“What art offers is space, a certain breathing room for the spirit.”
– John Updike
Note from Dani: This interview felt very spiritual for me. To honor the healing and mindfulness that Emma brings, I took intentional time to meditate before bringing this story forward. I strove for a clear mind and clear spirit to honor her story. We at Gatherhaus hope you find as much inspiration here as we did when we met up with Emma. This article was written in collaboration with Emma.
We think people engaging in shadow work, taking the long road for personal restoration and healing, is one of the most powerful ways to live. We think folks may know that, but for many, we are afraid of what that work would reveal and so it remains easier to stay in the shallow end of the pool. It’s safe and comfortable, with little to no risk.
Yet for Emma, her freedom, her healing, her artistic self, and her fullest life was found by entering the boundless depths of the deep water.
COVID-19 has a way of carving out decisions for our lives that we wouldn’t have made otherwise. Before COVID, Emma found herself married and the owner of an art space in St. Paul, MN. Then the pandemic came and pushed on tender spots that already existed, exposing what was in the dark. For Emma, life came to a halt. A traumatic and tumultuous place that required her to stop, take pause, and make some really difficult choices.
It became clear she couldn’t keep the shop and, it was clear to both her and her ex-wife that after five years, their marriage was not for them any longer.
Emma had started her healing work around the time she got married. She began intense therapy that allowed her to have the transformational experience looking back at her whole life, all of her relationships, and her relationship with alcohol. Her marriage became her coping mechanism. She was on a journey and this relationship embodied the safe container to heal. And then came separation and endings, which are incredibly painful, even if the decision was mutual.
“I started my healing work around the time that I got into that relationship. I began to learn about so many things that I didn’t know about before-highly sensitive people and that I am one, coping mechanisms, attachment theory, trauma and all of the different ways it can show up, the nervous system’s relationship to trauma and healing, how to feel and identify the full range of human emotions that went through my body and how I may be using alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with unresolved pain. I was in therapy and exploring deeply on my own, all of which lead to what is called, “the dark night of the soul,” an incredibly intense, transformational experience that had me looking back at my whole life in new ways along with my current habits, choices and relationships. It was the hardest experience I have ever gone through. I didn’t know it then, but that was the beginning of a spiritual journey. I was just trying to find my way out of whatever I was going through, tiny step by tiny step. That relationship embodied the safe container for me to heal and explore my inner world. It reached a point where we both realized that the life cycle of the relationship was complete and it was time to move on.”
We asked Emma when she recognized in her life that something needed to change and she needed to prioritize healing?
“It started at around the beginning of that relationship. My ex-wife had been on an intense healing journey of her own for many years and began sharing some of what she had gone through and what resources had helped her. I learned about highly sensitive people and that I am one through her, which had a profound impact and made me go backwards in my memories to childhood with that new information. It provided an incredible amount of healing. I also learned about attachment theory, codependency, dissociation, the nervous system, the unconscious mind, the ego, trauma, spirituality and started to see how they all connected to me in deep ways. I started going to therapy to explore it all because it was completely overwhelming. During that time, I also started to look at my relationship to alcohol because it was causing conflict between the two of us. I also had three big physical wake up calls at once where my body was shutting down and screaming at me to wake up. Looking back, I feel like my deeper self, my spirit was trying to give me a giant wake up call. I felt like I was unraveling, suddenly what was normal felt awkward and I was looking at my entire life under a microscope. It was the most painful experience I have ever gone through but by walking through it very slowly, I was able to heal deeply and reconnect with who I truly am.”
So, with COVID in full swing and living in a deep state of loss and overwhelm from losing a marriage, a home, pets and a business all at once, Emma made the difficult decision to leave the Twin Cities and move back to her parents house in Wisconsin. With the sudden loss of all of her income, she had no option to rent an apartment, so she retreated back to a place that was safe for her to figure out what was next. She found herself in the midst of a Returning. Aware of the conscious differences of her life then and now. Of the roads she had taken. The baggage she was carrying and that much of that heavy load was ready and waiting to slowly be released in the new stillness and quiet that she entered when she arrived.
“It feels as if there are ghosts of a younger me that I get to befriend and help release here. Memories pull me back to different times in my life as I walk through this house and drive through this town I grew up in and I am taking the time to feel into them, reflect on them and let them heal parts of who I am.”
With the heaviness of grief and loss within her, Emma began slowly creating art at a small table she set up in her bedroom. We were curious about her tools for healing. Emma participates in movement meditation. She meditates while stitching and working with different fibers and natural objects, exploring and playing to see what is possible. This has led to fabric meditation books, weavings on a bird’s nest and birch bark, fiber sculptures, weavings on stone tiles and so much more. Her Instagram is full of beautiful images that allow us to see what comes from her daily journeys.
“I tend to start with some spark of an idea. Sometimes it’s the thread I want to try using that is new to me or I want to explore a simple stitch. Then the idea evolves and it emerges into something I didn’t expect which feels inspiring and fascinating. This practice continues to reveal how expansive I am and that there is so much to be discovered and explored through the doorway of art making. Once I did the intense inner healing to find myself under all of the layers of conditioning, trauma, coping mechanisms and limiting beliefs, I found my creative spirit and now she expresses herself much more freely when I sit down at my art table. There is a depth now that I couldn’t access before that naturally emerges through my art because of all of the hard inner work I did and continue to do every day.
The unseen part of meditation, the emotional and spiritual part of my practice is a deep and ongoing clearing out. I am connecting with and releasing feelings, thoughts and energy that is inside of me. Sitting still, having solitude and being with nature have been essential parts of that process. As I sit and stitch or move other materials around with my hands, emotions and thoughts alchemize, they come up and out of my inner world into the light and lead to other layers for me to connect with and explore. I have discovered a sense of magic and spirituality through this daily practice of going inward while also working outward with physical materials. That dance of inner and outer continues to surprise and nourish me.”
Scrolling through Emma’s IG page is it’s own form of meditation. The tiny details of thread on stone, or a bird’s nest. In her desire to share the fruit of her mediation, she has provided a platform for others to experience meditation by bearing witness to her work. Observing her work is calming, peaceful, inspiring, and brings delight to the viewer. It brings renewed belief in the tiny beautiful details of the world that often get overlooked.
Beyond her stitch work, Emma also started writing poetry.
One day last November while taking a shower, Emma heard a poem in her mind. It was tangible and real, and while she had heard of others experiencing this, this was new to her. She rushed out of the shower and while dripping wet, wrote it down. She was amazed at what had just happened. As she continued to deeply listen, more poems began to arrive, often as a word or a phrase that would unfold into the poem when she wrote down what initially arrived. She continues to sit in stillness and listen for what wants to be heard. She looks out at the trees and birds and other creatures from her bedroom/studio window and the words come in fragments on the wind as she reflects on the experience of her life.
Her focus and mindful intention is on the journey, her healing and connecting more deeply to the natural world. To weave her acknowledgement, her releasing, her pain, her balm, her breathing, her creativity, her awareness together with the tangible natural elements of the earth. Stitch by stitch and word by word she began her rediscovery. Piece by piece, she had and continues to stitch herself back to whole.
Emma’s meditative stitching, poetry, weaving and fiber work is an inspiration for her community.
She sells her work online and will be sharing some of her pieces in a group exhibit with four other women artists from Wisconsin called, “Indiana Green.” The show is at The Center for Visual Arts in Wausau, Wisconsin. It runs from July 23-September 11, 2021.
We asked Emma about her winding journey and where it will take her.
“I have no idea but I trust the process now more than anything. My relationship with the future has changed quite a bit. I used to feel anxiously attached to the future, like I needed to figure out who I was and what it looked like and cling to whatever was going to be the thing that would get me there. But, inevitably, when I would make big decisions that had long term consequences from that inner anxious space, I would get down the road into the future and whatever that thing was, no longer resonated with who I had become. It took a lot of work to rewrite that part of me. Now, I trust that if I continue to practice making wise decisions that are rooted in an authentic and healed space within myself, that the future will unfold as it needs to and I will be able to respond to whatever happens with creativity, love and compassion. That is an ongoing practice too.”
Emma has been incredibly gracious in sharing this intimate journey with us, those who follow her on Instagram and attend her classes. I was curious about her hopes for this community she is building.
“What I long for are deep, honest, nourishing connections with other humans through creating art, contemplation, healing, vulnerability and spirituality. My hope is that if I continue to be brave and share what emerges through me and create spaces for others to gather and feel safe enough to share what emerges through them, that we can feel a powerful sense of community and connection with each other.”
It continues to be scary to be so vulnerable sometimes, but what I long for is deeper connection. This is everything. We are not alone. We are community.”
If you visit her linktree off IG, you will find Emma’s online classes, her podcast: “Reflections from my Art Table”, her Etsy shop where she sells some of her art, and you can sign up for her newsletter. Make sure to check out her website for more inspiration.
Emma is a queer artist, writer, and teacher who is contemplative, in a slow process of unfolding, a deep listener and full of wonder. Following her journey is an honor and a privilege. We hope you check it out and support her!