Today I entered a world filled to the brim with color and texture, light and sound, love and laughter. A place where I could transform whimsical ideas into tangible objects. My friend Renee Bures is an art therapist who brought Alchemy Open Studio in Doylestown, PA into the world several years ago. Each Sunday, she invites people in the community to roll up their sleeves, put on smocks and by donation, come and play with a myriad of art supplies that rest on shelves that line the warehouse sized room. What doesn’t fit in their storage spaces, parade around the perimeter. Art work by others hangs on walls, a kiln and the clay to go in, beckons those who want to mold and sculpt. At previous visits, I have drawn, painted, glued and designed. Today, I was drawn to a container of rainbow shards that called to be glued to a piece of glass in seemingly random patterns. I decided that (against my desire for more structure) I would let the fractured pieces tell me where they wanted to be placed. I surrendered, which is a common experience of late.
For far too long, I had kept my own broken pieces hidden, fearing that if they were revealed, people would be less trusting in my ability to help them mend their own fragments. I am now viewing them as remnants of healing that has taken place within me.
I was faced with a container of bits and pieces that I could decide to make into a thing of beauty. It is a work in progress; like the artist herself. I will be going back later in the week to finish it after patiently needing to step away so that there can be time for it to dry. I chose to use cooler colors (green, blue and white) on one side and warm colors (red, brown, orange) with the hues and shades meeting in the middle. Such a metaphor for life.
Eager to see how this piece of art will turn out. Eager to see how the mosaic of my life will come together.
My friend Paul Dengler (who finds some of his joy playing as Forrest Gump) sent me this song about the ways in which people are part of the mosaic of our lives.
Mosaic by Mary Ellen Kirk
Wise people are everywhere. Today I met a wise woman while waiting to see my cardiologist. She was the receptionist who greeted me from behind her sliding glass (slid open, of course) window. When she asked how I was doing since my last visit and I gave her an update, she responded: “You are turning your mess into your message.” Wowie zowie, did that ever resonate! There are times when my life feels like a great big ol’ mess with unexpected challenges, but fortunately they are interspersed with tremendous joys. I decided after the heart attack that I would use it as an object lesson, not only for myself, but for anyone else who would care to listen. I have been telling other women that our symptoms are different often times than those of men. I have been encouraging folks who are headed down the same health neglecting path that I traversed unconsciously and alarmingly to take heed and slow their pace, lest they crash land. In retrospect, all of the signs were there, pointing to the arrival at the destination at which I find myself.
Not that I would wish this on anyone, but since it did happen, I am using it to remind myself that I can only do so much in a day and if I want my days to stretch into years, I need to ease back into flow mode rather than go mode. I can’t say it has been easy, this re-adjusting my activity level as I dial it way back. The internal dialog has changed as I give myself permission to do less and BE more. I have renegotiated agreements and people have understood. I have been more selective with how I invest my time and energy. I have let go, sometimes sadly, of relationships that are not healthy for my emotional heart. I have let myself grieve my losses, when before I submerged them beneath layers of activity with the mistaken belief that I could outrun them.
So what is my message? It changes often, but most certainly is about living each day to the fullest, partly by moving more mindfully, taking time to let our souls catch up to our bodies. It is about letting our hearts lead and not ignoring their messages. It is about treasuring each precious moment, since we don’t know how many more we will be granted. It is about not sweating the small stuff; knowing that it mostly is ALL small stuff. AND beyond all else, allowing love to be the driving force in our lives.
Yesterday, in the midst of a radio interview with Kerri Kannan, I was asked a question about vulnerability. It is a topic that has become as familiar as the fingers typing these words. I was awakened to it when viewing a TEDTalk by Brene’ Brown a year or so ago. It doesn’t come easily to me and is distinctly uncomfortable, since it involves a sense of trust in my ultimate well being. What prompted the query was a thread in the conversation about a few years back at a retreat, having plaster and casting material wrapped around my face so a mask could be made. Although I’m not typically claustrophobic, the 20 minutes it took for the mold to harden seemed to last hours. The friend who assisted me was an art teacher who knew what she was doing and she held my hand and guided me through it. When it was done, I felt much more at peace and had a pretty piece of work to show for it. It’s now hanging on my bedroom wall.
Kerri likened the sensations I had during that process with how she imagined I might be feeling now post heart attack. Once upon a time, I felt invincible and invulnerable, taking all kinds of emotional risks without stopping to consider the impact; throwing caution to the wind. I like to say that I do emotional bungee jumping, since ain’t no way you would see me springing about from a stretchy cord. I was reckless at times with my heart; emotional and cardiac. I didn’t hold it sacred as I like to think I do for others. I took for granted that nothing could ultimately penetrate either version. That was until June 12th of this year when an artery required some mechanical propping up, as did my somewhat shut down heart chakra. Multiple losses that I pushed aside in the service of moving forward, came back to visit and I gave myself permission to feel fear and sadness; edgy emotions that, as a therapist, I am grand at encouraging clients to express. Recent deaths of friends exacerbated the experience.
I am also keenly aware that I have been reluctant to immerse in a committed life partnership in the interceding years, since I was widowed in 1998, because I told myself that I will never be so raw and vulnerable again; by surrendering my heart to someone who may not have been able to hold it in the way it (and I) deserve to be held. Bless him, I think my husband did the best he was willing to do back then, but in many ways had not learned how to do so, not having had role models for healthy relating.
I am finding it less frightening to admit vulnerability, since when I do, people don’t run screaming and in fact, draw closer and can relate to my experiences. As I come out from hiding, I am willing to gradually let go of the need to control every aspect of my life. The armor is off and my naked and open heart stands ready to absorb all the love in the Universe.
Photo Credit: Terree O’Neill Yeagle
This morning, I joined two dear friends for brunch at Mal’s Diner in Skippack, PA. After a heart-healthy workout in cardiac rehab, I had a heart- happy meal of egg whites, spinach (no cheese), fresh fruit instead of home fries and dry (no butter) whole grain toast. Yvonne Kaye has been my mentor and friend for more than 25 years; a seasoned woman who describes herself as “ripening” and not aging, having become an octogenarian last year. Today was her 81st birthday. She is a wickedly (in a good way), wildly funny person, having weathered many a storm throughout her life, without capsizing her ship of dreams. Patricia Gallagher is also a thriver; having been through personal crises over which she has triumphed. She is known as The Angel Pin Lady and The Flower Lady, since she generously gives out both to random folks in nursing homes, senior centers, shelters and on the street. We represent three different decades, since she is slightly older than I am.
As I entered the restaurant and greeted them with hugs, I shared that I am still facing medical issues that I thought I had overcome. I described it as a “Now What?” moment that can either be seen as OMG, now what? or Oh wow, now what? I much prefer the second, but from time to time (and today was one of them), it feels like the first is fully operational. We decided that we would call ourselves The Now What Club and use that as a springboard to encourage other people to move past limiting and self defeating beliefs, while giving full permission for feelings as they arise. I think we could give the Ya Ya Sisterhood a run for their money.
As we laughed our way through our time together, I have come to even more deeply appreciate the bonds that women share. Each of us has achieved a modicum of success in our fields, each has become a tough cookie when needed and each is generous with praise, support and direction for the others. We are ardent cheerleaders, encouraging stretching our comfort zones. Who knows what the next steps will be individually and collectively? We have some ideas percolating.
How do you engage in ‘now what?’ thinking? What is YOUR now what adventure?