by Diana Erskine-Hill
This article is a ‘snapshot’ of a spiritual adventure with vibrational energy, past and present, in different seasons and countries. It is a series of perceptions based on visual and emotional experiences that somehow represent ‘life-belts’ for the ‘here and now’. These specific moments are a colourful imagery that is singing aloud to a terrain organically evolving. I have terminal cancer, a brand, I believe known as ‘the silent killer’, which for me represents a multitude of clarifications with a few questions. Writing this article over a couple of months is genuinely an ‘ointment on the psyche’ supporting me to gain improving quality of groundedness.
June 1993: ‘A Moment in Peru’ – A fusion of images – Clouds to touch – Space to chant – Awesome and sacred – A binding of ties – You and I – Together and Separate – Through the Incas – In the Andes – A spiritual cohesion – Impossible to ignore.
Walking on narrow ledges in the warmth and stillness of the Inca Trail, yellow butterflies everywhere, unexpected waterfalls, seeing the 15th century remains of a community settlement, Win-ya Way-na, from which I could not stop chanting quietly “Winya Wayna”. The image stored in memory to see tiered rows of steep land upon which the Incas grew crops, living as they did higher again in village settlements. In Machu Picchu, with only an hour to spare free from the group, I found a dry stone wall enclosure where I could breathe in the beauty of the Andes and chant softly. Ken, my husband, sketched a feeling; that of clouds hanging so low one had a sense of being able to touch a cloud. The Dalai Lama chose this sacred ground to pray for peace globally. Incidentally, the flight from Lima to Cuzco reminded me of the insignificance of humans in a way, a bit like a speck of dust compared to the beauty of virgin snows in the Andes Mountains that really did seem to stretch forever; under an hour in reality.
Peru brings me now to a letter from the Editor of the National Geographic magazine (March 2013) where he writes:
“When it comes to fracking – the process of extracting otherwise unreachable oil and natural gas by driving fresh water mixed with other substances, some toxic, into layers of rock – the bets become less mathematically clear. On one side of the equation are abundant fossil fuels, less dependence on foreign sources, and the kind of economic prosperity that comes with jobs. On the other side is the possibility of contaminated groundwater, environmental degradation, and a loss of prairie values – Silence, Solitude, Serenity.”
Dublin – February 2013: My projections remind me of a quote from the Buddha that resonates well: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” I try to be a responsible human and often, very often, make assumptions. I believe that we all have a ‘Duty of Care’ to protect ourselves from a sort of fracking of the human spirit that gets frazzled rapidly if not attended to as best as one can, at the time.
End of December 2012: ‘Bleach on Thursdays’ – Visitors shuffle – an air of hesitancy – clueless – search for the lift – doors closing – glass walls rising – second floor – doors parting – B.r.e.a.t.h.e – daylight sealed out – walls and ceilings deadened – colourless airless passage ways – to the office and a dead man’s chemo shop, sorry ‘the bleach shop’ – gentle souls –bags and wires mixed up – folks squeeze by – b.r.e.a.t.h.e scoops of fresh air next door at a cost – a fracking of the human spirit – cracked shards of glass – listening splintered – pseudo listening dangerous – are you listening? – assumptions creepy – boundaries variable – the ups and downs of professionalism – down below a fountain – orange goldfish – dashing about – alas so many big fish – motionless – dull eyed – helpless………dying?
Per Irish Times Health Supplement (29.1.2013), when interviewed, Bridget McGarry talks about the impact of terminal cancer on her life. She says, “Time and energy are two things I don’t have and are too precious to waste”.
My question to the professionals such as engineers, architects, interior designers and psychologists is this. In honesty, what stops you, presumably a multi-disciplined team co-ordinating cohesively, putting the people first before the building-style? Why, costly marbled floors, pillars and walls where, vibrationally, there is no warmth just a soul- less, empty void. What about the diligent porters, helpful receptionists and gracious secretaries, I wonder? The poor signage, such a challenge for any newcomer! That aside, quite frankly I am on a roller-coaster with stress levels so high, I wear my hill-walking boots, bright ancient orange jeans and rainbow coloured jumper to protect me from this toxic environment. Indeed the speed with which I was dropped into the chemotherapy process was both admirable and appalling. I review on a weekly basis the physical effects on my body, pay attention to everything instinctively as best I can.
I observe with interest the unclear communications, presumably due to severe staff shortages, delays with laboratory reports or simply too many clients turning up at the same time. There appears to be no appointment system in place for oncology clients. Within the chemo shop itself, it seems that a sense of spacious connectedness was forgotten about. Thankfully, the clients, plus me, do have sight of the sky and trees. The downside is the harsh brightness bouncing off the whitewashed walls (not a colour per se) three feet from the chairs, plug- in chemical receptors, handbags and rucksacks. The temperature of recycled air pumping out of the low-ceiling vents is quite a ‘bummer’. Not a victim now I hope, maybe not?
Wearing lighter summer clothing, sun glasses and using a hand-held fan for around three hours was a vast improvement, plus no longer in the department for six hours every week. Back in January. Switching off the hearing appliance, outside in the car park is good. Focus on lip shapes for relevant facts (chemo process) now a better chance to grow in stillness. Breathing safely in silence so crucial. The loss of access to fresh air seemed to affect me deeply. The absence of appropriate dialogue each week is a keen reminder of my gratitude to colleagues, clients, supervisees and, above all, my supervisors over the last couple of decades. Thank goodness you listen.
Incredibly lucky that my addiction for workshops and my experiences running conferences for psychiatrists over many years, taught me much about the upside and downside of the international pharmaceutical scene. I recommend that you try to arrange for a non-family friend or witness to accompany you to meetings and discussions within the medical model should you feel unsafe on any level whatsoever. Do not go alone. Further, it is not a bad idea to be wary of information overload syndrome, e.g. dietician bombardment with own-brand booklets. Being visually orientated I noticed the speed into ‘switch-off mode’ that dieticians engaged. Eyes glaze over, time is short, here are the guidelines to follow. Funny isn’t it, how engaging with anti-cancer foods is of little interest?
December 2012: A resistant visit I made to a dietician unsettled me. Ken suggested we talk to the GP immediately. Curiosity had led me to analyse the food I ate, checking for specific repercussions, detecting; I hoped to discover the reason for a seven-year, minor, inconsistent bowel movement. I undertook a couple of detoxification food regimes, one for a week in Galway and another for six weeks with a lovely lady specialising in allergies. In each case the results were astonishingly normal bowel movements and a sense of feeling optimum health particularly in every part of my physical body. After a colonoscopy examination a few years ago, the commonly used term IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) became a badge attached then to the medical chart. No suggestion or solution ascertained. This is a common trend, basically the root cause is unclear. IBS fits the narrative, it covers a multitude of possibilities or none?
In November I noticed my dress size decreasing. The GP recommended a C.T. Scan and Laparoscopy. This showed tumours on the membrane behind the ovaries, peritoneal carcinomatosis. Treatment plan: chemotherapy seven days later, scheduled to end in May. Every Thursday (three blocks x six sessions with two-week adjournments between each cycle). On completion of chemotherapy, a surgery to remove womb and ovaries. Subsequent consultations, post-Christmas day, on receipt of full histology data confirmed, in addition, a low-grade mucinous tumour of possible appendicular origin. A clarification that resulted in a change of treatment plan. No surgery to be contemplated as I have terminal cancer. The clinical administration of the drug called systemic 5-Fluorouracil, or 5FU, on 27.12.12 adjusted on the first day to a lighter dosage strength, apparently to give me quality health for now. I’m just lucky and so glad to wake up every morning feeling alive and well, relieved too, not to be receiving aggressive doses of 5FU into my system.
A chaotic, drama-filled, vibrational turmoil over Christmas, New Year and sixtieth birthday, with many gatherings. The very best moments: the music of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of ‘Bolero’. This CD was played repeatedly over many weeks. The latest production of ‘Oliver’ at the Bord Gais Theatre in early January with my buddies, ‘the three musketeers’. A respite from a grief stricken Christmas and New Year for all of us. Cushioned in ice. Closed off inside, albeit within a sort of ‘treble-glazed window box.’ I am an ice cube. I could see dozens of richly fragranced beautiful flowers arriving daily to the house, some with name of sender, some not. The postman pushed stacks of cards through the letter-box. The cards remain unread for the moment. Letters were read many times, they being a tangible reality that was helpful. The computer and telephone became too much to focus on. Occasional sounds, some well- spoken short sentences, the arrival of home-cooked foods, simple hugs without words, gifts, so many gifts touched me deeply. I sensed people so concerned, noticed expressions of grief on their faces. That was unbearable, to see their pain and love etched in their eyes. Ken’s large extended family, steadfast, no fuss, showed me so discreetly their deepening depths of hidden strengths. Soul mates, near and far afield, became sturdy mentors, holding back, creating kindly space. Texts giving me a sense of the Atlantic Ocean in the ‘here and now’, another one celebrating abundant bird life in Ballindrennan – a wilderness beneath the Slieve Bloom Mountains. Vibrationally, one breath one sound – stillness and light
Dublin – March 2013: ‘Bleach on Thursdays’ aside, three months since terminal cancer diagnosis, I look back on a series of singing, sounding, meditational adventures outdoors. Early January with my brother, Howard, catching up over lunch, then a visit together to a little known wishing well in Glendalough. Next to Dunderry Park, alone, simply looking after a fire in the heart… of a magnificent marble fireplace. Two days consistently throwing massive big logs onto the fire. No time for sleep, busy absorbing a tremendous heat, congruently opening up channels of energy within. A stillness, yet to be understood but helped along by Shadow and Kai whose four-legged presences, in unexpected places, gave me such strength and inspiration. Kells becoming a sanctuary for soul-space, a great laugh, wonderful cuisine and wine. Troon, Scotland: to friends with a happy knack of shape- shifting email overloads on my laptop, thankfully. Soothing a frazzled marriage with superb food, drinks and freezing cold strolls along deserted wind-swept sea shores! Early March, visiting an island in the sun strolling alone beside the Atlantic Ocean imitating Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway in ‘Les Miserables’. For now, the ‘icing on the cake’ and the opportunity to consolidate balancing of harmony and rest; Naked Voice Spring Equinox Retreat in the Brecon Beacons, Wales. Your human body is your original singing field, or “House of Song” as the Sufis say. Take care of it and its gifts, to await blossoming in the coming months.
At the outset of my terminal cancer diagnosis I was relieved to be given a label called cancer as well as being frozen in ice. More about this later. Luckily, thus far, I experience few of the medically anticipated side-effects. I’ve gained one dress-size. The diminishment and balancing act of meeting my energy-levels wherever I am, in this moment, matters much now. I am more aware of intrinsic vibrational connections between animals, nature and humans. Sooty, aged fifteen, saved my ‘bacon’, vibrating and purring, as cats do, every single night on my tummy and in unison with her I sang her name over and over again. March 1st, Sooty dreamed on to the animal kingdom, resting on a colourful velvet scarf in my arms at home at noon, her work on earth completed. Sandy (animal rescue variety) in his element now being Top Dog!
Per Daily Mail article (dated 12.3.13), John Anderson, fifty-nine, an internationally respected Consultant Urological Surgeon at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield – diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer twelve months ago, has had hormone treatment and chemotherapy to contain it. He says: “We (he and his family) have moved into the land of the unknown”. He also says: “My hope is that my story will raise awareness and openness for others”. He added: “It is not my intention to spoil good days with side-effects, and hate the thought of ending up in a wheelchair, with a catheter, in severe pain, grimly going through the available experimental therapies. That is not me.”
My mother, maternal grand-parents, great grand-parents all born and reared in an industrial county in the north of England, once known as the West Riding of Yorkshire, sang with loving passion for shared musicality. It eased their uncertain lives during the 1930s and 1940s when the Second World War was in full tilt. The phrase ‘call a spade a spade and not a ruddy shovel’ serves me so well. The general surgeon, at the time of initial ovarian cancer diagnosis, said, ‘Diana do whatever you want to do and get your house in order’. Somewhat bemused I thought to myself, ‘I always do what I want to do’. You see, about a year ago I began upgrading/downsizing my office. Out with the grubby space-wasters, in with a laptop, new telephones, painting walls in two subtle colours, revelling in the ingenious play with light and colour reflections. A process to shape shift and re-energise the self basically.
‘Energy’ Speckled sound – Light and dark – Each moment – Unshackled – Inside and Out.
Northumberland – September 2012: Six months ago I noticed how Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland, which lies just south of the border between England and Scotland, was certainly not a challenging walk as far as long distance walks go. However, much wisdom and insights emerged as a consequence of this Centre of Britain (Hardcastle Village, one hour by train from Newcastle-upon-Tyne) hill-walking trip with companions from France, Tasmania, Scotland and England along with Ken and me.
I learnt that Emperor Hadrian, AD120, came to Europe from Rome bringing with him a vast cache of knowledge and experience. His Centurians carried heavy tools, weapons and food supplies walking around twenty-five miles daily through alien landscapes with all its challenges and tribal hostilities. Emperor Hadrian’s army spent six years building a defence wall measuring around ten feet in height by seven feet; it was seventy miles long, from coast to coast. Today little of the orginal wall remains, yet evidence of several excavated Roman villages beside the wall now a symbol of a highly sophisticated social and community structure. In the Roman town and fort, Vindolanda, we read handwritten letters, partially burnt, found and then restored, that encapsulate the ordinariness of everyday life such as an invitation to a friend for afternoon tea. The village of Homesteads has a complete Roman fort not very far from Vindolanda. The Romans settled, raised families, grew crops, bartered and much more for a period of three hundred years before the Roman Empire collapsed totally c.AD400.
Walking with twelve others for fifty miles (over five days). Ken said ‘it was like tracking a friend.’ This wall whose bricks symmetrically replicate a shape, a texture, a colour. The position of each brick reminiscent of turf once teased out of the earth in Lough Boora peatlands (Co. Offaly) as well as all over Ireland. I happen to have an affinity with this particular redundant bogland with its neglected but beautiful sculptures by artists from all over the world! The tradition of clamping turf near the Slieve Bloom Mountains echoes Hadrian’s Wall. It occurred to me how stoically disinterested I am in my ancestral connections. (Documented evidence links the Erskine-Hills to the author Sir Walter Scott and Mary Queen of Scots.) To my delight, an honour, simply to make a connection with human beings who existed in England in AD120 and how this presumably pre-dated my own ancestral lineage. Not to mention the possibility that it is quite likely that most, or all, of my original ancestral connections never walked alongside Hadrian’s wall! My challenge now is to embrace those ancestral links in a good way. My father’s family motto: ‘Think well and prevail – Think well.’
Africa – June 2006: Through many years of consciousness work, I had developed a strong connection with my spiritual self. From this perspective, Tanzania offered moments of eternal enlightenment allied paradoxically with disbelief at the savagery of animals killing to live off the meat of another. Ken and I spent a week sleeping in a tiny tent. Gerry, our driver, was an articulate, English-born African game park ranger. His passion and expertise driving the jeep in search of signs best known to him for tracking lions, leopards, giraffes, elephants and more, all way off the beaten track. Bumping up and down on dirt tracks for hundreds of miles, a pain in the butt, the breath whisked away by nature’s beauty. So many, moment by moment, images and teachings, with few human interventions present, at least to our naked eyes. Gerry often wordlessly slowed down, there was a tension in the air in a good way; to watch, wait and spot, say, a family of elephants (twelve) emerging silently out of the bush to meander past us, just so close by.
‘Connections’ – Moments in time – Shooting stars – Beauty vibrating – Soul connection – Ointment in the psyche – Journeying beyond time – never forgotten – though the landscape lives and dies and lives again.
Inspired being outside a tent in the bush in Tanzania, such closeness to the sky at night with millions of stars, seemingly smiling down, the wonder of it all. Time spent in a sweat lodge – a gentle touch of a finger on my throat signalling time to sing ‘Eleanor’… no access to sight or sound my reality.
Whilst in Kenya, Ken noticed, for the first time, black spots circulating around one eye. Regular injections followed to maintain existing sight (Macular degeneration). He finished off his Degree in Psychology (2007) and published another book (2010). Life moves on.
This leads me to mentioning a momentary awareness post-Tanzania, Kenya, Marrakesh (seven years ago). I noticed the beginning of a gradual changing pattern in my bowel movement. I suspected a parasite of some sort in my system. Who knows?
Christmas week 2012 I was devastated to learn that Ken’s diminishing sight had now declined further. The consultant, whom we trust, confirmed his eyesight was deteriorating in spite of injections every four weeks to maintain sight level. A few days later my cancer diagnosis arrived. Focusing on someone else’s narrative kept me going. Admittedly I welcomed the general surgeon showing me on a computer (pictures in colour) the whereabouts of the bad cells. I believe that I am responsible, as best as I can, for the upkeep of my nice physical body, beautiful mind and energetic spirit.
Based on past experiences, it can be useful to invite a witness (second pair of ears) with you when attending medical appointments. It can reduce stress, being easier to focus on the information being offered. Remember too, that not all information may necessarily match your own innate responses, so do check it out when you have a doubt.
Dublin – February 2013: A joint project to down-size, refurbish and generally upgrade the ground floor introducing a greater sense of spaciousness, better lighting, plus safer and more practical floor coverings, has made such a difference. It also helped us to focus on a project in our own house. Yes, it involved a mess, but the builder and electrican did sterling work in days. Personal objects associated with toxic energy from my past I wanted to pass on.
Tip 1: When offering gifts to family, friends and colleagues, stick ‘Post- it Notes’ onto items for gifting! Might save you some hassle. Items you no longer enjoy yet, perhaps, hold on to for reasons best known to you such as books, paintings, china, rugs, photographs, jewellery. Genuine intentions to spring clean or clear out ‘stuff’ can often become stuck for years.
New teachings emerged from the movement of possessions in relationship to self with others. The cameo belonged to my mother; it was a brooch she kept in a brown envelope for over three decades. Her intention was to gift it to me after she had ‘popped her clogs’! (a favourite expression). After she died (2008) a jeweller adjusted the brooch to a locket. Wearing it became a real pleasure; the cameo depicts an image of the Goddess of War. I last wore the cameo on the occasion of the tenth Anniversary of the publication of Inside Out May 2012. The symbol of war no longer fits for me.
London Underground 2011:
‘Red Poppies’ – Brave men killed in battles – innocent civilians wiped out – global generational survivors – Disturbed souls fragmenting – Corrupt military dictatorships – A dance with insanity where to next? – Piccadilly, Knightsbridge, Covent Garden – A rush of warm air – Permeating the silent clusters – Shuffling towards platforms – Red poppies pinned to suits – Assumptions – Multi-cultural eyes glazed over – Implied affinity – Red poppies in my face – Discrepancies lurk – in the unconscious – this siege of red poppies – a myriad of sounds lost – The slowness of rejuvenation – Through peace beyond wars.
Inspired by the sense of surprise the way this represented me in the past and how much has changed over time in a good way.
Tip 2: Shape-shifting personal objects on to the ‘Women’s Refuge Dublin’ might be another option?
Tip 3: Use another ‘Post-it Note’ with the name of the person, pop these items immediately into your car, bicycle basket or rucksack as it could be ages before you get around to deliver. People graciously accepted a gift and that touched me. I felt moved by the spirit of engagement I witnessed in their eyes. A couple of unexpected responses interested me, and I let them hang a while. The English expression “it may be a case of Shropshire good nature here”. If one does not want to keep a vase or war medals, then it is wiser to say just that, “I don’t want this would you like it” rather than pop it into a pal’s suitcase assuming (incorrectly) that it would be accepted. A nourishing visit to Troon in Scotland quietly sorted it out.
“All is well, all is well, all manner of things are well”
(Julian of Norwich)
‘Clearer’ Distractions receding – Spirit retrieved – Singing out – Daring nothing to lose – Move, moving, moving on – Daffodils shivering, gaunt – their buds so tight – winds icy – That pinch of a moment – A stillness – A piece of seaweed – Being!
Wales Naked Voice workshop – March 2013:
Singing aloud helps our words to become more alive to ourselves. At least this has always been my experience since childhood. Repeating the sound of a single word opens up something else from the inside to the outside!
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out
how far one can go.”
Dublin – April 2013: I urge you to sing your own sounds; I know many of you do. Those of you who may well resist might note that your throat chakra (blue) is unique – like transformers transforming spiritual energy to more earthly, more bearable forms. I believe singing your sounds (tamed or untamed) creates power in a safe way. Finally, in focusing on writing this article, I am so aware now how much the members of the Editorial Board of Inside Out have supported me. The clocks have moved forward an hour heralding summertime. It is fitting to let go of this article now.
With respect to a Ugandan born gentleman, may I sing to you readers, a kindly sound…
‘Shal-an-al-i-com’. (May Peace be with you).
‘The day will come when each of us loves the other as much as we love ourselves’
Dublin Gestalt Institute. Email: email@example.com.
The Ballindrennan Project Peaceful Soundings.
Institute for Shamanic Studies:< http://www.shamanismirelan.com>. The Naked Voice Ireland and UK – Tim Challice: 0044-1179548006. The Religious Society of Friends @ <http://www.quakers-in- ireland.org>.
Arc Cancer Support Services. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gratitude to the Ballindrennan Project (Spring 2003 to present) that saved my sanity. The Ballindrennan Project: a painful, exhilarating adventure that continues to be a back-breaking process. With loving care – planting of trees, laying drains, observing craftsmanship, building a meditation room from a derelict cowshed. A tiny orchard to celebrate my talented brother, a perpetual alcoholic (1948-2003). Ballindrennan is simply a sanctuary for birdlife, sunflowers and young trees. Ballindrennan: representative of Transitions and Transformations.
Your insights/poetic pieces/art/music on the relationship between ‘Fathers and Sons/Mothers and Daughters’ welcome. Diana c/o M.M.McCormack, Ballindrennan, Kilcormack, Co. Offaly. Thank you.
Diana M Erskine-Hill IAHIP IACP is a private practitioner (Psychotherapist & Supervisor). She is completing the detail of her forthcoming book with contributions coming from around the globe including poetry, prose, art, photography, commercially produced instrumental music with some deeply reflective material mirroring our individual creative vibrational energy.
Dickinson, P. (2003) The Tears of the Salamander. London: MacMillan Children’s Books.
Focused Reading Recommendations:
Albom, M. (2006) Tuesdays with Morrie: an old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson. NY: Time Warner.
Byron, L. (1999) Being SUCCESSFUL in…Presentations. Dublin: Blackhall.
Dunlop, R. (1998) Pathways to Peace: NY: Paper Doll.
Edwards, K. (1990) Interior Design with Ken Edwards. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan. Goodchild, C. (1993) The Naked Voice – A Singer’s Journey to the Spirit of Sound. London: Rider.
Heaven, R. (2001) The Journey to you: a Shaman’s path to empowerment. NY: Bantam.
Gardner-Gordon, J. (1993) The Healing Voice. Berkeley CA: Crossing Press. Goldberg, N. (1986) Writing Down the Bones Freeing the Writer Within. Boston MA: Shambhala.
Housden, R. (2003) Ten Poems to Change your Life. London: Hodder and Mobius. Malone, M. T. (2006) Praying with the Women Mystics. Dublin: Columba.
Monk Kidd, S. (2002) The Secret Life of Bees. London: Headline Review.
Pym, J. (1999) Listening to the Light, How to bring Quaker simplicity and integrity into our lives. London: Rider.
Rosen, K. (2009) Saved by a poem the transformative power of words. London: Hay House.
Wicklow, A. (1980) World Without Money – an alternative. Devon UK: Stockwell.