This morning Pa swan is blowing a gasket! His feathers are puffed and arched into his back as he steams across the water in persuit of a Canadian goose who has dared to stop off on his patch. The chase criss crosses the breadth and length of the lake until the goose eventually gives in and climbs out onto the bank hooting loudly. Job well done – food/nest site safe and mrs Swan impressed? Perhaps, but what I have not mentioned are the four other geese still on the lake. He sets of immediately to tackle the next and … of course the first intruder slips quietly back into the water!
Give him his dues, this pair of swans have successfully raised two sets of eight cygnets over the last two years- an unrivalled feat here. His methods must work, but was it worth his sanity? Could he have achieved the same aim by quietl guarding the immediate vicinity of the nest?I am left pondering if there is a message for me. Sometimes I chase off hotheaded without pausing first to work out that I can achieve more by staying calm and focused…
human brokenness … how to describe it? Perhaps a shattering of either spirit, body or mind ? Or deep impenetrable sadness? I wonder though if this always has to be true?
I am reminded of a work by the contemporary sculptur Paige Bradley. In her search to move on to a new creative level she took the decision to drop a piece that she had spent months developing. The result is an overwhelmingly vulnerable and beautiful figure which she calls ‘Explosion’. Read more on her thoughts (and photo below ) from her blog http://paigebradley.com/blog/the-story-of-expansion/
Last week I sat down in a cafe to begin writing this blog. Instead I found myself absorbed in conversation with the lady next to me. By chance or fate, which ever you believe in, and without mentioning my topic we began to discuss this very theme! ( As an aside: There is something extraordinary about cafe life. Inevitably, as I did last week, I find myself meeting interesting and inspiring people. So to those who wonder if our current obsession with cafes can only be unhealthy – think again. I truley believe that I leave enriched in soul as well as waistline! )
In any case as my coffee cup emptied I pondered the process of being emotional broken and the journey towards healing. How else could we deepen our understanding of life without going through experiences that shake our beliefs to the very core? Psychologists constantly remind us of the significance of childhood in forming our personal beliefs – the moral code we choose live by. Sometimes events throw doubt on these precious and long held beliefs.
At this time there is a choice. To endeavour to rebuild everything just as it was on unsteady or weakened foundations. Or to recognise that change could be better. It takes courage to step away from old beliefs and allow the wind of experience to mould you into whatever shape it will. It takes even more courage to stay with it as the wind sweeps the sand further down the beach changing the shape of life again and again, creating amazing forms that could not have been previously contemplated. It is also vulnerable and exposed out there on the empty sands and sometimes the wind blows you backwards for a while. Change has got to hurt whether it be in work, hobbies or mental health. Kintsoui is a very old Japanese technique to repair smashed pottery using gold. The principle behind Kinsoui is that nothing is ever beyond repair- perhaps it may even become more beautiful and valuable in the hands of a skilled and patient craftsman!
Getting out and about is something we can take for granted. Birds singing, sun radiating through the window becoming me outside and that glorious feeling of the whole day stretching out into endless possibility. Quick grab your essentials and off you go out into the world for an adventure…
Bang, the door closes triggering a whole new train of thought. Suddenly a cold breeze blows and the sun disappears behind a cloud. The mist has begun to descend. Recent science states that in people who suffer from ptsd and depression the brain reacts differently to triggers. The normal instinct to investigate a feeling, assess it’s significance and the ‘risk factors’ attached to it and produce a reasonable physical and emotional response are unfortunately overridden. Previous painful stimuli are remembered in this area of the brain stimulating the release of chemical transmitters alert sufferers that they cannot deal with this situation causing feelings of being overwhelmed and spiral into ‘meltdown’. In 5minutes I am back inside the house. Mission abandoned. This is why having an assistance dog trained to recognise the initial physical symptoms of my meltdown or freeze is such a lifeline for people like me. Confidence that he will alert me in time to take action and guide me out of the situation make it easier to access the fresh air, exercise and socialisation that we are all told are positive for good mental health. It is indeed gauling that the very things we are encouraged to do to help ourselves can seem completely out of reach by the very nature of depressive conditions. The irony of the situation is not lost on me and is the reason for this post. It does not need to be the help of a dog- anything that inspires positivity and provides a reason to keep going has to be embraced. If the dream you have seems impossible to achieve- be realistic but don’t give up on it. Take small steps towards your goal and just see what comes of it. The chances are it will take you further on life’s journey and you will learn something important to improving the quality of your life along the way.
Since Angus has begun to wear his work jacket I have had so much interest in his role that I decided it was time to write about it! The following is from a fb post after a trip to a local town event. Crowds, conversation and nowhere to hide. Soooo outside my comfort zone!
People: Aww assistance dogs are so clever. What kind is he?Had him long?
Me: He is my mental health assistance dog. We have just finished training. It took us two years.
People: Gosh I didn’t know they did that! How does he help you ? Dogs do make you feel calm.
Me: Yes they certainly do! To be qualified he also needs to help me physically. One thing he does is to recognise signs that I am having a problem. He is trained to alert me by licking my hand and guide me safely out of crowded spaces if I freeze up in the supermarket.
Today so many people asked me about Angus.We chatted to some wonderful people at the Heritage fair including: caravaners from Belfast, a school party from Sienna, Brummie Vikings, Roundheads and their horses all mingling with lovely locals. What is really amazing is that I managed to be in a busy place let alone to stick around and talk to these nice people. Something that may not be evident on the surface but has become so difficult over the last few years. This is just one aspect of how Angus has helped me to begin the journey towards good mental health.
It is time for me to speak out now. If you know someone who may benefit as I have – please spread the word. And of course keep talking about mental wellbeing. It really helps.
Finally I need to mention the unsung heroes. My unflinching supporter and darling husband Neil and Darwin Dogs CIC who give so much in time and expertise to train mental health assistance and canine personal assistant dogs.
Learning to live in the moment is something that I have become acutely aware of lately- the discipline of thinking predominantly about what is happening now,not the future and certainly not the past. This is a work in progress but has been liberating and rewarding, and yes, making me healthier and happier!
This is easiest for me to do in my photography. Where ever I am ‘looking’ for a photo opportunity focuses my senses:on smell; colour and tone; sound and perspective. Those who know me will be aware that I spend my walks peering into flowers and crouching on the ground to get a better view. The thing is this wonderful world is even more incredible the closer we really look!
The mind however is a peculiar beast and in my case completely omitted creative practice from the present moment process. That is until references to artistic freedom – creative living in the moment- began to crop up everywhere. Psychologists call it ‘selective attention’ and the lay people among us prefer the ‘red car syndrome’ (you know- buy a red car and suddenly there seem to be red cars everywhere because you n
otice them more). Whichever- it has convinced me to take risks and go with serendipitous ‘mistakes’ and chance happenings in my painting rather than doggedly sticking to the original plan at the cost of originality. I am naturally stubborn and resistant to change so it has taken much time and many hard knocks to persuade me to trust in something other than myself. Photography seems to have helped me to accept this process as I naturally look for strange angles and quirky shots. My husband calls them ‘Maggie pictures’! Anyhow- here is to artistic freedom and being brave enough to embrace it … and show the results 😉
Zoom in and take a close peek at the snail.
I love close ups of spider webs.pictures in puddles.
Nagotiating life’s twists and turns
Picture the scene- the day after returning from a wonderful relaxing holiday. Which way do you turn? What do you do first when there is a pile of unattended mail, holiday clutter and perhaps even a heap of laundry the size of a small mountain, all crying for attention? What is worse my head is buzzing with thoughts and my sketch book is quivering with anticipation willing me to capture up all of my germinating ideas before they fade. Ideas are nurtured by undivided attention and beginning to sprout during the time away but die too quickly if we neglect and smother them under the chores of daily life. The thought occurs to me that life often gets in the way of me. Too easily I become focused on tasks necessary to keep self and family going and I forget to nurture the spiritual part life- my creativity. However it seems increasingly important to me that I achieve a balance. It is my spiritual awareness that brings contentment to my overstressed and sometimes disillusioned sense of being. Without it I feel and act as an incomplete person not grounded and very grumpy.As a typical woman any time ” for me” brings a sense of guilt but without it I am a bit of a monster like the diva in the snickers advert .
So my post holiday resolution is… to stop for a while each day, breathe and be aware of the beauty and life around me.
If this all seems a bit ‘tree huggish’ let me explain what I mean by:
Spirituality- the gut feeling I have deep down that acknowledges the connection I need to make to something other than my own desires for my life to have meaning.
Grounding- my sense of right and my ‘ base line’
Gosh… recently life has been a whirlwind.The more I think if it the more I can compare myself to poor old Dorothy ( but please no, not the pig tails and cute dress) ! Life has been my tornado spinning me round and round and finally depositing me somewhat bemused at the start of a journey down my equivalent to the yellow brick road. I have stared off with a purpose and met friends along the way… You get the picture I imagine. Well, there I go skipping merrily along until part way in I run out of the initial excitement that has propelled me thus far. What do I do?
I have two choices:
- Return to my default habits, convince myself that my dreams are unrealistic and stop
- Find strategies to carry on, fight my doubts and lack of self belief and hang in there until the moment passes. Then I can carry on making myself happy and fulfilled doing what I love best- dwelling in possibility!
As I am still posting I hope it is obvious which choice I made!
During a conversation with my husband yesterday I was reminded again that nothing beats quality time absorbing creativity from what is around. Just to ‘be’ and let it all wash over me. As we spent time talking in the carparks of a well known fast food chain this stunning animal emerged tentatively from a bush. We were surprised by its boldness and calm demeanour. Mr fox was definitely in charge of the moment as he stared straight at us before trotting off unperturbed.
Nature was once again leaving its unique mark on me. The fleeting few seconds when that beautiful creature locked its’ searching eyes on us was quite magical. It remains with me as a kind of visual soothing medicine. Much as I crave painting and writing, for me it is not the outcome that I value as much as the process to get there. Some times the thought process takes priority over painting especially during times of low energy. I have read that creative energy peaks and ebbs sometimes for many reasons. For me it is important to listen to this, respect it and just be, perhaps practice mindfulness or concentrate on experiencing nature around me until I feel recharged. What in the end recharges me? There is no telling. It could be rest, time, poetry or indeed a passing fox taking me back to rejoin the journey just like Dorothy on her way to find the wizard of Oz.
Funny how often good ideas come to us in the strangest of places! This week while my walk included clambering and slipping over seaweed at a 45 degree angle I realised a profound comparison to my new fledgling creative journey. Ok if you insist on the science, walking increases the flow of oxygen to the brain so it is obvious that I would think more clearly while exercising. However inspite of my ‘ inner scientist’ screaming practical answers from my past I prefer the perhaps more romantic notion that while rambeling we are reconnecting with nature and discovering our instinctive links to the wild. I suspect that both theories are essential ingredients in the mix .
As I stumbled ungracefully along the newly exposed rock pools instead of taking the sensible but dull grass track to the beach, I began to examine the choices that had lead me along this precarious route. That was simple, a life long attraction to guddling about at low tide looking for crabs and starfish first as a child and then with my daughter too. To me it was the only way to go. My dog Angus and I plodded diligently along occasionally looking up to those on the easy route. Invariably I questioned my judgement of bringing us this way and thought of abandoning the adventure. My companion bounced along so I did what I could to follow. Really this was in deed like my new creative path: choosing not to follow convention and so risking justifiable criticism and questions from others and full of self doubt and thoughts of giving up. I can see my goal ahead and if I persist with courage and conviction inch by inch I will reach my goal. The path will take me a different way and bring rewards that may remain unseen by the majority but to me are a reward that makes the little trod path worth taking… Then I had to stop thinking my brain hurt and the guilt ‘gremlin’ * was asking me what on earth I had had for breakfast!
As I struggled to ignore said gremlin a lovely thing happened. I found my reward in a beautiful patch of rock where the layers had been partially eroded making beautiful sweeping curves. Of course these immediately transferred to the virtual canvas in my brain, taking with them the spectacular colours and textures around me.
Reward indeed for the rest of our trip was filled with seeds of ideas to photo and cram into my brain in the hope that they would germinate on my canvas at home. The pleasure and contentment was immense.
Now to see if the idea works….
* you may be familiar with the ‘gremlin ‘ by another name such as self doubt or lack of confidence. He has been the subject of many online creative community discussions and is responsible for the postponment or abandonment of artistic projects and frequently needs support to be banished.Many friends in the meantal health community call him a parrot sitting on my shoulder, whispering in my ear that I cannot achieve what I wish to. Some give him a name, draw him, humorise him and most importantly acknowledge him for what he is – an untruth. However you do it, banish that gremlin!