Thursday, 23 February 2017

There is So Much I Want to Say: A Poem

There is so much I want to say
about how illness gives life 
a circumference 
a border of distant horizons

The well want to cross such boundaries

Whereas I want 
to circumnavigate 
the edges 
then slowly spiral inwards 
back to myself

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Illness is My Spiritual Path

I was hoping, when I first began this blog, to write much about my spiritual journey, my experiences with shamanism. My thoughts, in general, about the world behind and inside this world, that we so seldom speak of. It was going to be one of the tests of my courage. How much would I be willing to say?

However (as with most things, I suppose), things have not quite gone to plan. My health has been sliding downhill these last several months, and at times I have wondered if writing this blog is part of the problem. Still, I refuse to believe that that is so—and if there are specific causes, no doubt they are much more complex than I can even begin to understand—yet I do know that I should be limiting my use of technology. And therein lies the dilemma.

Without the Internet, without this blog and email and social media (as conflicted as I often feel about those things*), I would be much more isolated than I currently am, and I know I couldn’t bear that. (I think most people with illnesses or disabilities, confined to houses/bedrooms, would agree with me—sometimes it is only the contact we have with other people via social media and email correspondence that keeps us going.) Nor would I be able to share my thoughts and creative work, to make my small mark on the world, and to share my story—the whole point of blogging.

So I’m determined to continue with this work, for I know it is doing me good, having this creative outlet (and I’ve had some very encouraging feedback from my followers—many thanks to all of you!). It is frustrating, though, that I cannot write quite what I would like, because I am not able to live as I would like, and that instead I am being pulled in a different direction. I didn’t want this to be a place where I dwelt upon illness, yet that is what I seem to be being called to do. 

I few months ago I reread Kat Duff’s extraordinary book The Alchemy of Illness (1993). She says: 

Not long ago, when I turned down an invitation to attend a Buddhist meditation retreat because I was not well enough to sit upright for hours, I felt sad, wondering when I would be able to resume spiritual practices. Then, as I was falling asleep that night, it occurred to me that my illness is my spiritual path and practice—at least for now. (p. 91) 

I find this book inspiring for many reasons—it is so bursting with wisdom that it’s almost too much to take in—but this is the quote that seems most relevant as I write this. For now, illness is my spiritual path. I have no choice in the matter. 

So, what is illness trying to teach me? What can I learn from my experiences? How do I heal myself?

I cannot yet answer these questions. Though one of the things I love about writing is that I am often taken to places I never expected, and I think my path through the dark forest of illness is going to be the same. All I do know is that I am likely to share more from Duff’s book, as I revisit it and ponder it further; and I will, I hope, soon be pursuing some new treatments, and a challenging new diet, which no doubt will give me some interesting topics to explore here. I’ll also be reading about female healers and mystics, and the teachings of plants, amongst other wonderful things, and all of this will inspire my writings.

While I do hope to feel better soon—with more energy, and less of this frustrating brain fog—I also hope that I can accept my circumstances, go deeply into what I am feeling, and bring back some wisdom. If my spiritual journey so far has taught me anything, it is that there is meaning to be found in everything, even the darkest, most painful parts of life, and even in the failings and frailties of our fragile human bodies.

I intend to do my best to find the gifts in this situation, and to share them here.

*I know that technology, for all its benefits, is not healthy for me … or anyone … or the planet! I sometimes long for how life used to be, before the Internet, when spare time meant, for instance, making art, not wasting time trawling through posts on Facebook. Yet I am also very grateful for it. There have been several people over the years who I have corresponded with, and in many ways, they saved me; not to mention the access I now have to information that feeds my never-ending hunger for knowledge. I just hope I can do some good with it.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Brave-Hearted: On Knitting and Courage

I learnt how to knit over ten years ago, at a time of terrible creative block when I was unable to make any art. I felt that what creative talent I had, if I’d had any at all, had completely deserted me, and this was devastating. Fortunately, I decided that the best way to deal with this was to learn a craft—something that would enable me to be creative, to make things, but to do so by following set patterns and techniques. Thus I began knitting.

Since then I have had several years in which I have done no knitting at all, but over the last year or two I have returned to it with gusto. 

It is becoming more widely known that knitting (and other crafts) can be beneficial for people suffering from depression or other illnesses, and I can bear witness to this. It has been a much-needed distraction, something to keep my hands busy of an evening, which at the same time, keeps my mind occupied. The repetitiveness of it, the concentration required, is strangely calming, even meditative. It is one of the vital activities of handmind that Ursula Le Guin wrote of in Always Coming Home, ‘slow[ing] thought to the gait of things and let[ting] it be subject to accident and time’. (1)

Though I completed the knitting of my Braveheart jumper a few months ago, I only recently finished joining the seams. This particular project required some bravery, for it was made using a cotton ‘denim’ yarn which is designed to shrink in length when washed in hot water and tumble-dried—precisely what you are not supposed to do with most knitted garments. This meant that all I could do was knit it up to the recommended dimensions, and then hope for the best. Happily, though the sleeves are longer on me than they should be, and the neck a little wide, it fits! It is such an achievement, to have finished this piece, which was a challenge, and to be able to move on to something new. A new design, a new colour.

The name of this garment—Braveheart—got me thinking, not just about knitting itself, but also about the nature of bravery. 

In my reading last year I came across this passage:

Goddess as Mother is also the Weaver of the Fabric of the Universe, with many ancient Goddesses imaged this way. This power came to be feared, rather than revered—in Her “character as creator, sustainer and increaser of life” the Great Goddess came to be seen as “negative and evil”, by a consciousness that desired “permanence and not change, eternity and not transformation, law and not creative spontaneity…(turning) her into a demon.” … Sometimes the weaving activity of women therefore became known as the cause of illness or a curse with some Christian traditions even forbidding knitting. (2)

To begin with, this made me laugh. That knitting, of all things, could be forbidden! And then it made me angry, knowing, as I do, that knitting is not the cause of illness, but a remedy for it, a method of coping, healing, staying sane in a crazy world. Angry also because women’s work—knitting, weaving, sewing, and so much more—has so often been devalued; and in this case, demonised to boot. 

Perhaps this is why crafting is experiencing a resurgence in the modern world. Not only are women (and some men too) reclaiming these traditional crafts, it is also something of a resurgence of women’s power and the idea of self-reliance. Maybe Goddess Herself is behind it. For making things, creating, whether it be cardigans or socks or homewares, is a protest against the consumerism and throwaway sensibility of this culture. A thing made (or indeed, mended, recycled or repurposed), stitch by stitch, with time and patience, is a thing that will be valued and cared for; an artefact that says to our unsustainable civilisation: We do not need you. We can learn to survive without you. 

Brave words, perhaps. But I intend them to be so.

What I also love about making (some of) my own clothing is that I have control over the designs I choose, and the colours and textures, and this means I can create my own style, rather than having to accept the mainstream fashions that fill the shops. It becomes a reflection of me, part of my self-expression. 

Thus, to knit, to make, to create, can be a brave act, a form of rebellion and expression in a mass-produced, conventional world. (See, for instance, the thousands upon thousands of 'PussyHats' that were worn by protesters at the recent Women's Marches.)

Source: Wikimedia
This brings me to the idea of bravery. In my very first post on this blog I said that I wanted to speak ‘fearlessly’, but I wonder now whether that was the correct word to use. Robert Moss has written that ‘courage is fear conquered by love’:

If you are fearless, you may be merely crazy, or reckless, or lacking in imagination. Courage is the ability to go through fear because you are driven by something that is stronger than fear. Courage is a quality of the heart; you won’t find it anywhere else. The French word for heart—coeur—is in there. (3)

Fear is, in fact, a useful feeling, alerting us to when something is dangerous, enabling us to protect ourselves or avoid certain situations, so it would be foolhardy to be without it. 

So, I now amend what I wrote back then: I want to speak courageously, rather than fearlessly. I want the courage to go through fear, and to learn from it, for to be courageous is, literally, to be brave-hearted.

Now, whenever I wear my Braveheart jumper, I will think of the bravery of my heart, my courage (small and timid as it may be sometimes), my rebellion against all that is tamed, throwaway, and, frankly, boring about civilisation. And as the denim yarn changes, gradually fading and revealing its textures and twists, I will remember the endless transformation and creative spontaneity of Goddess, and flow willingly with Her into a new, braver age.


1. Ursula Le Guin, Always Coming Home, Grafton Books: London, 1985, p. 175
2. Glenys Livingstone, PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion, iUniverse: Lincoln, NE, 2005, p 98
3. Robert Moss, Active Dreaming: Journeying Beyond Self-Limitation to a Life of Wild Freedom, New World Library: Novato, California, 2011, p. 177

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Inside You There Are Worlds

Towards the end of last year, Corina Duyn invited me to write a guest post on her blog. Corina also lives with CFS, and writes very wisely about illness, creativity and nature, from her home in Ireland, so it is an honour to be able to share some of my writing and ideas via her blog. So without further ado, please pay her a visit to read my piece about writing, the power of words, and the worlds inside us, by clicking here
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