I spend a lot of time alone with my pictures, unearthing buried treasures and monsters, exploring the dark wilderness of myself. But in a fortnight I’m brushing off the earth and darkness, offering my musings and dreamtimes and heartsongs to the world, letting them breathe and be seen.
My debut exhibition opens on Saturday 12th April. Feeling vulnerable and also pretty good.
The show is about diving deep within, facing fears, and being curious about what lies beneath. The work accesses a more primitive, wild mind to ‘release the beasts’; promoting happiness, self-acceptance and a more soulful connection to the world.
Here’s a preview of the types of works in the show.
Paintings for children
And of course, beasties
I would love to see you at the opening. There will be collaborative drawing and lots of fun. BYO beasts, and I’m not talking about your kids. But kids are (always) welcome!
This feels like a time when ancient wounds are coming to the surface. I don’t know if it’s a Mars retrograde thing or if stuff I’ve been working through are coming to a head, but a big change is happening. My body is telling me that the old hurts are going to express themselves by my body getting vulnerable and sick.
Which is ok. Those neural pathways don’t like change.
Healing–at least the healing of psychological wounds–is seen in a pretty linear way. It’s mostly seen to happen in the head, in a landscape of words, or the suppression of words. Talking about the wound, or finding new words to talk about the wound, or not thinking about the wound at all. We see a counsellor who encourages us to talk, or we take a medicine that helps us not to think at all. There is a focus on explaining, understanding, capturing and controlling the language around the wound.
I kinda feel like the body has seasons. There’s a season to talk and figure stuff out, a season for things to sleep and mature, and a season to wake up and reap the seeds sown. I must be aligned to the northern hemisphere, I think, because I feel like spring is in me right now. It hurts a bit, the labouring, the birthing, but what grows is worth it.
Last weekend I went demon dancing with my friend Lucy. She lives a lot in her head, too. 5Rhythms is a dance class which is somewhere between therapy and exorcism. It taps into the tribal, intuitive wilderness within. Their recommendation is: “to still the mind, move the body”. You dance to unblock, to connect. Here we were, two brains on legs, amongst leaping, grunting, whirling dervish animals. We couldn’t help but leap and grunt a little, too. I didn’t let go, completely. But I got to pretend a bit, and even that felt good.
Like most humans, I have wounds that run deep. I have a longstanding and bloody mythology about myself and my place in the world, which causes more suffering than happiness (I’m working on it). Well and good to rewrite it in my head, but I want more than that. I want to feel the change in my muscles and my breath. I want every cell in my body to experience the release of those stories, of them catching the wind. I want to live like I am my body, not my thoughts.
Does it matter if you don’t identify what causes suffering? Does it matter if you can’t explain the sadness? Do we have to understand to heal? Can we purge things and move through them without putting them into words?
All that I know is that I’m tired of talking. Talking only gets you so far.
Gosh. Time passes SO slowly when you’re not well, doesn’t it? The last month I’ve been fighting a bacterial infection. Control over bad thoughts, cohesive speech (and thus the blog), went out the window.
Somehow painting didn’t, though. Painting is so integrated as part of my wellbeing now that I can’t go too long without it. I haven’t had much energy, so I’ve focused on small tasks, mostly finishing up nearly-done paintings. It’s allowed me to review themes that are occurring in my work. Whales have been relentless.
Considering the layers underneath–the history of the picture–was interesting, too. If a whale hijacked what was a picture of a tiger, I know I should pay attention (not quite adding the highlights to an eye, hmm?). A forest turned into a whale, too. And a still life of vegetables. Eh? What are the whales telling me? Those elegant, calm beasts suspended in the dark corners of the earth have something to say, it seems.
You can get carried away with metaphors, of course, but there is something about whales that signifies a dive into consciousness. Perhaps the underwater metaphors are a hangover from David Lynch’s Catching the Big Fish, which I read at a time meditation was really starting to work for me. Lynch taught me to fall well, to go deeper, to not be afraid of the darkest corners.
Something that has unquestionably affected my happiness is the small changes I’ve been making to better align my lifestyle with my values. Values that are personal and meaningful, like the reconciling the light and shadow aspects inside myself and in the world.
One difficulty people might have with this concept is to identify what their values are, because it takes a lot of thinking about. I’m not on a mission to convert you to my values. But I do think it is important that you find out what yours are. It is our privilege to choose our own values, and it is part of what makes up a strong individual. Once you know what your values are, decisions become so much easier.
Something that has been out of sync lately is how much time I’ve been spending with technology. Connecting with others is aligned with my values, but this sensation of craving signifies escapism. I’m taking a break to decide what my healthy limit is, step away from something I crave but don’t actually want. Aligning your life with values, rather than goals, will define your self-worth in everyday actions, rather than short-lived achievements and external validation.
Defining your values helps make life rich and meaningful. Doing things that support your values makes doing the focus, and the action becomes its own reward.
Not many of us question the life road we’re set up for in our youth. We follow the road instead of forging it. Why wouldn’t you take the well-trodden, smoother path? It is SENSIBLE to work for someone else in a secure (hm!) job and pursue your passions only on the side, behaving and dressing respectably on someone else’s terms.
Perhaps you’ve had enough of living in a way that makes others feel comfortable, but there is no other example available to you. You know what we have to do then? Make it up.
Make up your life, how you live it, what your job is, how you’re going to make money. Live what you dream. Yes.
I was unhappy every day in customer service, because I’m wired a bit differently to my capable colleagues. Chiefly, my head doesn’t translate thought to speech easily. It’s almost like that part of the brain that draws things together, forces cohesion in speech is broken. When I open my mouth I speak in tongues or exquisite corpses, or utter something robotically inane. I can’t pluck one thought from the others, and that makes conversation difficult, particularly since my short-circuit of 2010. That is an advantage as an artist, because it allows me to be inventive and draw unusual conclusions in my private world. And I don’t mind being odd, but I do mind pretending not to be.
That is why I have to my life and my work my way, and I can’t fit into someone else’s mould. I have to do what I’m passionate about in a context that is natural to me, in ways that I find good, and true, and beautiful. And the world laps it up, people. You get all sorts of confirmations that you’re on the right page.
“If you do want to claim the philosophers’ stone and begin living in paradise, but don’t know where to begin, my advice would be: let go of everything you believed till now, make up a fairytale about yourself and believe in that.” William Whitecloud
Have you made up a life that is on your own terms?
As the new year approaches, it’s considered good practice to catalogue successful outcomes from the year we’re kissing goodbye. Personally, I’m going to leave the milestones where I enjoyed them, in the past, and look at the things I can take with me as the clock ticks over to 2014, because they’re the real prizes. Things that can continueto give fulfilment and happiness, because I’m interested in how I feel right now, not last week or last month.
The only thing I can take with me is knowledge. Self-knowledge about what makes me happy, and a more worldly knowledge about what is real (not projections, not inner critics, not opinions, not problems). That happiness, my friends, that refuge from so many sources of sadness, is everything. I’ve reached a place where my head is directed by my heart, and I can hear the difference when my heart speaks to me. Easier to hear when you’re listening.
My top three lessons of 2013:
Success has very little to do with what other people think it is, and almost nothing to do with the product you put into the world. Accolades won’t give it to you, and neither will praise. Success comes from how you travel the path. The process is what makes you happy and what creates the feeling of success. Put all your energy into that, and the product will build itself. Of course, creative work is not the only thing that makes meaning like this. You can use it to bring love into cooking, parenting, driving; anything.
Your body holds the wisdom for self-care, not your head. During meltdowns/spiralling depression/panic attacks, forget about your head. Your head cannot talk you out of those situations. Not by blaming, criticising, fearing, or cajoling. Listen to the body. Notice the volume of the emotion and where it resides in your body. Focus on relaxing your muscles. You cannot feel anger or fear when your muscles are released of tension. Being able to do that on call, that takes time. But man, so worth the practice; it’s a solution.
Make choices aligned with your values. It takes some work to figure out what your values are, but if you take that to task, you have an invaluable tool to make decisions that you won’t regret. Being able to make confident decisions that will make you happy is such a gift. A great cure for those who can’t say no.
Would you like to hear more? I’ll be sharing lots of love, practical tips and developments in my monthly newsletter.
What about you? Did you learn anything that is going to affect your choices in 2014? Tell me everything, I love it!
Happy End of 2013, everybody. Thanks for sharing the journey. See you next year. xx
I quit my ‘real’ job. I’m now a full time Artist (yeaah that’s right! capital A!). Oh it feels GOOD to say that. YES.
Leaving my secure job of eight years for a future that doesn’t have any guarantees was a big deal. But I’m quietly confident in my decision. That alternative future kept throwing me so many love notes I couldn’t help but respond.
I’ve been building the foundation for a solid career in libraries for quite a while. Coz you know, I love being in a library. The work is not relaxed and reliable, I can hide in the bookshelves when I have a panic attack. And of course, BOOKS. It’s the best ‘real job’ I ever had. But did it make my heart sing? Did it make me come alive? Did I feel like I was offering the things to the world I was born for? Not even a little bit.
What makes me come alive is making art, using art to develop understanding and mindfulness. Creating alongside others. Stimulating the creative spark in others. Helping them make meaning.
I know this is the right decision because of how it feels in my bones. When I make art, anxiety doesn’t exist. I can work through depression instead of sink into the swamp of it. When I’m able to navigate my emotions, it puts me at the helm, instead of being directed by how I’m feeling. When I share how I do that with others, through my art or my words, I feel satisfied in my soul. Working in a library had its moments, but it never gave me soul satisfaction.
So, I’m off on an adventure. I start my expressive art therapy course at MIECAT next year. Working towards the Big Oak dream. Living my painting dream, right now. Cutting all kinds of household budgets that were already at their baseline. Happy to do it. Happy to lap up the consequences of my very own choice I made about the life I want to live. I can avoid one big regret on my deathbed.
A lot of people have asked me how I was able to do it. Some shaking their heads at my anarchy, some exploding with joy for me. Some with a glint of hope in their eye that one day they might be able to do it too, when the time is right (and that is important).
The big issue for most is financial security. I was in a good position: if I stayed, I would definitely be losing money until the kids were of school age. Childcare is expensive for two kids, more expensive than a day’s wage. By leaving, I at least have some room for the possibility of income. Possibility certainly being better than debt, I had an excellent argument in favour of following a dream.
It still felt scary, and that told me it was the right thing. Things that feel dangerous, leave those alone, but scary? Almost always a good idea. It means you’re slowly pushing out those self-defeating limits, and opening new realms of what is possible.
I have a very long, very flexible plan, accomodating of opportunities that come up along the way. I’m not in a rush. If we break even in these early days, I’m happy.
There’s a simple question to ask yourself if you want to follow a dream that isn’t your day job.
Are more reasons to leave than to stay?
If the answer is no, but your heart yearns for something else, just keep working on the positive reasons to leave until you have enough to say: adiós para siempre, old life. Leave the negatives alone; they will defeat you.
Are you thinking about, or planning a big change? Here are some things to get that action plan going:
PS. If you’d like to be kept in the loop about what happens next, I’ve just created a signup for a monthly newsletter.
The thing I always felt publishing would do for me is give me an answer to that dreadful question. That question that comes up at a dinner party, or a wedding, whenever you meet someone new. Inevitably you have ink on your face and the lighting is strong enough to illuminate your forthcoming shame. For one reason or another–perhaps you are just feeling brave, or desperate–you mention that you write. One of two things follow, and the only exception is when you are talking to another writer. The first, some variation of I’ve got this story that would make a fantastic book followed by a blow-by-blow description is dreary. This is still preferable to the other thing people say, which shuts your heart in a box and drops it into the ocean.
“So, have you had anything published?”
Did the room just get as hot as Hades? (In this moment I always fantasised that Moon-Face’s lovely slippery slip would appear.) You might stutter, “Oh, a few small things in magazines,” but that never cuts it. The person you were talking to wilts like a flower and the light goes out of their eyes. While you fumble for a change of subject, they are already seeking someone more successful and fascinating in the room, aided by the tangible embarrassment and shame emanating from your very pores.
Publication seems like it’s going to solve so many problems. When we are published we think we will feel justified, relevant. We think inspiration will flow and our sentences will be sound. If we poke deeper, we can unearth a desire for meaning, belonging and approval. We hope that publishing will make us enough.
Every book on writing I’ve ever read says the same thing (and I’ve read a few; books about writing are the least guilt-inducing procrastination I know).
Almost every single thing you hope publication will do for you is a fantasy. (Anne LaMotte)
It’s useful to question the belief that publishing a book will change our lives for the better. The only thing that will make our lives better is to change our perspective of how we are, right now. An enthusiastic inner critic will always find a reason for rejection, until we learn how to shut them up. Wanting to be a writer is the very worst reason to write, and your story will reflect that desperation. But when you love writing more than anything, and forget about yourself and your future fame, your words will start to breathe.
I’d love for my books to be read by children everywhere, but it’s not my primary motivation to write. I am going to write for the sake of the present, not for the future. I will fight to keep the process fun and meaningful, because writing is not just for reading. Writing is a great way to be curious, to make meaning and to live.
Big Hearted Business teaches people how to build a sustainable business with integrity and soul. It helps you deliver your product or service in ways that don’t rip people off or sell things to people who don’t need what you’re selling. BHB finds the heart in a thing that tends to be ruthless and cold, changes your pitch so your get customers who love you without you having to manipulate or convince anybody. Those involved show you how to put energy into what you want instead of what you fear, redirect your focus from getting to giving.
BHB held it’s first conference at the Abbotsford Convent this year, a weekend of purpose-searching, truth-telling soul work. That first conference sold out in a snap. A lot of peeps missed out, but things have changed. Everybody, anywhere in the world can come to the conference now. Hooray!
Aside from the brilliant speakers that shared their deepest truths and life lessons, attendees of that conference got an incredible community out of it. We’re celebrating that wonderful congregation of like-minded souls in a shared exhibition about this experience of community at ViewPoint Gallery in Bendigo (owned by Jess Cola, another BHB alumni).
The painting I made for the event is a picture of a garden, but it is a particular type of garden that you often see in permaculture: a cultivated wilderness. When you hold an idea loosely in your body and let the paintbrush lead you through it, it unveils things you didn’t know you knew. Like that the strength in a community can be in its differences. We are all on the same path; finding a way to be natural, making a life instead of a living. But our temperaments, our methods and our ambitions are unique.
This is my interpretation of the BHB community: each of us a very different kind of organism with a different intention about what we want to achieve, but pulling together gives us an advantage over monoculture or individualism. We support each other, defend each other. The synergy is what gives us strength.
The Big Hearted Business CommUnity exhibition opens this Saturday at 6pm. If you’re creative, please come. If you’re shy, you can use BHB as your password to talk to anyone in the room. We all LOVE to talk about it.
Insulated in the studio, we are safe from this question. It doesn’t need to be asked when we are making the art. Creativity is by and large beyond explanation, and perhaps that’s part of its magic. When we make a living brushstroke, when we look at a picture we respond to, we feel it in our bones. We understand it with our bodies, not our minds.
But those are the good days, the days we don’t have to explain. When we’re feeling blue, when our art hasn’t made an imprint on another soul, when our studio is filling with our rejected children, then the old question arises, a howl from deep within.
Why make art? Why bother with creativity?
I make art because it is the most dynamic way to investigate myself, particularly aspects of myself I have trouble accessing consciously. When I hold those things in my gaze, I can be more mindful about whether they are useful to me, are serving my happiness.
Making images–along with meditation, and other mindfulness tools–is a way to access deep seated beliefs. We can practice getting past the stream of mental chatter that obscures the things we hold in our bodies, in our muscles, in our tension. Doubt. Grief. Anger. Quiet the mind, and the real stuff comes up. Beliefs about our limitations and our possibilities. Beliefs about what others think and how the world works. Beliefs that, in most cases, we have no proofs of their functioning truth in the world. This is why we must be careful about choosing them, and why it is important to confront them.