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Wheelchair Wisdom: The Process of Creation

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I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit in content,
And if each and all be aware I sit in content.
One world is aware and by far the largest to me
and that is myself,
And whether I come to my own today or in ten
thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal
cheerfulness, I can wait.

-- Walt Whitman, "A Song of Myself," Leaves of Grass


In the early 1970s, I loved to paint with watercolors. I sold out three one-woman shows in order to pay the tuition needed for my first husband to attend and graduate from Jefferson University Medical School in Philadelphia. Years later, as illness affected the mobility of my hands, a new symptom surfaced: a tremor in my right hand, my painting hand. This tremor eventually hampered my writing, my typing, and my painting, and it still does.

I went from being known for my award-winning graphic design firm, Noble Design (representing well-known clients, largely thanks to my right hand!), all the way to my current situation where I can't hold a pen and, at times, have to have someone help me eat. (Yet, I still have my artsy, loopy signature!)

So -- how did I choose to deal with this?

I gradually recognized and embraced one of my Core Strengths -- ACCEPTANCE:

Acceptance doesn't mean we agree with, like, or condone what is going on. Acceptance can allow us to look at every situation as a stepping stone on the path to awaken our Spirit and use every situation as our teacher. In other words, accept it all! We may not like it, and it might not be what we hoped or prayed for, but it is the way it is. It is what is in front of us right now. You may even notice that resisting is more painful than just allowing it to be; that is, "ride the horse in the direction it is going."

Because I am an artist, my tremor reminded me of Auguste Renoir who, because of crippling arthritis, strapped brushes to his hands and painted with longer, more fluid strokes, resulting in some of his best works. I also remembered Henri Matisse, who was confined to bed in his later life and unable to work with paints. Instead, he created huge, stunning compositions from colored papers, cut out with scissors, as he lay in bed.

These artists were my teachers and role models of transformation, and inspired me to explore how I could still paint! There was never a question that I had to find another way to express my life-long passion. Instead of trying to prevent my right hand from trembling, I had a jolt of inspiration and began to use the trembling to create rhythmic strokes of color and movement, resulting in tender and sweet images that reminded me of beautiful Japanese calligraphic paintings. Today, 42 years later and still right-hand dominant, I have accepted the limitations of my right hand and do the best I can. Even when typing these words, I muster all my energy, focus, resilience, passion, determination, and heart, and carefully hunt and peck on the keyboard with the index finger on my left hand. On some days -- especially hot, humid summer days in Philadelphia -- I 'write' by audio taping my thoughts, and have my assistant transcribe the text for me.

You can view the works of Matisse, Renoir, and many of my other "teachers" by visiting the extraordinary Barnes Museum in Philadelphia. There you can experience for yourself the tortured souls and the multi-dimensional vision of these artists: Van Gogh, Miro, Toulouse Lautrec, Manet, Monet, Goya, Picasso, and Chagall, who all faced incredible physical, mental, religious, social and emotional challenges

FOR ME, THESE TEACHERS DEMONSTRATED PASSION AS AN EXPRESSION OF
A PURPOSE-DRIVEN LIFE.

Expressing myself creatively has always been my calling and the gift I have been given. In order to honor this passion to create, there was a seismic shift in the perception of my creative life: an exercise in 'letting go' of the 'form'. Be flexible, and give up any attachment to the way things were in the past; stay in the present moment, relax, and trust that creativity will show up in perfect timing.

I am grateful to my artistic role models, who set the standard of excellence, and achieved it, no matter what. These great artists have given me the gifts of inspiration and the infinite courage it took (and still takes) to trust myself as I explored and developed new ways of communication and self-expression. Yet, in spite of these challenges (or perhaps because of them), each artist gave of themselves in order to express themselves ... AGAINST ALL ODDS!!

So, in spite of my tremor and the onset of my progressive illness, I chose to creatively express myself in these ways:

• I painted visual images and created stories with words.

• When I painted with watercolors, I integrated the trembling of my hand and fingers, orchestrating rhythmic strokes of color and movement that somehow depicted life the way it really was.

• It was a time of pure, limitless creative expression in order to share my joy and uplift those around me.

• I learned to accept what was my present reality, and stopped being terrified of making a mistake because of my trembling hand.

I chose to be peaceful inside regardless of what was happening on the outside.

All human beings make mistakes. Inner growth often comes through making mistakes, but many people cannot make a mistake without self judgment. The first spiritual step offers another choice--instead of beating yourself up for your mistakes, you can accept them. We can seldom control what happens in life, but it is always in our power to choose our response to what is happening.

When you're losing sleep, reviewing and worrying about a problem, it usually means you're not forgiving yourself or accepting your situation. Similarly, when you're upset or disappointed with yourself, it generally means you have forgotten to love yourself with an attitude of gratitude. When you are judging yourself, you have strayed off the path to accepting your Spirit. Remember that we are creators and are very adept at it..

EXERCISE: Now it's your turn to be creative. Take a minute to think about these questions:

* When was the last time you came up with a creative idea?
Was it this morning, yesterday, last week, last month, last year?

• What was your creative idea?

• What motivates you to be creative?

Have a great time unlocking your mind!

For more by Linda Noble Topf, click here.

For more on wisdom, click here.

I would love to hear from you so please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at lnobletopf@comcast.net.

Contact Linda for practical spiritual counseling, and transform adversity into a spiritual awakening.
Visit www.lindanobletopf.com for more information.

If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of attitudinal shift to your life around illness or any adversity, please order Linda's book, 'You Are Not Your Illness: Seven Principles for Meeting the Challenge' on Amazon.com. or order through Simon & Schuster.com

Linda Noble Topf is author of You Are Not Your Illness: Seven Principles for Meeting the Challenge, Simon & Schuster, 1995. Wheelchair Wisdom: Awaken Your Spirit Through Adversity, will be published in 2014 by Berrett-Koehler & iUniverse.

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