Awakening Around Roses
by Michelle Endersby
My first experience with the Yarra Valley Living Centre was as a support person for my husband, Brian – who has primary progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS). We attended one of the first Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis (OMS) Retreats, facilitated by Professor George Jelinek and Dr Ian Gawler, which was embellished by the healing harp music of Michael Johnson, and highlighted by a very funny laughter therapy session by Siegfried Gutbrod.
Inspired and uplifted with the tools we had gained to take control of Brian’s health, we immediately embraced the wholefoods plant-based diet, stopped cooking with oil, optimised our Vitamin D levels, and found space in our daily routine to make time for meditation and Qi Gong practices. Armed with a weekly box of seasonal fruit and vegetables delivered to our door by Organic Angels, and knowledge about how to cook wholegrains and legumes for optimum nutrition and digestion, we were eating better than ever and thoroughly enjoying the health enhancing lifestyle. This continued for quite a number of years, during which time we did a few follow up retreats at the Yarra Valley Living Centre, with Brian’s MS showing very little sign of progression. I even found time to take up painting, which quickly became a bit of a passion for me – it made me feel really alive.
I was mirroring everything that Brian was doing for his health, without realising at the time that I was actually in training for a health crisis of my own.
It started with a severe headache in the back of my head, unlike anything I had known before, and I knew something was seriously wrong. I alerted Brian and very soon I was completely paralysed down the left side, no longer able to speak and had collapsed, semi-conscious on the floor. Thankfully the ambulance came quickly. I was rushed to hospital where scans revealed that a blood vessel had ruptured in my brain. Unbeknownst to me, I had been carrying around an AVM (a malformation of the blood vessels in the brain that I was likely born with, and many people have but only become aware of it through a brain scan or, or as in my case, when they rupture). Emergency brain surgery was required to stop the bleed and siphon off the pool of blood, which was nearing the size of a tennis ball. I was in a coma on life support for five days with a breathing tube inserted down my throat.
When I awoke I found myself in a very dark place. I saw what seemed to be the dark shapes of tormented souls gathering at the foot of the bed, all of my fears and all of the things that had ever held me back were present and I was filled with horror. Then I was presented with an inspirational vision that continues to inspire me to this day. It was if the walls of the room opened and I found myself in a beautiful light-filled rose garden. I wandered down the pathway through the roses and at the end of the path I came across a tiny art gallery with no paintings in it. My spirits soared and I went from terror to elation because I was given a direct message of what I must do. I knew that I must paint the vision of beauty and hope that I was seeing and share this vision with the world.
The doctors were amazed by my recovery. It was predicted that I could be in hospital and rehab for months or even longer, with a strong possibility of permanent disability, but I was home from hospital in eleven days. I put my miraculous recovery down to not only my inspirational vision, but also the combination of following the OMS recovery program for over 5 years, as well as the tools I had gained from my time at the Yarra Valley Living Centre.
Following my major brain injury, subsequent scans and neuropsychological testing showed that certain parts of my brain had been altered. I truly believe that without the tools I gained from those retreat experiences, I would have endured considerably more debilitating effects. The tools I had gained optimised my neurological and general health and gave me an advantage for recovery.
Ironically, the alterations to my brain (that I am aware of) have resulted in a significant change to my personality, which is now enabling me to live the life of a more confident person.
Also the part of the brain where the incident had occurred was the area responsible for visual processing, and along with the potent anti-seizure medication I was required to take initially, there were no guarantees that I would be able to interpret shapes, identify and replicate colour subtleties, or ever paint again, but I knew I had been entrusted with an important mission, so I focused on rehabilitating myself and began painting roses on circular canvases.
The circle has been a powerful symbol in art throughout history and it represents many things including the cycle of life, eternity and wholeness, and for me the round canvases became a symbol of my return to wholeness. Roses are all about circles and spirals, and going around the rose painting petal by petal was a powerful meditation and very therapeutic, and that’s how my new body of work came into being.
My ‘Awakening Around Roses’ collection of paintings was discovered on my website
by a gallery in New York and I was invited to show my work on the world stage. To travel to New York from Australia to exhibit my paintings and to be part of the international art community was thrilling, as I was literally ‘living the dream’ and sharing my vision with the world. It was wonderful that Brian and I could explore New York City together, walking kilometres each day to see the sights, negotiating the subway and all the steps. We had certainly traversed from the lowest of lows to the highest of heights.
My rose paintings have attracted a lot of attention worldwide and have had a profound effect on others. The round canvases focus the attention of the viewer and encourage contemplation. Monet remarked that when he used round canvases he found that people would dwell on his works longer. Many people have commented, on seeing my works, that they have felt inspired to nurture their own creativity in many different ways.
The rose too, is a remarkable symbol of resilience and is very life-affirming, as one only has to see those bare branches of Winter burst into life in Spring to feel the joy and the life force which surges within us all. I see roses as a metaphor for our dreams, which with encouragement, will bloom and flourish joyfully. I believe it is in this state of joyfulness that our body’s innate healing ability is activated. People have been aware of the restorative powers of roses since medieval times and I know for sure that I feel very energised and replenished after spending time in a rose garden.
I was transformed by my brush with death – it was a spiritual awakening for me, and I now see the world through new eyes, dare I say ‘rose-coloured glasses’. I hope my story and my paintings can inspire an awakening in others, and that as a result, their dreams may awaken and flourish like the opening petals of a rose.
Brian and I are both very grateful for the solid foundation of health that we have achieved through our long association with the Yarra Valley Living Centre and the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis program – for the profound nurturing experiences we’ve had there, and the tools and techniques we have learned to be able to tune in and nourish ourselves on such a deep healing level. We look forward to attending Michael Johnson’s very special ‘Music and Mindfulness Retreat’ again in 2018.