Today I’m chatting with Grace Quantock, an award-winning wellness expert, coach, author, and motivational speaker.
Grace is currently living – and thriving – with often debilitating illness and knows, firsthand, the emotional and physical rollercoaster that accompanies diagnosis and life struggles. Because of that, she’s founded the Phoenix Fire Academy, Trailblazing Wellness and Healing Boxes, to help people live and thrive with debilitating illnesses.
She lives in the valleys of Wales and loves reading, gardening and early mornings. She firmly believes that life is meant to be celebrated, and has made it her mission to help others do just that …joyfully and on their own terms.
It is such a treat to share my conversation with her today – her storytelling and gentle thoughtful nature shine through in our conversation.
Enjoy our ramble through the Welsh fairytale The Lady of the Lake and the Physicians of Myddfai and Grace’s relationship with her body and creativity (full transcript at the end of this post).
Things we chatted about in this episode:
- the Welsh fairytale The Lady of the Lake and the Physicians of Myddfai
- the Brecon Beacons mountain range
- The Welsh words for Gramma and Grampa
- the Welsh tradition of Bards
- on navigating the bounds of safety as a woman in relationships
- on being grounded and present in a landscape with ancient history
- on believing in ritual and daily magic
- on exploring the land and history of where you live
- on being a steward and guardian of the land you’re living on
- on how people are hurt/judged for having what are called ‘wrong’ reactions
- relationship with creativity
- on having a creative practice and then going into the head and getting sick, letting go of creative work
- on doing The Artist’s Way and the reading deprivation week
- how not reading led to space for writing
- doing intuitive painting, reclaiming creativity
- on not reading stuff on the internet
- on doing a digital detox (how reading about doing things is deceptive)
- following a ‘create before consume’ philosophy
- relationship with body
- it’s a beautiful work in progress
- on how to come home to the body when it’s a place of chronic pain
- learning how to read a finely tuned instrument/body
- how to be with body when the habit is to check out and dissociate
- how to make the body safe enough to stay in it
- how to go deeper into the body and have joy in it
- how Marion Woodman’s writing inspires Grace to stay with the body and the process
- how medicalizing bodies makes the person feel like a diagnosis instead of a person
Resources from this episode:
- Grace’s essay: The Girl Who Walked Into Walls
- Marion Woodman
- Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way
- Flora Bowley
- Kelly Rae Roberts
- Shiloh Sophia McLeod
- Digital Detox with Brooke Snow
Connecting with Grace:
Connecting with Janelle:
Reciprocity & Appreciation
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Janelle: This is the Wild Elixir podcast and I’m Janelle Hardy.
Embodiment, creative fire and deep inner knowing. Here on this show I explore these topics with my guests by asking three questions: What is your relationship to your body, to your creativity? And what is your favorite fairy tale? And that’s what makes this a wild elixir. It’s the magic potion-making process of coming alive in ourselves as women, by getting wilder, more creative and more connected. We swirl all those ingredients together and ooh-la-la! We create an elixir of magic, our own life potion.
As someone who’s been on a life long journey to feel alive in my body, to shift out of creative block and to get more in tune with my intuition, as well as our collective unconscious via ancient stories and mythology. I feel most inspired when I encounter kindred spirits. In this podcast, I have conversations with women from all sorts of backgrounds, but what they all have in common is the curiosity about life, a love of stories, and the desire to feel alive and whole. It’s always fascinating, inspiring and profound.
Welcome to episode seven of Wild Elixir.
Today, I’m chatting with Grace Quantock, an award-winning wellness expert coach, author and motivational speaker. She’s been nominated for Britain’s Top Real Role Model and is a multiple award winner of the Great British Entrepreneur Awards of twenty fifteen.
Grace is currently living and thriving with often debilitating illness and knows firsthand the emotional and physical rollercoaster that accompanies diagnoses and life struggles. Because of that, she’s founded The Phoenix Fire Academy, trailblazing wellness and healing boxes to help people live and thrive with debilitating illnesses. She lives in the valleys of Wales, and loves reading, gardening and early mornings. She firmly believes that life is meant to be celebrated, and has made it her mission to help others do just that-joyfully and on their own terms.
It is such a treat to share my conversation with her today. Her storytelling and gentle thoughtful nature shine through.
Grace: Hi! It’s so wonderful to be here.
Janelle: Oh, likewise. So, right now, I’m sitting in my little studio, in my little small town in Vancouver Island, and outside the front door is bright and sunny, which is uncommon for the season that we’re in, it’s usually a lot more grey and rainy, but, I’m grateful for the sunshine. And you are not in the same place that I am, so I’m really curious about where you are, and what your surroundings are like.
Grace: Mm, yes, I am not in the same place. I am in Wales, in the United Kingdom, I am also in my own studio there, and it is been, it’s very autumnal at the moment, we have a lot of mists happening, so when we’re going out and looking at all the fruit trees in the garden that are bending, and their branches are bowing with the weight of the fruit that I need to go out and pick, I’ve got such a rich harvest. And there’s all the gates and the farms and things that are covered in spider’s webs, and all the spider’s webs.
Janelle: Oh, wow.
Grace: They’re kind of jewelled with dew, so when you’re up really early to ride and feed the horses, and you just see all the kind of, the spider’s webs and the dew everywhere, so it looks really really magical when the sunshine is out.
Janelle: Oh, neat. Oh, and I have to confess to some envy, because, I’ve always wanted to go to Wales, my, um… On my dad’s side we have Welsh ancestry. And, in fact, when I had my daughter, he felt too young to be a grandfather, I think he was forty-two or something like that. So, he decided since his grandmother was very much oriented around being Welsh, even though, even though she was born in the States, that he would pick the Welsh name for grandpa, for my daughter to use with him.
Grace: Ah! Ooh, that’s so beautiful!
Janelle: And I hope he got it right! So my daughter always called him her tadcu.
Grace: Yes! Tadgi, yes.
Janelle: Ok. (laughter)
Grace: Yes, yes, yes, exactly, tadgi and mamgi, yes.
Janelle: Mamgi? Oh, ok.
Grace: Mamgi, yes, grandma, yeah. (laughter) Well I wanted to say croeso, welcome! (laughter)
Janelle: So, here we are, and I just wanna hear all about your favorite fairy tale.
Grace: So excited for this question. And, you know, I thought at the start, what on earth am I going to pick, I’m sure everybody thinks that. Because you know I have so many that I love. And I’ve thought of one that I’ve been working with more recently like I’ve been working with this story with Persephone, and um, with Inanna and Erishkegal and the underworld stories, I thought no, you know, I’m gonna pick something Welsh. And so then I went to the Mabinogion, the Welsh book of legends, the gods. And, then I thought well no, I wanna pick something that I had for when I was a child, you know? That’s really really from around me and from around where I’m from. And it’s my favorite, even though I heard it so many times, is the Lady of the Lake and the Physicians of Myddfai. So…
Janelle: Physicians of…?
Grace: Of Myddfai. It’s um, which I can spell for you. It is, just, I was looking…M-Y-D-D-F-A-I. Because the d, the double d is a letter on its own in the Welsh alphabet. And it makes a sound.
Janelle: Ooh, interesting. Oh, ok.
Grace: So you pronounce it with moth, like a mother, and v as in like, v.e. So, moth-ve.
Grace: That’s it! You’ve got it! (laughter)
Janelle: So, two… Two Welsh fairy tales, yes? Aha..
Grace: Oh, no, no! It’s all same one.
Janelle: Lady of the lake, Physicians…?
Grace: And the Physicians of Myddfai. It’s all, it’s all one. And, cause I live now, and was born on the edge of a mountain range called the Brecon Beacons, which is a huge mountain range. And we were there, we went into it no too long ago, we actually saw the northern lights.
Grace: Because, there was a lot of, um, solar activity in it, and it was just beautiful! And there’s a legend there on the lake of Llyn Y Fan Fach, which means the lake of the small beacon hill. Llyn Y Fan Fach. And, I can share it with you if you’d like.
Janelle: Yes, please!
Grace: Okay. So there was once a young farmhand. And he was sent to graze the sheep around, on the edges, and the slopes of the Black mountain, which overlooked Llyn Y Fan Fach, the lake. And, his mother packed him a lunch, and he was sent off with the sheep to watch them if they grazed. And, this was a little bit of boring work. And so he does not always paying as much attention to the sheep as we might like, a young farmhand to pay to his sheep.
But, he gazed out over the lake and he watched the sun playing across the water. And, then one day, he saw suddenly, startlingly, amazingly, a beautiful, graceful lady rising up from the water. And her hair was dark as the freshly plowed soil of the fields. And her hands were as white as a cloud’s in the sky above. And her eyes were rich green. Like the mountains that surrounded them. So the young man was massively taken with this lady and he immediately fell in love with her and wanted to know her more, was very excited to have seen her, standing in the lake. And her beauty and her grace, and her wonderfulness overwhelmed any concerns he had as to why the woman was appearing from the lake.
But then you must remember this was also a time when, there had been towns that sunk into the water and you could still hear the church bells from the sunken towns on the edge of the shore, so, it was a time which, it was recognized, the veil between the worlds, and the old gods walked much more frequently among the land, since these things were much more understood.
So, young man saw the lady and he, he said to her, he greeted her, he said prynhawn da, and a good afternoon to you. And he offered her his lunch. He offered to share some of his bara, his bread and his caws, his cheese. And, the lady said no. Negyddu. She said that, your bread is coloured, it’s too hard, it’s too hard for me, I don’t want this bread. And she immediately disappeared beneath the waters of the lake. And so, the young man was, you know, desperately sad, and so he went home, he took his sheep and he said to his mother, I have seen the woman that I want to marry. And I offered her my bread and my cheese, and I said, would you like to share it with me? And she said no, it’s too hard. So the next day his mother sent him with a small lump of unbaked dough. And he waited at the edge of the lake, and in the middle of the day, the woman rose again, and he quickly came and he said hoffech chi rannu fy bara, would you like to share my bread? He’s brought this bread for her again and she said no! Negyddu, no this bread is too soft. And then again, she disappeared instantly beneath the waters of the lake, so this poor young man, this young, he has tried, he’s been wooing this woman…And he’s, you see the dedication.
And, so he went back again to his mother, and the poor mother was now, to bakes, what did she do? She lightly baked a loaf. And you know when you bake bread you need to bake it, so you tap the bottom, and if you can hear the echo on the bottom of the bread it should sound hollow. So she baked it, so that, so little a time that that didn’t happen, it’s very soft.
And the young man once again, he took his sheep back to the lake, and the lady rose from the lake. And he greeted her, and he offered her his bread. And the bread was acceptable. And they broke the bread and shared and pledged their troth together and so fell in love.
And the next day the young man came back and a boat arose from the waters of the lake. Containing an old man and two identical women. The old man was the father of the woman that young farmhand had fallen in love with. And he said if you can tell which of my two daughters is the one you are in love with, then you can take her hand in marriage.
Wow. What’s the young man to do? He has met her three times, he’s barely spoken to her, and the daughters were silent, they couldn’t speak. They weren’t allowed to give him no sign and no signal. And he was losing hope and he didn’t know what to do and then one, suddenly, one of the daughters moved her foot, and he recognized the pattern on her slipper. And the long green dress she wore. And so he chose her, and he won her hand in marriage.
But before she left the lake, and before they were married, she was given a warning. That if he hurts his bride, if he hits her, three times, then she will leave. Never to return. And she will take all his hope, and all his riches with her. And of course the young man pledged yes, yes! I’m not going to this, no, I love her! I shall not hit her, I shall not harm her, I shall love and protect her. And so she left the lake and they married. And they prospered, they grew rich and happy, the young man’s sheep grew fat and healthy, his rams were strong and good, they were bred far and wide, and he became well known and prosperous in the district.
But, the wife had, what he would have called funny ways. She was not a human woman, she was one of the good Folk. And so, she would cry at a christening. And she would laugh at a funeral, and mourn and repent at a wedding. And so, the man, now the farmer of the farmstead, forgetting his promise, hit her three times.
Now, some stories say that, they excuse him. And they say these are love taps. I do not recognize the concept of a love tap. And some have said that he, they, he touched her back with a pair of gloves, or that she was in hysteria, and he kind of touched her to wake her up from it…But hitting is never okay. And he hit her three times, the first time she reminded him of the promise, and forgave him.
But he did it again, and he did it three times. And she left. And as she walked from the farm, every sheep, every cow, every calf. Every lamb, every hen, every chick, every duck. Every goose, pig, horse and pony followed her. They followed her down off the farm, down the black mountain, down, down into the deep dark waters of the lake. And the farmer was left with nothing except their three sons, which they had had during their prosperous years.
And although the mother never came again to the father, she would come out of the lake and emerge out of the waters. And support her sons, and with their mother’s magic they grew up to become great physicians. In fact, they grew up to become the physicians of Myddfai.
And now, this is said, in Wales, to be the beginning of modern medicine. They became famous doctors, they were instructed by her, and Rhivallon, one of the sons went to the court of Rhys Gryg. And, where they became the famous doctors. And much medicine now is based on what they did. And some people believe that the myth of Llyn Y Fan Fach, the lady, the lady of this lake, gave rise to another famous tale which is the Arthurian legend of the lady of the lake and Excalibur. And so that is the story of the Lady of the Lake and the Physicians of Myddfai.
Janelle: Wow. You are such a beautiful storyteller, I was absolutely enchanted.
Grace: Thank you. Well you see I come, I must say, I come by storytelling honestly. In Wales there is the, have you come across the Bards?
Janelle: Um, yes.
Grace: So we have the Eisteddfod, where we have, um, people play music and they tell stories, and there is the bard there, the concept of the secret storyteller. And so to be a bard is, um, it’s the great responsibility in honouring within it. So it’s, the Celtic has an oral tradition, and it’s to be the memory holder to your people and to carry the medicine, the oath, the transformation and the tales and to carry those words out to others. So, it’s something that I am very much a small miniature, apprentice of. But then, I love…
Janelle: Oh, well thank you for your apprenticing because I got to benefit from it. (laughter)
Grace: Thank you.
Janelle: So I’m really curious about why this is your favourite fairy tale.
Grace: I think it’s because, well firstly I heard it so many times as a child. And secondly, because I’m interested so much in healing through my own work, and through, um, just growing up in a way where we… I don’t know, we don’t use things like plasters and antiseptic and things, we would use herbs. And, now sometimes when I tell people these things, it sounds bizarre, like a friend of mine recently, as I was telling him what I did in my week, and I said well you know my grandma she walked through the woods to collect the eggs and then she met her neighbour and she was telling me about that, and then my husband was cleaning the chimney, and he said Grace, you live in the past. (laughter) He said, it’s like a different world! But it kind of is. Um, and I, you know, so I really cherish, um, that aspect of it and how it links to my history and how that history and the power of using the herbs and of the magic comes out through today.
Janelle: Would you say you identify more with the, the brothers, the physicians or a different character in the story?
Grace: I probably would identify with the lady in the lake.
Janelle: Aha. How so?
Grace: Being a woman. In the story. And being, um, having my own personal history, being um, having I guess, you know, tolerance for violence. And not being open to, um, too rationalizing or justifying other people’s violence or explaining it away, or minimising it, and instead saying no, that’s not ok, and I’m gonna take the actions I need to do to keep myself safe.
Janelle: M-hm. Yes, um, for example it’s quite forceful and clear. There are consequences.
Janelle: And there’s no way around those consequences.
Grace: And for both of them. Because who knows if she wanted to leave. Maybe she wanted to stay, maybe she wanted the marriage to continue. But her husband couldn’t stay within the, or wouldn’t stay within the realms of safety. And wouldn’t keep the boundaries and so she had to remove herself.
Janelle: Is there anything else that speaks to you in that fairy tale?
Grace: I would say…How grounded it is within reality. So like it’s certain Carmarthenshire. And there’s a village of Myddfai in Carmarthenshire where people are now still setting up businesses selling herbal treatments based..
Janelle: Oh really? (laughter)
Grace: Yeah. Based on the Red Book of Hergest, which is now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, um, in which there are some of the, the physicians’, um, remedies. And recipes. So, it’s very grounded, you know, it’s like, I live near those mountains. We spent time there as children, there’s literally the actual lake that’s there. So it’s all very present, which I resonate with because I think too often we’ve, almost mythologised the myths.
Janelle: Well, I think you’re right. It’s uncommon to, to have a tangible connection to the origins of such an ancient story.
Grace: I mean, yes, some of it we’re talking like eleventh century.
Grace: So yeah, that’s what I cherish, is, is that connection. And I guess resonate with it because I do believe in the power of story and magic in our everyday lives. And that, although I do believe in, in rituals, in sacredness in liminal space and sacred space, I also believe in kind of like hedge magic, so like, almost practicing things day to day, and it becoming a part of lives, which I also like because the physicians, you know they weren’t, it wasn’t archaic sacred rituals which nobody else were allowed to know, then they were taught things, and then they taught other people things, and it’s very accessible. And very practical. And so, they’re all things which I really really value, I value these things actually being embodied and real, rather than just, um, philosophies or kind of, analyses, or head based stuff that we make up. And it all stays in the head and it never actually comes without doubting the matter into the present. Well…
Janelle: Neat. Yeah, you’re saying things that I have thought about but hadn’t quite put into words…
Grace: Thank you.
Janelle: This sense of having embodied and real stories, um, and I think it’s interesting to being someone with ancestral roots in so many different places. To none of which I live in, to kind of go down that pathway of thinking, what if I were in the places where I come from where the stories come from, whichever of those ones I were to choose from, you know? How would that feel? It’s really neat to hear your experience of what I’ve wondered about.
Grace: Thank you. It’s something which, because, my roots, you know, are very clear, like I can’t claim a lot of different ancestries, I have Welsh ancestry and Irish ancestry and it’s pretty clear. You know, and English, you know, all very, very, all kind of, British Isles, you know it’s very, very, clear down the line. Um, but, because I lived here all my life and I haven’t travelled a great deal, some ways because of living with health challenges has meant that travel can be very, very challenging, and hasn’t been what I’ve chosen to spend my energy, in some ways because I do love this country so much, and I like deepening my relationship with it, and, I kind of feel that, I don’t want to explore anywhere else, until I’ve actually fully explored where I am.
And so, I’ve, you know, really researched and explored where I live. So I know the land my house is built on. And I know what was here before it, I know what was here before that. And I know what’s been here for a long time. And I know the history of where I’m from, and it’s very um, it’s very grounded, you know? It’s, and it and it very much helps me to honour this land because, I’m just guarding it you know? It’s, I’m just helping to be a steward of it, and that’s a great honour. But that is something that I also admire is, many people who can pull in so many different threads. I think it’s a wonderful, um, resilience and lineage to be able to draw on. I think sometimes people think, people talk about the Celtic traditions and they kinda say what if I’m not living in that land? I thought I’d really appreciate that, but you are living on some land, so what about the land you are living on? What does that land need?
Janelle: Yeah. Yeah. Those are, those are definitely questions that people are starting to wake up to, in North America, in Canada, you know, the land that we’re living on, being stolen land, having had stewards who were snatched away from their own land, stories that have been cultivated for centuries as well, that are slowly being claimed and then the place of us, who are here by circumstance, because of usually what our ancestors chose. Yeah, it’s very interesting. One thing that came up for me when you, told the story was, uh, the parallels to the Selkie story.
Grace: That’s another one of my favourites! I did consider that one!
Janelle: But it seemed…Yeah! It’s one of my favourites too. And again, with the Selkie she comes out of the water, or she’s, well she’s trapped into her marriage, but they had an agreement that he would give her her skin back, and he didn’t. And, and then the consequences were when she found her skin she was gone forever. Back into the water. So, that’s, I’m curious about that, those parallels as well.
Grace: I think, I don’t know I mean, I’m reflecting, I think, that there’s something about um, the gifts that are given, or the gifts that arrive. And if they’re not honoured, they’re taken away forever. There’s something about there not really being…Uh…Them being so powerful that there’s not room for complacency or um, or pride, and it being you know really serious, high-stakes. But then that’s already in our own relationship with the Earth. There, there’s not room for complacency.
Janelle: You’re right. That’s true. If we view the Earth as the Lady of the Lake or the Salkie, that changes what I think about my own actions with the Earth.
Grace: And I also think there’s something around our feminine and our wild nature. And the parts of us that don’t fit into society. Because, you know, the lady of the lake, she laughed, and she cried, at like, you know like you know, and would make comments at the wrong times, and then was punished. And maybe she didn’t want to live in a society which wouldn’t tolerate her. And it’s just reminds, it just makes me think about nowadays how, sometimes people who are in different places on the neurodiverse spectrum, are, you know, hurt or judged for having what are called, um, wrong reactions or emotions…
Grace: So something around that.
Janelle: Well, that’s very fascinating too. So, it kind of leads into my next topic, which is relationship to the body. Especially as women. So what is your relationship to your body like?
Grace: My relationship to my body is a beautiful work in progress. (laughter)
Janelle: Tell me more.
Grace: Well I actually have an essay on this on my website which I think is called The girl who walked into walls.
Janelle: Into walls?
Grace: Into walls, yeah. Like, walking into walls. Because, it’s very, it’s… Hm, it kind of goes two ways. So, on the one hand, I’ve always had this connection to myth and story, and to the natural world. And, kind of like, um, being, there’s a concept of being a border-lander, which is someone that’s, you know, kind of between the two worlds, very much straddling that. And, I do have, which is, you know, not necessarily fun. It, it can involve a lot of sensitivity, environmental sensitivity, and… But it also comes with a lot of gifts. And um, things which are, I don’t know I was at a lecture once and they were talking about you know human relationships with non-human animals. And they were talking about somebody saying they had a bit fonder relationship, a friendship, with a very very large crocodile. And the whole room was kind of Gosh! That’s amazing! And I had to go outside and ring my husband cause I was feeling really freaked out and I was like, is it just me is, there something wrong with me? Cause, my first thought is, if you spend a lot of time with a crocodile, what’s wrong with you that you wouldn’t form a relationship to it? Do you in some way believe crocodiles are incapable of relationships? In the way that people used to believe.
I’m gonna mention something triggering here about past abuses of different people. So, just trigger warning to anyone listening. Um, how people used to believe that people of colour didn’t feel like white people did, or people used to believe that disabled people didn’t feel like non-disabled people, and some people still believe those things. End trigger warning.
And so, I kind of, you know, my relationships with the animals in my life are, as my relationships with the human animals in my life. Um, and I couldn’t really imagine it otherwise. I wouldn’t like to, it is what it is and it’s very normal to me. Um, so it was very weird for me to hear a lot of people talking about that stuff as though it, might happen one day, and it’s, it was like saying there are these things called, um, knives. And like, one day you might see one, it’s like, well they’re in the drawer there every day, it’s like a completely normal thing. (laughter) They’re not like a myth, it’s just what you use to cut the bread, it’s just totally normal. So, but I really appreciate that if you were seeking such a thing, then that lecture was exactly where you needed to be and that’s fantastic, it just wasn’t where I needed to be. Um, so it’s definitely been that connection, which is very embodied, but, also being due to you know, some life circumstances, experiences and traumatic experiences, I, you know, had a lot of dissociation.
So I left my body. You know, pretty early. And that’s why I used to walk into walls. Because I didn’t know where the edges of my body were, because I wasn’t in it. So I had no spatial awareness. So I would just knock into things all the time cause I didn’t know where I was, cause I wasn’t there. Like when I first went to drive a car, I just hit things all the time. Because…
Janelle: Oh my. (laughter)
Grace: All the time. All the time. To the point, when the driving instructor actually asked me to stop learning.
Janelle: Oh, wow.
Grace: Yeah. After like a lot of lessons, I really wish he’d worked it out sooner. (laughter) Only because I just hit everything, my constant preoccupation was where the edges of the car were, because of course, I didn’t know where my edges were. And so I’ve been working on coming back to my body but how do you come back to a body if, like sometimes, if somebody’s had a car accident, they only struggle maybe to drive past the site of the car accident, the trauma site. Well what happens if the trauma occurred in your body? You know, how do you come back to that? Which is what my work has been about, and a lot of what I support people in my work through the Phoenix Fire Academy, about how we’ve learnt to live well and come home, if home has historically not been safe or not been pleasant or maybe is still full of chronic pain.
Janelle: So, this work in progress being in relationship to your body. Where are you in it? In the progress part?
Grace: I suppose I’m on a journey. So, I think I’m more embodied now than I am not embodied. And like, I’m studying for the counseling, um, I’m doing a diploma. And so, when I was doing counseling, you know you can do skills, practice in groups in class. And when somebody who had never met me before was working with me. And afterwards, their reflection on it was, they said, you seem to do it all from your body. You don’t seem to think about anything, you seem to be doing all of the reflecting and the work with projection and transference, you seem to be doing everything through your body. That’s awesome, that’s my intention, it’s to, learn how to read what seems to be an incredibly finely tuned instrument that responds incredibly sensitively to, a lot of things that’s the borderlander part. So then how to read and how to be with it even when it hurts, even when things hurt, even when I hurt. Even when my you know, my neural pathways and my habit would be to just check out and just check out and dissociate. How do I find my way home? And then stay. And then make it safe so that I can stay. And that’s kind of been a lot of my work, and I think a lot of my work now is… How to go deeper with it. So it goes to the next layer, now we’ve kind of got past a lot of the crisis stuff. You know, now, how do I, how do I have joy in it?
Janelle: Interesting. So, you described being completely dissociated to the point where you didn’t even have a sense of your edges. To, what, what you just said sounds like very much connected to being in your body, responding from your body, to the point where other people comment on it. And, uh, and now your intent is to find joy.
Janelle: Through your body or in your body?
Grace: With my body.
Janelle: With your body. Yeah. That seems to me like an incredible amount of work has gone into that transformation. (laughter)
Grace: Yup, but joyous work and necessary work, and I have, when, when we talked about body, and I had a few thoughts which I wanted to…
Janelle: Yes, please.
Grace: Thank you. Um, so I love this, this quote from Marion Woodman who you may have come across, I think she was, on the old Vancouver Island for some time.
Janelle: What’s her name again?
Grace: Marion Woodman.
Janelle: Oh, goodness, I love her, yeah.
Grace: Oh, yes, I know, right? So, it’s, the one I love is this is your body, your greatest gift, pregnant with wisdom you do not hear. Grief you thought was forgotten and joy you have never known. And in terms of the work, she says if you can listen to the wisdom of your body, love this flesh and bone, dedicate yourself to its mystery. You may one day find yourself smiling from your mirror. So that, yeah, inspires me to stay with the process. And with the work. And it helps to acknowledge that it is work. It helps me to acknowledge that.
Janelle: Yeah, there’s no shame in work.
Grace: Yeah. And you know, in many ways, lots of work has been done on me, to, to the detriment of my relationship with my body, some of this has been from media and society which tell me my body isn’t acceptable or isn’t suitable. Some of it has been unintentional through the medicalization of my body, so when I was first diagnosed with various illnesses, when I first became ill when I was thirteen, um, feeling you know, when I was eighteen, having a lot of tests and things like that, feeling like I’d lost a lot of my identity.
And my connection with my body, because it seemed like I wasn’t a me anymore, I was a diagnosis. And I was just, kind of a moving diagnosis with what was left of a person dragging behind it, because everybody was more interested in the illnesses then they were in me. And there wasn’t a lot of space for me in their boxes, and there wasn’t a lot of space what my body wanted, and needed and enjoyed, and you know the assessments of what your body can and can’t do. And whether we’re going to give you any money based on that. Whether you’re going to be able to eat, based on that. The really, this is the funny thing is, when we were talking about Welsh, so, I know, I don’t know what in, with you they call like, whatever department pays government benefits to sickness benefits, but in Britain it’s called the department work and pensions. And the acronym, the acronym is the DWP, it’s what everyone calls them, they’re the DWP, but the thing is, in Welsh, DWP, dwp is slang for stupid.
Janelle: Oh no.
Grace: Yeah. (laughter) They are not the friendliest of government departments.
Grace: So, that’s why I find it kind of funny. It’s because, if they were lovely, you would never mention it, but we find it kind of funny that, um, cause they’re, they’re not our favourite people, bless their sweet hearts. (laughter)
Janelle: So, what would joy in your body look like? Or feel like I should say?
Grace: Yes, um, I think it would feel, well so many different things, this is the problem, not the problem that this is hard to answer, so in some way I think it feels like freedom. In another way I think it feels like presence. In other way it can feel like connection, like just being in touch and holding, so holding with whatever I have and whatever I am. I kind of think, I do have a lot of work with horses, and it’s kind of how I feel when I’m with the horses, that’s probably what joy in my body feels like. It’s a lot of different things happening, but a lot of it is presence and connection and wholeness, and that kind of stuff, yeah.
Janelle: I feel so inspired talking to you.
Grace: Oh goodness! Thank you, that’s very kind.
Janelle: So, the other thing I am always curious about, always, always, always is relationship to creativity.
Grace: Ah, yes! Well, my relationship to creativity actually knows another story which is what I’ve mentioned before, the underworld story of Inanna and Erishkegal, which you may have come across.
Janelle: M-hm, yeah.
Grace: So, I found, due to some challenging past histories, I had various creative practices, like I danced, played music, I painted, I wrote, I did, um, you know, so many different things and it was very beautiful and very organic, as a child. And then, due to some difficult things happened, and it was almost like going into the underworld. So one by one, each of those creative outlets was sacrificed. And one by one, each one of them I let go. And now I don’t know why, you know what I mean? I do know why, but I don’t know why, I can look back and think why did you let those go, you know? What happened that made you lose touch with each of those one by one, so what happened I let each of them go, and it just went all into my head. And then of course, I became very sick, and couldn’t feel a lot of my body. And a lot of my body was very painful, and it wasn’t until…Classically, I did The Artist’s Way.
Janelle: That’s such a wonderful work. (laughter) Julia Cameron is brilliant, yeah.
Grace: So good.
Janelle: I’ve done that twice.
Janelle: But never made it past week seven, which has some lessons for me.
Janelle: (laughter) So you did The Artist’s Way and what happened?
Grace: I did. Well, I was in a support group for people with illnesses and everyone, a group of us, we were all going to do The Artist’s Way together and support each other, and so I did it and I got to the reading fast. And it was..
Janelle: Right. Oh. That was..
Grace: Oh my goodness! It’s a big one. Now bear in mind that when I was an activist like many many years ago, and I, like, was arrested and stuff, I always made sure I had books with me to read in the cells, like police got me extra books from the police staff room so I would have enough to read, because I couldn’t be in there without books, because books matter! And so, reading is everything, everything! So to not read for a week, my family said you’re never gonna do it. You’re never going to do it. I’ve never known you not read, you know? You’re carrying books in case of book emergencies, you know, this is not gonna happen. (laughter) And so, and I was, I was determined I was gonna do it. And what happened, I started writing.
Janelle: Okay, so you , your writing got some room to come out.
Grace: Yes. Cause I stopped stuffing other people’s words in, and I read at a unbelievable rate. You know, it was just gulping. I wasn’t digesting, I wasn’t assimilating, I was just gulping them down. But I could also regurgitate them, so I could basically recite the book, like that wasn’t a problem, you know my memory was greater before I was very ill. And so, but was I actually assimilating them, practicing my lines? Don’t know and don’t think so. And so I started writing. And that was amazing! And very challenging, cause I had a lot of brain fog and a lot of cognitive dysfunction, and of course you know, later a lot of memory problems, and so it was really hard my perfectionist really struggled for me to write, knowing that it could have been so much better. But wasn’t going to be. And, yeah, I started writing and then I worked with an arts psychotherapist and started painting. And, now I do intuitive acrylic painting, and I love the work of Flora Bowley and Shiloh Sophia MacLeod and Kelly Rae Roberts, these wonderful teachers, um, and I started writing again, I started painting, I started to play the harp, and the flute.
Janelle: Oh wow, just an explosion of creativity!
Grace: Yes, this is, this is over about ten years though, you know.
Janelle: Oh! Okay. (laughter)
Grace: I kind of reclaimed one thing at a time. And my next thing, I’m still kind of, dancing about, and working on is dance.
Janelle: Oh, ok.
Grace: Which is challenging because it’s, it’s so embodied. So embodied… So, yeah, that’s kind of my current what’s happening now, and I feel as it’s happened, it’s like as I’ve come out of the underworlds, to some extent, on some level, in some ways, I’ve been reclaiming things, reclaiming aspects of myself. So reclaiming painting, music, drawing, storytelling, writing, now working on dance.
Janelle: And, has your reading established itself at a level where you’re not gulping words down, but you haven’t shut it out completely?
Grace: Yes, very much so. It still is, you know, in a difficult period, I’ll still go, like let’s just settle down with the book. Then I think well actually, I don’t particularly want to float above my body for a few hours while my brain just sucks in information, like until I feel so full of information there is nothing I can do with it. Because I’ve just swallowed it. And, so I’ve, yeah, now I kind of tend to take sips of things, and then I, you know, I work on them and I digest them, and then I go back and I cracked in a the bit of it um… And yeah, it’s definitely shifted. One thing that’s a big shift is not reading stuff on the internet. Ever.
Janelle: You don’t?
Janelle: Yeah, I’ve started, I’ve started paring back on that as well.
Grace: Unless I’m looking at something specific, like I’m looking, specific piece of information, and I’ll set a timer, because it’s so easy to fall down internet wormholes.
Janelle: Oh my Gosh.
Grace: So easy. And I did, I did a digital detox um, with Brooke from Every Branch which I’ve got interview about on my website on the trailblazing interviews. It did just change my life, it changed my relationship with the Internet. Because I was using it when I felt too tired or ill to do anything else. Because how easy is it to pick up an iPhone or an iPad and just have it on my lap, and just kind of mindlessly scroll through, and it kinda feels like I’m doing something, cause I’m reading about doing things. But not actually doing things.
Janelle: Yeah, and isn’t that just the biggest irony? Reading about doing things feels like you’re doing, when actually it’s nothing.
Grace: Yes. And I totally would, I’d be like oh I don’t really feel like drugging myself up and going and moving my painful, aching, hurting body which is painful and aching, and may be painful and aching for the rest of the day. And going and getting out the paint and the stuff and then painting, maybe I’ll just look at a little painting on Instagram, maybe that will somehow give me energy to paint. Which of course it won’t, all it will do it will suck the energy that I have away because of Internet use, device use is very tiring, and because also I’d probably feel intimidated but everybody else’s best art they put on Instagram.
Janelle: Yeah, all the comparison, gremlins that come out and…
Grace: Yes. So yeah,so it really has definitely shifted, and I try now to do create before consume.
Janelle: Oh, I love that.
Grace: And that came from Brooke’s and from Brooke’s course we talked about in the interview, and it was huge, huge for me! Just, just to create before I consume, even if it’s something tiny, even if it is a doodle, even if it’s like tiding something up, creating space, creating clarity, creating movement, creating anything, which I create before I consume. Made a huge difference.
Janelle: Yeah, I think I’ll take that and apply it to my own life. (laughter) Well, thank you so much! Ooh, one more question. What creative projects are you working on right now?
Grace: Ah, that’s a good one. Okay. I am writing a book called Beyond the boundaries, finding freedom and fulfillment within four walls, which is a book about living well if you’re bedbound or housebound. But I haven’t actually announced that yet, that’s a secret guys okay? Shhh! It’s a secret! You mustn’t! Shh! Okay ? (laughter) Cause that’s still in the wraps right? But I’m working on it and it’s super exciting, I’m currently collecting interviews for it at the moment, it’s really really good and I’m really really looking forward to it. Cause I was bedbound for a long time, you see. And housebound for an even longer time. So, you know, hasn’t lived well like that. And, I’m working on a few paintings, um, and, what else? Oh, and I’m working on a few pieces of harp music as well.
Janelle: Oh, so rich and varied.
Grace: Thank you.
Janelle: Thank you! And I so appreciate the conversation we’ve just had.
Grace: It’s my pleasure, I think my favourite podcast interview, I’ve so enjoyed it, thank you so much for having me, thank you anybody who’s listened I appreciate your attention and energy. And I want to wish everybody haddock, peace, and dischi arna chi, I wish you peace and good things, blessings.
Grace: Thank you. And I also say hwyl! Just goodbye.
Janelle: Thank you for listening to the Wild Elixir podcast. The show is produced by myself, Janelle Hardy. You can get show notes for this and all other episodes at my website janellehardy.com.
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