By Susan Crozier
In 1996, I was 42-years-old and our family relocated to a new state. I was experiencing a difficult time of loneliness, anxiety and a loss of camaraderie. The outer landscape was beautiful but my interior one was a dark wood. "What direction will lead me out of this wood?"
That year, Sunbridge College in Spring Valley, NY, was starting a new program called Biography and Adult Learning (now called Biography and Social Art).nMy motivation for attending was to seek respite, be with like minded people, and experience new ways of learning. Biographical work was the vehicle.
This was not a didactic program but an experiential one. There were surprising admonishments to stop thinking and analyzing and to, "be in the process." I wasn’t prepared to experiment with different artistic media such as clay modeling and watercolor painting. Some participants were wonderful artists, writers and singers while others, like me, were beginners.
It was an experience of discovery through the senses and the heart.
My learning curve was slow but steady. The course supported me in the discipline of journal writing and the courage to take small steps.
By the age of 50 I had to return to the Midwest to live. I took courage and offered an eight-week course in order to meet people and share a bit of what I had learned in the biography training. Together we explored the cycle of the year, a fairy tale study, and the four elements through artistic media.
The 50s are bittersweet for most people, myself included. A destiny event of breast cancer the following year humbled me greatly. Healing modalities were my top concerns, but always hovering was the need to face fear and also to design my own quality of life.
Each day we discern and make many small choices to build quality life experiences.
Each day we discern and make many small choices to build quality life experiences. Sometimes the decisions are from intuition, other times they arise out of a path of conscious self-development. More often it is suffering that wakes us up to what is important and becomes the incentive to make choices and changes for quality of life.
When I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer at 55 it was a now or never decision to enter into biographical work with a small committed group.
We began with seven-year phases of biography, each person making a life collage. When we studied the Parsifal legend for six months, each participant had to present a character of the story. We worked with questions, insights, and reflections. The next course was evolution of consciousness through art and music, and recently we concluded a year-long study of fairy tales. This was one of the most rewarding studies and concluded six years of working together. We experienced much growth of skills and depth in our work.
...biography and social art work has given me experiences and tools to see in a different way.
I have found that the biography and social art work has given me experiences and tools to see in a different way. The quality of the experiences has kept building over time and given me confidence and soul courage that I have tried to share with others.
Presently my life work has crested in a huge wave that turns back on itself in reflection and review. Recently I read a quote by Mark Nepo: “Our continual quest is to stay more renewed than devoured and our chief task is to gain enough from what is revealed, to survive the pain of such opening.” This pretty well describes my own cancer journey and initiation. We are all Parsifals losing and finding our way. My willfulness has transformed into willingness. I have seen that much of life’s wisdom is gained through struggle and hard work. Suffering is bearable when we can be a witness for and hold the hand of another through physical, emotional, and or mental challenges.
I do something small like listening to the birds or water flowing, caring for plants, drawing a single leaf or praying for others and the dead.
Every day I quiet myself, centering as best I can. I do something small like listening to the birds or water flowing, caring for plants, drawing a single leaf or praying for others and the dead. Doing what brings you joy is the antidote to fear and suffering. It creates a space for grace and new possibilities. Each season I make a list of what I can still do and make small goals. My wise teacher once said, “Never fix the future.”
In gratefulness and trust let’s hold each others hands. Let’s seek quality of life the best we can.
Susan Crozier lives in the Ohio heartland with her husband Brad of 37 years and is the mother of three grown children. She has been a health educator and a certified physician assistant in obstetrics with many interests in alternative health modalities. She graduated from Sunbridge College Biography and Social Art in 2000 and has pursued her interests in therapeutic arts,gardening, and anthroposophy.
Learn more about the Center for Biography and Social Art visit www.biographysocialart.org.
POSTSCRIPT: Since Ms. Crozier’s 2009 metastatic diagnosis, she has pursued allopathic treatments and holistic modalities. She reports that her bones and muscles are succumbing to the cancer which makes mobility difficult. She highly recommends a new book, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalithini (January 2016). She describes it as “a beautiful Parzival journey of a young doctor who becomes diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. It is a description how he made choices for the last months or years he had left. has life questions to lead him to that meditative question: How did my life become what it is? His empathy on walking the path with his patients through the eye of the needle of illness meant so much to me as I myself am approaching death. I am ever so grateful to have had a long time to prepare. My own children are in medical fields. My greatest wish is that they have the capacities to make the practice of medicine holy and as Kalithini says to help take up the cross and not get crushed by the weight.” Please keep Ms. Crozier is your thoughts and prayers.