These moving and beautiful words are a guest post written by Paula Swenson.
Last year I wrote an ebook titled Care and Feeding of the Creative Self (link below!). Just a few months after I first shared it, I found myself in the peculiar position of desperately needing to take my own advice.
I was trying to establish a new household in a new country; my husband was unexpectedly hospitalized and ultimately passed away, and throughout it all I could feel my Creative Self crying out to me not to abandon it.
What I quickly realized was that not only did my Creative Self need to be cared for, but also in that caring came healing which I so clearly needed. I understand now, in a way I never did before, that it is truly cyclical. Creativity is a balm for pain, just as pain can trigger a need to create. During the painful weeks of Steve’s illness and decline I found a calm and refuge in Zen & Ink drawing meditations.
With a pocketable notebook and a waterproof-ink pen, I was able to shift my mind out of the frantic cycle of worry and stress that threatened to engulf me. I was able to focus on something tangible, something creative, and in so doing create a calm, ordered space in my mind. That calm and order allowed me to approach the horrifying challenges in something closer to a state of balance.
In the month Steve was hospitalized I created scores of these drawings, while he slept, while he was having tests, while he was in surgery. In the months since his death I have found great peace in the orderly repetition of cutting colored paper to mount them and sending them off to people who have contributed to the fund for his medical expenses. It has been a part of my own grieving and healing process to share the healing meditations I drew during his illness.
As the numbness and shock began to recede I frequently found myself unable to put anything at all into words, much less my feelings. As I sat one day, with a cup of tea, gazing out at the patterns of light and shadow in the valley my studio overlooks, I realized that I was unconsciously processing my grief through images. I understood that what I could not put into words, I could possibly express in art.
I started to play loosely with some ideas, working on a small piece of nubbly silk, using random materials that caught my eye. I thought I was making a ‘sketch’- a prototype for a larger piece of work. Somewhere in the process I became aware that this WAS the work, and that it was just the first piece in a series that might express not only my grief and recovery process but something larger and more universal about love and loss
Oso Blue: without you Paula Swenson ©2013
The series Hearts:Broken:Open continues to evolve, to grow of its own volition and as it grows it absorbs some of my pain.
The Winter of Our Discontent Paula Swenson ©2013
Years ago I encountered a quote ~The only antidote to destruction is creation ~ until this point in my life I had always seen that as an external battle: to put creativity into the world to balance the destruction of war, of prejudice, or injustice. Now as I work, I realize that I am using my creativity to rebuild my destroyed identity, my sense of self that had been shredded by the unexpected loss of my best friend and anchor, my calm port, my home.
Years ago, when there was government and corporate funding for such things, I worked with hospitalized veterans, with folks in Senior Centers, with traumatized children to bring about healing through art. I look back on that work with pride and a new understanding. I realize now that the smiles evoked by their own creative expression probably contained as much relief as joy. While I had embraced using creative tools for myself and others in the past, using Creativity as a tool for my own self-care in this extreme circumstance has allowed me to understand on a whole new level how powerful and elemental the urge to create really is.
Paula Swenson is a Creative Catalyst, an artist who uses both images and words to evoke clarity, possibility and joy in life. She is an expert navigator of change. Paula offers creative tools, whimsy and practical wisdom and holds the space for you to use them to live from a place of wholeness.
Get a free copy of Paula’s ebook on self care, Care and Feeding of the Creative Self, today.