When someone asks me how, with all my history, I’ve became so solid, articulate and comfortable in my own skin, I’m baffled. Then I tell them it was Psychosynthesis; eighteen years of weekly psychotherapy, eight years of a professional training and several years writing papers, poems and pros describing my experiences.
It’s difficult to put my finger on it exactly ‘what Psychosynthesis is to me’. Psychosynthesis helped me grow from a shy, inarticulate girl, into a strong, self-assured woman.
I tell people Psychosynthesis helped me build a house inside of myself.
*** *** ***
In 2013 I was awarded a three month Artist’s Residency by the Wurlitzer Foundation USA. They provided me with an old adobe casita on seventeen acres of woodland in New Mexico and invited me to ‘do my creative thing’. Thousands of miles from home, family and friends, and with no car, phone or internet, I found myself ‘listening’ to myself, others and the environment with new, and expanded levels of heightened awareness.
I’d originally intended to use my time in Taos to write a film script and work on video. It soon became clear this residency was about exploring who I am when there’s no project and my layers are peeled right back. 8,000 feet up a sacred mountain, with limited oxygen, I felt permanently high. Stripped bear, each moment had a quality of prayer.
In ‘normal’ life back home in England I’d been striving to surrender to the unknown but fear often held me back. Trust seemed easier in Taos. Soon after arriving, I purchased four beautifully illustrated story books, one of which was Thomas Blue Eagle’s Ledger Book. These were the first gifts I’d ever dared buy for my much hoped for grandchild. Not willing to give up on that dream, I returned to my casita and wrote this poem.
Thomas Blue Eagle’s Ledger Book
b o o k s
for you today.
four precious symbols
of my desire to dream you
I’ve been dreaming of you for years,
and I think of you almost everyday now
I wonder when you will come to me
I want to make you blankets and shawls and tiny booties
I want to gather you up in my arms – tell you mama will always love you
I want to sew with you, dance with you and lay down and stroke you
I want you to have everything a child should have
and be protected from all that children shouldn’t have to bear
I wonder when you will come to me
I am dreaming you darling,
and daydreaming you
A month later, when my son announced the conception of his daughter, I was in heaven, awe and wonder. I celebrated with gratitude and rituals.
Many of my experiences in New Mexico were monumental. Never knowing what’s coming next, I wrote this:
Blessed Art Thou….
Dawn, New Mexico 2014
Wild dogs searching for truth came sniffing in my casita.
Hairy mongrels with wet noses and wagging tails.
I tried to catch them as they danced around the house.
Jumping up onto my bed many times and then hiding in dark corners.
They had twinkles in their eyes and sometimes their tales swept the floor.
“I’ll be fifty five at the end of this month.”
“I trained extensively as an artist, a psychotherapist, and an applied psychosynthesis practitioner. For what? Pivoting between fifty and sixty I’m out on a high wire. Not a comfortable place.”
“What would be comfortable?”
“When I reflect back over my life, I remember how I thought it was going to be, especially in my mid teens, when I had a really strong sense of who I was and where I was going. It didn’t turn out quite as I thought it would. I often wonder what I could have done differently.”
“mmmm comfortable? I suppose that would be when I am really settled and everything seems right. Actually I get that feeling quite a lot. I’m not talking about that sort of ‘comfortable’ though, I’m talking about being comfortable about being mortal – a deep sense of comfort.
Maybe the comfort I’m talking about is born out of being on track, aligned with ones life purpose, at peace with life and death and able to hold one’s self steady in any situation.
I remember feeling fully in my body when I was fifteen. That feeling of vibrancy, determination, strength and vitality; a sense nothing could stop me from having life. I was focused and in love. If I had died in that moment I imagine I might have felt whole and complete.
I remember prancing across Hampstead Heath enjoying nature and my body as if they were one.
I was wearing my grandpa’s bola hat with a peacock feather in it. My sixties blouse stitched from beautiful soft green material, hung loosely over my young skin. Black tailored trousers sat comfortably secure around my waist. Everything was exactly as it should be. The present moment was divine. The future planned, clear and tangible. My memory of that moment returns to me often. My sense of it is so strong.”
Dusk, Sussex Hospital 1989
With my face pushed up against gloss painted plasterwork on the ceiling, I watched my body thirty feet below me, in the hospital bed. Everyone looked small. Medics busied themselves around ‘me’ down there whilst I occupied myself with ceiling textures. I was calm and strangely, detached from critical activities below. Seemingly suspended in space, neither occupying my body nor the ether, the building’s architecture seemed to be acting as some kind of a boundary for me.
Occasionally I wondered whether I might be able to slip through the ceiling but I seemed to be hesitating or resisting that next move. I wasn’t afraid, I just didn’t know what I would be going into.
Then, suddenly I seemed to make a clear choice and returned to my body. The nurse greeted me warmly. I could see relief and delight in her face. ‘Hello. Welcome back. I thought for a moment we had lost you.”
Apparently I had been trying to sit up in the bed when I suddenly felt dizzy, and couldn’t breathe. (I remembered that that had happening just before I went to the ceiling.) ‘Your skin colour turned grey and you started to disappear. We called the crash team. We thought you were going.’
“I’d been planning to go to art college since I was about ten. I believed whole heartedly, the life I dreamt of would materialise after school. My love would come with me. I knew every inch of her body just as well as I knew my own. I knew the way she breathed, and the way we breathed together, the way her chest rose when I touched her and how to stroke her to make her shudder. I loved the way her chest bones sat proud and how down covered her jaw. I knew how her blonde locks would fall over her face when we laid together. I understood things she couldn’t talk about, and I knew that I loved her. Her vibration was divine. Nothing could change my devotion to her and us, nothing that is, except for her.”
Taos Mountain 2014
I went out looking for you today,
and found you in the Indian land briefly.
My heart opened wide
It felt unexpected and ancient.
In the gentle silence
and the vast open space,
my heart became like lungs,
Eagles wings spread out within my chest
and I could breathe,
Or at least that is how it felt in that moment.
I found you today in the open plains,
in the mountain and in the sky.
It was as if you came to me
showed me all I need to know
You came to me today
and then briefly
like lovers in a moment of communion, we were one.
Tate Modern, London 2049
Millennium Bridge, Thames London.
Small family group walk from St Paul’s Cathedral to Tate Modern.
They look up at neon lights on building.
Group approaches gallery doors
Whispering voices ‘blessed art thou’.
Sounds build up, layered into chants.
Noise of Turbines mingle with chants -‘Blessed Art thou’.
Artist looks outside window up towards moon
Turns head downwards.
Cold pavement level -woman, curled up alone, keeps from freezing.
Strawberry Tree, Sussex UK 2008
Garden studio: large timber log cabin.
Natural light streaming in.
Artist VM aged 40 making performance art.
Sweeping pulverised Paw Paw fruit across timber floor boards.
Orange flesh/black seeds mingle with yellow fruit skin.
Some pulp caught in grooves of painted pine floor.
VM sweeps pulp into a pile using long handled broom.
Friend drumming gently – sits in corner of room.
Video camera in corner on tripod records events.
Moon light – Surrey Hills, 2004
come to me
b e e n
w a i t i n g
d r e a m i n g
longing for you
the ache of desire – the wanting
for years – possibly lifetimes
heavy with anticipation
ancient searching – praying for your touch
tonight the moon knows, hanging large, heavy, low
I can see you – feel you – delight in you
full with warm pink peach
you are in my being
with painful longing
in every moment that I dare reach out for you
you are my fire and I burn for you
there is no lover like this………………..but this one
eternal internal universal
dark night skies, deep oceans,
r i c h v e l v e t
b l a c k
m a t u r e
r a w
“I hadn’t expected that in letting her hold my heart in her hands I had somehow given her the power to change my vision. I am broken hearted. Everything around me is crashing and changing.”
“Same as your first love. Can you feel the reverberations?”
“Yes. Love keeps re-forming itself. The revised form still revolves around creativity and art, (which is a relief!) but it’s complex and often effected by lovers.”
“Death terrifies me. I tell myself it’s okay but when it comes close, I’m terrified. Flying in an aeroplane, having an anaesthetic, surgery, that kind of thing. Then the cancer scare of course! I never felt so afraid and alone.
Plus I can’t bear to break attachments either. It’s always the horizontal pull which affects my relationship with death I suppose.
Out of body experiences remind me there’s no death only transformation to another form, but when push comes to shove it’s so hard to remember that. I seem so unable to surrender a lot of the time. My body is tense, braced for disasters which are probably unlikely to ever happen.
When I’m skiing, and I’m on top of a mountain looking down at the sheer drop below, sometimes I freeze up. Standing there considering what to do, the more I think about it the more I resist movement. I imagine terrible things happening: accident, injury, pain, death. I think, if I just stay here (stuck!) I’ll be safe. So I stay a little longer till I realise I am only just ‘alive’ here, not fully living.
I don’t exactly know what happens to make the shift, but somehow I find something within myself and I’m able to let go of the fear, surrender to the unknown, lean my body forwards down into the sheer drop in front of me and allow the rest of my body to follow.
As I’m falling towards the void I say to myself, ’keep going, keep leaning forwards, keep surrendering’. It’s empowering. I feel held by something far greater than me, a universal power, a higher self, who knows?
When I feel stuck in my life I try to remember skiing processes to manage fear.”
“I keep thinking of the words ‘Blessed Art thou’. What makes anyone blessed? My mother told me she doesn’t like me, has no desire to see me, apparently I am the only person in the world she cannot get along with. How can anyone feel ‘blessed’ when their own mother says that?
“Geoff phoned asking me to visit as soon as possible. ’Amanda would really like to see you’. I knew she was ill. She’d been ill almost twelve years. We’d spent more days talking about her health than I cared to remember. I always thought she’d pull through. I hadn’t quite clocked the urgency. I went straight away though.
Geoff had gone to collect Laura their daughter, from the airport. She’d been sent away to Italy for a trip. She’d hardly arrived there when they called her back home urgently. Amanda was deteriorating rapidly. No one had expected it to be this fast. Had we all been in colluding in hope?
I went upstairs to the single bedroom she’d moved to when she knew she’d be having visitors and nursing support. She’d painted it pale aqua and hung images of angels all around her. She was like a bag of bones. I’d just seen her on Sunday. She’d asked me to pop in with lettuces. She’d come to the door, vibrant and appreciative as ever. If I had known then that her time was ticking away so fast I would have accepted her offer to come in but I had no idea. I believed she was fighting this thing and my new lover was about to leave for India the next day so I had made her my priority, as we had needed time to say our goodbyes.
I went upstairs. Amanda’s brother was downstairs with a couple of friends. I sat very close to Amanda’s bedside and held her hand. She said, “I keep slipping away, coming and going, I don’t know where I am.” She seemed confused and troubled. I didn’t know what to say. Is this what happens when we leave here go to the other side? Do we travel back and forth until we’re ready to let go?
I wanted to ask her what it was like there, on the other side, but it didn’t seem appropriate. I was shocked at her appearance and concerned for her distress. Urgency was all around. I was sitting at death’s door with my dearest friend.
Originally my art college tutor, Amanda had inspired and encouraged me with incredible passion. Being of similar age and both with children, we soon became good friends. “You’re here with me now. Try not to worry.” I said. It seemed stupid though. I felt as if I was on a train about to leave the station and in a moment I would have to jump off and let Amanda do the rest of the journey on her own. I was unprepared. I didn’t know how to be.
We held hands as she settled a bit, “Yes I’m here now” she said, slightly relieved, but after that she kept slipping away before the end of her sentences.“Its as if I’m falling backwards falling away.”
And then she grasped hold of my hand as if she wanted to say something really important. She was using all of her energy to collect herself together.
She said, “I love your work, I really love it, I think it’s amazing.” Then she slipped away completely. Those were her last words to me.
Cathedral, West Sussex 2000
VM lying belly down on flagstone floor – centre of the cathedral isle.
Arms out. Legs slightly apart. Appears frozen.
Hands flat on floor above her head.
In front of VM – Traditional light wood coffin raised on trestle stand.
Flowers draped over closed coffin lid.
Fresh white lilies, ferns, fall over casket sides.
Side chapel – woman praying.
Head bowed over hands.
Rosary beads woven through fingers.
Chanting “blessed art thou and blessed is the fruit of thy womb”
VM pushes her face deeper into stone.
The more places I go, the more things I do,
The more people I meet, the more I miss you.
Grief is a peculiar thing.
The thread between us remains even when everything else seems to have peeled away.
In fact without all the clutter I am much more aware of it.
In the end,
when all the stuff of life is gone,
When all the complications and confusions have melted and the fibres are dry,
We will stand apart like tall stringed instruments
Golden threads revealed, stretching across the universe
River Thames near St Paul’s Cathedral.
Family Group prepare to walk over Millennium bridge.
Elderly woman VM(90s) to granddaughter (34):
“I wanted so much to make a difference. I devoted my life to art. Do you think that anything has changed? Do you think we understand the importance and value of self and collective expression any better now? Do you think we are more in touch with the moment, the materials, the making? Have we repositioned art and artist into the centre of our society and value system?”
“I don’t know grandma. What I do know is that you have had and do have a massive impact on the people who see your work and hear you speak about art. You touch them deeply. I have seen it for myself time and time again. People cry, get down on their knees, get exhilarated and animated, you bring on all sorts of significant and valuable responses grandma. Lets go see the show right now and do the press thing. I am so excited for you.”
Son (70s) holds elderly woman’s hand tenderly. Helps her into wheel chair.
“Darling you are the best and most important thing I ever created in my entire life. We made you from pure love you know.” She touches his face and smiles deeply. He receives her touch and grins lovingly.
Pregnant grand daughter (28) carefully tucks shawl around grandmas legs, checks feet on foot rests. Gently pushes chair across bridge to Tate.
Gallery Entrance – assistant introduces group to awaiting guests. Group walks into gallery.
“Welcome everyone, to ‘Blessed Art…’ Thank you for coming along to the Tate today. We are so pleased you are here and hope you will enjoy the tour. I am delighted to see so many faces. To those who don’t already know me I am Isabella Cairns, exhibitions director here at the Tate Modern and directing curator for this exhibition.
I’m really very excited to show you this exhibition – a major retrospective spanning 1974 and 2049 by Veronique Maria. We will take you through the exhibition shortly. Ms Maria will give personal insights into some of the ideas, processes and intensions behind her work.
The show is deliberately not laid out chronologically. The intention is for you to experience the exhibition as a whole life’s work and to see and sense the work of one woman’s intimate life rather than a linear developmental process.
We will mention significant mentors and inspiration as we go alone. If you have questions please feel free to ask at any point.
Autumn 2002 – Therapy
“When people have blessed me in life, especially those whom I respect and admire, I have felt like a brand new sail boat being launched from it’s slipway with expensive champagne.
I’ve felt incredibly affirmed and been much more able to move forwards with confidence and power as a consequence of these blessings. ”
“who has affirmed you in this way?”
“Many; my grandparents are the obvious ones, the constant ones. My mother encouraged my creativity when I was young when she let me paint of my bedroom wall, and then later it was people in the Psychosynthesis training and artists I respect. Awards, prizes and being patronised is affirming too of course, and friends, audiences, and lovers are very significant as well. Most of those affirmations seem to be related to my authenticity, creativity and courage as an artist though. Is that what you meant?”
“and what about your first love, your first lover?”
“Well she has always admired me on some level and rejected me on another of course. She mirrors my familiar experience. Constantly affirming grandparents and persistently rejecting mother rolled into one. It’s complicated to live with such extreme poles – externalised and then internalised.
You always bring her back into the conversation. Do you think there is something unresolved there for me? You always challenge me to look inside the dark dusty corners that I might otherwise prefer to ignore!”
Male surgeon cuts woman’s naked belly horizontally.
Passes scalpel to theatre sister.
His hands enter deep inside wound.
Beside operating table sits cheap plastic bucket.
Inside bucket – Womb lies in blood.
Surgeon drops second (unknown) organ into bucket.
Blood splashes up bucket sides.
Drops spill on handle.
Organ hits womb, falls in beside it – slips in comfortably.
New camera shot – questionable object in bucket – Foetus?
Other end of room:
Woman with wild flower bouquet slowly places individual stalks carefully into another bucket.
Takes time positioning/arranging flowers/foliage.
Another corner of operating theatre
VM pours remains of Paw Paw fruit (brushed from studio floor)into third bucket.
Paw Paw slips into bucket.
VM repeats “blessed art thou, blessed is the fruit of thy womb….”
“How was it for you to be with your first lover again this weekend?”
“She is gorgeous. I love her deeply and am inspired at how our love has transformed.”
Winter – Many moments over several decades – merging. (1958 – 2049)
Layers of images – bodies, life, death, collecting things in buckets, gathering, sweeping.
Drum keeps playing
Same scenes are being projected as video installation onto massive wall Tate gallery.
Press/journalist and others audience members observe.
“Why is she more prominent than other loves?
Does she lead you back to my mother? As my first love? In an ideal world?”
Lush English Garden.
Overgrown, semi tropical.
VM making prayer beads whispering ‘blessed art thou’
Tiny clay balls, moulded in her fingers, fall into a metal pot – ‘tink’.
“She is not my original love… my art is my all time lover. She is constant and transforms all other loves into new forms. She saves me, holds me, never gives up on me…
I am able to take more risks in life because I have this lover who holds, enables and guides me.”
Secluded, slightly over grown Sussex garden.
Warm sunny day.
VM (50) wearing loosely fitting clothing.
Thin cotton sun dress falls around her shoulders.
She has bare feet and is nearly naked.
Dry grass runs through her toes
Her finger tips tickle seeds pods and flowers as she passes.
The air is still.
A grass snake slithers through a patch of damp earth between compost heap and pond.
She walks inside the house and becomes much older… (99)
Light modern house full of texture, colour, care
Eclectic mix of mid century and faded style
VM sits down at table strew with love poems/photographs
VM takes an old A4 email from forty six years earlier
Puts on glasses
“I need to go slowly. I am afraid. You seem too good to be true. M x ”
“lean in to me and trust sweetheart, all we can do is trust and keep communicating. V xxx”
Sits close beside VM
slips loving hands around VM
leans over and kisses VM’s neck
VM turns to M and says “We learnt to ride over the ocean darling, we have been very blessed.
M “Yes my darling we have been very blessed.”
VM takes M’s face in her hands and says “Blessed art thou”
M touches VM tenderly. Pulls VM close to her and says
“Yes my beautiful, and blessed is our fruit.”
Spring 2013 – Wondrous Life (Still moment from a video by the same name)