|Seeds of Change. Painting by Melissa Kym Dowling|
I have gone through stages in my life where I have been comfortable identifying myself an "Artist" complete with the capital "A" and there have been times in my life, where the Artist within me has sat, not just in the backseat, but firmly in the boot, with a blanket thrown over her and shoved in the back corner. I was driving a different train, on a different track.....
As young as I can remember I've loved to create. I would take art materials on holidays with us when I was a kid (as I do now too!) and I would sit and draw or paint for hours every chance I could get. I'd construct sand-sculptures at the beach or environmental art from 'found-objects' in bushland. Anything creative, anywhere with anything, really. Reading back over my primary school report cards teachers commented year-in and year-out about my 'natural ability' or my passion for all art and craft related activities. So it really was no surprise when, at High School, it was my favorite subject and I excelled at art (in the western-academic paradigm) or that I went on to study to become a Secondary Art Teacher.
|Worshipping the Sun. By Melissa Kym Dowling|
Now this all sounds rosy-peachy-keen-stardust-perfect, doesn't it? The sub-plot that you are not aware of here is the knocks my young "Artist" identity took when I was 12 years old. Until then I had sailed along blissfully in my own creative world, not giving a thought about how my art compared to others, that wasn't important to me as I created for my own pleasure. Abruptly, I encountered my first experience of my creations being "judged and compared" by 'significant others', to the paintings of a classmate.
Result? Major ding into the armor of a tender young 'Artist-to-be'.
Time and time again this was to occur with greater frequency during High School, as that is how the system works by its nature. Oh we say we don't compare students works, we judge them against criteria, but purely through this act of scaling students work we are comparing and judging. Result? More dings to the armor. Of course all of these hits are in the one spot - the 'Artist-to-be spot' which I believe is right where that vital life-giving and dream-holding organ beats in our chest.
Hence when it came time to "decide what I want to do with the rest of my life" and fill in that ominous Uni selection form, those dings that had accumulated around my heart's desire came in to play. You may know the script, it goes something like............
Self: "I'm not good enough to study art, look at everyone who is better at art then me and they aren't taking art at Uni, so what on earth makes me think I'm good enough? I'd never get in. My folio isn't good enough. I'd bomb-out in the interview. I'm not 'artsy fartsy' enough......yaddayaddayadda......"
Significant & influential adults: " Why don't you study art teaching, you'd be great with kids.... it is a secure profession.... you get great holidays.... you can do art in your spare time...."
Self: "That's a good idea, I'd never make it as an artist anyway, I'd never make a living, I'm not good enough, but I could teach art, yeah, then I still get to study art and will have a good job at the end of it all and can do art on the side................"
Exit stage right: the "Young-Artist-to-be". Enter stage left: the "safe-path,-do-art-in-your-spare-time,-art-teacher".
Now don't get me wrong, I LOOOOOOVED teaching art to secondary kids. I loved exposing them to new mediums, new opportunities, new experiences, new ways to view the world. I LOOOOOOVED taking them on excursions to city art galleries - especially the country kids who might never of had that opportunity. Oh, the delight on their faces when they saw, for the first time, famous works that we had studied in class. It was priceless! It took me back to those moments in my own adolescence. I LOOOOOOVED when I had instilled in a student the confidence in themselves to study art at a tertiary level or pursue art as an important part of their lifestyle once leaving school. I still LOOOOVE it now when a past student contacts me and lets me know how I influenced their love of creating or art. Oh how that makes my heart swell!
|Heart in our Hand. by Melissa Kym Dowling|
The flip side of that record (there is always a B-side to a vinyl) was that I worked bloody hard as a teacher. I gave it my all. Early in my teaching career I still created. I squeezed moments here and there where I would create for the love of it, for the passion I had. I'd attend workshops where I could to fuel my fire. But, as time wore on and my emotional energy wore thinner and I felt creatively-drained by the treadmill I was on, I created less and less. It's not that I didn't create at all, I created exciting art activities for my students. I did stuff art teachers are asked to do, like posters for events, or screen-printed t-shirts for local groups and the like. I cooked delicious meals. I channeled my energy into activities and adventures that were new to me. I just didn't pick up the paint brush or lump of clay for pleasure any more, for myself, for ME. This was the twist in the tracks that my train took, after all - only trains travel on parallel tracks.
As for the "Healer", this label never even entered my psyche, not even with a lower case "h". You see I'm the kind of girl who sees blood and faints! I was the teenager who sat outside of the science lab reading the text book while my friends relished in dissecting a frog or a bull's eye. (Gross!) I equated 'healing' with the western-medical-paradigm of doctors and nurses only.
|Swirling Scan. by Melissa Kym Dowling|
I've always loved to help people. I used to play amateur shrink at high school, I think many girls did. I'd listen to my friends talk about their teenage problems/issues/dramas or broken-heart stories. "D&M's" as we called them, could last for hours. But, I'd also listen to heart-wrenching stories, the domestic violence stories/family heart-ache stories/loss of a loved one stories. I'd sit and listen, for as long as they wanted to talk. I didn't realize as a teenager the power of being present, truly 'present' and baring 'witness' for my friends as they shared their stories. After-all I was just a kid too, I didn't have the wisdom of years of lived experience, I didn't have the knowledge that comes in psychology text books, I didn't have the training of a Priest, but I did have that Inner Knowing, that to be 'present' and to listen was a gift of healing.
By 'gift of healing' I don't mean that I did anything special or out of the ordinary. I didn't use any new-age healing techniques, I didn't use any medications, I didn't brew up a concoction in a witches pot, I just simply gave them my full attention and enabled them to heal themselves, even if just a little, by listening.
I sailed through my early adult life being a tad accident prone. A month in hospital with a fracture sacrum, knee surgery after an accident on ski-slopes in Angora, being dashed off to hospital for knocking myself unconscious! You know, the usual run-of-the-mill stuff, nothing too serious. The running joke amongst my mates was that I knew the location of every hospital within cooee of wherever I was living!
With the birth of my first child, my definition of 'healing' started to change a little. Our son was born with Down syndrome and later developed severe Autism, the combination of which brings with them a bag of complications, not the least of which is that he is primarily non-verbal. Don't get me wrong, we were very blessed that he was born with none of the life threatening complications children with Down syndrome can sometimes have. Was that the Reiki sessions I had through the whole pregnancy? Was that the bucket load of vitamins and minerals the naturopath and kinesiologist prescribed? Was that the positive talking I did out aloud to him in the womb? We will never know. But with all of the minor complications, operations and therapies needed we were welcomed into the world of Doctors, Specialists, Allied-Health Therapists and hospitals galore!! In time I felt that our Western system of medicine could only deal with so much, so not long into this journey I started to explore various modes of healing. There isn't much I haven't investigated. I got trained in Reiki. I attended every seminar I could. I read books galore. You name it, I looked into it. We took the "if it does no harm, let's give it a go" approach to every option. Through all of these various explorations and experiences, be they therapist's rooms or hospital recovery-rooms, the one constant was my hubby and I were always 'with' our son. Not just physically with him, but we held him, we cooed him, we kisses and hugged him, we played with him, we read to him, we were fully 'present' for him, so what healed our son was Love and Presence.
|Memory. by Melissa Kym Dowling|
In the course of this journey with our son, my hubby took it upon himself to complicate our lives a tad more by almost dying three times, including have some life-threatening accidents, some pretty important internal organs stop functioning, major operations, minor operations, major complications, minor complications, lots of emergency fly-outs, you name it, he thought he'd give it a burl. So we saw the inside of a few more hospitals, a few more Doctors surgeries, a few more waiting rooms, a few more aerial-ambulances...........
|Dewdrops. by Melissa Kym Dowling|
Western medicine saved my husband's life, not just once, but many a time. We will be forever grateful to the flying doctors, surgeons and nurses and paramedics along the way. But in those dark, lonely nights in far-off hospital wards what healed my husband wasn't just medicines, it was Love and Presence.
Sometimes it was me sitting holding his hand and wishing him "well" with all of my heart.
Sometimes it was our children lying on the bed with him telling him long stories, showing him their latest drawing or toy or bruise or just lying 'with' him.
Sometimes it was family members, his parents, my parents, our siblings, or my amazing Aunts (who are no blood relation at all), but when I was hundreds of miles away, they washed his clothes and they bought him treats, but most importantly they sat with him.
|Deep detail. by Melissa Kym Dowling|
Sometimes it was dear friends, who would pop in to 'cheer him up'. Never under-estimate the power of a good laugh, even after a appendectomy!!
How did I cope through all of this? I was often asked this question by caring friends and well-meaning strangers, alike. One way was I made myself super busy. Avoidance. After-all if you are busy you don't have time to think....so I put off my own healing. My healing from the emotional turmoil of having my 'perfect world' bubble burst with the birth of a child with a disability. The healing of the emotional turmoil of thinking I'd lose the love of my life, before we had the chance to grow old together. The healing of the suitcase of 'stuff' we cart around from the experience of just growing-up.
All of this 'stuff', all of these events, these experiences, these trials and tribulations, they have all contributed to creating my story. Creating me. I have learnt so much by living these experiences, through the heart-aches have been moments of extreme joy, and momentous learning. I can honestly say that my son has taught me more in the 14 tender years of his life than anyone else has. Or maybe I should say, he has facilitated me learning and re-learning and remembering more about myself than anyone else has.
During that learning my hubby would walk in some days (when not hospitalized!) and ask "what's up?" I'd reply; with a defensive "why?" some days; burst into tears other days; hand him a crying baby some days; or ask "how can you tell?" other days. He'd answer, "because you are painting, you only do that when you are upset". I hadn't noticed. He was right. Even in our darkest days, when I felt I had nowhere else to turn, I'd turn to art. I'd paint. I'd draw. I'd sculpt. I'd pot. Or even just doodle. When I did art, when I created, I was Present for my self. When I created I showed compassion for my self. When I created, I'd listen to my self. When I created I'd bear witness to my self. And so, art healed.
|fiery Re-birth. by Melissa Kym Dowling|
I believe we are ALL Artists. We are ALL Creative. Just in the essence of being humans, we are creative. We are All creators of our own stories.
I believe we are ALL Healers. Healers of our own stories. We can only ever heal ourselves. But that through Love and Presence we give others the gift of witnessing their 'story' and thereby they begin to heal themselves, be it physically or emotionally or spiritually.
The common link...........Love and Presence.
I'd like to close by saying Thank you for being here with me and a huge Thank You to our hostess, Hali for this kind invitation to share a slice of my story with you. When I first raised a tentative hand of interest in Hali's project I really didn't see that I fit within this amazing circle of great Artist-Healers. I have been truly moved by the presentations and in awe of the depth of knowledge and compassion and wisdom from these ladies. It is an absolute honor to join you all here in the circle and I thank you in advance for taking a few minutes from your day to read my story. If it touches any chords within you in any way, my heart will be over-joyed.