Anti Freeze for the Soul
Glycol is the primary ingredient in Anti Freeze. This property lowers the freezing point and ensures that the cooling system will not freeze in sub zero temperatures. When working with the creative arts, to resuscitate your imagination and ensure that the soul is not turned to stone, there is not one specific ingredient. Unlike cooling systems humans are not all the same. So it is a matter of experimenting.
Anti Freeze for the Soul
by Heather Blakey
When Helen McIntosh suffered a massive stroke at 43 her career as a Senior Curriculum Officer for Primary Education in Victoria came to an abrupt end. Reclaiming her life was a slow and painful process. The stroke robbed her of the life she had known. As she waited for endless treatment and physiotherapy she found herself observing things in a new way. When she struggled to walk, head bowed, she noticed things she had not seen before. Ants caught her eye; she noted the expressionless looks on the faces of the people who passed by. With her heightened powers of observation Helen found a lot to write about and she retreated into a journal for solace and to express anger, loss and grief. She used her notebooks to note down improvements and to record phrases that just came back into her head.
Eventually Helen wrote three books, including a collection of poetry titled 'The Interrupted Lunch'. This work gave back a life that had been interrupted by the stroke.
Life's crisis have a habit of interrupting our lives. One of my former Year 12 students wrote about the impact of The Amber Demon on his life. He wrote about how his father's alcoholism impacted on him: One would think that after all these years, some measure of immunity would have been achieved - but no, the reality is that today I still feel the same rush of adrenaline, the same build up of tension in my muscles that I first experienced many years ago. Nothing has changed. I sit here listening to the argument in process in the kitchen. Each retaliation is more damaging than the last...I reach a point where I can't bear to hear any more. I begin to muster up enough courage to take me into the lion's den...My attention is drawn to Mum's tear stained face - he sits, a glass filled with the amber fluid, fluid that acts as fuel to sustain his anger....Like a hunted rabbit I retreat to my only place of refuge- the place where I can escape the torment that stalks me. At least for a short time I can forget; become absorbed in my music. I wile away time in the complete darkness of my room.
Like Helen, Brett's life was interrupted by events out of his control. Indeed, most of the students I worked with had their lives on hold for one reason or another. The truth is that all the people I work with find that their lives are halted by the debris life hurls at them. Over coffee a friend shared that, after a series of life altering disasters, she felt she could no longer look forward to the future - that she lacked a focus. I could relate to this. My husbands cancer halted our lives for nine months as we went through the round of operations and chemotherapy and, despite talking about what we would do when 'the war was over', it felt like it was never going to end. Numbed, we moved from one day to the next, never daring to plan too far ahead..
The most depressing part of bereavement, trauma, incurable illness or even unemployment is the imprisonment that it brings. Like a prisoner of war the sufferer does not know how long their term will be. Not only is the prison term of bereavement uncertain, but it can be unlimited - a never ending cycle of despair. This can lead to what can be called provisional existence, where everything in life becomes provisional upon something happening and the participant can feel as though there is no point continuing.
Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the holocaust, in his book 'Man's Search for Meaning', writes that the 'Latin word finis has two meanings: the end or the finish, and a goal to reach. A man who could not see the end of his "provisional existence" was not able to aim at an ultimate goal in life. He ceased linving for the future, in contrast to a man in normal life'. Frankl explains that when 'a man ceased living for the future...the whole structure of his inner life changed; and signs of decay set in. When a person loses faith in the future and moves into a provisional existence their lives are doomed. A decline in physical and emotional well-being can be seen in people's refusal to see people, to get dressed, to engage - they lie prostrate, numbed by the pain of it all.
It is in this context that we each need to be reminded of the power of the creative arts to resuscitate our imagination and give us back power over our lives. It is the arts which hold the key to the the sense of finis which comes when we have an ultimate goal. It is the arts which have the power to free us from the provisional state and enable us to resume our lives and put the traumatic events to rest.
Given the dysfunctional lives of many of the adolescents I worked with as a secondary school teacher, I found that I turned to quirky alternatives to stimulate their imaginations. My students all loved the guided imageries, declaring that they were 'trippy'. The guided imageries enabled them to retreat to a place of refuge, a place where they could escape the torment that stalked them. They all knew how to turn out the lights and listen to music in the darkness of their personal retreats, but guided imageries demonstrated that there was an inner world that they could retreat to - a place where they could find solace and experience life differently.
Viktor Frankl affirms my deep commitment to teaching children to experience the rewards of an active inner life. Frankl observed that people who were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom survived, despite less hardy make-up.
After extended periods caring for their partners, after having had their lives filled with visits to the hospital and to the chemist, the women I worked with in Craigeburn, as a part of the Melbourne Citymission's Palliative Care Bereavement program, found that death bought a new void and that their lives were still on hold. Being caught in the frozen vortex that is grief is a bit like being trapped in a bottle, or a gilded cage. You know that there is life outside the hospital and away from the bedside, but it seems distant and unattainable. Besides, when you do go out everyone seems to well and happy by far and you can feel like the only person who is suffering.
Under the rule of the White Witch in C.S. Lewis's Narnia series, everyone lived in fear. It was always winter and Christmas never came. All who committed treason or opposed the witch were turned to stone. The women who came to my group at Craigeburn had felt the touch of the white witch and felt entrapped in stone, entrapped by grief that would not go away, grief with the power to turn them into granite. Their energy and imagination died with their husbands.
In the Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe it is a truly wonderful moment for the children when they witnessed the witch lose her power and saw the statues coming back to life. As Aslan breathed on the frozen ones Lucy says 'Oh, Susan! Look! Look at the lion. I expect you've seen someone put a lighted match to a piece of newspaper which is propped up in a grate against an unlit fire. For a second nothing happened; but then you notice a tiny streak of flame creeping along the edge of the newspaper...'
It was like this at my group in Craigeburn. At first the change was barely discernible but then a tiny streak of gold seemed to run through these women, then it spread - then the colour seemed to lick all over them as the flame licks over the bits of paper. Suddenly there was life and it was obvious that the life blood had returned. This is deep magic and I felt humbled as Emily explained how she was able to live more peacefully now, thanks to the work we have done.
So what is the magic? What helped these women alter their perspective? What was the defining moment when they could rest in peace?
Each had a different view, for different things triggered a response in each. For Emily the turning point was making Descansos. After the descansos exercises and the round table discussions as they came to grips with how to make it, Emily went home and created the most magnificent collage. She began by pasting tranquil garden images over her page and then began to cut her family photos. One by one, in groups, she put each of her children and their children. Only when she finished did she look and think that the photo that was missing was the one of her and her husband Doug. For the first time she was able to take his photo and put it on the page without crying. When she looked at the completed collage she saw the legacy of their marriage and knew that she had something to live for.
Alva turned the corner when she completed her treasure box, a box she covered and carefully filled with flash cards to remind her of the things she loves, the things she can look forward to doing. There amid the cards is a card depicting her yearning to restore furniture. When she begins that project Alva will restore more than the dresser she is searching for.
In 'Man's Search for Meaning' Frankl writes that 'any attempt to restore a man's inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal. Nietzsches's words, "He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how. Whenever there was an opportunity for it one had to give them a why - an aim - for their lives, in order to strengthen them to bear the terrible how of their existence. It is indeed woe to those who see no more sense in life, who have no aim or purpose.
In order to carry on we each need a purpose. So, although to the untrained eye, although an onlooker might think that we are just playing cut and paste and talking, the creative arts that I introduce in my workshops give each of us a why.
Each of us leaves with a far stronger idea of who we are and how we can live. Within the creative arts lie the magic ingredients that have the alchemal power to transform, within the creative arts lie the ingredients to make an anti freeze for the soul to protect the soul when winter comes.
Heather Blakey Copyright 2001© All Rights reserved