On Pain and Love

Many years ago when I lived in London I was fortunate enough to meet the artist Charlie Mackesy and get to know him a little bit. I had the great privilege of spending day with him at his studio in south London while I was nursing a broken heart. He was painting one of his iconic Prodigal Daughter paintings and I could sense a Holy Presence in the room as he worked. 

He’s an extraordinary, slightly feral and big hearted man and I have always loved his work. At the time, I was working in television and earning far too much money for a young woman in her early 20s but one of the things I’m most proud of is that I bought one of his original cartoons. I remember standing in the art gallery and seeing in the distance the simple outline of a naked woman sashaying away from a nerdy, bespectacled man who was complaining ‘Daphne, you can’t take redemption of Eden too literally.’ I walked up close to it and just chuckled to myself. Charlie came to stand beside me.

‘I love this,’ I said.

‘Thanks,’ he shrugged, in his self deprecating style.

‘And I have to have it!’ I declared without even looking how much it cost. He burst out laughing. But it now hangs proudly on my landing near the bathroom. And it tickles me to think that he may have many celebrity collectors (Whoopi Goldberg, Richard Curtis, Sting!) but in a little house in North County Down, there hangs a treasure.

All this to say, Charlie’s recent venture is a series of gorgeous cartoons featuring a boy, a mole, a fox and a horse and such darling nuggets of gentleness and wisdom. They will soon be published in a book by Penguin, and I can’t wait! I can no longer afford an original painting, but I’ll be first in line for a book!

This past two months have been a journey of love and pain, pain and love. I had surgery to remove a tumour in my breast and 14 lymph nodes under my arm. I had a drain in for 5 days, during which the pain was manageable and movement was relatively easy which was a relief because my husband came down with a horrible stomach bug and was knocked flat for the few days after I came out of hospital. 

I returned to have the drain removed and noticed some sensation return which I had thought would be gone for good. Turns out, the drain had been pressing on a nerve which had numbed the area and once gone, all sensation returned and with it all the pain. 

I told my surgeon on a recent visit that I would rather go through 3 more natural births than deal with the consistent soreness that I had in the ensuing weeks. I was ill prepared for it and the fatigue that persistent pain causes. I have known friends who suffer from chronic pain and I have not really appreciated their fortitude in dealing with it. 

So life became a cycle of counting down the hours till I could take more medication that only actually took the edge off and trying to manage my expectations on what I’m capable of. It has also been a time of ugly self pity, impatience and shortness of temper with those closest to me, self comfort over self care and shame that I’m not handling things with more grace. 

I’ve since had a second surgery to remove more breast tissue and have recently been told that I will have now undergo a mastectomy as the cancer is still present in the breast tissue. So I’ll be starting chemotherapy treatment in a few weeks after which I’ll have a further surgery. The treatment plan is necessary but it doesn’t make it any less daunting and in some ways, I feel it’s like sending a SWAT team in to take out a tiny bunny. But the bunny is Snowball from The Secret Life of Pets, so, yeah, the SWAT team might even get their asses kicked.

In the midst of this tumult, I can quite honestly say, though, that I have never been more aware of how loved and cherished I am. I’ve had messages from friends far and near. Neighbours have dropped around food, overseas friends have sent flowers and other gifts. 

Jen Hatmaker, the American writer once told a story of how in elephant herds, which have a matriarchal structure, if one of the herd is vulnerable for some reason, for example when giving birth, her sisters will form a circle around her and kick dust up to deter potential predators who might take advantage of her fraility.

I have seen this triumphant, protective energy in action. I have felt a fierce hedge of love and support from my women friends and family that has lifted my spirits and given me such comfort at times when this feels like the loneliest place in the world. 

While I’m hugely grateful that I have a supportive and practically able husband and father in law, there’s something about the fact that this is a female cancer, that has drawn in a feminine energy that I’ve needed. 

As Charlie Mackesy points out in his lovely cartoon, the greatest freedom we have is how we react to things and I’ll be honest and say that my reaction to my pain levels, my newly restricted arm movement, the restriction to my plans for this year, the prospect of more invasive surgery has not always been pretty.

I do take comfort though that the ‘ugly cry’ way of dealing with hard times has precedent and that the most elevated souls have struggled with pain. And that precedent comes from my own faith tradition.

So much was made of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, when I was growing up and how he said ‘Not my will, but Yours, O God’ the night of his betrayal, arrest and trial for blasphemy. But can we just back up for a moment and remember that this man sweated blood in his resistance to what he was facing. Let’s not be naive and forget that Jesus didn’t want to go through with what he knew in all probability would be certain torture and a painful death.

And where were his boys, his twelve male disciples?

Napping.

And then scarpering when the authorities came for their beloved teacher.

(Where were the women? They hung around till the bitter, ugly end. And were also the first to witness the Risen Christ. Just saying.)

The reaction of the women in my life though has been to get in formation, whether virtually and or practically where they’ve been able. They have used their freedom with compassion, power and grace and I will be eternally grateful. 

The Year of the Wolf

Hello and happy new year!

As you may know, I’m following yoga teacher and Celtic spirituality guide Mari Kennedy on an online journey through the Celtic Calendar over the next 12 months.

The journey began at Samhain (end of October) which is the Celtic new year and which impresses upon us that the new always starts in the dark that is also indicative of the dark feminine energy of rest and receptivity.

The early Christian missionaries who encountered the Celtic world recognised the power of this period of sacred waiting and introduced the concept of Advent, which contrary to popular understanding is not the waiting for Christmas but for the Return of Christ and the renewal of all things.

And so each year, I’ve wanted to embrace the dark in some way; acknowledge both the dark of the Celtic new year and the immanence of the Divine at Advent. And yet, the peace and rest has always illuded me. I always succumb to the rush and hectic energy of the consumerist holiday season.

This year was no different and added to an already busy calendar with children’s Christmas activities, I took it upon myself to sell Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map Planners to UK/EU people who were keen to buy them but who had found the shipping costs from the USA prohibitive.

I got such a lot of joy from the experience and the interaction with people who loved Danielle’s products as much as I do was so beautiful. However, the Planners themselves didn’t arrive until the 19th of December, only one box from the order arrived and the other arrived later, damaged. So it was a bit of a crazy dash to invoice, repackage and ship to try and get them to people before Christmas. Generally, the endeavour was a success and as far as I’m aware there was only one that hasn’t made it to its owner.

All this to say, by the time the 25th of December rolled round, I was beat. Happy but tired, joyful but kind of slightly disappointed that the cool, calm advent I’d envisioned for myself hadn’t exactly come about the way I’d hoped.

Reflecting around this time, I did have to admit that there was a large part of me that in fact resisted rest and slowness. I resisted the void. I didn’t really know who I was outside of a relentless obsession with productivity and activity. I ran myself into the ground on a frequent basis and definitely decided that the next thing I would do would be to figure out this whole ‘rest and receptivity’ thing.

My word for 2019, I decided before Christmas would be SURRENDER.

Then, on 26th of December, I discovered a lump in my breast.

On the 10th of January, I had the full compliment of tests and it was determined that I did indeed have cancer and that surgery and further treatment would be needed.

It pained me to have to cancel my plans for the Desire Map Workshops I’d scheduled and indeed launched at a lovely evening in Bangor. I’m disappointed that I will be missing out on the first schedule of plans from our She-Wolf Theatre Collective.

But I am choosing to accept that this is a unique opportunity to explore who I am when I’m not productive because by all accounts, cancer treatment can knock the stuffing out of a person. I admit that I spent the first few days after the diagnosis on an adrenaline rush of attempting to ‘stage – manage’ what my encounter with the disease would look like. I was outwardly brave, determined, strong and defiant. I DID a lot of ‘fighting talk’ and story spinning. I wouldn’t be a cancer victim, I wouldn’t start a cancer blog. Then the inevitable crash; the fear, the anger, the disappointment, the disempowerment.

Now I’m at numb.

There’s a story about how an experiment to introduce a pack of wolves into Yellowstone National Park,  brought about surprising changes that no one had expected. Far from the pack wreaking havoc on the environment and devastating flora, fauna and animal populations, their introduction enhanced the park, rebalancing the eco-system and allowing it to flourish in beautiful ways. The beaver population increased and vegetation improved.

It’s amazing that something as fearsome as a pack of wolves could exponentially increase the beauty and wellbeing of a national park.

So here it is.

The Year of the Wolf.

An opportunity to go into the dark, to run with the wolves and see what beauty will come from the journey. Beauty that may not necessarily have a product, may be something intangible and so subtle it will only be perceptible to me and God.

And so may it be.

Tonight is the night of the Wolf Moon, a Blood moon, a lunar eclipse, the like of which we won’t see again for another few years. We only ever have this moment and so my focus, as best it can be, will be on this moment until the next arrives.

Strut and Bellow is on hiatus until I figure out what I’m capable of in the midst of treatment. It’ll be difficult to do nothing, but it might be neccessary. I’m going to try to listen to my body, quieten my mind and follow the guidance of my soul.

Thanks for journeying with me thus far and hopefully, we’ll meet up again virtually in the not too distant future.

With every best wish for your year,

Melanie Clark Pullen

Giving the finger to New Year’s Resolutions

It’s December 31st and I woke up this morning with a vague feeling of panic that I haven’t made any resolutions, or properly plotted out my intentions for the new year or done a vision board, or cleaned the grout on my bathroom tiles.

It was that impending sense of doom that I am unprepared for the onslaught of positivity that 2019 is supposed to usher in. New Year, New Me – as if the old me was somewhat falling short of some invisible set of standards.

Needless to say, I’m not going partying tonight. I’ll be at home, the kids will probably still be up, DarkandTwisty will make his signature Gibsons, we’ll watch the fireworks on telly and with any luck I’ll be in bed by 12:30. Happy New Year!

If I resolve to do anything for 2019 it’s to stop feeling bad about myself. I’m giving the finger to resolutions. I refuse to set myself up for failure.

2019 will be all about feeling good.

I want to feel at ease, joyful, delighted, sexy, comfortable, sparkly, light, expansive, powerful.

And I will let how I want to feel guide my decisions about my health, work, family and spirituality.

No one knows what 2019 will bring or the impact it will have but I want to be in a responsive mode to everything it chucks at me, not reacting to curve balls out of fear and trembling.

If you’d like to join me on the journey, then check out some of my Desire Map workshops that are happening in the first quarter of this year.  Some are in person, some are on line so wherever you are in the world you can come along for the ride!

 

Women’s Christmas

 

Yes, it’s a thing.

Nollaig na mBan is the day when, in rural Irish communities, the men take on the household duties as a way of honouring all the work the women have done to make Christmas happen (and everything else all through out the year but who’s keeping score, eh?).

I’m writing this at the tipping point of the crazy season and I have to say that each year, I really look forward to marking Women’s Christmas on the 6th of January. I’ve gathered with some friends and we’ve enjoyed a last hurrah before the kids go back to school and the new year resolutions are completely annihilated.

This year, I’m bringing the tradition north of the border. I’m hosting an intimate gathering at the gorgeous The Drawing Room in Bangor, Co. Down to celebrate the sisters and introduce them to The Desire Map.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I can’t bear the potential (inevitable) failure that comes when my lofty ideals aren’t met.

So now I spend some time figuring out how I want to feel, rather than what I want to achieve.

Bye, bye, diets, fads, unattainable goals, impossible to meet expectations!

Hello, soulful intentions based on my deepest desires and most pleasurable joys.

YUM!

Tickets are £10 and can be bought at this link.

 

A conversation with Lucy Pearce

I will be forever grateful to my friend Robyn who emailed me from France one day when I was in the thick of life with little littles and struggling to reconcile my creative desires with early motherhood. She told me about a book called the Rainbow Way which dealt head on with the very issues I was grappling with. I bought the book and felt like I had found a soul sister who knew exactly how I was feeling and was ready with a giant permission slip to be just who I needed to be as a mother and an artist.

I have followed Lucy’s journey and that of her publishing company Womancraft Publishing closely over the years and was eagerly awaiting her latest title Medicine Woman since reading its companion Burning Woman.

I’m admitting here that I have not yet finished reading Medicine Woman. It is intense and I find myself getting so agitated and moved by it that I need to take it slowly. Before we hit record on today’s conversation, I confessed this to Lucy who reassured me that this was normal. She’s had feedback from other readers saying similar things. She’s written about her very personal journey of health issues but has also made a very studied critique of the Western medical system and how women are not being served by it. She’s lifting the lid on all that is unsaid about women’s health and women’s position in the health system. It feels like an important work at a significant time.

You can find Medicine Woman at Womancraft Publishing as well as Amazon, Book Depository and other major bookshops. It’s worth checking out theother titles she’s published by other writers as well as some lovely items she sells in the online shop – check out the Goddesses by Brigid’s Grove which make lovely little gifts.

As always, you can listen to the podcast on iTunes and Soundcloud or click below to start listening straight away.

A conversation with Heather McKay

photo by Eadaoin Curtin

Heather McKay of Head in the Clouds Ireland has just had a gorgeous revamp to her website in time for the Christmas season. If you don’t know Heather’s work then you’re going to want to check it out because her Christmas cards are some of the most joyful things you’ll ever stick in a post box. Your friends and family will be delighted to receive her colourful pictures on their door mat!

I’ve known Heather for (ahem!) a very long time now and a couple of years ago, we sat down and had a chat for the podcast. If you haven’t listened to it already, go and check it out.

Heather’s stunning and unique style of illustration really stands out and there’s an inherent joy and optimism in everything she does. I’m excited to see the next stage of the journey for Head in the Clouds.

#Christmasfeels

Where are your shoulders right now?

Are they relaxed, your neck feeling good, your arms loose?

Nice.

What happens when I say the ‘C’ word?

Yeah, you heard me, I mean Christmas. CHRISTMAS!!!! CHRRIIIIISSSSTTTTMAAAAS!!!

Where are your shoulders now?

Is there tension in your upper body, maybe your jaw is tight, your tongue stuck to the roof of your mouth?

Are your shoulders sitting up around your ears?

Is your breath caught high up in your chest and does your throat feel constricted?

Maybe this season of the year has you all chilled out and maybe you are organised and sorted with gifts and decorations ready to hand out to all and sundry. Maybe you are the illusive (smug) Christmas unicorn of mythical legend!

Here’s the thing; I am supposed to love Christmas because I love the whole Jesus story. This is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year when I remember how spectacularly awesome is the idea of the Divine coming near and being in the muck and mess of the human story.

But like everyone else, I so easily get snowballed into the commercial blizzard that happens at this time of year and it totally stresses me out. Every year, I say I want to do Christmas differently, I want to focus on the real essence of the story and every year get to the 25th of December feeling utterly shattered and demoralised.

So I have asked myself,

 How do you want to feel this Christmas?

How do you want to feel this Christmas?

I want to feel joyful.

I want to feel present.

I want to feel abundant.

I want to feel peace.

If you’d like to join me, I’d like to invite you to come with me via Instagram and FB over the coming weeks as we intentionally create the season we want to experience. I’m going to be blogging and doing live videos over the coming weeks sharing my intentional attempt to Slow. The. Heck. Down. and realign my lived experience of this sacred time with my deep love of the Divine and the beautiful story of Immanuel/God with us. Even if you have no religious leanings or feelings about this, or your religious background or inclination is different, I invite you to join me and take a step out of the madness to discover what #Christmasfeels like for you.

I’m done with the commercial mess of this year, however I do want to support local business for whom this time of the year is their most important. With that in mind, I’m compiling a list of awesome small businesses that you might not know about and who you may wish to consider if you are buying gifts this season.  To get the first dibs on this list, subscribe to my newsletter by the end of next week when I’ll be releasing it for #GreenFriday…..

Yes you read that right…. it’s going to be a #GreenFriday this year! Sign up to learn more.