The six days passed in a blur, while also having a timeless quality, I had a feeling of elsewhere-ness the entire time. I imagine it was the effect of total and complete immersion in the experience of what it means to retreat. Oh it was magic, surreal, emotional and I found myself a few times playing referee between the dreams in my heart and the critic in my head. There were some jarring moments between Daisy Jane and Doubting Thomas… the latter more skilled and rehearsed with tactics, in a perpetual attempt to keep me small. He's a master, but one I don't intend to serve.
I took two classes, each lasting 3 days.
The first was Art Journalling, facilitated by the beautiful, soul driven, softly spoken but deeply impacting Orly Avineri. This woman has planted in me a serious desire to visit south California where she lives and take her workshop there too. Actually, she might be at risk of me moving into her pocket once I get there.. but she’s cool with that.
I have kept many, many, MANY (see how many?) journals over the years. I have spilled my guts into pages upon pages, letters I never sent and words I never said. When I was younger I even created a written code, so I could freely spill into a page my secrets.. that way nobody could read them in case I died before I ever got a chance to hide my diary. This is how all teenagers think, right? …Silence…
Anyway… of the many, many, ma… you get the picture, I never thought of it as a creative expression. Sure, my pages were full of doodles and I did have one massive scrapbook of almost exclusively imagery (more coding) but I never realised what I was doing!
4 years ago, during a difficult time in my life, I engaged in a frantic spilling of myself into a collection of journals I have never revisited, nor do I intend to. I think words have that power. I don’t want to read, or more specifically, re-live that time in my life. It’s done, over… I don't need to hear about it again. But I’m curious as to what it would have looked like had I have used imagery to express myself instead of words. I imagine looking back would not to be so threatening, because my experience with imagery, is that it does not confine itself to time and place, it's not problem focussed.
To express with imagery transcends problems. I have always found that when I spill with imagery, what gets spilled is not just the problem, but the solution, the meaning and the understanding. In every symbolic expression I have made, whether it be on a page or in a sandbox, I make contact with the essence of who I am, the me I don’t have access to by any other way.
I find myself in there. I discover something about what Ken Wilbur refers to as ‘I am-ness’, the part of me (I like to think of it as my soul) that is, always was and always will be, an eternal self. Oh great… I’ve gone deep again… what a surprise!
Surface…. So anyway, that’s why art journalling called to me and I couldn’t have had a better teacher and group to dive in with!
Orly’s is an experiential workshop… my favourite kind. To be facilitated in this way is to be facilitated through a process of making meaning from direct experience; learning from experience. I have found no better way to learn and believe me, I have enough ‘theory’ in my head to know how useless it is. If you’re into this kind of thing, just find Orly, if you can't take a workshop, buy her book. I’m saying no more because I am on the threshold of gushing… actually I already have a foot in the door.
Onwards… to the second of the three day workshops.
Before I do though I have to mention, art aside… the women I met at this retreat were what you would call soul sisters. I was hoping for that. I mean, I went with big expectations (that’s what I do) and I was praying to the universe that it would deliver on the connection front. I could handle coming away no better an artist, no more creative a person… but what concerned me most of all, is that I would come away without having made any connections.
THANK YOU UNIVERSE… OMG, did she deliver. I met the most beautiful, creative, humorous, courageous, sensitive, heart and soul led kind of people I could have hoped to meet.
There were such honest and emotional exchanges between us, the kind of connecting that requires courage, authenticity, trust, a belief in love and spirit and a willingness to share our histories, or more appropriately herstories.
In doing so, we enriched and affirmed ourselves and each other. I am so grateful for that above all, that I made these kind of connections. I will be talking about three of those beautiful ladies on Monday when I take up the baton from one of whom, who graciously passed it to me, to participate in an arty blog hop circulating the creative blog network.
I have to mention our retreat photographer, Tara Morris. Tara committed herself to this retreat in an unofficial capacity. She accompanied her friend Flora with the modest hope of maybe recouping her expenses by securing a few portraits during the week. Somewhere along the journey from Boston to here, she kicked modesty’s ass (probably flushed it down the plane’s crapper too) and decided to go balls to the wall instead. Hello!… had anything been missing this week, had she not have made that decision, it would have been that.
I looked 'Tara' up in the dictionary by the way, it said 'an explosion of life-force energy'.
A total badass behind the lens, she took such beautiful photos, capturing memory, essence and meaning. She worked so hard and yet still managed to be fully present and an even badder ass up close and personal. She’s also adorable, if she was a seed, I would plant whole fields of her!
So, days four to six was with the Beautiful, Brave and also Badass iTunes playlister, that is Flora Bowley. This was a horse (course?) of a different colour! I hadn’t allowed myself to ponder too much about it, of course I was aware of Flora and her art, but had deliberately not researched (code for cyber stalked) her or her workshop too much on the inter web, so that I could be as free of expectation as possible (even for me!).
I realised quickly that I was going to end up having major respect for this lady. But my god was I out of my comfort zone! It was in Flora’s class that it dawned on me that I am not a painter. ***stop the music*** what am I doing here?
Standing in front of the blank canvas on day one I was confronted with an overwhelming surge of panic, doubt and self consciousness. What am I supposed to do? How…HOW am I supposed to express myself here? Just appear calm Amanda, stay cool… put. paint. on. the thing… just get it on there… layers, LAYERS!! Nobody will notice you feel like you’ve just gone to battle without a sword.
It was during these three days the nighttime dreams started. My dreams are my worry ground. A naked in public dream betrayed to me how exposed, self conscious and vulnerable I felt. Followed by dreams of death, which represented the disturbance in my comfort zone, the threat to my identity as this ‘confident’ woman, a woman with dreams born of a creative self, a woman who knows who she is (Pssst… I don’t, by the way) damn… my subconscious knew it and I knew it.
In Flora’s class I survived by splashing the nervous energies of my inner parts out.. OUT!
Acknowledging my self conscious part...
Satisfying my insecure and therefore, angry defeatist part...
Placating my comfort seeking and panicky 'what does everybody think of me' part...
Before finally clearing a space for my brave, believing, willing to try, wants to learn and grow part. She got her chance to step forward on the last day, thank god… She was so welcome!
I'm so grateful to Flora for this lesson, because Flora has been developing her creative process over 20 years, watching her paint is to observe someone at peace with putting herself out there.
She trusts her creative self… that takes balls, BIG shiny amaze-balls! That’s what I took from her. Bravery. How does one develop this level of trust and creative bravery? Show up, do it. Hello, metaphor for life!
Are you still with me? Thank you… It has taken me almost a week of coming down, around and processing to be able to sit here and write this, because I wanted to report to you the depth of the experience, the engagement, anxiety and joy of something that, if you go with it, creates movement once the fear and apprehension is acknowledged and overcome. I wanted to express what this meant on a personal, as much as an artistic level.
I have to mention my gratitude and admiration for Irish artist Pauline Agnew, who's vision and dream baby this was. I'm so proud to be Irish and to have a retreat of this quality and calibre on our own doorstep, in the magnificent Bantry House was a gift in itself. Pauline made a personal dream come true in realising her vision, but in doing so, she also delivered for many of us, a space to embrace and fertilise ours.
There is nothing that keeps you stuck, like fear of not measuring up in front of others. I have that fear, but I also have a fear of stuckness.. actually it’s more like an intolerance, either way… My fear driven part has a pretty solid, ready made excuse should she ever be given the mantle of decision in my life. But I prefer a democratic inner governance, so tough shit fear, I’m voting for the brave party!
Always, Amanda xoxoxo