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The Big Burn And The Medicine Of Now (Sarah’s Letter To Steph)

One of the unique aspects of our online program, The Walkabout, is the ongoing correspondence Sarah Oblinger and Stephanie Gray have with one other as they commit to being real, vulnerable and open using art, movement and words to meet their daily lives as they naturally unfold.  Until now, this has been exclusively for Walkabout participants. However, because of the profound shifts they have felt in their own lives while working this program, they’ve decided to publicly share their correspondence here, on the 1st and 10th of each month. These letters are for any of you on your own self discovery journey. We hope you will follow along  with a knowing, that you are not alone.  And if you are looking for more engagement, we’d love to have you join us in our Facebook group HERE or sign up for your own Walkabout with us HERE.

Hello, Steph,

A lot has happened since mid-February. Your conclusion about this time being a big squeeze is spot on. For me, too. A big burning squeeze. My cat Ed died. The on-demand hot water heater died. No amount of fixing was going to revive it. It was an expensive replacement and two weeks without hot water and heat. 


Neighbors offered showers. It’s been a mild winter. I even had a shamanic story about Ed and his love of the bathtub. So it seemed weirdly perfect to not be able to use the bathtub. And I was able reframe the no water thing as camping. In my house with every amenity. Except hot water and heat. Doable.


But what got me, what sent me down the slippery slope, around the bend, and kicked me in the ass was this: THE FREAKING FLU! 


The first day: I refused to accept I was sick. But there was no nice reframe I could do about the flu. I was going down. No matter how many witchy brews I was drinking a day. 


The second day: I went to bed. I secluded myself so I could be alone and safe. And invisible to the world. My body hurt; even the bottoms of my feet! My appetite disappeared. Going anywhere to take a shower seemed like the journey of a lifetime and I just didn’t have the energy for that kind of journey.


The third and fourth day: I slept. Hard. Ate chicken soup. Until I couldn’t stand the taste of it. Stayed hydrated. Until I thought I would float away. I moved slowly. I was sick but staying with myself. So far, so good. But I didn’t count on the blue spark of flu hitting my brain. That’s when things got ugly. 


The fifth day to the tenth day: I entered the dark territory of Sarah’s Swamplandia. Deeper down than I’ve been in a long time. 


My life flashed before my eyes. Back through the debris and stuff of my sixty-five years of living. My brain was on fire. Leaving me unable to think in full thoughts. Unable to talk in full sentences. Unable to process any of the life review I was going through in a way that made any sense. My usual ways of making intense feelings feel a whole lot less primal were not available to me. 


But I was stuck in bed. With the flu. Full of anger, jealousy, short-fused snarkiness, and hatred. At myself. My life. The world. All of it. And there was a full on out of control wildfire happening in my head. My inner sanctum, so right at first, got smaller and smaller, as the burn got hotter and hotter. I wanted out. But my body didn’t have the energy to outrun my brain.  


All I could do was just be in it. Even if it sucked. And it did. I kept reminding myself I was in it. That I was doing the best I could do. Without Ed. Without hot water. And that, honestly, trying to process any of it, as it was happening, was futile.

That’s when the burn in my head died down to a controlled burn. When I could finally see clearly where I was. Down deep in the darkest territory of me. A place I’ve spent a lifetime dancing around the edge of and hoping would just go away. Magically. Because that’s what I wanted.


The eleventh day: I woke up with this word in my head: inconsolable. I googled it. The only thing that came up was how to console an inconsolable baby. I googled it again. Twice. Just to make sure I hadn’t made a mistake googling. I hadn’t. So I took that as a sign to read about how to console an inconsolable baby. 


I imagined a great big mama, holding me close to her, as she rocked me and patted me on the back. Cooing softly to me that things were going to be alright. I began to see the review of my life in a different light. I saw how my fiery inconsolability was my protection during my childhood. I saw how it had informed my life. I saw how it still does. And I saw it without the onslaught of judgements, comparisons, pathologizing, and sad stories.


I remembered two things I’d read before my flu days. One from Nadine Burke Harris, who wrote The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity. She says the tiny body really remembers the severity and stubbornness of the emotional pain we experience when we’re little. And it is good at holding onto the emotional pain and stuffing it down.

The other from Richard Rohr, who wrote The Naked Now, Learning to See as the Mystics See. He suggests wisdom is precisely the freedom to be truly present to what is right in front of you. That presence lets us know how to see clearly. That it is the one thing necessary for wisdom. That wisdom is the presence to see and know the ten thousand things in a new way.

And it is hard to do. Because it requires doing three things at the same time: Keep your heart open, your mind clear without resistance and divisiveness to what is happening and your body not somewhere else.

So, my burning squeeze, as unpleasant as it was, revealed to me how my life has unfolded in amazing ways. How its been a zig zag meander-y path where everyday magic occurs and brings me to my knees. In laughter and tears. That what I’ve judged to be a mistake, a wrong turn, a failure isn’t. That what I’ve pathologized as my PROBLEM is not a problem. It is the path. Leading me to right here. Doing what I do. Being who I am.

As always, I’m deeply grateful, for you and the sharing we do of our zig zaggity meander-y unfolding paths. Fellow travelers on this journey are essential and necessary. 


Love, Sarah

From my art journal

The Big Squeeze And The Medicine Of Now (Steph’s Letter To Sarah)

One of the unique aspects of our online program, The Walkabout, is the ongoing correspondence Sarah Oblinger and Stephanie Gray have with one other as they commit to being real, vulnerable and open using art, movement and words to meet their daily lives as they naturally unfold.  Until now, this has been exclusively for Walkabout participants. However, because of the profound shifts they have felt in their own lives while working this program, they’ve decided to publicly share their correspondence here monthly. These letters are for any of you on your own self discovery journey. We hope you will follow along – with a knowing, that you are not alone.  And if you are looking for more engagement, we’d love to have you join us in our Facebook group HERE or sign up for your own Walkabout with us HERE.

Good Morning Sarah,

Happy Easter. Happy Spring….and Happy April Fool’s Day! 

It’s been a challenging month and I have come to the conclusion that I have been through a big squeeze – an unrelenting pressure brought about by the harder, less enjoyable events of life – that began in February and is just now easing up a bit

Last weekend I had to euthanize my 18 year old soul sister cat, and my 15 year old, best friend dog companion – on the same day. I won’t go into detail, but I will tell you the pain has been intense. 

AND I will share that an hour after coming home from the vet, I found myself in the studio, working in a two hour process art session with a dear Walkabout member – a woman I love and trust. I could have cancelled however, after talking with her, decided to continue. I figured some studio time would be good for me to release what I was feeling…and it was, sort of.

The pain I was feeling was so fresh and ridiculously exquisite, that no amount of painting black and staying present seemed to be helping. I cried a bit. I painted. We shared how things were going for us. And I knew it wasn’t enough. I needed to get primal with my grief, alone and for as long as I needed.

I continued to stay present in the studio, with the feelings and the paint, all the while noticing the pain in my body building (I had one of the worst pressure headaches of my entire life). I could function and create and feel sad, cry a bit….but it wasn’t touching what needed to happen. So I just continued to be with the incredible pain and pressure in my body.

When I was able to be alone with my sadness, I collapsed into the waves of disbelief and pain and wailed and screamed and just hung out on the floor with it all for awhile. And as unbelievably difficult as it was to experience….it was a million times better than trying to keep it all together and manage my “grief experience”. When I came up for air I realized how much better I felt in my body. The headache was gone, replaced with fatigue and a numb, gray sadness that flowed throughout. Relief!

I guess I am sharing this with you now to say, wow….how on earth did I live my life stuffing the feelings down in an attempt to manage it all and avoid the pain? No wonder my body and nervous system need some TLC! 

What I know now is that it’s much healthier for me to feel the feelings….and I mean really feel them for as long as I need, without telling myself the story of the sadness over and over. Doing this creates  room for more experiences and feelings to arrive.

That evening, I found some room for roaring laughter with my husband and then some more tears along with, you guessed it, Netflix, chocolate and a glass of red wine.

This morning, I woke up with prayers of gratitude.The ups and downs of life are just that, life. It’s not all roses and blue skies and that’s okay. I can experience joy in the midst of grief and grief in the midst of joy. It’s about how I choose to meet what comes my way. 

THANK YOU Sarah, for helping me to discover another way of meeting my life.

Love,

Steph

Working with the present moment and my grief

 

allowed for other things to show up

Belonging

Belonging has been a recurring theme in my art and in my life recently. It’s been an opportunity to pay more attention, get curious, heal and grow in ways that serve me. Earlier this month I read a quote by Henry David Thoreau, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Sometimes my brain is better at focusing on what I don’t want or what other people are doing or saying than being tuned into my own soul and longing. So I practiced tuning in and wrote about my dreams, what qualities would describe this life I imagine. I repeated belonging four times, “belonging, belonging, belonging, belonging— every part of me and everyone”. A few weeks later, the writing prompt at the studio was, “what does belonging mean to me?” And I got another chance to be aware of what I’m believing and to realign with what matters and what I want to feed. As I prepare for the birth of my baby in May I’m considering who is in my tribe, who I can turn to for support, where do I belong and how do I help create belonging for this little being.

What has unfolded for me is that belonging is life giving. It is about belonging to myself and allowing all the parts of me to have space to be, loving who I am without stipulating what that has to look like. Belonging means connection and being part of a community, about being held in safety and love. It is also about courage and being willing to show up and participate, authenticity and vulnerability even when its scary or uncomfortable. At the studio I created art about these life-giving qualities of belonging. I focused on my experience as an expecting mother and it felt really good to create images of women holding hands and helped me feel more belonging with a new group and identity. I visualized people who love me and the protection and fortified strength and courage I feel when I rest in this awareness, so much greater than when I’m alone.

And then I got stuck. I ran out of steam in my creative process because I wasn’t telling the whole story. Belonging also brings up feelings of separation, fear and not-fitting. The shadow side of belonging has been loneliness and believing I have to work hard to be good enough to be accepted in my own heart and in relationships. These experiences are part of my life, too and I wasn’t giving that space in my art. Expressing this tight, sharp, fearful energy and voice through art was what was authentic for me and when I allowed it to be there I felt more engaged and more ease. When I resist what is actually present I get stuck— not just in my art, but in my life. The practice of naming these feelings and thoughts and sensations through my art and words and trusting that even the parts of me that I judge as not lovable or beautiful or normal belong is the process and path of freedom and love for me.

_______________________________________________________________________

Michelle Bunch is celebrating one year of process art making and self-discovery with the Creative Nectar community! Michelle earned her master’s degree from Kansas State University in Marriage and Family Therapy and has worked with a wide range of ages from children to aging adults. She has been trained as a play therapist, completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training program and the Beginning Level of Somatic Experiencing, a body-based approach to healing trauma and restoring regulation and flow. Mindfulness is an important part of her life and she is a member of Midwest Alliance for Mindfulness and leads a community class once a month integrating movement and mindfulness. Michelle is joyfully awaiting her first child in spring 2018 and has chosen to pause her clinical work and use this time to listen and tend to this growing life and to her own soul.

The Walkabout Letters – Sarah’s Letter To Steph

One of the unique aspects of our online program, The Walkabout, is the ongoing correspondence Sarah Oblinger and Stephanie Gray have with one other as they commit to being real, vulnerable and open using art, movement and words to meet their daily lives as they naturally unfold.  Until now, this has been exclusively for Walkabout participants. However, because of the profound shifts they have felt in their own lives while working this program, they’ve decided to publicly share their correspondence here monthly. These letters are for any of you on your own self discovery journey. We hope you will follow along – with a knowing, that you are not alone.  And if you are looking for more engagement, we’d love to have you join us in our Facebook group HERE or sign up for your own Walkabout with us HERE.

 

 

Hello Steph,

It’s true! As we uncover more pieces of our fixed stories, our lives can feel less stable. We wonder, as we pull out the next block of beliefs and stories we’ve built our lives around, which one is going to cause everything to come toppling down. Taking us with it. JENGA!!!!

It’s uncomfortable. And we can be surprisingly okay with it, too. Once we accept we are not in control. That our lives unfolding is a process. Where we trot out all of our coping mechanisms. Using them until we realize they no longer work for us.

This month I had my own experience of witnessing how I cope in a crisis. With my cat Eddie. My first of line of defense was to go dark. To the worst case scenario: Eddie dying. And, it’s a weekend and I’m home alone.

I didn’t know what to do so I googled Eddie’s symptoms. Where I read that his symptoms could be from cancer. My spinning head of worry went into full blown resistance: I’m not ready for this. Nor do I want it. Not at all.

Somehow, I was able to notice I was worrying and resisting. And notice how they distract me from what I don’t want to accept or feel. I reminded myself I didn’t really know what was going on with Eddie. Maybe he was dying. Maybe not. I did know was I wasn’t ready for him to die. I reminded myself it was Sunday night and I could call the vet first thing in the morning.

Monday morning we went to the vet. The diagnosis: oral cancer. The only option: take him home and keep him comfortable. The prognosis: he was dying and we might have a few more “good months” together.

Tuesday morning a spider ran across the bedroom floor. My first thought was  maybe Eddie doesn’t have cancer; maybe he just has a spider bite. The hope I felt at that moment was sweet. I spent all day magically thinking Eddie was going to be just fine because he just has a spider bite.

Wednesday morning my magical thinking came to a crashing end. I woke up with a knowing in my bones that it wasn’t a spider bite. It was cancer. Eddie was dying. And all my worry, positive thoughts, and what if questions were only keeping me outside of my body and my ability to just simply accept what was happening.

Yes, I wanted to worry and resist with all my might. My worst case scenario was coming true. I went dark. And, in that darkness, I found some space in me to breathe into. I was able to remember I’ve been here before. That it hurts like hell and I’m still here. That my heart has been cracked open before and will be again. And I’m still here.

Giving myself permission to imagine the worst case scenario allowed me to be more present with what was happening in my body and in my life. It slowed down my what if questions, my resistance, and my plans to change the outcome of what was happening.

It wasn’t easy. My body was there but my head was in overdrive. I didn’t like what was happening. I didn’t want to accept that my attempts to save Eddie weren’t going to save him. My wanting what was happening to be different didn’t mean anything. I felt helpless. I knew the only thing that was going to help was a true and deep acceptance of what was happening.

The Stoics believe in this approach to life. That imagining the worst case scenario leads to happiness, peace, clarity. That it creates an inner space in us. To trust what we’re feeling, in our bodies, when life gives us something we didn’t ask for and don’t want.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Imagining the worst case scenario? That it could bring us to a spacious place of peace. Both of us experienced that last month. How imagining the worst case scenario allowed us to feel prepared for when the unthinkable, the unwantable occurs in our lives. And it does.

Being attentive and mindful to what I was feeling, I was able to just name what I was feeling: anger disappointment sadness peace. I chose not to judge what I was feeling. That gave myself permission to not understand why this was happening.

It was happening! I only had to be aware of what Eddie’s dying was stirring in me. Worry, complaining, and over-thinking are things I add on and cling to when I feel out of control. They might protect me from strong feelings. But they are not useful. They are just part of my habituated coping mechanisms. A way to avoid dropping down into the territory of acceptance. Where I can meet what is happening. Whether I like it or not.

However, what is useful to me is imagining the worst case scenario. Choosing to meet what is, is the beginning of true acceptance. A hard choice for me when I’m deeply wishing things were different. A hard truth for me is that I can’t change the reality of what is happening. No matter how hard I try.

Practicing acceptance allows me to live in the ever changing world. Where anything can happen at any time. Something that imagining the worst case scenario reminds me of.

Acceptance…blessed acceptance!…of Eddie dying was potent. There was so much sadness. Held by tenderness and love. And all I needed to do, for the rest of time Eddie was alive, was just BE with Eddie. Just be present with him. In his dying process.

His dying was my worst case scenario. But it gave me space. To breathe and feel what I didn’t want to happen. To find peace in accepting what was happening. And stand grounded there.

What a month it has been, Steph! I am grateful for your presence in my life as we meet life…all of it. From worry warts to worst case scenarios to acceptance. Thank you.

Love,

Sarah

 

Our last nap together. RIP, Guru Eddie! 6.22.06 to 2.21.18

The Walkabout Letters – Steph’s Letter To Sarah

One of the unique aspects of our online program, The Walkabout, is the ongoing correspondence Sarah Oblinger and Stephanie Gray have with one other as they commit to being real, vulnerable and open using art, movement and words to meet their daily lives as they naturally unfold.  Until now, this has been exclusively for Walkabout participants. However, because of the profound shifts they have felt in their own lives while working this program, they’ve decided to publicly share their correspondence here monthly. These letters are for any of you on your own self discovery journey. We hope you will follow along – with a knowing, that you are not alone.  And if you are looking for more engagement, we’d love to have you join us in our Facebook group HERE

 

 

Good Morning Sarah,


Is it just me, or is this creative self discovery stuff like a game of Jenga? I swear the more pieces of the story I remove, the less stable things become. I feel as if the blocks I have built my life on are teetering and on the verge of falling down. And as unsettling as that may sound, I am surprisingly okay with it.


This past month has been another big one as I uncovered yet another bit of my shifting foundation – how I cope in a crisis. My husband’s health had a lot to do with this latest piece. After seeing a doctor for some ongoing pain, an xray revealed he had a broken shoulder bone. What?! He hadn’t done anything to break a bone and as he worked on getting an MRI scheduled, I began my descent into the darkness (AKA: I googled it). 


OF COURSE according to the internet, there are only 3 reasons one would come up with a broken bone out of the blue and one of those was….cancer. So yeah, I went dark, I began to worry and spend lots of energy on the what ifs of it all. I even made the mistake of reengaging in some of my old ways of dealing with this kind of thing – something I hadn’t done in YEARS. However, once I caught myself I was able to stabilize my thoughts, breathe and notice. AH. Yes. There it was, the way I cope with almost everything – worry. 


Thankfully, over the next couple of days I was able to give myself some space around the worry (art making, good music, going for walks and writing) and some time to get curious.


 Here’s what I found: At a VERY young age I began to use worry as a form of protection. My protection plan is simple – when I worry, I am in my head and I don’t have to feel the feelings. It’s a distraction from feeling vulnerable as well as allowing me to feel prepared in any situation. Because, yeah, I come up with plans. Plans on how to cope with ANY scenario.


The morning we were to receive the MRI results, I was relaxed and able to just sit with my thoughts and be still. I began listing the possible outcomes in my head, meeting each one with a calm certainty that I would be okay, no matter what. As I finished up the last scenario, I took a deep breath and felt calm and clear. This is when I heard my voice, only stronger and certain saying, “Try this one on for size. There is no broken bone.”


My entire body lit up. YES! I hadn’t thought of that one and I like it. I sat with that scenario for awhile and felt really good. Then, my brain kicked in and told me all the reasons that wasn’t possible – xrays don’t lie.


Except it was possible. MRI results? NO BROKEN BONE. HA!  


I learned so much this month. I learned that I worry to feel prepared and protected and that I don’t have to go so dark so quickly, but if I do, I can meet it differently – with spaciousness and compassion. I also got to meet a deeper, stronger, less covered over version of myself who already knew what was going on (she was awesome). AND I learned how it feels in my body to receive the truth from within. 


This work that we are doing is incredible. The more I do this, the more I love myself – worry warts and all.

Love and Thanks,

Steph

 

Here’s a page from my altered book I worked on while noticing my head space. I don’t think it’s finished.