I have been fortunate enough to have been reintroduced to my roots lately.
I see the deep, harrowing loneliness and isolation of my childhood and teenage years.
I remember how I would have given all of my reflective capabilities, all of my depth for just a few moments of belonging, of being able to immerse myself in a drunken appreciation of the rowdiness I saw all around me. Instead I saw it all, as through a glass wall, the observations, sensations and emotions around me swirling into my brain. There was a clear eyed, calm voiced witness inside of me that commented on everything, including my own actions and motivations.
This experience of being, through no conscious choice of my own, shut out from the pack, outside of something that everyone else could partake in, left to my own overwhelming sensations and interior landscape, gave rise to this deep yearning to find authentic connection. To somehow explore what I saw, express it, see if I could find someone else who recognized what I was sensing.
As I took a longer walk back from my children’s school this morning, I took time to stay with each footprint in the snow, a drop of water swaying this way and that on a pine branch, the particular scent of bared asphalt and snow that melts when it hits the road.
I see my isolation differently now.
The eyes of self-compassion see myself as an adolescent in a new way. I was practising my future life in a way, those difficult years. Something inside of me knew that my life, my heart path, lay elsewhere. No matter how I tried, I could not fit into that which was not of my soul. Something inside of me was stronger than my will and I just could not squeeze myself hard enough to fit into the tiny space that was offered to me.
Have you ever felt it? That no matter how you try, you just cannot make yourself convincingly fit into the roles offered to you?
My sense of being on the sidelines fills me with this deep silence, a spaciousness that can contain and give birth to new universes. This otherness in me makes it possible to stand the distance between myself and the world. It is also from this gap that connection is born; the active, compassionate, loving reaching out to you, there, on the other side of silence.
The deeper I paint myself into this exploration of self-love and self-compassion, the slower and more silent I become. It doesn’t feel like a punishment, anymore. It feels like coming home.
So I wanted to write a bit,
just a wordy wave,
to you out there,
where ever you are and
wish you a day of self-compassion with all that you live with, today.
Last year was quite an adventure. Everything I dreamt about when I got in touch with my dreams, during my exchange year in Switzerland, so many years ago. Safe here in my sacred art space and studio, painting away.
I also had the privilege to spend art time with many students of core art, holding the space for them to explore their own way of making art in the moment.
But no writing. Not one poem, all year.
By December I felt congested and blurry. I spent most of the Christmas break writing and reconnecting with myself. Poetry helped me find my way back. It hit me today, after all this time spent writing and painting, that what I most need to feel loved, is to spend one on one time with my love. This goes for my relationship to me as well.
Somehow, having spent so many years writing for a reason: for healing; for articles; for connection; for insights – I had missed the most crucial part. Writing, for me, is an act of self-love. It is a very precise way of listening to the moment and describing it, of looking at myself, my life, my emotions with kindness and deep honesty. There is no desired end result, no agenda, no gain. Just the act of reaching out, spending time with the person I am in that moment.
So, I wanted to ask you, in turn:
What makes you feel loved?
How could you give yourself [more of] that, whatever it is, today?
I was just sitting, having a morning tea date with the Engineer (sometimes, when we’ve gotten the kids to school, we take a moment for ourselves), talking about a trip abroad that he had been planning. There were some really affordable tickets to the Caribbean, he’d been eyeing.
Then he said, the plane would leave tomorrow and I felt that little inside jump of joy that I feel, when adventure comes near. So I asked him a few questions and the next thing I knew, he was ordering the tickets (there was just one left).
The whole messy kitchen was brimming with aliveness after this. He’s leaving for an adventure, I have the nights for myself to ponder this luminous vein in my artmaking and I feel that Something New come closer and closer.
What would you do today, if everything were possible and filled with ease?
P.S. I have so many things I want to write to you about, but they are deep slow rivers in the wilderness of my imagination and there just seem to be no words. The words I have, I usually write in my Instagram feed, when I post the painting progress of the day. Maybe I will see you there? <3
I thought it might be interesting to follow the birth of one painting through a view of both the process pictures of paintings and the internal processes that lead to them. In creating my art, I move from the dialogue between my cracked identity and compensatory identity, through the dead zone of the unbearable, into the essence of a phenomenon like dreaming life dreams or loving self.
In order to paint like this, I need to live through the phenomenon in my own life, in tandem with painting.
In August, I had a scary phone call to handle. A co-operative venture had filled my work life with drama. I used to be a drama junkie, so the emotion-laden telephone conversations, non-productive meetings, misunderstandings and general chaos were a deeply familiar pattern to me.
Veronica Torres, channeler of Eloheim always asks: How ridiculous does it have to get? For me, this means that sometimes a situation has to blow up really badly before I am ready to confront a blind spot of mine. Without going into details, the situation had come to that point on several levels.
I did what I do with my life and myself, took it to the canvas.
Then, baffled, sad, disappointed and at moments torn up, I dragged myself and my canvases to work counselling.
In that safe space I dared to let go of my compensatory identity, who is hell bent on finding the solution to anything. Nothing is too hard, too painful, too overwhelming to take in, contain, move around and transform. I let myself sink into the world view of my cracked identity who would offer to try to heal anything in the whole world, just to have a chance to feel loved and worthy of living. I allowed myself to go into the dead zone, that black hole of despair and feel, again, the dying inside of unbearable loss. The fear of which keeps me from setting boundaries.
Gradually the agony started fading and I found myself in my core. In touch with the dragon strength from my second painting. My work counsellor remarked on the tiny but perceptible shift in my spinal alignment when I made this connection.
Back to the scary phone call. It almost made the inner work of the previous two weeks worth it. We cut through any drama with vulnerable, honest communication and built an agreement that allowed for a freedom of work. After the call, I went to my roll of preprepared cotton canvas, flayed it open on the floor. Filled with the aftermath of fear, determination, dragon strength and sadness, I emptied a bottle of water (no water source in the studio) on the canvas.
I taped plastic bags on my feet, because this energy needed my whole body to be expressed. I threw Golden fluid colors on the canvas, skated in the color with my plastic coated feet. Of course the plastic promptly broke and the colors seeped in.
Impulse by impulse,
trusting the crazy jazz
of the emotions
moving my body
moving my colors
moving the energy
I kept working the underpainting of what was to come.
After a while, I peeled off the plastic bags, dried my feet and continued tossing paint onto the canvas.
A few days later, I took the roll to my art supplier slash frame building guy, at Taiteilijatarvikeliike Snow White to be fastened on stretchers, left it in the owners capable hands and forgot all about it.
If it comes up again and again, there’s something there
What did nag at me, after the phone call, was that the dramatic collaboration was one that I had jumped into eagerly at first. When the truth behind the scenes started revealing itself I had burrowed myself deeper and deeper into it, attempting to understand the roots of what was happening, ignoring all the warning signs.
The work opportunity in itself was more important to me, than the risk of energy drain. I stretched myself as much as I could to be able to stand the situation. Drawing boundaries came to my mind only when I realized I had to protect my health. Realizing this made me curious about what was going on with my relationship to myself.
I believe I create my reality and the vile thing about that is that blame kind of loses its function. Sometimes it would be such a relief to just blame others. So what was it about drama, energy feeding and victimhood that still held its appeal over me? [You don’t see my face as I’m writing this, so let it be stated that as I write I cringe, fidget and scrunch my face in embarrassment.] I would so much like to be over this, not be this human, vulnerable, repeating ageold patterns of behavior.
I have a hate-love relationship to solving these puzzles in my life. What I love is the end result of freedom and exuberance that always, every time and invariably infuses my everyday life after a foray into the inner landscapes. What I hate is diving into the ugly truth, into my very own private shit and sorting through it.
But this, my friends, is Good Medicine. Taking everything, all of what life presents to you, good-bad-indifferent and being curious about why it is happening in your life, what it brings up in you, what can be discovered. This is the adventure.
It’s all in the preparation
Okay, so I was sitting in my studio, wondering what would be the shape of my next art sharing event and what kind of a ride art would take me on this time. I had forgotten all about my huge canvas and was just nagging my muse for something rational that I could do and for pictures I would be able to post on Instagram to show that something is happening and keep the art sales going.
I stumbled upon a Crimson Circle SES course that was organized in Edinburgh. BAM! That sent off a huge impulse, so I made the arrangements and traveled there. I wrote more about that trip here.
In the meantime my huge canvas was having its own adventure in the framing shop and there was this musical interlude as necessary inner and outer preparations were made. A few more events had to take place before the scene was set for some more painting.
There was my birthday, when my Mom called me drunk and blasted open my heart in another trip to the core. Essential to this painting was also when I met my friend at Fazer’s Cafe and got the text that my canvas was ready, I was drinking coffee and eating complementary color lemon-blueberry cake, talking about life, the universe and everything.
My friend graciously agreed to came with me, to check out the store and the art supplies. When I saw the canvas, I took a step back. Humongous at 150x121cm!
I kick myself now that I have no picture of the painting as it was in the art supply store. The truth is, I couldn’t wait to get my hands immersed in paint again. So I started out. It’s always difficult to continue the painting when the underpainting feels impressive or lovely in itself.
As I painted my thoughts raced back to the beautiful mirror that my friend held up to me when I told her about how I experienced Mom’s homelessness and walking beside her during a part of her experience. I felt my heart thaw, as I painted myself back to my core. Little by little my heart started to expand.
It felt vital at this stage to share something about what was happening with this painting and inside of me with my crew, so I posted on Instagram and Facebook.
“As I paint I think about my mother who taught me everything she knew about love. Tenderly, as a conscious choice. She comes up again again again while I paint about loving self, because she also taught me everything she knew about hating self. I let color lead me while I attempt to contain the whole spectrum. Not so much about the past, but now. How can I love myself and at the same time love my mother? Yes she is drunk most of the time, changed beyond recognition, angry, bitter. And. She is still here. Still alive. Is there a way to stretch the skin of my heart so wide I can love us both and not hurt either of us? Who am I to dream of peace on a large scale if I cannot paint myself spacious enough to fit the mess of my own biological backyard inside of me? Self-love seems to be inexorably linked to all the love in my life on an experiental level.”
I deeply appreciated the responses I received, because they helped me see the parallel I was working on, my relationship to my Mom, who is hands down the most difficult person in my life to love and my relationship to myself.
A few days ago, I sent a text to her saying that I love her in good times and bad. I received a response that makes it a bit easier to continue the communication.
A change in tempo
Yesterday I had two deadlines for Minä Olen magazine, an importan telephone call, a sick firstborn and a client coming to pick up a painting. That’s when this painting started speaking. All the contextual, emotional and energetical groundwork done, it was time to paint!
Having had absolutely no idea what to do for many days at the studio, now I knew I wanted to balance the painting. But honestly, not much thinking was done yesterday. I alternated between important calls, writing the articles, painting, meeting a client, painting, writing with friends and clients on Facebook, painting and so on.
The painting was speaking to me all day long.
Layer after layer.
And this is where I stopped working for the night, breathless with love. Today, back at the studio, writing this blog, I only see a work in progress and feel that inner itch to continue painting. But late last night, there was rapture.
I went home, alight with joy and showed the Engineer what I had created. Such a good man, he celebrated with me, exclaimed over the change that had happened, watched the pictures. We watched Newsroom together, sipped rum and I fell asleep in the middle of the program.
So, this is the journey of Good Medicine this far.
I’m feeling pretty emptied out now. Grateful to be able to live and work like this. Excited about where this adventure takes me next. Glad to be able to share it with you.
I’m curious to hear your thoughts about seeing inside the making of one painting. Is this something that interests you, or would you rather just have the painting speak to your directly, without the interference of the artist?
So, tiger wants to join the crazy melee of self-love, bewilderment and creating.
Eleven years ago, I made my final artwork of Taidekoulu Maa. An sculpture, sown together with of small pieces of superlon, taken from my childhood mattress. At first I wanted the final work to be part tiger, part woman. But then my warm head teacher asked me [didn’t tell me] how the sculpture felt, being half and half.
I remember resisting the change in my idea, at the same time as I felt the sadness of being just a half intensely.
In any case, the sculpture that was born and that was exhibited looked like this.
What I now see is that the sculpture was so descriptive of my artist identity at the time of graduation. Already a tiger, yes. But completely without skin.
So, when Anna-Karolina contacted me and asked me if she could make a skin of felt for my tiger, I jumped into the adventure.
The tiger was completely changed.
From a work of art into something that reminded me and everyone else of a plush toy. At the same time as I kind of liked the finished work, I also missed the naked tiger inside. Conceptually interesting was also that the first impulse of many people was to go and sit on the befurred version of the tiger.
As I started floundering my way into this newest collection, the tiger started tugging at me. This happens sometimes. Artwork starts to have its own mind. So I contacted the Fur-mama and asked her if I could buy back her part of the tiger.
Today at the studio, tiger joined the fray.
I have absolutely no idea how this project will come together. But I am having a lot of fun, as well as lots of moments of insight into the energy that I’m building with this work. Closeness and intimacy with myself or others starts growing when I allow myself to feel everything and then sink under those feelings, through sensations all the way into my core and dare let my defences be released.
I’m still learning about the difference between defences and boundaries, but getting there. So is tiger.
The process of creating transformative art; a backstory
The big painting has been stuck for a week, almost. I have been gazing, staring, willing it to move. Even dabbing it gingerly with a brushful of transparent red iron oxide. All to no avail.
Until, as so often happens, when I start to focus on a new painting project, the deepening experiences start piling up. When I was in Scotland, re-experiencing Crimson Circle’s SES workshop, I wondered a bit that my mother and my relationship to her did not come up. Ah well.
This week on my birthday, my mother called me. I hadn’t talked to her in three months. At eight in the morning, she was drunk. I listened to her slurry, wobbly words, as always wondering at how the alcohol could completely deprive them of meaning for me, despite her telling me that I was a beloved, expected child. As she talked, I was revising my plan for the day. Usually, when I am in touch with my mother these days, deep emotions may start arising and spread outside my control.
That day I was supposed to lead a core art workshop in drawing. These workshops are intense and require my deep presence as well as all my abilities. I was already in Rastila, waiting for my core art students, scent of coffee in the air. The open art studio was starting in an hour and the first student would arrive any minute.
I suggested to my mother that we meet, but she said she was injured some way and could not move. Alarmed I asked if she needed help and became even more alarmed when my proud mother said yes. Again, thoughts racing, planning, moving the components of the day this way and that, I asked if she needed help acutely and if I was to come to her. When she laughed resentfully and said no, I asked if I could call after work and said I’m here for her. Grating some more piercing laughter, I heard in her voice, this was not good. I ended the call as swiftly as I could.
Diving into the challenge
“Well, happy birthday to me.” I thought bitterly right after the call.
Then I noticed the oozing touch of self-pity and asked myself what I needed. Eating a bit, drinking something hot, doing some deep breathing, I did what I do well; I carefully compartmentalized the little girl inside of myself and the art teacher part of myself in different boxes. While I knew from experience that I would later pay the price of this, at that moment keeping my promises and taking responsibility for all different roles and parts of my life seemed to be of utmost importance.
Although I felt sad and worried during the day, momentarily distracted, always bringing myself back to the present, the core art workshop was gentle, flowing and even fun at times. Once again I was amazed at the power of art, self-made or enjoyed, to transform anything. What I was less aware of, was the automatic mode I was in – I can carry anything, I can pay this bill, I can afford this, I will carry this [for you] because I can.
During my breaks I was in touch with the Engineer and with my dad, so I could get the necessary information and organize the rescue mission of the evening. After work, I and the Engineer went to my mom’s with two bags of groceries to see what kind of situation she had. In the car, I could feel emotion swirl around in my body. Old, familiar poison. My mind was full of thoughts I recognized. I told the Engineer that voicing those thoughts would only increase the emotion and drama I was aware of inside of me. I felt helpless. When we came to my mother’s apartment building I was relieved to see the building door was open, because I couldn’t get a hold of her on the phone. We rang and rang the doorbell. She didn’t open the door. Her neighbours said she hadn’t been home for days. She still didn’t answer her phone. We left the non-perishables behind the door and got into the car.
In the car, my body started trembling. I asked the Engineer if we could stop at a drive through, so I could have a sugary drink and something to eat. That would bring some balance and stability into the moment. The kids were waiting at home for night time stories and the rituals of going to bed. I cherished each bite of the hamburger, sitting beside my husband, each ketchup filled bite. The junk food fit my inside state.
The next morning when I woke up, I had a text message on my phone: “Thank you for the food. Very kind. Give me your account number and I will reimburse you. I am not available tomorrow, I am at a retreat. Hug.”
This is when I snapped.
The visible effects of emotional radiation started. I felt my shoulder blade area shut down completely, as if someone had stitched iron wire throughout my skin and muscles. The thoughts of self-hatred started gushing forth in a never ending stream. Anxiety made it hard to breathe fully. Deep currents of self-doubt ran through my mind, doubting everything from my skills, to my life choices, to my right to exist. Tears started flowing at unpredictable intervals. I staid in bed, lifting any part of my body felt like an insurmountable task.
While I rationally knew that this was an automatic reaction to the interaction with my mother, based on deep patterns unresolved, it was hard to keep on breathing, keep on functioning. In these situations I would love to be able to be calm, collected, instantly healing myself in some deep mystical or instant way. Instead, in the midst of the considerable inner pain, concepts of self-love feel abstract and unreachable. So I attempted to just be aware of what was happening inside of me, not trying to change anything, concentrating on breathing, letting the painful emotions move through me like weather and tried my best to not hold on to any of the venom that was flowing through me.
When the Engineer came home at five p.m. I went to sleep and slept through the night.
What was different this time?
For someone who has never lived with an alcoholic, this reaction may seem way overblown. For me, it’s automatic. Through the years, my needs have had to wait and the needs of my mother have come first. Still, one day a year, on my birthday, there is the expectation that it is my day, something for me. Instead, I spent the whole of my birthday, trying to help my drunk mother, calling forth the emotional reality that was my norm for so long.
Discerning between self-pity and self-compassion has been a challenge for me. Yesterday, someone said: “I wish you would always feel appreciated and loved.”
That moment I realized, the only person who can give me that kind of stability is me. Today, after another twelve hours of sleep, I think the biggest difference between self-compassion and self-pity, for me, are boundaries. After experiencing her twenty years of full blown alcoholism, I have still longed so much for a nugget of love from the mother I once knew, that although I have put my children’s needs before her needs, I have always put myself aside.
I have never said: It is more important that I love me and care for me than that I please my mother and father. Not for my children, for my family, for my relationships. For me. Just for myself.
The practicality of loving self
In conclusion, I am here, sitting with the part of myself who resists the thought of drawing boundaries. Life is clearly showing me the need to do so. To say a clear yes and no to how I choose to be treated. The little girl part of me is saying: “But I want myself to love my mother, the way I used to love her. But I want us all to be friends. I want love to be the norm. I want to be gentle, kind and smiling. I am afraid of what will happen if I am not.”
And I ask in return: “Who am I to think I know what other people need? Who am I to say that the minuscule connection I have to my mother is wrong? Who am I to judge how other people create their lives, to criticize what they choose? The only thing that IS my responsibility is choosing whether I want to participate, to choose how I am willing to be treated. And THAT is done by learning what my boundaries are and then expressing them.”
Self-pity is allowing myself to be badly treated, and complaining, heaping on blame and suffering afterwards. Self-compassion is saying: This is not okay.
From life to painting to life again
What I’m learning, already, from this painting project is that loving myself actively doesn’t make life easier, exactly. It doesn’t decrease my sensitivity, or remove the pain from a difficult experience. What it does is increase my sense of being alive, of having a right to simply experience what I do, as I do. With support and love, whatever comes next. When I allow myself to get lost, in my life, inside myself, I find areas and solutions that I haven’t found before.
The adventure of self-love continues. Yesterday, after coming home from meeting my work counsellor and seeing an artist friend, I updated this illustration. I don’t think the problem with loving ourselves is the self-care, as much as what happens within, when we do care for ourselves and our boundaries.
Setting boundaries is scary. We only ever see the surface of the people who set their boundaries for us. But when we do it, lots of stuff happens inside.
For me, saying no is often accompanied with a sensation of nausea, guilt, endlessly questioning whether I did the right thing and if I hurt the other.
As for the acrylic part of the project, here is the big, first acrylic painting in the Getting Lost in Landscapes of Self-Love on the right. On the left is its little sister, called “Loving Self”, from my last show.
Now, I’m going to tidy up my studio, to make room for clients and more painting. Thanks for following this winding path, as I find my way, impulse by impulse, into this new project.
Self-love skill number two. Saying no appropriately.
Man, how I struggle with this one. There’s saying it, of course. Hard at times, almost impossible at others.
But before you can say no, you have to be able to feel into what you really really want. Yes or no. You have to be able to say, I’ll come back to you, I’ll think about it for a while.
You need to accept, appreciate and allow your preferences.
Then, you may need to calmly say no thank you. Sometimes forcefully.
So, the practice continues. 🙂
Oh, and what do self-love skills have to do with creativity? My current experience is that the more I make art, the more productive I am, the more time I need for empty space time, bupkis days, taking care of my needs. It’s all part of the whole of creative work. Although the final act of creation may be fast and expressive, what makes that possible is sometimes a lot of time spent incubating, ruminating and in general just containing different kinds of tension.
This means I need to carve out that time by saying no. A lot. Trust the process, trust the need for this time, trust myself.
Sometimes saying no to the outside world is saying yes to your own art, whatever its expression.
What can you say no to today, as a way of practising self-love?
Back from Scotland and my adventures into the mystery of loving self. Things keep getting more hectic here on our planet, more turbulent. I felt an updated skill set in caring for myself would be appropriate. I’m glad I did.
Edinburgh was a beautiful place where it was easy to breathe deeply. I came back with lots of inner space and a collection of non-verbal, not yet painted experiences.
I’ve always thought loving ourselves is a pretty abstract concept. Easy to think and talk about, harder to practice. A quick google search seems to indicate it isn’t an easy concept generally speaking.
It seems to me, loving ourselves is something to be practised, day by day. This way it does increase, helping us to keep center in this ever-changing world of ours.
So while I’m painting my huge paintings around this theme, here in my studio, I thought I would ask my inner crew to give me something more tangible, that can be shared now.
I asked my friends: What is implemented self-love? Here’s the first illustration, T. and Fant style.
Today I have spent all day, filming a video about the making of core art. It has been the perfect thing to do in the midst of an incubation period.
The art show is closed now, unsold paintings are back at the studio and the future lies ahead, unknown. I think this was the show I loved most, of all of those I’ve had.
I used to think an art show is about exhibiting what I’ve painted and that has never felt natural, comfortable or even worthwhile for me. So this time, I wanted to do something differently. I wanted to connect, I wanted to share.
“out that expending emotional labor, working without a map, and driving in the dark involve confronting fear and living with the pain of vulnerability. The artist comes to a détente with these emotions and, instead of fighting with them, dances with them. The linchpin connects as a result of the indispensable nature of her contribution. The artist, on the other hand, connects because that’s what art is. The artist touches part of what it means to be truly human and does that work again and again.” ― Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?
I started by asking my crowd what they wanted to see at the show, how they would like to participate in an art exhibit and I also asked the culture center what they would like to see. This made all the difference.
Forty people left their dreams on little colored paper notes in the dream incubator I had in the show. I felt honored, when I glued them onto my canvas in my studio. The power of those dreams, of people creating their everyday lives was palpable.
Countless people left messages, sent pictures of themselves, sent notes about how what they had created after the show. Clients who bought paintings shared their important memories or reasons for buying a particular painting.
Suddenly the time spent connecting felt real and the art I had created became part of the bigger context of people dreaming their reality everywhere. This is what I want to do next time as well, more connecting, more sharing, more of all of us being humans together.
“It’s what we wrestle with every single day. The intersection of comfort, danger, and safety. The balancing act between vulnerability and shame. The opportunity (or the risk) to do art. The willingness to take responsibility for caring enough to make a difference and to have a point of view.” ― Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?
So now I’m here, in the Big Empty that comes after a big project ends. I’m ghessoing huge canvases, cleaning my tools, tidying my studio, going to Scotland for a workshop, making a film about core art, writing more again, watching movies and generally floating around in empty space, letting the New come in.
The longer I do this, run my company, make my art, dive deeper into core art both myself and with my art students, the more I’m convinced that we can’t jump from here [my everyday life, my freedoms and restrictions], all the way there [to my ideals, fabulous success, great technical prowess]. We need to follow the impulse, take the next tiny step, create the minuscule potential that is available to us now. That is when the adventure opens up. All [wry grin] we need to do, is to learn to live with the Unknown.
Sending you courage, the strength of wry humor and general wackyness where ever you are in your every day dreamer’s life today. <3