I’d been to my first-ever qigong class and felt pretty good, actually. Yes, I could feel some aches and stiffness setting in but nothing drastic and had been happily working on some designs all evening before packing up to go to bed. When my knee almost gave way, on standing up, I almost laughed at my own decrepitude but then, as I limped upstairs and realised I could hardly make it back down again for the thing I’d forgotten to get, I began to take it a tadge more seriously. By the time I got to the bathroom, I could barely lower myself onto the loo and, worse, scrabbled like a helpless babe to get off it again since the minutest pressure made my knee feel dislocated and quite unable to bear weight. Tears of laughter, as I relayed this to my husband through the door, turned quickly to tears of frustration and more; in fact, quite the over-reaction. Immediately, I could tell this sudden upsurge of emotion, like a fountain from nowhere, was much more than it looked; it had all the hallmarks of an emotional release. After applying arnica, I took myself, gingerly, to bed and used my pyjama leg to hoist my leg under the duvet before speaking softly to my surrendered knee as I dropped off to sleep.
Yet when I woke in the night for the dreaded bathroom visit, I realised my leg wasn’t nearly as severely handicapped as it had been the night before. By morning, it was sore but astonishingly better. This is because, by the time I slipped back under the warm duvet, I had already been delivered the deeper understanding that I knew would inevitably arrive after the night before’s release. It came in many layers of the same theme but swiftly, coherently and concisely, I had it all and here is what I got.
The knee of my left leg, which has been troubling me for, oh, about 7 or 8 years, getting markedly “worse” last year, has been trying to tell me something about how I was feeling about the way I sustain and support myself as a physical human being. This issue is just about my left leg (my right knee is fine) because, of course, this is related to my right hemisphere…my creative “side”. And, for the longest time, I have been feeling that this oh-so important aspect of me has not been able to support me. In fact, I touched upon this topic in my very last post. Though I have put more effort and hours into my art-practice and creative skills (including writing) for the last decade than I have ever given to any other pursuit or career in my life (including running businesses and working in high-pressure corporate), they have “failed” to support me in a measurable, material sense. Lurking in there is the ever-present knowledge that, were it not for other streams of income, I would have starved to death a long time ago using these skills. Yet they are my primary skills, the most authentic, radiant and unique skills I have to offer in this world, and I have given of them with every bit of effort I could muster (on top of chronic health issues that leave me feeling quickly depleted) and yet I have “earned” next to nothing (probably less than half a year’s salary for the average person) over all those combined years. For most of those years, I’ve worked 6 to 8 hours days, sometimes 5 or more days a week and long into the evenings and weekends and yet received such little monetary validation of my right-sided skills in return that it’s quite a joke that I have to complete a tax return. The lack of self-esteem that comes with the territory is huge. In fact, this whole issue is huge when I open it up; and is the “lot” of many (many) artists the world over, and now my knee was shouting about it!
It’s why, I realise, I pretty much had to give up on it all last year and take that breather I just spoke about in my previous post. It’s why I have been floundering about “what to do next” though all my inclinations still take me this creative route. Its why, as my husband embarks on his own right-brained pursuit (his training as a yoga teacher starts today) I feel like I must contribute more and yet, at the core of me, don’t know how I could give any more of my innate skills than I have already been doing; with precious little return or success.
Another layer of it was how I had been less-supportive of “it” than it would have liked. I realised how, somewhat like the parent who almost coughs and hold their hand up to their mouth when their friends around the dinner table ask what their daughter is doing for a living and have to admit “Ahem, she’s an artist…” wishing they could say doctor or scientist, I had been dong this thing too. All those times I had nursed wounds over the fact that friends and family who profess to be enthusiastic about my work omit to share what I do across their social media or in conversation with others, perhaps leave some of my cards around in their office or mention my exhibition to their friends (I have two or three who stoutly support and share about my work to anyone who will listen but this has mostly been the territory of a million missed opportunities amongst my friends and acquaintances) I had really been nursing a hurt at my own lack of shouting about it; because I really don’t self-promote much or with ease. If someone asks me what I do, I will mention “artist” and they give me that look reserved for life’s oddballs but I seldom take the opportunity to engage them with all the quirks and particulars, such as how I design fabrics and accessories or how writing three or four blogs on various topics is the burning passion that has me leaping out of bed most mornings. These qualities are what make me “me” and yet I keep them, largely, under wraps; modestly hidden away while I listen to people talk, or often moan, about their own careers and projects, smiling my mute neutrality and living up to their impression that I’m some sort of glorified housewife or one of life’s dull and lazy people. When really, I never stop making and creating, thinking and sharing and am one of the most tirelessly driven people I know.
In this respect, I admit, I have been letting myself down. And on that other issue, my self-belief has been on its last legs (literally) for quite some time. In the twilight of my early morning waking, I felt it all so clearly, getting the message at last, and my knee creaked a sigh of relief. And as I slipped back under that duvet, I spent the time until I dozed off again sending so much love, gratitude, compassion, understanding, reassurance, encouragement and support to my knee. I thanked it for everything we had been through together and for bearing up against all the odds; keeping going when there seemed very little left to motivate it to keep sustaining me. And I promised it that the show was far from over yet; there was a way it could become every bit as strong as my right knee and, in no time, they would both be able to walk, run and even dance together in a whole new way. Just for starters, we’ll try some qigong since I’m already thoroughly impressed with what it has managed to unravel in me. I met people yesterday who thoroughly impressed me some more; one who has been through ME, another who arrived in the class barely able to walk with MS a year ago and now, she says, with her life “completely altered for the better” and both singing its praises.
As often is the case, the clearing arrives just as the solution presents itself; and this week had already felt like I was reaching such a point as a project I’ve had on the back-burner, to use my creative skills in a more commercial way, started to come together. The fabric designs I’ve been playing with for a year have found their ideal vehicle and I have the support of a tried and tested business method, along with the advice of a valued friend who has already made a go of this, to help me get this started. It will involve far more of the left-brained business, technical, marketing and organisational skills than I ever got to use as the painter in oils (this vastly underused aspect of me is jumping with excitement at the prospect since I have these skills) and the art I will be producing will be so much swifter and less complex or laboured than painting on a canvas. In fact, since my break from painting last year, I’ve derived a great deal of insight from observation that switching from the very slow and laboured, stopping-and-starting, backwards-and-forwards and multi-layered process of painting something in oils, usually over weeks or months, to digitally producing art at a very rapid pace, by comparison, feels like the equivalent of dropping the karmic perspective to become a fully crystallised being devoid of all that need to revisit what you once did and make sense or improvement of it. There’s something crisp, pure and transparent about the digital process. Its like using only the best, most enlightened bits of your experience to make the picture of your choice without having to labour and revisit or recycle what feels done with, including all those early “mistakes” that you are striving to make good of. Meanwhile, and so that my hands-on art practice doesn’t fall by the wayside, I’ve set myself up with a day’s one to one tutorial in a brand new art skill that will allow me to play with colour, texture and possibility like never before; again, in the context of textiles, which keeps it grounded in the commercial and practical aspect of art that seems to be calling me. You could say, I’ve lined up the best of both worlds for myself; and it feels like achieving a hemispherical cohesion in my work like never before. So, from the place of abject lethargy and exhaustion that I talked about just a few days ago to this degree of excitement feels like such a profound turnabout and the episode with my knee has played such a pivotal part in it.
Even the act of taking myself out of my comfort zone to join a group qigong class has been an exercise in standing up on my own two feet and taking a positive step forwards. Going forwards, I plan to be less sedentary, more involved communally, certainly more flowing (as qigong inherently is) and to work more consciously and deliberately with my energy (as qigong teaches you to do). Before Christmas, I attempted a yin yoga class, thinking this would be just the right thing for me as I encourage my right-sided aspect to come out of hiding. Instead, the long-sustained postures, often face down to the mat, took me into such pain and rigidity over the next few days that I would barely recover in time for the next class. Yin yoga felt all wrong to me as it felt like it was holding me in the same place that I had already been in for the last decade of fibromyalgia; where I had already held the longest-ever sustained posture as my body stopped working and necessarily surrendered deep-deep-DEEP into the quiet inner place where I could hear myself fully…yes, I had already done all that with knobs on. Rather, now feels like the time to come out of that holding place and start to move again; my knee (and the rest of my body) has done with feeling immobile. This whole experience reminded me that there are two types of yin. One version is to go deep within, like the seed under the soil waiting for spring (I’ve been doing that for a long time). The other is seek-out and receive the warmth, light and moisture that signals rebirth and then start to dance upwards and outwards above the surface, becoming visible and expressive in order to take part in life in ways that feel like the abundant unfurling of fresh new leaves and exploratory shoots. This is where I am now; and it calls upon the need to be sturdy, as every new shoot must learn how to be. And for this, I need both of my knees!
This kind of experience, through the body, delivering deep, emotional and even whole-life thematic stories, can be hugely cathartic and transformational; and, I suspect, every health issue in the body has such a story to tell. Often, that issue won’t release until its message is delivered up and received in exactly the way that it most longs to be heard. Like the child tugging at your coat-tails, demanding that you stop and hear it out, it will keep tugging until you give it that attention. To quote Dr Christiane Northrup in her book “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom” (which I heartily recommend since it includes much discussion of this topic) “When we have allowed ourselves a full emotional release, we end up experiencing compassion for the hurting part of us that has been crying out for acknowledgment and validation”. I am in that place of deep compassion for this unheard aspect of self and, instead of making me wallow, it feels like just the fuel-injection I need.
Likewise, I can identify how this hurt has been with me for most of my life; right back to when my father doubted the validity of art as the prime subject of my choice (and how I then self-sabotaged my exam to ensure that I would be forced to default to the more academic subjects when it came to taking my degree). It goes back to my previous married life, when my arty pursuits were either completely belittled and ridiculed or I was told I “must” turn them into some sort of super-ambitious money-generating business plan in order to pursue them (which then, inevitably, killed all creativity by turning it into its very opposite factor; a source of great stress and imperative). The whole theme of “patriarchal suppression” is deeply wrapped up in my pain around this topic since right-brained pursuits have been made the poor country cousin in my life as in the world. My current partner couldn’t be more supportive of my creative pursuits and yet that doesn’t take away my guilt at not holding up my side of the income stream; especially as he endeavours to turn his emphasis towards a more creative occupation himself yet finds himself trapped by the need to perpetuate financial stability for us both. Yet a wound carried tightly can often cause the very solutions you seek to stagnate within the hurt; since the answer is usually to be found inside the very thing that seems to be “in trouble”. In other words, when it comes to your body, the answer is often right under your nose and all it take to release it is recognition, and acknowledgment, that the hurt exists in the first place…so that it can see the light of day and release its prize. Intuition and inner guidance can then set to work.
I had a similar episode, 9 years ago, when I developed a massive Bartholin’s cyst that required emergency surgery. It also saved my life since it flagged up another issue during my hospital stay (an advanced ectopic pregnancy…so, you could say, creativity literally “going nowhere”) that could have been critical if left undiscovered. While it was growing, I had been working on a painting that was meant to be a pool of radiant light only, after I came home from hospital, I realised how the colours had only been getting more and more muddy and frustrating to me, to the point it actually resembled a round stagnant pool; my cyst and my life-going-nowhere! It served as another key wake-up call and marked the beginning of my very much kick-started recovery process and my writing pursuits, which have been cathartic. Women’s bodies are world experts at holding emotional stories as health issues just waiting to speak out and Dr Northrup shares many such anecdotes in her various books on women’s health, not to mention how powerful it can be once you take these messages as so much more than just a nice metaphor in order to notice and heal the root distortion or stuck-point held inside your cells.
So begins a new era for me; one in which I intend to stand tall and confident yet inherently relaxed and fluid (as qigong is newly teaching me); also an era of standing up for myself and the gifts I bring out into the world. And this is necessarily a two-legged phase; neither leg being more important than the other…which is to say I am about to bring the two-hemispherical approach that I so often talk about out into life, where it can become an active and expressive thing in full community and participation with others and using both my artistic and more practical skills. Above all, once I get used to its rhythms, I envision it will become quite the dance of my life; the deft-footed journey that will lead to quite unexpected places. This is what I have to look forward to and, yes, something does feel miraculously cleared and transformed since the episode with the knee. I can tell something has shifted at the cellular level since its almost as though I have a cold today, something I rarely get, and yet its passing through at lightning speed and I also feel energised, excited and more positive than I have for quite some time. These experiences, and more, are what await just the other side of listening to what the body has to tell you; which can be one of the most transformative experiences of your life, taking the power of healing to a whole other level.