Susannah Conway: Spring Wisdom

Susannah Conway is the creator of the remarkable and consistently sold-out online e-course, Unravelling. I asked Susannah to be part of the Wisdom Series because … well, because I love the way she writes.

To me, Susannah’s is the wisdom of grace, light and curiosity. She engages the world with a sense of wonder – and her astonishment with the world engages our own. I am pleased and proud to introduce her to you:

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Despite wholeheartedly believing that each of us carries an ocean of wisdom inside our hearts, I don’t often feel wise. My default setting is usually clueless, downshifting to panicked on particularly premenstrous days. I’ve just spent the last four months writing my first book and during that time there’s been an overwhelming expectation to channel wisdom through my words—I should add that this is an expectation I’ve created all by myself. Because all my life I have believed that The Books are where I will find the answers.

Four days after my partner died in 2005 I was sufficiently in a state of shock to sit down at my computer, log in to Amazon and order ten books about grief—my loss hadn’t hit me yet; I was a robot existing on air and red wine, but I still knew that I needed The Books, that surely somewhere in their pages would be the cure for this ailment that was about to devour my entire life. And I found a handful of books that comforted and helped, and even more novels I escaped into when reality was too much to bear, but The Books didn’t teach me how to accept my loss. I had to work that one out for myself.

Still, The Books brought other joys back into my world—poetry, art, photography, prose. As I tunnelled my way back to a life worth living my home became filled with words and images; the writing that had been a constant throughout my life took on greater meaning as I wrote letters to my lost love, writing out my grief until my hand ached. In the second year, I started penning a blog, and that tiny leap of faith proved to be a significant turning point in my healing; by letting myself be seen again I reached out and found kind hands willing to hold mine—wonderfully supportive readers, new friends from around the world and eventually the attention of a publisher.

So that’s why I’ve been holed-up in my flat for the last four months, ordering my groceries online and letting dust bunnies take over my home. Writing this book has stretched me and pulled me and I’ve loved it and fought it in equal measure, and because I want to share the guts of my story, and pass on the lessons and discoveries, I’ve been retracing the steps I took to regrow my heart; grief didn’t make me wise, but it did help me find the wisdom that had been there all along. It’s very tempting to romanticise one’s healing journey years after the fact—even calling it a “journey” somehow elevates it into a warrior’s tale while simultaneously tying a pretty bow around it—I survived the death of my lover, and now I’m indestructible! Even though I have days when I genuinelyfeel like that, it’s never quite that simple.

Grief cut out all the crap, burning through my life, taking my home, friendships and fragile sense of self, leaving the bare bones of me and the chance to finally figure out what really mattered. And it turned out not to be the things I’d thought were so important. I learned that away from the glamour of city living, the ambitions and the needy relationships, what I reallyneeded was a relationship with my self—it was time to get to know the girl-woman who’d never believed she was worth it. As I unravelled the layers of my self, the hurts of the present lead me back to hurts of the past, my grief opening the door to all the other losses that were lining up, waiting to be truly felt. The cumulative effect of therapy, blogging, photography and writing all helped to stitch me back together again—remade. Reborn. Truly awake for the first time in my life.

I’m six years away from the blast now, and I’ve worked hard to integrate everything I learned into a life that will always be a work in progress, just like everyone else’s. But with every year that passes I find I’m able to look after myself better, and on the days that I’m hurting, I nowknow to let myself sit quietly and reach for the tools that help to reconnect and ground me—my notebook, my camera, my books. I rediscovered the wisdom of seeing and noticing, which is why photography is such an important and integral part of my life now. I know that if I take my camera out for a walk, I have a way to slip back into the flow of my life. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s my iPhone, my Polaroid or my vintage Hasselblad, the camera pulls me out of myself and back into the moment; I find it almost impossible to continue fretting when I’m taking a photograph. It’s my own personal meditation.

Perhaps true wisdom is simply knowing when to do the things you need to truly comfort and support yourself. There are no robes, no chanting, no retreating up a mountain. I’m learning to trust myself, to believe that, no matter what the situation, I know what I need. And if we’re able to look after ourselves—to parent ourselves, in whatever shape that takes for us—we are better equipped to be there for everyone else: our family, our friends, our students, our planet. If we heal our pain, we’re less likely to pass it on to somebody else.

So as I emerge from my book-cave, red eyes blinking in the sunlight, I discover the seasons have shifted and my beloved spring is coming back, bringing the magnolias with her. And all I want to do is run outside with a bag full of cameras, and be thankful I have another day to explore. Because being alive is truly bloody amazing.

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Susannah Conway is the author of This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart (Skirt!, June 2012). A photographer, writer and e-course creator, her classes have been enjoyed by thousands of people from over 40 countries around the world. Co-author of Instant Love: How to Make Magic and Memories with Polaroids (Chronicle Books, 2012), Susannah helps others reconnect to their true selves, using photography as the key to open the door. You can read more about her shenanigans on her blog at SusannahConway.com and connect with her on Twitter @SusannahConway.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Susannah

Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this beautiful series, Amy – it’s an honour to be here! xo

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Amy

I am honored beyond words to have you here. What a lovely post you’ve graced us with today. :)

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Amy Palko

Oh Susannah, thank you so much for sharing your story here as part of Amy’s wisdom series.

I love what you say about the act of taking a photograph as being your process of meditation. When I was in the throes of my phd, I really found that I was not only losing my sense of self to the enormity of my thesis, but that I was very rarely ‘in the moment’. I was living within the abstract of intellectual argument and the close to crippling terror of ‘what if it’s not good enough!’.

And it was then that I discovered photography. Focusing through the lens was like finding freedom from my thoughts.

Thank you so much for reminding me what a wonderful gift we give to ourselves when we pick up a camera.
Much love
Amy
xx

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Susannah

seriously – my camera shave kept me sane :) i’m so there with you

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Marjory

This is so beautiful and tender Susannah. I feel your heart in every word, a soothing gentle breeze of awareness. How amazing to come into a closer more intimate relationship with self, and at the same time feel this same self melt in the sweet, raw embrace of the world. “Truly awake for the first time in my life.” Yes to life awakening in all of us!

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Sally

Good morning Susannah.

You share this experience so beautifully. It is often hard to look someone else’s pain in the face ~ to be in the presence of somebody else’s ‘broken parts’. You made this possible with your honest and compassionate sharing – and I thank you.

I also whole-heartedly agree that healing your own pain prevents you from putting it onto others. This world is populated with the Walking Wounded ~ remembering that allows one to choose words and actions more carefully … perhaps offering healing energy along the way.

I’ve recently been drawn to blog sites of others who feature the most amazing photography as well as heartfelt, beautiful sentiments. It inspired me to learn how to use my daughter’s digital camera (which is now mine as she got a lovely new model for Christmas) ~ and while I’m very much a photo-taker-in-progress … my own blog posts and Facebook Community posts feature pictures I have taken ‘along the way’.

The Books are a critical aspect of Who I Am also. I’m so sorry for your pain, so grateful that it led you to this place of insight and wisdom and so thankful to have spent time with you here today.

Thank you …

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Susannah

Yay for cameras! dive in, the water’s always warm!

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Andrea Maurer

“As I unravelled the layers of my self, the hurts of the present lead me back to hurts of the past, my grief opening the door to all the other losses that were lining up, waiting to be truly felt. ”

Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes! Thank you so much for your lovely post.

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Ronna

“…because no matter what the situation, I know what I need.”

Stunningly beautiful, Susannah, and oh-so-true.

Thank you.

(And Amy: Ahhhhh. Thanks, again and again.)

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bella

Like the phoenix she rises …
I truly loved this.

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Suzie Lambert

Good Morning,
I just wanted to share that as I go through my divorce, I’ve been desperately trying to find myself and see myself in a new light. Not only have I lost my role as a wife, but I’ve lost my most favorite role as fulltime (fulltime ‘hands on’) mom to three beautiful teenagers, because I only get to be a mom every other week. I’ve lost being an auntie to my neice and nephew, lost a beautiful sister-in-law and a very warm and funny brother-in-law. Some days I just don’t get out of bed.
BUT, by reading and trying my best to learn from others, I’m starting to find pleasure in my old favorite things; like photography and gardening. I’m starting to ‘start to’ to think that one day I might even be able to breathe again without the guilt, grief and pain balling in my stomach so much I just want to go far far away.
Thank you to both of you for sharing.

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tammie

beautiful post. thanks to both of you. i love this line :: “I find it almost impossible to continue fretting when I’m taking a photograph” – so very true for me too.

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Susannah

Thank you so much for your lovely comments, my dears! wishing you lots of spring sunshine today xo

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Garrett

Amy, this series is something else, keeps revealing new treasures. Thank you. And thanks to you Susannah for a lovely post. I admire your description of working through grief, even as I’ve not experienced anything like you describe. I love your words, the meditation of the camera. Humbling and hauntingly beautiful, thank you so much for telling your story. And I love your Rockstar Women Daily, have been alerted to so much beautiful work from more women that I can name in an instant. Thank you again and again.

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Amy

I can honestly say, I am finding just as many treasures here as you are! What a powerful post this is – as each has been. Thank you so much, Garrett for reading along.

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Susannah

Garett, if it was the Rockstar People Daily you would be included too :) thanks for your support!

Allison Nazarian

YES

I am discovering that transformation and, yes, wisdom, are born from these periods of cocooning and facing, on our own despite the love that surrounds us, the greatest pains sometimes imaginable. And always, what comes out on the other end is stronger and more wonderful.

“Perhaps true wisdom is simply knowing when to do the things you need to truly comfort and support yourself. There are no robes, no chanting, no retreating up a mountain.” <—stunningly true

Thank you for this!
xoxo Allison

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Susannah

definitely no robes here (though there IS a lot of incense ;-)

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erin margolin

SO much of this resonated with me that I don’t even know where to begin. I love the idea of holing up with books, wine, and ordering my groceries on the computer. You knew exactly what you needed.

I’m so grateful that I’ve found you through Amy’s series!

;-)

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Susannah

Nice to meet you, Erin!

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kelly

“Because being alive is truly bloody amazing.”
It took an illness to make me understand how true that is, how it is all there is, really. And I strive to remind myself everyday to appreciate my aliveness. Writing and photography and creating are so much a part of that for me. Your post is beautiful, and so very real. Thank you.

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Susannah

And I strive to remind myself everyday to appreciate my aliveness. – *yes* x

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Sarah

This post is absolutely beautiful and so inspiring. Whilst I have never experienced the loss of a partner I can completely relate to your point about photography being your meditation. Having struggled with anxiety for so long it was (and still is!) photography that stills my mind and brings me instant peace. Thank you to Susannah and Amy x

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Kim

Thank you, Amy, for this beautiful series, and to Susannah, for her beautiful and honest wisdom. I am blown away by how important photography is to so many of us for healing and meditation. Something to be truly thankful for.

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Cherry Woodburn

Last week for the first time I heard of Susannah Conway. Then heard your name mentioned again, and yet again. Thought perhaps a sign that your words or photos would have a message for me but than put you on a to-do list and you were lost and forgotten (as many of my scraps of paper to-do lists are). But here you are again. I need/want to sit with your post and your site for a while. Be back to you soon. Cherry

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