AN INVITATION

THE HEROINE’S JOURNEY

BY Daphne Radenhurst

An inspiring journey of suffering and redemption

told through Art Therapy

I'm here

Come and listen to Daphne’s story

On 13 July, Christchurch Hall, 10h30-12h30

Julian Road, BA1 2RH

“A gem of a book …. giving us a privileged glimpse into Daphne’s spiritual journey”

Jane Saunderson MSc, HIP, MSTAT

There will be refreshments

Hope to see you there

Here is an invitation to my book launch for anyone who may have not seen it and who is near enough to be able to come along.

I’ll look forward to seeing you.

 

 

THE HEROINE’S JOURNEY

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“The Heroine’s Journey beautifully showcases eleven powerful and original art therapy paintings that depict the stages on the journey from darkness to light undertaken by the amazingly courageous and deeply inspiring Daphne Radenhurst.

The paintings are accompanied by an overview of Daphne’s fascinating life story and focus on a particular time from her childhood that led her to experience the heroine’s journey of the title.

It has been a privilege and an honour to have been part of Daphne’s journey over the last few years, and I have no doubt that this book will inspire all who have had intense experiences during childhood to find their way forwards from darkness to light.

Julia McCutchen, Intuitive Coach, Mentor and Author of Conscious Writing: Discover Your True Voice through Mindfulness and More.”

I am deeply indebted to and honoured by Julia McCutchen’s endorsement of my work. Julia has been an inspiring teacher and mentor to me for many years.

Here is another review.

“In 1932, aged four, Daphne was left alone in the care of the nuns in a convent in Brittany. There she remained for three years. Her single mother had lost all her money in the financial crash and was forced to seek work. Now in her 90’s, through a series of powerful paintings that emerged during art therapy, Daphne courageously explores those years, the traumatic separation, and ponders their impact.

Each of us follows a path of trials and adventures in order to find our true selves and achieve redemption. This gem of a book combines pithy text and poignant illustrations, giving us a privileged glimpse into Daphne’s ‘spiritual journey’. Over 80 years after leaving the convent she returned there and ‘felt nothing but joy’.

Jane Saunderson MSc, MA HIP, MSTAT.”

I feel equally honoured by Jane’s kind words about my book. Jane and I have been members of the Bede Griffiths Sangha and I have attended retreats with her for nearly thirty years. She has been a friend and also a spiritual mentor to me along the way.

I have written this little book as a precursor to my memoir “….till I end my song”, in which I have written about my life after those crucial years in the convent, about the impact they had on me and how they directed me in my search for meaning and led me to find a spiritual path, which is still ongoing  –   as this journey never ends.

Here is a photo of me back at the convent, at the age of 90, last year.

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There will be a book launch of my book on Saturday, 13th July, in Bath.

Watch this space!

 

 

 

 

 

MY AIM

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Everything sings the same message. Spring watch, the trees, the flowers, the birds. We need to listen, listen, hear the silent message. Trees are good for us. We are destroying the world. Is it now too late? This beautiful universe, this planet, this earth, the galaxies, too vast to even contemplate. As Pascal, the French mathematician, once said: “The infinite vastness of the universe fills me with terror!”

When I was eighteen I was young, idealistic, filled with ardour. I wrote poetry. Looking back at it I feel it was quite prophetic. Here is a poem that I wrote.

MY AIM

            My aim is to sing a song of beauty,

To gather loveliness out of the wind’s caress,

To bring pain into the heart of youth,

To draw out passion from the budding rose

And make it live again in some throbbing breast.

To pierce the bud of jessamine

And bring forth scents and sounds

Excelling all those ever smelt or heard on earth before.

That is my aim.

 

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I thought this was a pretty tall order, the vaulting ambition of youth. But now that I am old and look back on all the vicissitudes of my life, I see that perhaps it was not. For we are all different. In being true to ourselves we are each of us unique, we are truly original. To say that my song is like no other, born out of my own experience and my own personal make up, is the perfect truth.

This is why I have produced my first book, “The Heroine’s Journey: from darkness to light”, and why I am writing my life story “……till I end my song.”

More to come on this in my next blog, so stay tuned.

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GRACE

Grace, what is grace?  “It droppeth as the gentle rain from Heaven upon the earth beneath.” It has many meanings, secular and religious. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “pleasing quality, charm, ease and refinement of movement, action, expression or manner.” “By the grace of God” implies a divine gift which is bestowed freely and is unmerited, thereby placing the recipient in a state of grace. It comes from the Latin root meaning ‘favour, dear or pleasing.’

I recently attended a Candala of Grace retreat at a retreat centre in Somerset. I went primarily because my friend Lizzie was facilitating it and I wanted to support her. I should add that I was suffering from the tail end of a cold, and therefore not in the best space. But I was full of expectancy.

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A Candala is an illuminated art form designed to light up our world. Built as an installation with positive intent, it is based on the circle and incorporates light and symbolic materials.

There were six of us on the retreat, we were an eclectic mix: a businessman, an interfaith minister, a former royal airforce woman, a carer, a former secretary and NATO employee, and an investment banker, who also ran healing courses. The course was being run by Lizzie, writer and poet, and Jehanne, cellist. Lizzie is also an artist and originator of the Candala art form.

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We sat around a simple installation, a single tea light on a white circle surrounded by  a circle of clay beads, on a white square. It was simple and beautiful. We listened to the rich, warm tones of the cello as Jehanne played two Bach cello suites, leading us into a contemplative silence.

We were then invited to share our intention for the day. The word ‘learn’ came into my mind. I was there to learn whatever the day might bring forth for me.

Lizzie told us a little about the Candala concept, its philosophy and values, and her  exploration of it after her own experience of spiritual enlightenment. It was designed as a reflective space for our times and a multi-sensory experience for the exploration and embodiment of Grace, which was our theme for the day.

Our first practice was the making of the prayer beads, we were each given a small piece of clay to roll into a ball, a pin with which to make a hole in the ball, and we then placed our bead into an individual dish with our name on it, and these were put aside.  Talking about them, Lizzie told us that the traditional number of beads in different cultures was nearly always one hundred and eight. Very interesting.

After having been led into a guided meditation, we were invited to share our own definition of what the word ‘grace’ meant to us, which elicited a number of responses. I was still undecided at this stage.

Another sensory experience followed. We each chose a stone and a feather, felt the hardness, smoothness, weight of the stone, felt the softness, lightness of the feather.

We were given three ‘Illuminating Reflections’ to ponder.  One of these I found particularly healing.

Time for some movement, and we were invited to move around the room in a circle, moving mindfully, aware of our feet on the ground, our breathing, and finally ending with some guided movement, sweeping our arms up and down, bringing  energy into our bodies.

Seated once more, we then shared with a partner what we were experiencing. I remembered an episode in my early years when I had decided to become a Roman Catholic. I went to see a priest, told my mother, who was horrified, saying ‘there had never been a Catholic in family’, returning to the priest to say that I had changed my mind, and his saying to me that he hoped ‘Grace would not depart from me for ever.’ We both laughed at this story. I did not feel it had.

Lizzie told us about the Mexican artist, Frieda Kahlo, who overcame her own physical disabilities with great courage to become a renowned painter, and Pavlova, the Russian dancer, with her extraordinary powers of levitation and evocation of a dying swan. Jehanne played the St Saens cello composition of the Dying Swan, and we were invited to listen with our eyes closed and then to move our hands in response to the music. I found this very beautiful.

The day came to a close with a final ritual incorporating the beads which we had made earlier. We were handed a golden thread and we each placed our bead onto it, which was then placed around an antique gold decorative tripod holding a white sphere. This symbolised surrounding our beloved planet in a Circle of Grace. As we stood round this symbol Lizzie asked each one of us for a word to express the day. The word ‘cooking’ had already come to mind. I felt that we had been engaged in an alchemical process, making a magic broth, literally turning water into wine.

We all sat down and the day was brought to a close and we shared what the day had meant to us. I myself felt renewed and rejuvenated, fully restored to health. I expressed my gratitude to Lizzie and Jehanne.

There was a general consensus that we had created a sacred space, a place of light which would spread out into this dysfunctional world of ours. There was a wonderful sense of peace and harmony between us.

I finally understood what the Candala meant and the importance of symbols. Every detail of the day had been integral to the whole, nothing had been out of place, everything had meaning.

Reflecting on the diversity, talents, energy and vibration of all the participants, it seemed to me that we had created  a strong, harmonic sound to be sent out into the universe.

In some magical way, we had all of us been touched by grace.

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MY RETURN TO THE ABBAYE

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There are some places in the world which are special, places which seem untouched by time. Such places have been called ‘thin places’, where heaven and earth seem to touch, where the human and holy meet. I recently read a description of Iona, the island off the north coast of Scotland, where St Columba and his companions landed 1500 years ago, and founded a monastery there. For those early Christians, looking at where sky and earth met, it must have seemed that they were on the edge of the world, where the veil between heaven and earth is very thin.

I believe that the Abbaye, in northern Brittany, is such a place. It sits at the end of the little village of St Jacut-de-la-mer, on a narrow peninsula.

It was some forty years ago that I last visited the Abbaye, which had been my childhood home, the place where I spent my formative years, from the age of three to seven. It was with some trepidation and a certain amount of foreboding that I came here again in my ninetieth year. Would I find it the same, would it have changed?

I need not have worried. As soon as our taxi passed through the iron gates into the old familiar courtyard, happiness fell upon me like a gentle balm. Like a familiar presence, the Abbaye embraced me in its loving arms.

Daphne & John 1          Myself at four with my friend John in the courtyard

It has had a long and turbulent history. Founded in the fifth century by St Jacut, who is reputed to have sailed across the sea from Wales, landing on the small Isle des Ebihans just off the coast, he set up a hermitage with his brother Guetenoc. Here they led a life of prayer and penitence and are said to have followed the rule of St Columba. It became a substantial monastery, with many ups and downs, till finally during the French Revolution in 1790, the building was rased to the ground, all its property and wealth stolen and pillaged. All the monks fled, it was said, to the nearby Isle des Ebihans.

When I arrived there in 1931 with my mother at the age of three, it had been restored and rebuilt by the Sisters of St Méen, of the Order of the Immaculate Conception. They had bought the property back in 1875 and it had become once more a place of devotion and sanctity. No longer supported by the government, the nuns had to make a living, and so they began to welcome visitors and the Abbaye became a ‘pension de famille.’

How to describe my feelings when I revisited the Abbaye all those years later. Whatever unhappiness or darkness might have existed when I was separated from my mother at the age of four, and which I have described in an earlier blog, none of that remained.

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Myself today

I was transported right back into my childhood, everything was familiar to me; the old stone walls covered with wisteria, hundred of years old, reaching right up to the upper windows, with roots thick as a tree; the holy well in the centre of the courtyard; the tree shaded walk leading right down to the sea, called the Monks’ Walk; and the vegetable gardens where, as a small child, with my tiny rosary, I had walked with the nuns in their long black robes, as they paced and told their beads.

Going down the Monks’ Walk I came to the Promenade which surrounded the Abbaye grounds, and the old stone wall protecting it from the sea. I looked across to the Isle des Ebihans, about a mile away, where we used to walk, taking a picnic with us and our shrimping nets. Now I could see people still walking over the sands and there were still figures digging in the mud searching for shrimps, mussels and whelks. I felt as though nothing had changed. Looking out to the far horizon, where earth and sea seemed to merge, there was a sense of timelessness.

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The fact that the Abbaye is situated on a spit of land surrounded by sea, in French it is called a ‘presqu’ile’, (almost an island), accounts for the fact, I think, that it has remained relatively unspoilt and untouched. And it still seems to be unpolluted, which is rare in this day and age.

All around us was the sea, great expanses of sea and sky, changing colour all the time, sailing boats with their white sails on the horizon, across the bay from us clusters of houses, and rocks rising up out of the water like sentinels. I wrote in my diary:

“Today the sea is turquoise blue, the sailing boats are out, the sky is cerulean blue with streaks of white, little wavelets are lapping against the wall with a soft shusshing sound. It is all so beautiful, so peaceful, a haven, a place to come and be, a place of happiness, of simple pleasures. It is a hidden treasure.”

The interior of the Abbaye had, of course, been modernised. The dark hallway which I remembered had been replaced by a light spacious entrance and the reception area was open to all. The old stairway had gone and there was now a lift.

The big dining room which I remembered was still there. It was big enough to hold one hundred to a hundred and fifty people, with tables for six to eight people. I remembered when I was a child, at Christmas, families used to come, even from England, and we played games in the dining room, the tables would be pulled back and we would play trains and musical chairs, with the chairs piled into the centre of the room. I have a vivid memory of the fun we had.

The bedrooms too had been modernised, very functional but comfortable, and with excellent showers. France in the past was never known for its good plumbing!

There were still lovely flower borders in the spacious gardens, though the pond with the statue of St Christopher in the centre had gone. There was now a large Zen garden in its place!

St Jacut pond

I had come with my art group to paint. There were five of us, and we soon settled down into a routine. I was glad that they all loved the place, especially Michael, my art teacher. We had a small, light and airy room where we could work, and we were soon visited by the curious French, or they peered in at us through the large windows as they passed by.

Two twin sisters were very friendly. One of them had been a painter, but since having had a stroke she could no longer use her right arm. We suggested she try using her left hand, and she said she felt inspired by us to do just that!

Michael felt very much at home, as the French have a proper appreciation of the place of art in life. He was delighted too, at the way the French people greeted each other in the mornings, everyone kissing each other on the cheeks.

There was something about the atmosphere of the place which seemed to infect us too. We enjoyed the mealtimes, we had our own table, and were surrounded by family groups of lively French people. The meals followed exactly the same pattern that I remembered, coffee in bowls for breakfast, I adopted this practice again, and brioche. At lunchtime, which was served at 12h15, there were five courses, entrée, meat or fish, salad, cheese and dessert, and in the evening, soup. Didier, one of our group, always prepared the salad, it became a ritual, he called it ‘attacking’ the salad. And there was, of course, a bottle of wine on the table and a large baguette. The novelty of it all seemed to loosen our tongues, we laughed uproariously and had most interesting conversations. We were nearly always the last to leave the dinning room.

We decided to have a picnic at lunchtime so as not to interrupt our painting. We each received a large bag containing bread, butter, a savoury filling, small salad, a fruit or fruit compote. The staff were always obliging if we wanted to change, nothing seemed too much trouble for them. There were tables and chairs dotted around the lawn and we found a shady tree under which to sit and eat. Being in France, we supplemented our meal with a good bottle of wine. This became another pleasant ritual, which usually ended with our needing a siesta to sleep off our lunch.

I was interested to see how the Abbaye had changed. There were now only five nuns living there, no longer dressed in black, but wearing cream coloured mid calf dresses, and no veils. As I was crossing the courtyard one morning, I saw an old nun walking to the front door. She looked rather severe, I thought, and at that she turned and gave me a radiant smile.

No longer run purely by the nuns, it has become a very successful centre managed by a religious and a secular group working side by side, offering hospitality and space for conferences and retreats and creative pursuits, such as our own art group. There was a chapel and an oratory, and a pattern of prayer throughout the day for those who wanted it. Whilst we were there, there was a large group of people doing Gestalt therapy, much to our curiosity and amusement. (Gestalt s a form of experiential psychotherapy) In fact, by the end of our holiday we decided we had been doing some Gestalt ourselves. Many people, we discovered, came there just to enjoy the peace and quiet and the beauty of the place.

The Abbaye has become a place of freedom and liberation, a place where you can come to learn and reflect, or a place just to ‘BE”.

Coming back to the Abbaye now at the end of my life has made me realise that it is indeed a place of higher consciousness, a place where it is easy to believe in a better world.  I remembered my mother telling me that when I was a child, I used to have long conversations with someone whom I called ‘a beautiful Being” and how I used to tell her all about it. No longer a child, I still had a strong sense of that all pervading benign presence.

I felt that I had been able to recapture my childhood self, a sense of wonder and delight, a sense of happiness;  I reconnected with the energy of the French people and their spirit, an innate lightness and joy. I had come home.

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I’M ALIVE, I EXIST

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We have all been appalled by the stories of the Windrush generation and how, for the want of a little piece of paper identifying them as British citizens, they have lost their jobs and been threatened with deportation, even though they have been living in Britain for fifty years or more. This is a story of bungling mismanagement, and even plain inhumanity. Bureaucracy, it seems, causes basic common sense to fly out of the window, to be replaced by mindless pen pushers only concerned with carrying out the letter of the law.

This raises the interesting fact that our very right to live seems to rest on the possession of a piece of paper establishing our existence.

I have the utmost sympathy for these people, though it appears the government is now preparing to rectify these injustices which have resulted from past government decisions.

This has brought back many memories for me of my own story. When I was born in Nice in 1928,  my mother, who was unmarried, forgot to register my birth at the time. When she remembered, her French doctor advised her that she would receive a heavy fine (not very good advice) for not having done it before, so she did nothing, and thought no more about it.

Daphne & Ma

When I was nine, in 1937, I came to England with my mother and I travelled on my mother’s passport, which was possible in those days. My mother, being Canadian, had British nationality at that time. All went well, until in 1945, when I was seventeen, I wanted to visit my pen pal in Lille, France. It was then that we discovered that, without a birth certificate, I had no nationality. It seemed that I could not be Canadian, I could not be British and I could not be French, as I did not conform to any of the rules prevailing at the time.

What to do?  I wrote to Sir Anthony Eden, believing in my naivety that he would surely come to my aid! And received an anodyne letter couched in the usual bureaucratic waffle, offering no help whatsoever. This made me realise for the first time, what a tiny little cog in this great universe I was.

Eventually, after my mother consulted a lawyer, a solution was found.  I was declared an ‘alien’ and I was given an ‘Aliens’ certificate, which then enabled me to travel. The only inconvenience was that whenever I changed address, I had to report to the local Police station.

And there the matter rested for many years, and I was able to travel abroad when I wanted. Of course, being considered and named as an alien did nothing to enhance my self esteem, which was already pretty low.

So when I applied to work for NATO in Paris and was accepted, I was over the moon. The year was 1959 and I was thirty one years old. I had carefully explained to the Personnel Officer in NATO my legal status. However, once in Paris, with my mother, I then learnt that I needed an ID card in order to live there. The Police station in Paris informed me that I needed an official Passport, and that my Aliens certificate was not sufficient.

It seemed that once again my hopes and dreams were to be dashed to the ground. I was instructed to  have an interview with the Deputy Head of Personnel. I remember him as a thin, grey man, with an inscrutable face.  Even when, in my desperation, I exclaimed “But I’m alive, I exist!” I saw no flicker of expression cross his face.

I then went to see the Welfare Officer in NATO, Mme Dreyfus. She was a doughty lady, small and dark, with flashing eyes. “We have engaged you and we must look after you” she declared.

It was my good fortune to have this formidable woman on my side. She went to see my French boss and together they decided that something must be done about “my lack of nationality.”  The sources of power in NATO were set in motion, resulting in my being called to the British Consulate in Paris, where I met the British Consul, Betty Barclay, and I became a naturalised citizen of the United Kingdom.

Finally I had that little piece of paper which enabled me to stay on in Paris, and finally I was able to declare myself to be British. My eternal gratitude goes to that one small lady with a big heart, Madame Dreyfus.

Which is why my heart goes out now to the Windrush generation.

 

MARIA

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Maria and Patricia

 

I have been thinking of my friend Maria delli Zotti.  Maria was a simultaneous interpreter at NATO in Brussels during the sixties to eighties when I was there. She was also a member of the School of Philosophy, an esoteric Wisdom School which I attended, which is how I came to know her. Maria spoke several languages, French, Spanish and Italian, as well as English. This, she said modestly, was because of her background, French/Italian, and probably other strands as well.

Maria was a senior member of the School, was a tutor as well as a meditation teacher, whilst I was quite junior.  She was extremely elegant, small and petite, she was always beautifully dressed in a classic style. I admired her greatly. She was warm and outgoing, and regularly invited people round to her flat for tea and a chat.  I found her very easy to talk to, I had many problems at that time, and she always listened and gave me good advice. In a way she became a confidante and a kind of mentor to me in the School.

Me, Carol, Maria

An early morning calligraphy class, Carol is teaching in the foreground, I am next to her in a red cardigan, Maria is in the background, also in red.

Very sadly, Maria died quite suddenly when only in her fifties. This is what I wrote at the time.

“My friend Maria

I was having lunch with my friend Maria. For quite a long time she had been complaining of headaches. It was so unusual for her to complain, I ought to have realised there was something very wrong. I had seen her getting thinner and thinner, but she was immaculately dressed as always, even more elegant than usual.

As I say, we were having lunch. She did not talk very much and I was struggling to find things to say. We fell silent. I had a feeling it was taking her all her energy just to sit there. She suggested a walk in the fresh air.

I was hurrying a little, as I had to get back early to the office. As we went out and down the steps, she stumbled and lost her shoe. I remember thinking what absurdly high heels she was wearing. I realised I was going too fast and slowed down my pace to hers. I parted from her at the Main Entrance to go back to the office.

A week later, I heard she was in hospital, three weeks later, she was dead. Even as I left her, she was dying on her feet. If only I had known – but she would not have wanted it that way. She was courageous, considerate and kind, to the very end.

A very rare human being – my friend Maria.”

At the time of Maria’s death, I had left the School, but we still kept in touch. I went to her funeral, which was simple and very moving, and I met many of my old fellow philosophers there, among them Trevor who came up to talk to me.  I had left the School in 1985 and I left Brussels in 1989, so it must have been at some point during those years.

Another old friend from the School has just recently died, Anita Morris, a very lovely lady. Her death has brought back many memories of the School. It was a very special time for me, which is why I feel like paying this tribute to Maria here now.

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Anita and Trevor

May they rest in peace.

 

MOTHER

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Early in the summer of 2015 I attended a Conscious Writing Retreat led by Julia McCutcheon in Glastonbury. At that retreat I had the sudden realisation of what it had meant to me to have never had a father. In some turmoil I decided to see a therapist. She set me three tasks, to write a letter to my father, to my mother, and to my inner child. I recently came across the letters I had written to my mother and to my small child. I felt like reproducing the letter to my mother here. The photo above is of her at age seventeen.  Here is the letter.

“My darling mother,

You often used to say to me: “we must try to understand each other better.” I would look at you without comprehension, I did not see what there was to understand. I have changed so much since those days and I can see now where you were coming from.

It makes me sad now to realise how lonely you must have been. If you were alive now I would be able to talk to you and understand you.

There was so little psychological knowledge in those days. You had done everything you could for me, brought me up, clothed me, fed me, but you could do nothing for my state of mind. You did once say to me: “I wasn’t brought up, I was dragged up.” I have often wondered whether you felt any guilt about me. You never showed it and we never discussed it.

If only we could have talked, but I was very incurious as a child. I never wondered who my father was or asked any questions about him, and I never asked you about your own life.

I remember you as a comforting presence in my life, you were always there as something secure and safe. I was quite selfish and self absorbed and took you for granted, as I suppose many young people do.

I am grateful because you gave me a good education and because you were a stable force in my life. Without you I think I might have gone off the rails.

This is not to say that there were not moments of happiness between us. But I turned out to be an oddball, not the normal, conventional girl you would have liked me to be. I know you were proud of me because I was clever and you were very ambitious for me. I was cripplingly shy and had no ambition at all, not in a worldly sense anyway.

You always said I was too mystical for my own good, but I think it is that quality that has got me through my life and to where I am now.

I know now that I have inherited a lot of your qualities, but when you were alive I felt dwarfed by you, you were such a strong woman and very gifted.

Of course now I could meet you on an equal level, as I have developed my own strengths and my own gifts.

It is a great regret to me now that I did not appreciate you more when you were alive and that we were never able to become close. It also makes me sad now to realise how sad and lonely you must have felt at times, and that I was the cause of that.

I know you would have been proud of me later on when my work life improved and I got the MBE for my work in NATO. I’m sure you would have been pleased at all the things I’ve done since I retired, my painting, my singing, my writing. Whether you would have understood them, I don’t know.

As the years have passed my relationship with you has changed and I have come to understand YOU much more. My love for you has grown and my profound respect and gratitude.  What enormous courage you showed back in 1928, to give birth to an illegitimate child, and then, when you lost all your money in 1932, to start to work and build up a career for yourself with your cooking in schools, even writing a book about it!

In my later years I have tried to repay and honour you, first by painting you when you were a beautiful young woman, and later by writing about you and depicting the truly remarkable woman that you were.

Thank you, dear mother, for giving me my life. I think in the end it has not been in vain and that I have vindicated all the the hopes and trust that you put in me.

Your very loving, devoted daughter

Daphne”

You will be able to read about the relationship between my mother and myself in my forthcoming book, which goes up to my mother’s death. How I fared after her death will be the subject of the sequel.

Here is the very first painting in oils which I did in Paris of my mother, then in her seventies. She did not like it, I am not surprised, but for me it is a reminder of how she was, a comforting presence, and it is actually very like her.

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ART THERAPY

When I retired in July 1989 and came back to England, I started going to all kinds of courses and workshops, there was such an abundance of them, not available in Brussels. One of these was an art therapy course in Totnes, which I went to early in 1990, over a three day weekend, Friday to Sunday.

Our therapist was a good one. She gave us large sheets of paper and poster paints and various exercises designed to help us relax and open up to our subconscious minds. I did eleven of these paintings and  I have written about them in my life story, but my editor wanted more in depth information about them. How did they make me feel and how do I interpret the pictures?

So I have looked at them again. Yes, they are shocking and very, very powerful. What are they about? They cover that early period in my life when I was left behind with nuns in a convent in Brittany, whilst my mother found work after having lost all her money in the great Depression in 1932. I was four years old and I stayed with the nuns till I was seven.

I have been feeling for a long time that this was a crucial period which determined the rest of my life. Fortunately, I can now look at them with some degree of equanimity and much more understanding.

I have decided to publish them here now in advance of the publication of my book.

Here is the first painting.

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I get a feeling of some primeval sludge, something which has been trampled, from which all the life force is being squeezed out, a primal scream, a darkness from which all the light is escaping.

Here is the next one.

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Here is a small child, a child still full of light, but who is encased in a prison, see the hands holding her down. She is distressed, tears are flowing from her eyes, and her mouth is wide open in shock and bewilderment. Her two extremities, her hands and her feet, are blue with cold, which will begin to spread throughout the whole of her body.

And the next one.

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The words along the side in red read: I FEEL TRAPPED, FRIGHTENED, HOPELESS, HELPLESS, I WANT TO GET OUT OF THE MAZE. Here is a small child, with bright yellow hair and blue eyes, surrounded by huge black figures who look as they they are trampling her to death. She is trying to escape but she is hemmed in on all sides.

And here is one more.

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Here a small child is standing in front of what looks like large black boots hemming her in, the middle of her body, heart and tummy, are blue and she is screaming to a menacing black figure above her :  Go away, I don’t want you, I hate you. MUMMY – HELP – love, protection, security, cuddles –  where are you? why aren’t you here? There is a barrier between her and the woman in blue who is walking away. The woman can’t hear her, her ear is covered by a red patch. The meaning of this picture seems to me to be self explanatory.

And the following picture, again self explanatory.

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An old crone is bathing a small child, who seems formless, with fair hair and blue eyes, and she is screaming. The crone has a large wart on her chin with three black hairs sticking out, she seems to be smiling. The black bars seem like a prison, while the red denotes a sense of menace.

The next drawing shows a change.

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The image is not very clear. A small sturdy child, now with brown hair, seems to be falling down a long chute surrounding by various kinds of monsters. Right below her is a large, kindly yellowish being who appears to be supporting her, maybe a sea monster, as he is rising out of the sea.  This is the start of the heroine’s journey.

The next picture has the caption: I want to find my Mummy. The small sturdy child is now on a pathway leading through hills, trees and valleys, with various obstacles on the way, as well as some more benevolent figures.

The next picture is a strange one. It shows a  large blue bottle with a yellow figure popping out of it and splitting:  there are body parts, legs, arms, a torso, feet, a head and a heart all flying around the page, while another bowl at the side looks as though it is ready to receive them all. Someone I recently met told me that shamanic healing consists in taking you apart before reassembling you again into a whole.

In the following painting we are back to the brown figure landing on what looks like the seabed: there is sand, fish swimming and waving seaweed. On the child’s face is a smile of triumph and the caption says: I”m here!

Here is the last but one painting.

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Here we see the bright yellow child again, with yellow hair. She is leaping out of the deep blue sea onto the beach, whilst the bright red sun is pouring its rays down on the scene. It is the end of the journey and all is well.

The final painting depicts a figure, not quite a child, could it be the soul, more like a stick figure with one large blue eye facing a woman in nun’s dress of pale blue now, with a veil. Her head is inclined to the yellow figure and there is a benign expression on her face. The childlike figure is extending her arms in a gesture of welcome. No black colours here, but yellow, green and blue, colours of peace and harmony.

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On the Sunday morning, the last morning of the retreat, I had a dream. I dreamt about the nuns, but they were no longer all in black, they were all wearing white robes. I lay in bed, feeling peaceful and happy. It seemed that there had been some resolution, a reconciliation. And all this had been going in my unconscious mind. It seemed like a miracle.

My mother removed me from the convent when I was seven. Why did she leave me there so long? It was only when the nuns wanted me to become a Roman Catholic that she took me away. She herself was an atheist, but there had never been a Catholic in the family! Again, years later, when I wanted to become a Catholic, my mother used the same argument. I returned to the priest to tell him I had changed my mind. His parting words to me were that he hoped that Grace had not departed from me for ever! Fortunately, I do not think it has.

Before the separation I was a happy and talkative child. When I came back to my mother again, I was a nervous, shy, almost silent child. I have hardly any memories of this period of my life. It has taken me a lifetime to unravel all the complexities of what happened to me at that time.

But this story does have a happy ending. When my mother died I had a strong sense of her spirit inside of me. Now I know that her spirit is with me all the time, and I have been told so by a shaman. My life has been one of spiritual exploration, and I think there has always been a knowledge deep inside of me, when I used to have long conversations as a child with a beautiful Being, which has somehow sustained me throughout all the ups and downs of my life.