Thursday, July 31, 2014

Just admit you're a fraud. You'll be much happier.

I spent last weekend on a meditation retreat. It was one based in London so it wasn't like I was out in the boonies somewhere, totally disconnected from civilisation. I did refrain from using my phone for most of the weekend and only went on my computer late Sunday after it had ended.

After a retreat I'm exhausted. 

This can be difficult to explain because how does one get so tired just sitting around all weekend?

But meditation isn't just 'sitting around'. Meditation is about being present and for anyone who has ever meditated - even once - you'll be very aware of the fact that we're almost never present.

In fact, the entire theme of this particular weekend, presented by the incredibly delightful Jane Hope, was about recognising the stories we tell ourselves and learning to see what actually is, rather than what we perceive there to be. 

One of my favourite bits of the whole weekend was when Jane was talking about studying these teachings and grasping them at the level of mind (intellectually) but having moments when the teachings suddenly sink deeper and we 'know them on a cellular level'. I found this to be such a wonderful apt description for what happens when our understanding of the world around us deepens because it really does feel like that.

In the case of this particular retreat I found myself revisiting an old wound - seeing a lot of messiness about myself that I always hope I'm leaving behind or that people can't see but that I know is there. Effectively, I spent the weekend just totally embracing that I'm a fraud. 

I never really think I'm 'together' but I know how easy it is to mask something or cover it up and feel like maybe I'm actually more stable than I realised. This was a weekend of seeing my neurosis, how deep it runs and still loving myself regardless. Because I know the people who matter most in my life can see all the messy stuff too and they still love me regardless. They accept me as the complex, messed up human being that I am because the people closest to me know they're just as complex and messed up too. We love each other for it - even if it's not always easy.

So I spent this weekend seeing how much I've not shed and where I'm still messing up and causing pain and being arrogant or foolish. And the neatest thing about it was that it didn't break me because I know that I can't work with anything I'm not willing to see. And I can't accept things as they are if I pretend to be something different. And ultimately, none of this stuff defines me.

But I've rambled on quite enough. I felt this was a good opportunity to share a snippet of a photo piece I did back in February when I shaved my then blue and pink hair off. This is just the first instalment of a triptych which will be on display at my exhibition come December.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

More glorious wings!

I'm more often than not a starving artist - which means I generally can't afford all the really awesome stuff I'd buy for people if I had more money than I knew what to do with. 
The thing with gifts is, I'd rather not get someone anything at all if I can't get them something meaningful. And if the most significant or meaningful thing I can think of for them is out of my budget it means I don't get them anything...

But sometimes I realise I can make them something just as fabulous - if not more so - purely for the joy of it. 

This is one of those things. 
A work colleague celebrated their first full year at work and it sort of slipped by because so much as been going on in the office. But then I thought of just the thing that would bring her joy and be a very suitable gift. 

I sketched these out based on a Monarch Butterfly wing. 
The cutting is really the most challenging part.
The three layers of card are so difficult to cut through
that my hand just ends up aching by the end.
I recommend wearing a glove! 

Glued down to the cellophane. I left them overnight with
books piled on top to really flatten them out and let the glue harden. 

Cut them out the next day! 

And then glued the wings together using some scrap bits of the
card stock and put looped elastics through to make them wearable.

A bit of animal testing to make sure they work... 
One happy fairy!!! 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Best Day of Your Life - Kait's Mixtape

Katie Herzig - Best Day of Your Life

Most of Katie Herzig's stuff has graced my OCD playlist. I have at least four of her songs on there currently and this one is right at the top. 

I've really started to understand how it's one thing to say something and even to understand it intellectually, but it's a whole different thing to live by it. 

Live every day as though it may be your last. 

Seize the day. 

If death is certain and the time until death is uncertain, what's the most important thing? 

These are the kinds of sayings or phrases that made me feel like I should be doing something. I should be squeezing out all the pips, using up every last drop of life, that time not spend doing was time wasted - lost forever. 

These are the sort of thing that lead me to being an anxious neurotic mess because on an intellectual level I got them - I understood that I am going to die. We all are, and when we die that's it as far as any of us knows. There may be something after but since I have no conscious awareness of anything before it's safe to assume that this life is the only one I'll get and I had better live it well. 

But then living it well was about cramming things in and that wasn't pleasant or enjoyable. I may have been able to say I'd accomplished a lot but I was hardly ever present for any of it. I planned so far in advance that the actual moments I'd been planning for slipped by so quickly it felt more like just striking something off a list than actually having had an experience of something. 

When I first moved to the UK I was definitely in this mind-set. I felt like I was making up for lost time. I wanted to explore, to see and do everything possible. I made huge lists of all the museums I'd visit, the places in Europe I'd get to, the events I'd attend in London. 

Sometimes I was present for these incredible experiences simply because the mind does this for us naturally. 

The first time I went to Trafalgar Square and stood on the steps of the National Gallery is as vivid to me today as it was when it happened because my mind just stopped. I wasn't thinking about the crowds or the journey there or what I was going to do next. I just stood there, looking down Whitehall to the Houses of Parliament and the sheer history and significance of that spot stopped all my thoughts. I felt the breeze and saw the crispness of the sky and the haziness of the distant buildings. It was amazing. 

And it wasn't about setting anything up or planning or doing or getting anything 'right'. It was just being there. 

So recently - and I mean dry recently - I've begun to relax. 

It's odd because I'm still doing and experiencing and planning but I'm not 'should-ing' any of it. When something doesn't work out and something else happens instead I don't mind because I'm letting go of expectations of things going a certain way. It's no big deal if plans fall through and I'm finding myself more relaxed about planning. I don't put nearly so much energy into it - or maybe it's that the worry about it going 'right' is gone. I plan as much as I can but understand it doesn't always work out and that's fine. That's life. 

Because life is unpredictable and none of us know how long ours will be and for that very reason life is to be enjoyed. To be savoured. It's not about how much we can accomplish in a lifetime. It's about how much we enjoy the time we have, however long or short it may be. 

And for that reason any given day could be the best day of your life simply because you got another one. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book benches! - London Journal

Ralph Steadman 'Alice in Wonderland' 
Jane Headford doing Dr. Seuss' illustrations

Jane Headford doing Clarice Bean's original illustrations

London is full of book benches!!! Those are the first three I've encountered. I'm going to be on the look out for them all summer. I'm keen to find the Terry Pratchett bench (Featuring The Librarian!), A Brief History of Time bench and On the Origin of Species bench. 

Books are amazing. Reading is wonderful. Art that celebrates books and is free is fantastic.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Just Be - Dharma Series

There are many wonderful stories, metaphors and similes used in Buddhism to illustrate the meaning behind a particular teaching. One in particular that has resonates with me is about being like a heron - still and serene, waiting for the fish to come, poised elegantly and fully aware of its surroundings and purpose.

For the longest time I felt like I was grading myself when it came to my spiritual practice. Actually, if I'm totally honest, I've often felt like I grade myself in everything I do. I wondered if I was doing it right or doing it effectively or doing enough.

Doing. Doing. Doing. 

When I began to meditate I was under the misconception that meditation was a tool to get rid of the unwanted aspects of myself - a way to transcend the uncomfortable things in life by going deeper or having some incredible revelation where I would suddenly be unflappable.

Enlightenment was my goal and I knew I should meditate as much as possible and I should be reading Buddhist texts and I should find a teacher.

I've already referred a few times to my visit to New York last year, when I finally got to hear Pema Chodron speak in person and was also fortunate enough to get to ask her a question. While the retreat was amazing I didn't start to genuinely appreciate the teachings by both her and Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel until I got the recordings of the weekend and began listening to them.

I can't tell you when the shift in my understanding happened because it wasn't like a switch. It was more like a gentle settling - like I'd been working at a puzzle for hours and then suddenly all the pieces just started fitting together and then the whole image was so obvious I was amazed that I'd not been able to see it all along.

I already knew that meditation wasn't about 'getting rid' of anything. I knew it was a tool for remaining present. This made sense to me. But I didn't know how to remain present when things were uncomfortable. Meditating when I was upset or hurt seemed terrifying because it meant sitting with a feeling I didn't want to have in the first place. 

But I persevered and it was listening to the recordings from that weekend that connected the dots.

I've written before about my five days of wakefulness - the experience of being able to drop the storyline no matter what was coming up and just appreciate my surroundings and whatever was happening in any given moment. I don't think there was any one thing that contributed to it and I don't believe I could 'make' it happen.

Because it wasn't a doing. 

It was a 'being'. 

Just being. 

Just be. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Re-reading Pema - a Book review

'Start Where You Are' was the first book I read by Pema Chodron. She is, by far, the most influential teacher in my life and I remember that reading this book was like having someone take all these jumbled ideas and thoughts and contemplations in my head and putting them down on paper. 

Recently I've found myself re-reading a lot of the Buddhist books I own as I've found a deepening of my understanding means I'm getting whole new levels of insight. 

To pick this book up again was amazing because in some ways I felt like I'd not actually read it before, like so many of the words hadn't really sunk in on that first reading five years ago. I know a lot of it probably has to do with my understanding of Buddhism. Whilst Pema writes in an accessible way, regardless of whether you practice Buddhism or not, she does use many Buddhist words and phrases in her work - which don't really make sense without reading or studying classic Dharma texts. 

But there was something else about re-reading it that made me feel like I'd simply not had an appreciation before. It was almost like the first reading was giving me a glimpse of the possibilities and on the second reading I could look back and go "Yes! Yes! Yes! All those things!" 

It's the difference between liking an idea and grasping is intellectually to actually just knowing and experiencing something first hand. 

I love all of Pema's writings and teachings but this book will hold a fond place in my heart simply for being the first. It was the first time someone who wasn't obligated to do so said, "You're fine just the way you are." 

It's powerful and very transformative to be told that right now, right here, no matter what is going on, you have everything you need to be a happy, fulfilled human being - because the very nature of your experience is the stuff of waking up and being open to life. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

How to make super amazing wings!

A few years ago I made myself a pixie king costume. I was quite pleased with it but it lacked one fundamental element that would have made it perfect - wings! 

I decided to refresh this costume for 2014 and that entailed making wings for it. I was about to begin the rather complicated task of sourcing wire coat hangers (These are seriously difficult to find these days.) when I came across a tutorial online that claimed to be a way to make 'Amazing cellophane wings without wire!'

I watched the video and was amazed at the simplicity of the process and how utterly fantastic the end result was. 

So one weekend I gathered up the supplies (Which came to about £20 in total) and set to work! 

First step - take three layers of card stock and glue them together using a permanent spray adhesive. Then sketch out the wing you'd like on the paper. 
I chose a bee wing as my inspiration. 

Next, cut out the basic outline of one wing and use it as a template to cut out the template of the other wing. 

Using a utility knife and careful hand, cut away the ribbing of the wings. This stage requires quite a lot of elbow grease (three layers of card stock is pretty tough to cut through) and patience. 
Apply a strong adhesive or the spray adhesive to the cut out frames and place on bog standard cellophane (Not the shrink wrap kind). 

With the cellophane wrapped around both sides of the frames, use an iron on the lowest setting to 'stick' the cellophane layers together. You can put a towel down between the cellophane and the iron or use the iron directly on the cellophane if you like - but do a test first. Melted plastic is gross. 

Cut off the excess cellophane! 

There are many ways to mount wings and the video I found gives a good quick solution (as long as you can find a wire coat hanger). 

For this particular costume I've got a plan that involves attaching it to the shirt I'm wearing which should make them look like they're growing right out of my back...but that will be for another blog.