One doesn't discover new lands without consenting to lose sight, for a very long time, of the shore.
— Andre Gide
"go slow: woman on a journey" mandala exhibit introduction
In 2008, living and working in London, I began to notice that I often used the phrase "I'm afraid" in both my personal and professional life:
I'm afraid I won't get to the airport on time.
I'm afraid of not meeting the deadline.
I'm afraid the design won't be approved.
I'm afraid, I'm afraid, I'm afraid.
One day the revelation "I've been living a fear based life" bubbled up and I realized its truth at my deepest level, though I didn't really understand. As I played with this new awareness, I began to sense that in order to move forward in life in a holistic health-full way, I would need to go back. To untangle the tangled that bound me to fear. I also knew instinctively that there would be three phases to my transformation, and they would be lived out over the next years, perhaps through the rest of my life.
• Discovery - learning what needed healing
• Uncovery - getting to the bottom of my issues
• Recovery- integrating healing and new truths into my life
About one year later, my company recruited me back to KC, USA. The process of making that decision remains one of the most difficult times of my life. A very strong something called to me to return, and yet I could not image leaving London. I became homesick for it before I even left. To make matters worse, the return to my hometown unexpectedly triggered the onset of a severe anxiety disorder. Therapy begun in London continued with a new therapist in KC, along with holistic support from a naturopathic doctor.
I had entered Discovery. Clearly, issues from my very early life permeated my present day angst. Yet as I poured out words and what seemed an unending stream of tears, I felt worse and worse. It was as if a gourd shaped entity filled with toxicity remained in my body, my stomach, my throat.
They say God never gives you more than you can handle… I think he was pushing it with me.
A blessing unfolded: a friend who is also a therapist referred me to a colleague certified in Somatic Experiencing, a therapy technique used in the treatment of trauma. Many people with anxiety disorders are trauma survivors, and it turned out that I was one of them.
Candy, my trauma recovery therapist, introduced me to the concept of drawing mandalas several months into therapy. It happened one session when I was crying so hard I could hardly breathe. She put a piece of paper in front of me along with pastel chalks and told me to "draw a circle." Then "now draw something inside the circle." Not knowing what to draw, what I was doing or why, I followed her directions. My crying slowly calmed. When I finished, she told me to date it and give it a title in one of the bottom corners, followed by a word that described how I felt: Sea. Wishfulness.
Done? Not yet. Next, on the opposite corner Candy guided me to make a list of the colors I used, and next to each one, briefly describe what that color meant to me in that drawing, at that moment.
Purple - pleasure, Magenta - passion/life, Yellow - joy, Green - life, Aqua/Blue - water, refreshing, renewal, Yellow/Green - life/sand/relax, Orange - warmth, variety, Golden - sun, warmth, comfort
She then began to explain that I had just connected with my subconscious in a way I couldn't have with words right then. That that along with immense anxiety and despair, life, comfort, etc resided within me. That everything I needed to heal was already inside me. Hard to take in, I choose to trust and believe her.
So began a practice that has continued in the years since. I would learn that certain characteristics of my drawings, such as a fat wide outer circle meant that I needed a sense of protection. Other aspects pointed to me being on the cusp of transition. Almost 100 mandalas later, I've lived in Discovery, Uncovery, and Recovery, often overlapping the same way people shift between the five stages of grief, and often repeating the same theme - sad, overwhelmed, grief.
Trauma recovery has been the most important work of my life, and I am compelled to tell my story. Exhibiting these mandalas allows me to share my journey, touch people’s hearts, inspire and challenge them, and offer a new way of looking at themselves and the world. Perhaps encourage someone in pain to ask for help and support.
The exhibit "go slow: woman on a journey" features some of the mandalas that best represent the three phases. Currently there are eight each in Discovery, Uncovery and Recovery. Space allowing, the exhibit will grow, providing additional insight, encouragement and inspiration to others in their own journeys of exploration and life.
Click here to see photos of my go slow: woman on a journey exhibits from 2016.