Today while out on our dog walk I looked down just in time to notice a tiny frog crouched completely still just in front of my feet. This little creature was trying its hardest not to move until the threat my huge wellies posed had gone. All well and good if this little fellow had been in his normal habitat, I would have walked past without noticing his magnificent speckled green and yellow skin. Unfortunately for him he had moved out onto the grey expanse of tarmac path where his camouflage left him horribly visible. As I peered down he was quite obviously uncomfortable and aware that he had been rumbled. I imagine if froggie feelings are anything like human ones he was experiencing what it is to be alone and very vulnerable!
In stories and recounts of war time, spies and soldiers often survive by ‘hiding in plain sight’ – a talent not gifted to many. So, when most of us choose to do something different it is extremely hard. We can feel vulnerable and uncomfortable just like my frog on the path. For me this is rather comforting as several recent decisions have taken me right out from the long grass of my comfort zone. For example, choosing to take my beloved assistance dog out with me everywhere is massive. I am rebuilding a meaningful existence. And gosh I feel priveledged to have him. However for anyone considering a step like this it is wise to remember it is not all plain sailing. Extra plans need to be made before travelling to ensure Angus’ welfare; we have to keep refreshing training and feeling that we must be on our very best behaviour at all times and facing the gauntlet of endless intrusive questions about the finer details of my depression an panic attacks . Usually I don’t mind too much- it promotes the cause! But just occasionally when I am feeling below parr assumptions and opinions can make me feel as out of place as the frog on tarmac. It is good then to be able to understand why I feel this discomfort and to realise that to be different is fine. We are probably doing ok -it is just that this part of my journey requires the courage to go against instinct, step out of the long grass onto the pavement and be seen for a while!
When we find a place in the world to be ourselves and let everything else go for a while we are truly fortunate. My place is the sea.The last few days have been blissful- a time to wander and explore. To build memories with close family and discover even more of the natural wonders and people around me. Magically all this time my mind is working in the background to replace my negative learned behaviour with positive experiences that will continue my journey to better health.
Neuroscience assures me that in future when my brain finds itself in situations that mirror these times my reactions will not be stress, panic and freezing helplessly on the spot. Let me share an example, a sudden crowd of people around some rocks on the beach automatically triggers my ‘fear, fight, flight’ response. My instinct defaults to, ‘go as quickly as possible in the opposite direction- encounters with strangers are painful and embarrassing! ‘. Fortunately now my most recent memory of a crowd is : of the sun warming my skin, the smell of the sea and the sound of waves crashing on the beach. This added to the story behind the crowd- of ‘the Blue Pool’ where locals follow tradition to jump into its clear, deep water just as they have for generations. Then there is the story of the lady who told us about this tradition… All of a sudden my respons to a crowd is more positive.
The words of a long forgotten tutor suddenly come to mind. As he finished a mind bending explanation of chemical titration equations which at the end of a long laboratory session had once again left me frustrated and dispondent . He would scribble quickly on the page, rearrange my result figures and then triumphantly declare, “There, you see? QED!” At the time I never thought of his calculation method as Qite Easily Done. However time and life experience perhaps brings true understanding of his comment. Maybe his real meaning was, ” Yes I know it is difficult, but keep going, keep practicing and eventually it will become second nature!” Why do humans never say what they really mean?! So then, keep going to the beach, keep making good memories and eventually experiences will become positive. Perhaps even one day …QED!
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!
Walks are my sanctuary during good times and bad. Sometimes, on rare and wonderful occasions an onrdinary morning for no particular reason turns into a special day.
This begins with a tingle of expectation as the glorious serindipity of small things coming together hits me. What does that mean? Simply that I will spot a beautiful flower and notice it’s stunning beauty. Then I will notice why: it is a’colourwheel’ contrast to it’s surroundings meaning of course that it is displayed to its absolute best.And all of course by chance?! On such days it is as if the senses are all on overtime and an inexplicable feeling of oneness with nature -a peaceful ‘knowingness’ almost that I am in collaboration with the universe and I am in on all it’s precious secrets.
Too much? Maybe, but I get the sense that there is so much in our world that normally we are unaware of as we charge almost blindfolded through the day. An extra dimension that in our business we just don’t see. There are so many unacknowledged truths that could make living so much easier, if we could take the time to experience it. How? If you don’t already do this try it- stop for a moment- breath in (… yes and out please) –just where you are stand perfectly still and stare. I promise the blinkers of pressure and schedules will drop revealing the beauty in the street or the view you can see from the office window. Escape outside. Let the delicious sensations of the breeze brush your face. Listen for a bird and allow its song to shut out the usual drone of the traffic. What is it telling you in that one moment? Not the past, or the future but now- for this is where life is lived.
The definition of the assistance dog role is that of a partnership between a human and dog. Once formed both partners rely on trust in the other to provide what they need and eventually this trust becomes intuitive and enriching as they begin understanding what makes each other happy. Ok this is perfection and I know there are always blips on the way but you review, practice and move on learning more about each other along the way!
Trusting in another and developing a relationship where both parties gain from a friendship can be tough to achieve for those of us who live in a ‘mental health goldfish bowl‘ ( see below) *.
* there is no collective term that I am aware of to effectively describe how it feels to live in a world where someone can either feel on show for being different or iscollated and alone even in a crowd- cut off by an invisible wall from every thing and every one that you love. So, for now I will call it the ‘mental health goldfish bowl‘ .
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.