, not just adopt one particular approach because someone else uses it.
As it happened, another Tarot reader there had a sign for readings at £25 a pop, and had no business at all. She maintained a fixed position of being a “professional tarot reader” and was quite inflexible on price. She was also incredibly ratty that I was “undercutting” her price. It was all well and good to insist on her professional credentials, but the rigid adherence to this was absolutely useless in the real world where no-one had £25 for a reading. Every person I spoke to mentioned they had just £5 spare and, to be very truthful, I really didn’t stick to the 10-minute sign. I enjoy Tarot reading and I keep going until I feel I’ve provided, as far as possible, the information and advice a person needs. As it happened, I know that I was able to offer support to a few people in real need who found what I had to very useful, and really that’s the purpose of spiritual work.
The experience at that New Age fair taught me the important of listening to those “off-world” voices and to be flexible in my approach. I’m very glad I followed the cosmic advice, because I had a wonderful time and met some gutsy, warm, fantastic people.
On the Sunday, though, I was very tired as I’d done heaps of readings the previous day. Early on a man walked in and set up a massage table. He had a lovely energy around him and I wandered over to see what he did. Cranio-sacral therapy! Wooo-hooo. I was up on that table like greased lightning, no-one else got a look in! The therapist held my feet and immediately tuned in to the grief I was experiencing in leaving my father behind in Australia. In that, and subsequent sessions, he restored my body to balance, and further cemented cranio-sacral therapy as my favourite form of body treatment.
I should add that, from the time I first learned Reiki in 1994 and went on to Reiki Master level, this form of energy healing has also contributed to the healing I’ve received over the years. It is also a therapy which, because it is so gentle, is one which my body can handle with ease.
I still work with various therapies such as crystal healing, Reiki, massage, cranio-sacral healing, reflexology as and when I feel they’re appropriate. As I said in an earlier post, I work with conventional medicine too, as and when that is appropriate. Each person’s path to healing is like a smorgasbord – you need to have tasters and sort out what sorts you.
Of course, some might comment that I still have fibromyalgia and I do get the occasional intense headache, but nowhere near as bad as the migraines I used to get. When I first started working with alternative healing therapies, I used to believe that the goal was to cure the illness. I’ve since come to realise that healing relates to something much deeper – coming into alignment with our inner self, our souls, our divine journey, our relationships with others, a profound sense of the spiritual bringing us peace of mind, if not peace of body.
One of the reasons I came to wonder about what lies behind illness and how people cope was a book I read of a lady who became ill with multiple sclerosis. She had the means to travel and experience many therapies, but never recovered from the MS. She then realised that her skills could be put to use to work with MS organisations in fund-raising and structural development, something which never would have crossed her mind had she not got MS. And in the process she was of enormous help to other MS sufferers.
Fibromyalgia has taught me to slow down, take life more easily and to understand that it has given me a profound gift: having time to smell the roses, lean against beautiful trees and feel their energy, looking closely at autumn leaves and seeing their beauty, taking time to sit with our dogs and feel their warmth and love, to hug my husband and enjoy cuddles with him, to value my friends, to realise that life isn’t about doing big things (although that’s possible) but to realise that life is a gift. Don’t waste it – joy and beauty are all around you if you take the time to stop looking elsewhere and look at where you are right now.
much of it wasted on wrong turns,
back roads riddled by ruts.
I had adventures
I never would have known
if I proceeded as the crow flies.
Super highways are so sure
of where they are going:
they arrive too soon. A straight line isn’t always
the shortest distance
between two people.
Sometimes I act as though
I’m heading somewhere else
I narrow the gap between you and me.
I’m not sure I’ll ever
know the right way, but I don’t mind
getting lost now and then.
Maps don’t know everything.
I’ve had a long break from writing because I’ve been hit with a rather bad dose of sciatic pain which has meant sleepless nights and some discombobulated days as a result. A while back I went to an all-day workshop with quite uncomfortable chairs and the result was that health-wise it really knocked me sideways.
However, in the intervening period I had an experience which I found provided rather a good lesson in coping with fibromyalgia and its effects.
I learned to say no!
Aha! Perhaps that’s one of the big lessons when we get fibromyalgia – learning to tune into our bodies, listen to what all our cells and bits of pieces tucked away under our skin feel like, and acting in harmony with our body rather than trying to run out lives strictly from our heads. And finding the inner strength to say “no” when we need to look after ourselves and not put everyone else first.
Okay, it’s a bit simplistic, I admit, as fibromyalgia is multi-faceted, acts differently in each individual and really is quite hard to pin down in terms of specific healing aspects. It seems to vary from person to person. But I was looking at a blog recently, written by a fibro sufferer, and it was like looking at myself many years ago: angry, furious at my body letting me down, straining against the bit to get active again, still over-doing things, railing against the world, refusing to listen to my body and to its message
I felt exhausted reading the blog and realised how far I’d come in working out how to co-exist with what I now consider a learning tool for my body.
I also created this piece of digital art to illustrate what fibromyalgia feels like: the blackness when you feel despair; the flashes of light which represent the chaos of this health challenge because you never know what it’s going to dish up next; the red which signifies the pain; the green which represents the peace you can sometimes feel with fibro; and the blue to signify the need to tune into your body and communicate with it. Because, as I said in my last post, trying to push through fibro is pretty damned useless, all that will happen is that you’ll be flat on your back and probably worse off than before.
All these things of course I’ve learned over 15-odd years of living with fibromyalgia. Nevertheless, I still get tempted into trying to do more than I can. A while back, I was asked to take part in a mind, body, spirit show in Kyrenia. The idea was to take my computer and printer along, create individual artwork for visitors, and do readings. I quite fancied doing this, but deep down I knew really it’s beyond me physically. Nevertheless, I’ve been pummeling my brain to get the pieces together – to be able to travel to the exhibition and set up, cope with leaving the four dogs alone for a long time in case they make a noise and upset the neighbours, worrying about whether we could handle the financial costs, and whether this was an appropriate step for me.
Truth to tell, as I said above, I knew deep within that I should say no. But I’m a Libran, I hate saying no when people ask me to do something. And if I’m really honest, the good old ego preened itself at being asked to take part and at the idea of going and creating art.
In the end, I decided to do a Tarot reading for myself. The spread was follows:
This reflected the fact that I felt a deep unease about taking part in the exhibition, that there were underlying features I felt were hidden, and I felt some sort of deception but was uncertain what it involved. In the event, I showed the card to my husband – he who scorns the Tarot – who said immediately: “You’re deceiving yourself about your ability to take part”. Ho-ho, spot on!
The next question: What would be the result of taking part? A: Five of Coins
Hmmm, pretty hard to read this one, eh? Difficulties, poverty, and ill-health.
Now the cynical among you may think the Tarot is a heap of old cobblers but – hang on! I repeated this reading three times, shuffling the cards each time, and waddyaknow? the same cards came out every time!
Message received, loud and clear. Don’t take part. Say no. Which I did and it was very hard. It was, however, made all the easier because I had a terrible night with sciatic pain, the day before I had to make a final decision, as if my body was waging guerilla warfare against my taking part in the expo. But having made the decision, I felt like a load had gone from my shoulders, I felt profoundly I’d made the right decision, and my body felt all the lighter and more cheerful for it.
So to wind up, the next day I drew another card: what is the result of my decision not to take part in the exhibition? And the result: The Wheel of Fortune. This is one of the very positive cards in the Tarot pack, and it’s part of the Major Arcana which signifies times of great significance or importance in your life. It means a fortunate turn in circumstances which I think was a great confirmation I’d made the right decision.
I don’t know the ins and outs of people who have fibromyalgia as I do. My own experience has been, however, that I have had to slow down. I cannot take life at top speed as I used to. I have to tune into my body to see what’s going on from day to day.
I appreciate people who kindly offer supportive advice – whether it’s nutritional or to suggest certain therapies. I do know I get fed up with people who make instant diagnoses of fibro, how you can get better and what the underlying causes are. It’s particularly difficult when you get someone into metaphysical analysis of illness who tell you all about your wrong thinking, your crappy attitude and how, if you think the right way, the fibro will disappear overnight.
I happen to know my own body now, I have tried various therapies which have improved my health and helped me cope better. Considering what I was like in Boonah, I am heaps better. But I know my own body, I know what it can and can’t handle, I happen to think illness and disease are very complex and sometimes they’re a mystery which can be frustrating as we live in a scientific society which wants logical answers and cures.
For me, most importantly, you need to decide what brings heart and soul into your life and live your life with passion. Passion doesn’t necessarily mean running around doing lots of things or being hyper-active. It means working out what really makes you happy in life, what creates ease for your body rather than disease, and what really lifts your heart rather than drags you down. And, of course, only you know the answer.
Nor does the answer drop into your hot little hands like manna from heaven. It takes time to work it all out and it’s why I’m really rather grateful to the Fibro Follies because working through all the challenges has finally led me to focus on digital art and the immense creative pleasure it brings my own heart and soul.
I make the above point about lessons taking a long time to learn because back in Boonah, I found it very, very hard not to be running around like a cut snake doing the things I loved: teaching, working with crystals, going to health expos or taking part in markets. And, of course, there was the huge question mark of my father living beside us even though I had no direct contact with him. I did have feedback via the terrific social worker who was helping Dad. But even so, he suckered her like he suckered so many people and it was hard to sit back and stay detached.
Finally we came to the conclusion that our time in Boonah was over. Bryan wanted to be closer to his family and I wanted to get away from Dad’s alcoholic antics. So we decided to return to the UK. I rang Dad’s social worker and told her what we’d decided. She told Dad we were thinking of returning to the UK and his response was: “They’re not going anywhere. They’re waiting for me to die to get my money”. So then she had to tell him we weren’t thinking about it, we had decided.
I think it must have been a hell of a shock for Dad as I’d always, in one way or another, been there for him. So one day I saw him on his verandah and half-waved, whereupon he waved back and obviously wanted some contact. So at Easter 2002, I went up to see him, the door was open but I refused to enter until he specifically invited me in. And when I’d sat down, my father was polite, respectful and obviously pleased to be back in contact.
Nevertheless, I refused to put my life on hold for my father as he was still boozing like the clappers, his house was filthy and he still was leading a chaotic lifestyle. So we put the house up for sale. It took a while but when it did sell, it was as if everything fell into place as the buyers were really pleasant and helpful. We sold for cash all the antique furniture I’d inherited from Dad when Mum died. This paid for the air fares to Perth and then to Manchester, in the north of England where Bryan’s relatives lived.
Leaving my father on his own was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It really broke my heart when we got up early in the morning we left and drove away. I couldn’t look at my dad’s house or our house and, when the jet took off from Brisbane Airport, I just cried my eyes out.
We flew back to Perth with Rosie and to spend time with our friends before leaving Australia for what we thought would be the last time. We kennelled Rosie just before we flew to Manchester as she had a week or so to wait for a flight back to the UK.
And on October 12th,2002, just after the Bali bombings, we walked down the gangway onto our flight to Manchester. As we walked towards the plane, I felt another great surge of grief and guilt that I was leaving my father on his own and saying goodbye to such good friends, and burst into tears. Bryan hugged me and said he’d be wondering when it would hit me. So as we taxied down the runway for our new life in the UK, my last view of Australia was blurred with tears, a hazy view very reminiscent of the view of Australia on the horizon as the cruise ship on which I arrived in this beloved country in 1972 sailed ever closer to Fremantle, the port of Perth in Western Australia.