Feeling alive – Part 2

When people in affluent societies are asked about their stressors, being time-poor is often near the top of the list. Of course there are also stresses like illness, job insecurity, mental health issues, accidents and so on, but nonetheless there are few people who would say they are able to do everything they need to do in a day and still have plenty of time left over. A few decades ago we heard about labour-saving devices and the four hour working week, but the opposite seems to have occurred. Computers were supposed to save us time, but many of us seem to spend an inordinate amount of time each day wading through emails and logging in and out of various websites to pay bills and make bookings and so on.

So finding the time and space for those areas in your life you’re passionate about isn’t always easy. To say ‘just do it’ might not be enough – many of the limitations are real and need to be considered. Perhaps you’re a single parent juggling two jobs, and a child with a disability, who loves reading, but by the time you get to bed with your precious novel you’re so exhausted you can’t even get through a paragraph without falling asleep. You might dream of owning and training a dressage horse, but can barely afford to feed the cat. Your vision is to paint a ten foot panoramic depiction of the sea, but your living room is so small even your visitor’s chair is a fold-up.

All the wishful thinking in the world won’t make these limitations go away, at least not in the foreseeable future. Yet there is also a cost in abandoning your dream altogether – life can start to feel dutiful and dull. So we need to get creative, adapt, and find a way of keeping the spark alive in the midst of our many other demands.

An artist friend of mine did have a studio, but not much time between work and family. So he used his daily commute on the train to sketch post-card sized portraits of other passengers, and then held an exhibition at the end of the year. It was one of the most moving exhibitions I’ve been to – hundreds of portraits of people sketched with humanity and compassion. The famous novelist Kafka wrote his masterpieces in the morning before going to his job as an insurance lawyer. Even if you only write for 20 minutes a day, by the end of the year you’ve gathered 118 hours worth of writing. How often do we fritter away 20 minutes on Facebook, or watching something on TV we’re not really interested in, or trying to find the car keys yet again?

Perhaps your passion is gardening, but you live in an apartment? You might be able to volunteer once a month in the therapeutic garden at your local hospital. You didn’t end up becoming an astronaut, but can explore space travel through websites and magazines, and teach your granddaughter about the galaxies and nurture a sense of wonder and curiosity in her. A wholesome passion brings out the best in us, and as long as we’re not rigid about it, with a bit of planning and prioritising we can allow that passion to enrich our lives and nourish us year after year.

Weekly practice idea:

Think of something you love but have been neglecting. Plan one way of bringing it into your life this week, even if it’s only for ten minutes, and notice how you feel afterwards.

Anja Tanhane

Miku

This week’s reflection was written by Michelle Morris:

This morning

Relishing the cool morning air,

its touch; freshness.

The Cardinal, bright red breast,

flits to a small bush, then still.

Sounds of insects, then quiet pervades.

Presence of the cliff in the background.

Mikus developed when I was on retreat in Mexico. One of the activities offered was embodied journalling, a process of being given short prompts and then a few minutes to write something in response to this. I explained to the facilitator I had RSI, and was not able to write much. He suggested to do haikus. This appealed to me; I love the simplicity and focus on nature of this poetry. As we had only a few minutes to write, I decided to do my own style, without needing to conform to the particular number of syllables of haiku. We first called this type of writing a Michiku, which in haiku style became shortened to Miku.

Discovering this way of writing has been wonderful. It has greatly reduced the struggle and striving I have previously experienced with writing. The common roadblocks of perfectionism and fears of inadequacy and failure are not featured so much in my awareness. Synchronistically I just heard a radio program, interviewing performers about their experience of failures and how they can continue their “experiments” nevertheless. In a self-mocking tone Justin Hazlewood (the bedroom philosopher) spoke of “the struggle to do something brilliant “. Doing the miku I feel more ease and the critical voice is quieter. Self-judgement has taken a back seat! And it is very freeing to have more acceptance and let go of trying to express “something brilliant”. The qualities of non-striving and non-judging are core attributes of mindfulness. Jon Kabat Zinn reminds us:

‘Suspending judging, or not judging the judging that does arise, is an act of intelligence, not an act of stupidity. It is also an act of kindness toward yourself, as it runs counter to the tendency we all have to be so hard on ourselves, and so critical.’

In meditation and other parts of our lives, being driven by striving can be a real obstacle. Jon Kabat Zinn gives further valuable guidance: meditation ‘has no goal other than for you to be yourself’. He gives examples of common thoughts we have: ‘if I were only more calm, or more intelligent,… or more of this or more of that, if only my heart were healthier or my knee were better, then I would be okay. But right now, I am not okay’. What might our lives be like if we cultivated more kindness to ourselves and less striving?

In approaching the experience of writing mikus with less judging and striving, and greater sense of curiosity and wonder, there has been the joy of surprises. New ideas emerge as I am writing, ones I had not been aware of in the beginning–a flowing, creative process.

In relation to mikus , the facilitator of the Mexican retreat made a very meaningful comment ‘you have turned your symptom into an asset’. Reflecting on this I see RSI has helped free me to feel accepting of doing something simple and let go of strivings to do ‘something brilliant’.

When I look at all the colours

A feeling of delight.

Drawn to the world of greens,

wanting to immerse myself.

I think of Becky, blind,

in a world of shadows.

I appreciate more,

orange, pink, blue and green,

somehow they appear brighter.

Weekly practice idea: Choose something you would like to create: maybe a piece of writing, a drawing, woodwork, a garden bed, a meal. Try approaching this time of creating with curiosity and acceptance.

Michelle Morris

 

 

Creativity

 

‘Creativity takes courage.’

Henri Matisse

One of the many wonderful qualities of young children is the way they spontaneously and unselfconsciously embrace creativity. Give them some coloured pencils or a drum, lend them some clothes for dress-ups or put some dance music on, and they’re off. Children don’t worry about not being the next Picasso or Shakespeare, about the fact they haven’t sung for years and their voices are a bit rusty, about wasting their time when they should be doing something more ‘useful’. Creativity comes naturally to them, yet is also crucial for their development. Through creativity, children can process their experiences, learn to externalise feelings, engage with others around them, problem-solve, and explore new solutions.

Of course, as adults, we can also benefit from all these – who couldn’t do with ways to process our experiences, express ourselves, communicate and explore? Yet how many of us feel comfortable being creative without attaching a whole range of expectations, pre-conditions, neuroses and qualifiers to the process? It’s commonplace to hear people say self-depreciatingly,

‘Oh, you wouldn’t want to hear me sing.’

To which I can only say, why not – it would be wonderful to hear more people sing! But we often lack the confidence; maybe we no longer even know where to start. Sitting in front of a blank piece of paper with a pen or pastels, or being asked to sing when you haven’t sung in years, can be quite intimidating. And chances are, our initial efforts will look and sound pretty feeble. Yet creativity can open doors to us which pure rational thinking cannot – doors of self-expression, communication, healing, and community bonding.

As a music therapist, I’ve often worked with people who, for a range of reasons, are no longer able to communicate using words like we normally do. Music can be an incredibly powerful way for them to engage and communicate with the world, and to process feelings of loss, grief, joy, belonging. It seems a shame that, for many people, it’s not until something goes wrong in their lives that they become less self-conscious about being creative. I always feel a little sad when I hear people talking about wanting to be more creative, but lacking the confidence to begin. I’ve seen how much joy it can give to people to sing with others, draw a picture, write a short story or memoir. Dancing, making crafts, telling stories – these are all such wonderful gifts for us humans to have. Often, when people do make a start, they wonder why they didn’t do it years ago.

Some of the core attributes of mindfulness, such as being more non-judgmental and patient, more open and accepting, and cultivating trust and a beginner’s mind, can help us engage with our creativity. Having studied both classical music, with its emphasis on perfectionism and high technical skill, as well as music therapy, where we engage musically with people in a very open, non-judgemental way, has helped me to appreciate both approaches. There is a place for striving for high achievement in the arts, but there is also a place for simply being present with a creative process, regardless of the skill levels of the participants, just because it is so enriching and rewarding.

Henri Matisse is right, creativity does take courage. Perhaps this quote by Goethe can help us make a start:

‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!’

 

Weekly practice idea:

How comfortable do you feel being creative? If you would like to have more creativity in your life, can you bring some of the core attributes of mindfulness to the process to assist you?

 

Anja Tanhane