Story medicine


On Monday I returned from Colorado where I had sat at the feet of Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes as she penetrated my soul with her story medicine. Her ‘Original Voice’ workshop took me to hell and back through Dante’s Inferno.

I discovered the stories I have made up that snag me in each Circle of Hell; what keeps me stuck and which virtue I could practise to regain my equilibrium.

I have my artist vision statement for the painting diploma I start in January; with joy I shall celebrate my witchy, bitchy, dangerous old woman and cronies – physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.

I know my work.  I will not talk it away.

I have the beginnings of a daily ritual to keep me conscious and growing as my her-story  foments and ferments.

I have found my tribe. Thank you, Dr E

Amen, amen, amen…….and a little woman!





For the past few days I have achieved no thing, nothing. I have wasted hours disappearing down the Internet rabbit hole searching; for what? No thing of importance, just searching on and on and on until finally I lose the desire to chase another half-baked wheeze researching stuff for others.

I feel bone idle. I avoid exercise, housework, deskwork, any sort of work. My head is full of shoulds and oughts, or if none are top of mind I search for one so that I can I deny myself the pleasure of painting, writing, reading a book, cooking, visiting friends or chatting on the phone. Sitting here it all seems too much effort, but I suspect pleasing myself with no agenda nor required outcome is a muscle I do not know how to exercise?

I feel sad and light. Not sad and heavy. Though about the only thing I am doing is comfort eating, so physical heaviness is the unhappy result – I am gaining more than one pound per week.

I wonder whether I am depressed,anxious, lonely, fearful? All of those possibly, but I think it is about my marking time: eeking out time until I decide to be free to choose what I want; until I allow myself the luxury of dreaming, playing, making a mess, creating without the need to tick off a listed item on the long list of responsibilities, worthy causes and commitments I have made.

I fear marking my boundaries clearly and being seen as selfish. My hare-brained modus operandi is designed to please everyone else except me: crazy.


Welsh witch/wise one

The hexagonal hut was hidden in woods overlooking the long valley from Llanidoes towards Machynlleth. Red kites soared on thermals above us as we carried food and blankets to our magical hide. The single room with its wide windows warmed up quickly as the fire in the wood burner took hold. A wooden ladder rose steeply to our beds suspended from the ceiling. Fresh sweet water rose from a bore hole; a spade was provided to bury waste matter. We laughed with childlike delight as we peed on the leaf litter with the frequency required of middle aged bladders filled with tea over talk.

Suzanne had brought olives, salads, steak, home made vegan boozy truffles; I brought the cheese and wine. We prepared our food by tea light and settled in for a cosy catch up, wise reminiscence and lots of laughter. We each drew a card from a Zen Tarot deck – mine was ‘possibilities’ – before climbing up to dream under the eaves.

Over a breakfast of chocolate croissants and coffee, followed by buttery scrambled eggs, we chattered on. My morning Tarot was ‘inner voice’, our shared trilogy: letting go, courage and mind, summing up much of what we had shared.

It is a long drive home. I stopped in Newtown: a witches emporium faced me and waiting there for me was a Singing Bowl and four directions smudge at Mid Wales bargain prices. It is too long since I have been in this woman’s company (and ‘be’ we did). Gratitude and respect to my witchy wise one for this Welsh rare bit treat.

Frog porn

Oystercatchers chase each other noisily and I imagine they are passing on the news: bistro-pond special this week only – fresh frog spawn.

It is day 4 of frantic froggy fornication. The females have a brief respite as I am in the garden and have broken up the latest game of three into one won’t go, but perhaps these females aren’t pleased with my rescue? Everything has gone exceedingly quiet; three days of constant croaking calls, especially throaty just before dusk, have ceased. No Kermit head has appeared to check and give the grrddeep to restart the rumpy-pumpy.

Early spring brings me joy to hear and see our little pond alive with amphibians and their manic mating. Four square feet of a frenzied festival of fun!

Last Wednesday morning there was ice on the pond, today mounds of black-eyed jelly balls bask in the sun warmed water surrounded by dark beds of thrusting bright green shoots and unfurling flowers bordered by a sea of nodding snowdrops. It feels time to rise from my own darkness and plant seeds.

Mandala making

This morning I look out over frosted farmland rolling under a morning mist in the lovely Lincolnshire Wolds. Daffodils and hawthorn are bursting into life and the birds flirt noisily. Martha’s cottage speaks to my soul: whispering words of wisdom, cave art and simple abundance.
Last night’s supper was cooked under dark skies burning bright with starlight. Too much red wine and tartiflette disturbed my soft sofa bed sleep, I woke early to the dawn of a new day.

My mandala hung unfinished, bedecked with strange precious pieces. A shiny three penny bit on black thread to remind me of my many shadows; this is about theft: I used to steal from my mum’s kitchen jar of saved three penny bits and secretly buy 12 farthing chews, until I was caught with a black tongue, lying despite the liquorice evidence. My pilgrim scallop shell is knotted carefully on the leather bound willow frame to remind me to journey in joy and peace. Strung from the frame and woven web are a crazily painted blown egg – my seed vision; my predator wolf marked WWLD (what would love do?); a gift of heart bells with their unique tone; a suede wrapped stone for selection and choice; rose quartz for my belief that love is the connective tissue of the universe; an emerald, my birthstone; amber, fluorite, turquoise and a medicine bag of smaller chosen stones; and a crystal that splits light into rainbows. A wooden bowl of beads sat waiting to be threaded and added to the infinity loop. With tender care I found the home for each on the pink wool web. A gentle breeze stirred the feathers: three for my children in the central core; a warning black crow’s feather for my dangerous witchy crone; three more to represent my soft vulnerability, peculiar beauty and proud vibrant pizazz (a peacock’s eye feather!) Something was missing. Awareness came. I needed wood to remind me to BE, like a rooted tree that bends and bows to the wind and weather, yet gathers its rising sap to burst into full flower and leaf each spring, losing its canopy in a blaze of autumnal glory to rest bared through the dark days, rising once again year after year, never shying from expressing itself fully. And I needed a seashell – for my longing to have a home in sound and sight of the sea. A collection from the North Sea shoreline lay beside my bed.

My mandala feels complete. I have Martha to thank for guiding me in its making, gifting her time, wisdom, magic and collected gems, threads and crafty goodies. And this was Martha’s gift to me for helping enable her to attend a wonderful women’s wholeness workshop. The giving and receiving feels whole.

Circle magic

Last week I sat in a circle of women: women who listen to my deepest fears and joys without judgement, fixing or advice; women for whom ALL of me is welcome; women who do not hold me hostage to what I may have shared at another time and in another place.  This is my safe place to be; where I hear my own wisdom as I give voice to feelings I hide from myself.

I heard another woman’s joy at finding her place of spiritual connection and the ease with which her life flows now.  I found her mesmeric and inspirational. I wanted to take her home in my pocket as I am struggling and feeling pointless.

Walking the hills on Saturday with another circle woman, again I heard a story that fed my soul: a story about surrender, non-resistance, non-attachment and the inner peace and joy conscious living brings this woman even in her darkest hours. Indeed it was suffering that brought this woman to a decision: enough – there must be another way.

At her suggestion, this morning I opened Eckhart Tolle’s book on Practising Living in the Now and there it was: surrender; surrender to what IS.  I gobbled up the chapter.  Later, digging over a couch grass infested herbacious border, I focussed on what I was doing.  I was present.  It felt good.  And very different from my normal mental torture on how many other beds there are to dig, whether I should be pruning, sewing seeds, planting or doing office work.

Refreshed, I came indoors – my back was beginning to ache and my wrist was twingeing. I decided to empty a drawer full of belts and check whether the key to the safe, which I had secreted carefully before going to The Gambia and have not been able to find, was there.  It was not, but that was OK as it was another drawer carefully checked and tidied.  I knew the key (and spare) would turn up sometime, hopefully in time for my son’s July wedding so that I could give his bride the old/borrowed item I had promised.  I decided to look in my husband’s pants drawer: there was the key!  I put it in my usual hidey hole.   And there was the spare.  I had checked this drawer in rising panic several times over the last month without success.  Strange how acceptance of what is seems to work!




Gothic soul food

I have been searching for soul food since our return from Africa – I felt emptied out and needed to fill.

Would my heart be filled at Monday’s life painting group under the penetrating gaze of Doug Binder, who sees an emanating light in the melancholy of the model as he/she strains to hold a day long pose? Arriving late I disturbed the strange silence of the life room; I had forgotten a canvas, rootled around and found some horrid hardboard, balanced it on my travelling easel which collapsed noisily. Fifteen heads swivelled round; ‘Morning, Sue’ said Tony. The familiar faces were seated exactly where I had left them more than 3 months ago. My fellow artists were ranged around a male model, his over-developed torso musculature and long penis presented a human landscape challenge I did not enjoy.

Later in the week I sat down with ‘When breath becomes air’ by Paul Kalanithi, a much acclaimed memoir by a brilliant neurosurgeon examining his life values in dying well as he succumbs to an aggressive lung cancer. I devoured the book overnight, gobbling the beautiful prose and failing to digest its wisdom. In the morning I googled Felicity Warner and her soul midwife school desperately seeking meaning for myself in being with the dying, a gift I have thought about often.

Yesterday I took a friend to York. After a delicious late lunch of eggs Benedict in Mannions, a cafe which does simplicity brilliantly, we wandered through The Shambles to the Minster. We were early for Evensong, a service which I used to love, yet attended for the first time in 40 years at St David’s last September. Then I was transported listening to the choir, feeling the visceral organ and surveying the ancient coffered ceiling. Would the English perpendicular have the same effect?

The choir were practising as I gaped awestruck at the medieval stained glass East window trying to unravel the story of Genesis. Eventually I realised relevant panels were missing, being refurbished as part of a massive cleaning exercise relearning the expert craftsmanship of these masters of light and tracery.

The doors to the quire were opened at 5pm and we took our seats in the wonderfully ornate carved wooden stalls. As the ambient light sank the red and white cloaked choristers were illuminated by candlelight; they chanted plainsong Psalms, harmonised a heavenly Magnificat and Nunc Dimittus before singing a Brahms anthem. Exquisite Evensong, a beautiful soulful full stop.