In the Big Love Sista studio last weekend, we hosted a retreat for women whose lives had been effected by or who were living with breast cancer. In the morning, as the women were arriving, there was a heavy sense of expectancy in the air. Today was going to be a day we made magic, we could just tell. Some groups are like that. I sat in the opening circle and listened to ten women from vastly different walks of life, with vastly different lives, share how those lives were touched by that one common thread of breast cancer. I heard about feeling disconnected from your own body. I heard about feeling numb. I heard about feeling exhausted. I heard and held these stories and felt deeply privileged to be witnessing the start of this journey.
My role at Big Love Sista is more behind-the-scenes than hands-in-the-paint, emotional-support, and so I crept inside the little office to tweet and email, sending all my loving energy into the studio next door, hoping it would help with the transformation that would take place. It’s funny how much you can tell about what’s going on in that studio just from overhearing little snippets of conversation.
The first hour is usually hesitant. Am I allowed to use this? Is this colour okay? Women asking for permission, as usual. Checking in with whoever’s “in charge” that they’re allowed to be themselves. We say yes. We always say yes. Whatever they’re going to bring to circle, to their portrait, it’s all welcome. If they’re going to sit in circle and tell us they think all this painting nonsense is bollocks anyway, we’re going to accept that. We’re going to love them in that place. If they’re going to sit in front of their canvas and weep, feeling totally incapacitated by the task of putting their selves on canvas, we’re going to place a hand on their back and say that it’s okay to feel that. Women have both of these types of experiences with us: sometimes it’s the same woman on the same day.
So back to the office, listening to the hesitant beginnings of the workshop. Music floating in, Clare dispensing wisdom and generally being the magician that she is. And then it happens. One of the women giggles. The mass exhale is almost audible. Another woman joins in with the giggling. All of a sudden, ten women are belly laughing. Make that eleven, with Clare, because she has no compunction about going wherever the rest of the group are going. You don’t usually hear any more questions after this. You hear paint and water splashing against canvas. You hear Clare running to the laptop to put Barry White on, because somehow she always knows when it’s the right time to put Barry White on. All of that hesitancy, all of that permission-seeking, all of that fear evaporates and right at that moment it starts to sound like friggin’ Glastonbury.
I am dying to come out of the office and go into that room with them, but this is a journey they are taking without me now. In a sense, my role is to wave them off into the unknown, and welcome them back when they return to the real world. I hear them all laughing at some filthy comment, and take it as a sign of progress that I’m not 100% sure who made it. Clare pretends to be shocked, just like she always does when these secretly wild women start to let their hair down in the gorgeous permissive space that is our studio.
I see these women at the opening circle, and I see them again at the closing circle, after all the paint has been put away and all tools downed. There’s an effect that I only half-jokingly call the Clare Campbell facelift. When they are given space and permission to be themselves, they go for it, and it erases the years and cares from their faces like magic. Most of the time, I come back in and it’s like seeing a gang of little girls, all grinning conspiratorially. The same thing happens when you meet one of your group in the street. There is a journey that you have taken together, and nobody else quite knows about it, because every group is different. You set sail to this place where everything is allowed, where we welcome your self-doubt, your cynicism, your filthy jokes, your love, your friendship. We welcome all of you whether it’s your worst or best self.
The exhibition on 13th March 2015 of the work produced at these workshops is going to be incredible.
Buy a ticket: prove to us that we aren’t the only people who think women in their entirety are beautiful.
This beautiful Blog Post is by Alison Clare
Big Love Sista www.biglovesista.com