As many of you know, I have more than one job.
This is partly by choice and partly by circumstance, because I’m in a bridging sort of state right now – reaching towards where I’d like to be – which is teaching online, writing, and doing Devotional Paintings full-time – but I’m not quite there yet, ‘there’ meaning financially sustainable enough to consistently pay for the costs of monthly bills, of raising a child on my own and for paying off my student loans swiftly.
So I do other jobs, and although I sometimes feel tired of ‘doing it all’ myself, I don’t actually mind the mix of jobs because I learn so much that leads me back towards this place here, of writing to you, sharing with you, and developing what I’ve learned into offerings for you.
One of the side jobs I’ve been learning the most from lately is carpentry. House building.
I grew up around this world – my father was a carpenter and my childhood home was always mid-renovation, rather than perfectly complete.
In fact, one of the many things I wanted to be when I grew up was a carpenter, so, for the past couple years, when I’ve needed steadier supplementary work, I’ve chosen carpentry, because the thought of doing indoor arts admin/marketing/production work on a computer all day – which I’ve done in the past and am good at – makes my heart clench and my jaws clamp together and my soul shriek ‘noooooo!’
And so, for the last four months in particular, I’ve been building houses with men, learning, growing, creating tangible concrete home spaces.
It feels so good, being outside, moving my body constantly, working and learning together as a team, sitting on truck tailgates eating lunch together, hearing stories and getting to know people in the strangely intimate ways of working side by side, bodies coordinated into effort, with minimal talking.
In the process of deepening into this physical construction work, I have become more grounded, more equipped to do healing work and more abstract projects, and I’ve been learning a few things that make a lot of sense in a truly embodied way.
There are unavoidable laws that must be followed in order to build a home that remains safe and upright, and these truths also apply to healing, to personal growth and to becoming whole.
1. Gravity is non-negotiable.
There are forces in this world that we are in relationship with, and it’s foolish to deny it. Gravity is one of them. Building a house involves a constant negotiation with the basic laws of gravity – alignment is everything. If you don’t design and build a house that is balanced and stacked up on itself appropriately, it will tilt, it will bend, buckle, fold, and eventually, or dramatically (depending on how deeply you’ve ignored the laws of gravity), it will fall down.
You ignore gravity at your peril because alignment is so important.
How our physical body is stacked up on itself determines how much energy flow we’ll have, how much grace we’ll have, and it also determines joint function (if you’re collapsing onto your joints, it’s harder for them to move and stay lubricated and support comfortable movement.)
How we organize our life routines, our daily habits, these are all stacked upon our belief systems and guiding values, and if we don’t take care, we will also bend, buckle, fold and collapse from misalignment.
2. The foundation is the most important thing.
It is what everything else rests on. To create a foundation for a house, you must build footings (the concrete blocks that the house itself rests on).
These footings are below ground after the house is built, so you can’t easily see them. However, they are exactly as they sound – a wider foot of concrete that the walls of the house rests on, which spreads out the weight of the house, so that as gravity pulls the house down, the house rests on and into the earth, rather than sinking through the earth.
And so. The foundation is the most important thing, and it must be built below the surface of the earth, on undisturbed ground.
Undisturbed ground can be understood as your core essence, the you that is under the layers of labels, traumas, ideas, thoughts and cultural conceptions of yourself. Undisturbed ground is the sweet and unique and soulful you.
As a metaphor for knowing yourself and healing yourself – the process starts with a willingness to dig deep, then build the foundation of your self on the core essence of who you are. You must be willing to unearth the layers obscuring this undisturbed ground so that your own foundation is fully supported.
3. When you build a house absolutely nothing is untouched. Real, human carpenter hands have touched everything. Nothing is unconsidered.
Look around the building or house you’re currently sitting it. Now consider that every last bit of the house, every last layer, top to bottom, from the inside to outside, has been thought about, decisions have been made, and hands, real human carpenter hands, have touched. Touched it all.
When we start down the path of rebuilding ourselves (whether it’s restoring health and love and sensation to our physical bodies as well as restoring a connection to our creativity, our ancestors, our cultures) healing ourselves requires constant, deliberate attention. Attention to every last element of our selves. Attention in the form of thought, of feeling, of inquiry.
This kind of attention, this kind of touch, is an act of love. It’s also an act of respect for the laws of nature. Gravity is essential, as is alignment.
Consider this: how can you restore yourself to wholeness without also examining and making decisions about how aligned you are, what your values are, who and where you come from, and what you’d like to become?
Imagine touching yourself into wholeness in the same way as a house is touched over and over again as it’s being built, bringing a quality of attention and care to the process.
This attention and touch is an act of love. Your loving desire to remove detritus, excavate, then rebuild with care and truth and in alignment.
4. There is a step-by-step process for everything required to build a house. Skipping these steps results in frustration and problems down the road.
There is no other way to build a home than to start doing it, each and every bit, step-by-step-by-step. It’s possible to get clever and skip steps because they don’t make sense at the time, or because you don’t have the knowledge to understand why things are done the way they are done, but building a home means accessing knowledge, skills and wisdom that already exists.
Building a home means you will feel flustered, make mistakes, and go through periods of drudgery. This is very similar to the healing process. The periods of time when we’re doing the work but not seeing results (although change is brewing during this phase) can feel so discouraging. And in these times, I know that I’ve been guilty of seeking out wholeness while trying to avoid the ‘work’ required to get there. However, we cannot bypass the process of step-by-step inquiry, of doing the steady daily, weekly and monthly self-care practices.
Because all of the step-by-step processes are not the annoying parts we seek to speed through, they are actually the annoying parts that are necessary to becoming whole. To building the home we want to live in. Healthy, strong, beautiful and whole.
Step-by-step requires faith in the vision of what you’re creating, faith in the process, and a commitment to showing up and doing the work, step by sometimes tiresome step.
5. Everything must be plumb and level. Because gravity rules.
Each and every stage requires double checking that things remain level, and correcting if it gets askew. There is no skipping this step.
As we seek out wholeness, we plumb and level ourselves by constantly referring back to our desire for health, for integrity, for wholeness. We use the morals and values that we’ve identified as our leveler. When we identify how we want to live, this is how we level ourselves, keeping things upright in our hearts, spirits and bodies.
6. We are all apprentices.
You can do it alone, trying to figure it out as you go along, but that’s a really tough path. Having a team is necessary, and learning how to support each other and ask for help makes everything flow faster.
In carpentry, everyone starts out as an apprentice, and they remain in this position for four years. When you’re a beginner, even if you’re self-educating as you go along, there is no way to know everything yourself. It’s just not possible.
The best thing to do is find very good, very experienced and trustworthy teachers, then apprentice yourself to them.
Trust that they will teach you, that they have the knowledge, and that even when it doesn’t make sense to you, their experience is the guide.
Trust too, in your own discernment. That you are able to recognize a good person and choose the right teacher for yourself, and that, if necessary, you can leave your apprenticeship and find a new one.
7. There are no shortcuts. Having said that, there are always tricks. For every technique, there is more than one trick that will save time and frustration.
These tricks are so hard to figure out on your own. They come with experience, and many people’s trial and error. Because of this, it truly helps to have a teacher.
It helps to be humble and become an apprentice. It helps to ask for help. And then your teacher(s) will be happy to share their time and energy saving tricks with you.
There is a generosity of spirit that comes with both sharing and receiving these shortcuts. Remember to express gratitude to the ones who see where and how you need help, then step in and offer relief, rather than watching you struggle.
8. Mistakes are inevitable. The most important skill to have is to accept that, then learn how to make mistakes with grace.
I’ve always liked knowing the ‘right’ way to do something, and felt a great deal of shame in getting it wrong, of not having figured it out before I made the mistake. The biggest lessons I’ve learned in carpentry is that it’s not possible to avoid mistakes and that even experienced carpenters make mistakes quite regularly.
The most important skill is not being perfect and avoiding mistakes. It’s learning how to recover from the mistakes, own your role in making them, and not beat yourself up about it. It’s becoming resilient and accepting that mistake-making happens and letting others make mistakes without blaming and shaming them (because you know it’ll be your turn next before you know it).
Mistakes happen. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Just fix it. Carry on.
Allow the grace of humility, but remember it’s ok to joke about the humourous missteps too.
Make your mistakes then carry on. Don’t let a fear of mistakes stop you from trying, and trying again.
These lessons are so transferable to healing. Don’t beat yourself up about it. We have an abiding desire for wholeness and pleasure, yet we often stumble around seeking it out in awkward, confused and mistake-ridden ways. It’s ok. Don’t fret, don’t worry, just get yourself back into right relationship with gravity/your values, and carry on.
9. There is a tool for everything. Absolutely everything. It’s simply a matter of choosing the right tool for the right job.
And, if you don’t think tools are that important, I dare you to try to build a house without the right tools.
I never had enough respect for tools, until I started doing carpentry work. The right tool often ensures the task takes one minute instead of 10. One person instead of 3. 1 day instead of 4.
Tools are beautiful and amazing expressions of human ingenuity, and are meant to be used. So use them. Use the right ones. You’ll be amazed at how much faster the tasks go with the right tool at hand.
Just make sure you don’t get seduced by all the tools out there. Be choosy. Know which tools are essential everyday, which ones are useful, and which ones are just fun to play with. Leave the rest behind, or borrow them instead of buying them.
As in housebuilding, so in healing work. Our tools for wholeness are our self-care practices, which vary depending on each person’s needs.
Healing tools always include some of these elements: mental hygiene (meditation for example), physical health (exercise and movement of some sort) and soul health (the things that spark depth and joy). Other tools include your community, healthy people, and food. Healers that can guide and support you (for example, shamans, massage, acupuncture, counselors, coaches, osteopaths, etcetera).
How you refine these self-care practices are found in your specialized tools. Like building a house, healing yourself into beauty, joy and wholeness requires a greater vision (the architectural drawings of the completed house), a lot of steadiness on the path, doing the step-by-step tasks with patience and faith, allowing for mistakes and resilience in the face of mistakes, and finding good teachers and guides while accessing the right tools.
10. And then one day you look and and discover that where there was once just a hole in the ground/gash in your spirit, there is a freestanding house. Beautiful, complete, and welcoming.
The door opens, and there you are, inhabiting the self you always knew was there, under layers of sadness, rage, trauma, fatigue, frustration and overwhelm.
There you are. Solid, rooted, glowing with warmth and beauty, inviting the rest of your life and your world in to warm their toes at your always-burning ever-loving hearth. You are home.
In this house-building way, you become whole and beloved of yourself, while traveling down your path of healing. In fact, doing the work while you’re on the path is the only way.
Twice a year I run Personal Mythmaking, an 11-week course and circle for people who are committed to knowing who they are, what and where they come from, for people who are longing to feel so deeply rooted on such a powerful foundation that they will be unruffled by life’s circumstances.
This is your own work of housebuilding. Soulbuilding.
Personal Mythmaking is a small and intimate course (no more than 20 people), in which I’m devoted to providing you with tools and skills with which to deepen your own inner knowing, your creativity, and your connection to your body.
In our 11 weeks together we mix weekly themes with playful storytelling/fairytales, embodied anatomy prompts, creative writing prompts and videocalls until, by the end of it, you’ll also have written a 12,000+ first draft of your memoir, a reworked story of yourself, and your life.
This work is my life’s work, all combined. I have such a passion for working with people in groups, drawing out the threads of power, joy and pain, and sharing ways to alchemize these human experiences into gold. Into beauty. Into wholeness.
I draw together my background in creative writing, painting and dance with my hands-on bodywork training and practice (Hellerwork Structural Integration) and the very practical skills of carpentry into a joyful and unique course.
If you have questions, please do get in touch to inquire. Or, if you’re curious about signing on but want answers, I’m also happy to chat (free, of course) via telephone or skype. I can also set up personalized payment plans for you, please just ask.
Mandy T. from Canada has this to say about Personal Mythmaking:
“Janelle is a conscious and thoughtful teacher/facilitator and she has developed a course that is abundant with opportunities for personal exploration, insights and new ways of understanding one’s life story and personal themes.
It helped me to unify many aspects of my personal past (lots of “ah -ha” moments) that inform who I am in the present.
I think anyone could take this class and get something out of it. Well worth it and very enjoyable.”