Surrendering to creativity, grief and beauty

Apr 20 2021

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly in Cornwall by Jess Langton

Trigger warning: miscarriage, grief, swearing

Defending Against Beauty

Clear blue sky, warm sun, cool breeze and a cacophony of birdsong. I'm sitting on the balcony of my tiny Holly-sized converted garage apartment on the south coast of Cornwall in the midday sun (I might regret this decision later when I'm lobster red). I rode three trains, a bus and a ferry to get here, to walk and breathe and BE for a week. As I gaze out at the frenzy of blossom, the cornucopia of plump rhododendrons and the swarms of frantic dancing bees, I think, “Oh Fuck Off!”

I wonder whether I'm alone in this extreme defensive reaction to beauty? I remember rambling through the epic mountains of Skye with my love, wanting nothing more than the fresh rushing waterfalls, the docile ginger cows and the massive imposing landforms to just piss off and leave me alone. Gazing up at the star-studded skies above the Canary Islands, I remember shouting; “Yeah yeah, twinkle fucking twinkle!” On a yacht trip around the perfect tiny islands of Tonga with my brother Billy, surrounded by turquoise sea, shimmering with a rainbow of technicolour fish, I simply tutted and rolled my eyes.

My automatic response, when faced with exquisite beauty, is to harden and defend, to shut it out and do without. So here I am, on day four of my holiday, gradually preparing to let Cornwall soothe and soften my aching heart. This holiday was supposed to be the big celebration for having finished editing the most recent draft of my book...

Book Writing, The Story So Far

If you're just tuning into the story of Holly attempts to write a book – here's a quick recap of what I've been up to so far. In January, I received a DYCP grant from Arts Council England, to focus on writing a handbook of Mindful Play for group leaders. This wonderful opportunity immediately triggered a full-on fisticuffs fight with my inner critic. After several rounds in the ring and with a lot of help from my (inner and outer) friends, my critic and I agreed on a way forwards and established a writing schedule. I then eased into a period of intensive writing. In February, I ran the Mindful Play Sessions Online for a select group of playful facilitators and wove their feedback into my writing.

The plan for this past six weeks was to work on a chapter a week; sticking to my writing schedule, editing each chapter to a presentable standard, before sending it over to my wonderful radministrator and editor extraordinaire, Bee Golding. Her kind and astute eyes would be the first to see the inner workings of my mind. Bee would read the chapters, try out the exercises and send me handwritten notes in the post, before meeting on Zoom to discus her experiences. Having been alone in the writing process for years, I would finally have a trusted playmate to cheer me on and keep me on track, hoorah!

It turns out, life won't always fit into a schedule....

Pregnancy Joy and Loss

At the beginning of March, during the final Mindful Play Session, I felt a familiar sensation, like fingernails dragging down the walls of my womb. Alongside the whole of this years' writing process, I'd been pregnant. Having had surgery in September to evict the small family of polyps who were squatting my womb, I felt such joy bound up in this little flicker of a life. As the words poured onto the page, my body gradually swelled and began settling into the mother archetype; the one who compassionately bares witness to all. My little wiggling being influenced my every choice. After having lost three babies, I listened intently to what this one wanted from me.“Rest mummy, take it easy, less of the stress now.” I surrendered, took the easy path, said no to a lot of work and sat in quiet solitude with my words and my tiny ray of hope.

I'd made it beyond the 6 week hump - where I'd lost the last two and I'd started feeling sick, which I was delighted about! Perhaps this one was here to stay? Wandering through the freezing cold city park, munching oatcakes to stave off the sickness, I'd watch new mums struggling to bundle their precious, squirming, noisy babies into buggies and slings, wondering what kind of mum I'd be and what kind of baby I would get.

Then at 7 ½ weeks, the clawing sensation in my womb began, a heavy, urgent, downward feeling. I was losing another baby, another chance at motherhood. Over the next few days, I surrendered to the grief, dropping to the ground and howling and sobbing as my hope and joy flowed away. Animal-like, primal, raw.

Soothing and Softening

On my baby's advice, while I was still pregnant, I'd signed up to an online course called Somatic Meditations for Softening and Soothing, led by the brilliant Rachel Blackman. It was a 6 week exploration into body-based techniques to help people relax and rest. Each week a group of “Somanauts” (Rachel's description – soma means body, naut as in traveller) gathered together to learn a new way of relaxing the body and resetting the nervous system. Over the six weeks we explored humming (lying on the ground and feeling the vibrations in your body as you hum) palming (lying with your palms over your eyes, exploring the velvety blue black darkness) breathing (exploring a variety of circular breathing methods) rocking (lying on the ground in different positions, gently rocking the body) rolling (finding simple ways to roll on the ground) and shaking (vigorous movement, followed by stillness).

We were invited to taste each technique and discover which ones felt like medicine to us. We were given recordings to keep trying the meditations throughout the week and Rachel held the space the following week, so we could discus our findings. She dropped in questions to help us investigate our own stories, patterns, habits, preferences, fears, blocks and pleasure around rest and sleep.

This course came at just the right time, offering practical frameworks to help me safely be with my grief. I appreciated all the different ways to actively pursue / invite in rest and calm. I wept my way through the meditations as bubbles of grief travelled through my body, released and dissipated.

What To Do With Grief? 

I've been living with the grief of losing babies since 2018 and I've found, when I completely surrender to it, the grief can flow through me and I can feel enlivened by it. The problems seem to start when I either suppress it or wrap a story around it.

When I bottle up my grief, it erupts in inopportune moments, sometimes as anger or blame; I get furious about the piles of paper around the house, blaming my innocent partner, even though the pieces of paper clearly have my name on. Other times my grief manifests as freeform jazz sadness; I will cry at videos of cats and dogs being friends with each other, or a lonely tree standing on a hillside or just running out of milk.

When I heap stories on top of my grief, I find myself sinking into a deep dark hole. Stories pile up on top my head like damp clumps of mud. “[thunk] you failed to carry four babies, [thunk] its a sign that you shouldn't be a mother, [thunk] you'd probably make a terrible mother anyway, [thunk] these kids got off lightly.”

I see both suppressing my grief and telling stories about what it means, as attempts to escape the uncomfortable / void-revealing feelings. I'm grateful to the part of me that worked out these avoidance strategies, but I'd rather feel it, face it, tend to it, honour it and grow with it. 

When I give my grief my full loving attention, I can simply feel it in my body as a heavy ache in my chest. Grief is a privilege of the living.

The Effort Is In The Letting Go

The somatic meditations helped me gently tend to my grief and eventually find my way back to the writing. I didn't get to the end of the book, I did as much as I could, pausing my writing sessions to do short somatic meditations, whenever I noticed I was holding tension in my body. It felt counter-cultural to just let go in the middle of a paragraph – I'm pre-programmed to carry on until the bitter end, applying more effort, not less! - but I noticed that whenever I paused to relax, the writing I produced had more life in it. Relaxation gives me access to my feelings and intuition and creates space for discovery.

I feel like the theme of this last 6 weeks has been surrender. When I surrender, I can be with my grief, access my creativity and open my heart to beauty. The effort is in the letting go.

After writing that last sentence, I shut my laptop and drifted along the undulating wild garlic and bluebell lined path along the river, taking time to let the scents, sounds and sensations of spring penetrate my heart. Over the next three days, I stopped telling Cornwall to fuck off and let the rugged Cornish coast, with its coconut scented gorse, pale yellow primroses, gliding birds and wide horizons work its magic on me.

Gratitude

Back home in inner city Bristol, at the slightly too low, but very pretty desk I've been sitting at for most of this year, I feel grateful for all this time I've had to discover myself as a writer. There's still a lot more to do before the book gets introduced to the publishers, but for now, I'm happy to have had so many opportunities to find out what supports me to write. I'm grateful to all the people who have cheered me on in so many ways – to Bee for jumping into this part of the process with me, to the playful people who attended my online Mindful Play lab, to my clinical supervisor for his wise words, to my friends for their kindness, patience and compassion, to all my meditation, clown, dance and yoga teachers for helping me stay in my body keep my heart topped up with love, to my fella for always being there for me, to my baby and my grief for all that they've taught me and of course to Arts Council England for funding this exploration.


If you are moved by my miscarriage story and want to reach out to me, please read this blog first, it's about how to talk to someone who's lost a baby.

If you're interested in attending the Mindful Play Sessions, I'll be offering a taster at the upcoming Clowning Out Of Chaos conference and the full series in June – watch this space for details.

If you're interested in finding out more about Rachel Blackman's courses, check out her website.

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