By Wendy Outland
Looking back serves as a reminder that what we experience—and endure—informs who we become. Today Rowan Farrell’s life revolves around healing, art, and parenting.
Have you ever met an angel? If not, perhaps you recall catching a glimpse of a woman who, regardless of age, had an angelic aura about her. She might be 25, 50 or 70 in human years. But she projects such a sense of peace and nurturing kindness that she seems ageless. Her eyes seem to truly penetrate those to whom she speaks and her moves are smooth and certain. The smile she shares easily with others is warm and genuine; her voice quiet, yet confident.
A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting such a person in Rowan Farrell, who lives in Henderson County. This past summer an exhibition of her work titled Deeper than Dreams: Archetypal Visions was featured at Conn-Artist Studios and Gallery in Hendersonville. My interest in writing this piece is to introduce others not only to her artwork, which is fascinating, but to the whole woman: healer, artist, and mother.
When asked to share some of her personal history, Rowan hesitated and expressed concerns about telling a tale that few had ever heard. Through email, text and phone calls, the boundaries of trust and understanding were established. As the details of her story were revealed, I began to appreciate what it must have taken for her to delve into the past.
Angels don’t brag, nor do they complain. This is a woman who has come far; one who has known severe darkness and yet now radiates beatific light. It is an inspiring story worth sharing.
During my childhood our family, like many others, experienced the ravages of loss, with my little cousin and sister both suffering terrible illnesses. Conventional medicine was without viable solutions. Even in my youth, I yearned to know other ways of helping and healing. Being one of the fortunate children who not only lived, but thrived, made a huge impact on my determination to create and explore that which is incapable of being expressed or erased.
At an early age I became aware of an inexplicable relationship with, and trust in, the Unknown. I’ve always felt a profound connection with The Mystery and have had many prophetic mystical experiences. Birth and Death have been my greatest teachers. Many loved ones have been lost, including dear cousins, my best friend (at the age of 21), and my beloved first husband, the esteemed Tamarind Master Printer, Wayne Kline.
During my twenties, while living near Athens, Georgia, I was part of a core group privileged to be taught the Inipi Sweat Lodge Ceremony, a Lakota ritual of purification involving earth, air, fire and water, by well-known Lakota Elder, Wallace Black Elk (1921-2004). This was a deeply formative period of my life. We met faithfully every month for many years, and the memories of those meetings are tethered to some of the most astonishing moments: all of us working together, giving thanks and shedding tears, as the ancient stone people gave their life, so we could live more fully as loving, wisdom-bearing beings.
I remember very clearly my last sweat lodge, a bittersweet time of transition. It was a glorious autumn afternoon, golden sunshine pouring through forest canopy. There was such sweet fullness in my heart for the ceremony we had just completed. I knelt upon Earth Mother, pouring out my gratitude and looking carefully at all the intricate details before me, as if for the last time. It was akin to parting from the love of my life.
The following month (November 1997) brought a terrifying life-changing experience. It was my first full day working for a facility that offered in-home care. My task was to care for a 250-lb. autistic and schizophrenic patient who had grown up in an institution and was currently jacked up on gallons of Halloween candy. We were locked in a small house together, ostensibly for the patient and the public’s safety. Standing in the tiny kitchen, I recall turning just in time to see the patient coming at me, gripping a bottle raised in the air, clearly intent on smashing my skull. For what seemed an eternity, I somehow endured the intense beating which was delivered with the force of a grizzly bear. Before passing out, I counted the number of times (15) that my head was forcibly slammed back and forth by the hair, all the way back and then against my chest. It was obvious the intent was to break my neck. The police reported finding a chunk of my scalp and long hair on the floor.
The following year was consumed with rehabilitation and sleepless despair as my body tried to navigate around continuous pain, relearning how to sit and walk, and lift – actions that most adults take for granted. My physical injuries began to slowly mend. But it felt as though my spirit had suffered irreparable damage. Anxiety symptoms abounded and were debilitating as well as frightening. They included hyperventilating, hiding, and the inability to interface with others, in even the most non-threatening situations, such as a grocery store. Conventional medical doctors prescribed sleeping pills and narcotics for pain, but my soul was not healing. It was evident those prescriptions were providing relief in the short term but creating dependence, rather than true recovery. My emotional condition was further exacerbated when the hospital I had been working for declared no responsibility for my injuries. The staff physician treating me stated that my anxiety symptoms were “all in my head”. It was later revealed that the hospital administration was knee-deep in a cover-up.
This is a story I have rarely shared; it’s too graphic for most people. In fact, many of my closest friends from those days are unaware of the brutal beating that precipitated my move to Asheville. Most importantly though, it is the fact that now it is simply a part of my life history and no longer carries an emotional charge for me, as it did for several years. When viewed in a positive light, it is evidence that with willingness and experienced guidance, it is truly possible to heal, drop our personal story and free ourselves from the victim archetype.
In February of 1998, a very gifted Midwife and Homeopath named Diane, with whom I had just begun studying, reached out to me, offering her experience and insight into holistic and shamanic healing practices. She invited me to live with her family as her husband had crossed over a few months before. With much kindness she cared for me, and gradually began taking me along on her appointments to assist with prenatal and birthing services. A typical jaunt involved travelling a couple hours to attend Mennonite mothers, military families, young mamas birthing outdoors under a tarp or in remote cabins with no electricity or plumbing. What began as an act of compassion by Diane, turned into an invaluable six-year apprenticeship in The Wise Woman Tradition. It was her fearless approach to birthing, and witnessing the glorious courage women embody while birthing, that eventually inspired me to choose gratitude over bitterness. Performing that work facilitated my own rebirth while deepening my healing practice from the inside out. After hearing that Asheville was becoming a mecca of holistic practitioners, Diane decided to relocate and I assisted her in opening Asheville’s first Holistic Midwifery School – on the road now and still going strong.
Along with the devotion of this dear friend, CranioSacral Therapy (CST), Homeopathy, EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and EMDR (Eye Movement Therapy) were the modalities that resurrected me and contributed to the person I have become. As soon as I was able, I began studying and practicing CST, first through the Upledger Institute, and currently Visionary CST with the Hugh Milne Institute. I have been involved in bodywork therapies and shamanic healing practices since 1995 and have taught bodywork therapies in Asheville area massage schools since 2001. My practice, Inner Fire Healing Arts, is thriving in Asheville in collaboration with Clarity Acupuncture. In addition my husband, Frank Trombetta, D.S. and I operate WNC Functional Health, a holistic clinic in Hendersonville, where we carefully evaluate the individual needs of clients through personal health history evaluations, Functional Diagnostic lab testing, extensive blood work and structural/functional analysis. We provide programs that reverse disease and accelerated aging and promote longevity.
Currently, I am devoted to studying ancient processes such as The Holy Womb Chakra Mantra and corresponding Yantra (sacred drawing) that were depicted on palm leaf manuscripts more than two thousand of years ago by saints and maharishis and discovered within the last 35 years in Penukonda, India. My work also integrates knowledge and healing practices presented by my teacher, Sri Kaleshwar.
Most indigenous cultures offer stories and ceremonies to challenge as well as support our inevitable encounter with the cycles of life. Initiation experiences offered during adolescence are meant to push us significantly beyond our comfort level and the realm of the self-centered psyche. This progression enables us to be more in touch with our courage and endurance, more inwardly prepared to meet the challenges of birthing, caring for family and community, and eventually letting everything go. None of this is simple. Teaching stories are intended to convey the depth of meaning and essence of Initiation Rites.
We have the barest vestiges of this awareness still alive in postmodern culture. Yet contemporary life can offer what we need to grow. And with an experienced guide we can often find our way through obstacles, accessing great courage, perseverance and forgiveness. In many ancient traditions it is taught (and in my experience, it is true) that if, in our heart of hearts, we ask The Mystery for aid and take one step towards the Unknown, allowing deathing cycles to complete, we invariably find that the Universe blesses us with profound renewal.
Our everyday world can easily become overwhelming. Like many women, Rowan sometimes finds it challenging to maintain a healthy balance between her professional healing work, creating art, and attending to the needs of her family. However, the children are a constant source of joy for her. Most adults get so fixated on the complexities of the grown-up world, while kids are unencumbered with the burdens of life, and have the ability to live in the moment, offering up a heady concoction of innocence, honesty and spontaneity.
My daughter, at the tender age of thirteen, is already quite a perceptive artist, as well as a budding writer and singer. Watching her direct approach to drawing and painting has been a huge inspiration. We’ve even collaborated on a few pieces, though she prefers to remain anonymous. She and her younger brother frequently are able to detect what my paintings are about before I do. And they both enjoy suggesting titles for the pieces.
In raising kids, we have the opportunity to put our core beliefs to the test. We discuss and practice what we understand about healing and wholeness in daily life. Loss and suffering are inevitable. I want my children to have the inner resources to find their way through obstacles and loss, to know that healing truly is a choice. I encourage them to always seek and embrace their own inner truth, even in the face of opposition.
We all have tales to tell, some more harrowing or motivating than others. In the simple act of sharing the story of our struggles, we come to recognize that regardless of what we have been through, others can relate. The sharing of this story is a gift from Rowan, an extraordinary woman now living a productive, creative, and rewarding life.
For more details about Rowan Farrell’s art, visit www.rowanfarrell.com. Her exhibit, Deeper than Dreams, opens June 7 at Conn-Artist Studios and Gallery in Hendersonville and runs through September 15.
Wendy H. Outland is President of WHO KNOWS ART, helping artists, galleries and arts organizations with the business side of art. www.whoknowsart.biz