River of well being

This concept of balance and wellbeing has been coming up for me over and over so I’m going to share. In The Whole-Brain Child Dan Siegel defines mental health as our ability to remain in the “river of well-being”. One bank represents chaos, where you feel out of control. Confusion and turmoil rule the day. The other side is the bank of rigidity where you are imposing control on everything and everyone around you. This is no good either.
Sometimes, I find, life feels a bit more like a luge run. I was in a luge camp once when I was young. The first lesson you get in luge is if you hit one wall to steer into it because inevitably you will hit the other wall with double the impact and that will probably lead to a major wipe out. Steering into the wall you just hit requires self-awareness and the faster you are going the harder the crash.
E A Meek wrote a thesis for her PhD in Depth psychology on a similar concept related to creativity: creative flooding. We want to aim to be in a state where creative flow is manageable. When our creativity is blocked life is stagnant and depressing. Not talked about as much, is the state of creative flooding where we are overwhelmed and overloaded.
In DBT they stress the importance of acting from the Wise Mind. Emotions can give us a lot of information to help us connect with our environment and other people but too much emotion is overwhelming and chaotic. The rational mind is also important for making a good decision based on the facts and previous experience but too much and one becomes robotic and distant.
Finally, another more esoteric look at this concept of well-being comes from an Anthroposophical book I picked up last year called The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker by Manfred Schmidt-Brabant. He writes “In anthroposophy there are two great spiritual powers that try to disturb our balance: Lucifer and Ahriman. The Luciferic forces lead the human being away from earthly life, detach him from obligations. The Ahrimanic powers force the human being into a form, bind him fast. Ahriman is the solidifying, Lucifer the dissolving element…everything can disintegrate into chaos – or end up in sterile order. But balance has to be maintained, a middle ground found”

Stories I find empowering and inspiring

Shambhala warrior prophecy as told by Joanna Macy (video from book Active Hope):

Universe Story  by Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme (book)

Born with a Bang  by Jennifer Morgan (book):

Mindwalk (movie):

Frederik the mouse by Leo Lionni (animation):

The man who planted trees by Jean Giono (animation):

 

 

My favorite practices for managing creative flow (especially during difficult times)

Breathing Through – Joanna Macy

Morning Pages – Julia Cameron

Waldorf Wet on Wet Watercolor – Sarah Baldwin

 Collage

  • ripping books and magazines up and gluing them back onto canvas, paper or board.

 

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Gestalt: I am wholly(holy) other than the sum of my parts and processes

Grounding Techniques

When Creative Flooding becomes overwhelming it is helpful to have a toolkit of grounding techniques or ways to decrease intensity of experience. It is important not to overdo this so much that it stops, just slow it down so the process is gentler and less disorienting.  Over-medication, in my opinion, is the biggest danger in a genuine spiritual emergency.
Many of these tips are taken from this document: Integral Approach to Spiritual Emergency

1) Food – Eat heavy foods, especially those high in protein and fat or complex carbohydrates.
Avoid raw fruit and vegetables, simple carbohydrates like sugar, refined foods and stimulants like chocolate or caffeine.
Eat food with sensory mindfulness.

2) Exercise – For me walking or gentle stretching. Walking a labyrinth or gentle gardening. Focus on sensory awareness. Notice what you smell, see, hear, feel, taste.

3) Sleep – warm baths, power down electronics, keep work out of bedroom, write down ideas and put it away, read boring book, aromatherapy (lavender)
Possible Supplements: Calcium (1000 mg am and pm), Magnesium, Homeopathic remedies for anxiety and insomnia, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) nutritional supplement, 5-HTP and L-theanine, Melatonin.
Herbs: Spearmint, holy basil and chamomile teas are mildly relaxing, passionflower tea calming without sedating, Kava, hops, skullcap are more potent. Valerian tincture is a stronger herbal tranquilizer.
Alcohol: Obviously can be misused but can provide the needed relief to take the edge off.
I feel pharmaceutical medications are over-prescribed and often recommended/used for longer than needed or healthy.  I recommend this guide if you want to get off them. Harm reduction guide

4) Stress – Often this can be psychological/sexual/spiritual stress and as each person is different you will have to experiment to see what intensifies the experience and what helps modulate it.
Contemplative practices are often helpful but can also be overstimulating: http://www.contemplativemind.org/practices/tree
These are the ones I have found helpful:

  • Mandala coloring
  • Labyrinth walking
  • Mindfulness practices such as focusing on breath or on my sensory awareness
  • Prayer and reading about myths and saints
  • Mantra writing (Likhita Japi)
  • Mandala weaving
  • Music/dance
  • Journaling
  • Concentrating on a candle
  • Flower arranging

4) Nature – walks in nature, looking at clouds, working outdoors, breathing fresh air. I like to go see water and throw rocks. I’ll go into this more as I explore how Ecopsychology has helped me integrate.

Creative Flooding

I want to introduce a concept that has helped me make a lot of sense of my difficult experiences and I hope it may help others. This is the concept of Creative Flooding proposed by E. A. Meek.

The goal of this dissertation will be to identify and supply those individuals who experience creative flooding with a new context for the understanding and assistance that Western scientific materialistic culture has been unable to provide. Instead of falling through the cracks in our culture, stereotyped as yet more crazy artists, those who experience creative flooding will be recognized and effectively supported through their spiritual emergency to greater creativity.

Creatively Blocked           Manageable Flow of Creativity         Creative Flooding
Less flow <————————————1—————————————->More flow

In her PhD dissertation (2005), Meek goes over  few reasons why this concept has taken so long to come into existence. One reason is that most people are trying to work on increasing their creativity. There are many self help books and workshops out there that focus on moving from a state of creative blockage to one of manageable creative flow. However, complaining of having  “too much creativity” in our culture is considered inappropriate and in bad taste. She also discusses how men like Freud and Jung went through uncomfortable periods before coming up with their famous ideas, but because they were male they didn’t seem to have the metaphor of pregnancy and birth readily available in their minds so they thought of these uncomfortable and difficult times as “creative illness” rather than a process of incubation and emergence. Just as the normal process of childbirth has been over medicalized in our culture, the creative process, and especially the overwhelming aspects of creative flooding, has been pathologized and over medicated.

Meek offers a new metaphor for understanding this process. I hope to draw from my personal experience to come up with ways artists (and those who don’t yet consider themselves artists) can work to to manage creative flow in their lives.

1) Journals
When I was discussing my psychological distress with my friend she suggested (with best intentions) that I keep a journal.
I was shocked! Is this not obvious? I told her I had boxes and boxes of journals downstairs. At the time I probably had three journals, one notebook for inspirational passages, and three sketchbooks on the go…plus an unpublished blog and a pile of random papers. I have kept a journal since I was a child. When I was working in 3D animation I had piles of notepads beside me where I could scribble random ideas that came to me as I tediously moved points around on the screen. Not keeping a journal is not an option. I do like Julia Cameron’s idea in “The Artist’s Way” of morning pages and I should try to get back to them. Getting your thoughts down every morning clears some of the mental clutter and you can go back and see how fragments of ideas start to develop into good solid concepts that could be the workings of something wanting to being born into this world through you.

2) Sleep
Everyone is different, but for me, sleep is very important for the healthy management of creativity. It’s a delicate balance between the slightly altered state of working late into the night and the washout flood that comes from a few missed nights sleep. Build up a tool box of methods to help you fall asleep when your mind is racing…I’m still working on mine.

3) Nutrition
Eat well. Your body and brain functioning well depend on what you put in. I actually do have a degree in nutrition and I’ve encountered all kinds of ridiculous puritanical diets and tried to understand them. My advice is to follow Micheal Pollan’s advice — Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. To that I would add — give thanks.

I’ll end this post with one of my favorite quotes.

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening
that is translated through you into action,
and because there is only one of you in all time,
this expression is unique.

If you block it,
it will never exist through any other medium
and be lost.
The world will not have it.

It is not yours to determine how good it is;
nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.

You have to keep open and aware directly
to the urges that motivate you.
Keep the channel open.

No artist is ever pleased.
There is no satisfaction whatever at any time.
There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction;
a blessed unrest that keeps us marching
and makes us more alive than the others.

–Martha Graham to Agnes De Mille

 

 

 

Metanoia

I’m very grateful to have made contact with Peter Barrett of Metanoia Galiano. He runs an art gallery on Galiano island and I am sending him the following work this week. If you are in the area, please drop by and support his good work.
https://www.facebook.com/MetanoiaGaliano?fref=ts

I have personally found it far more empowering to view my difficult experiences as Metanoia or a spontaneous attempt of the psyche to heal itself. I hope my artwork can help others take a more empowering look at their own struggles.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metanoia_(psychology)

Art

Celtic Brain Knot

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I combined the Celtic knot with the brain image to try to bring a sense of sacredness and beauty to an often taken for granted textbook image of the brain. The Celtic knot also represents an interconnected, intertwined pattern of complexity that mirrors that of our brain’s incredible connectome.  Because Celtic knots were often used to decorate sacred objects and illuminate sacred manuscripts I am hoping that the viewer will make the connection that the brain too is a sacred organ, its development a sacred process, and it must be treated as such. In many languages, including Old English, the word for health and wholeness is the same and with this work I hope to show a whole interconnected pattern made of separate intertwined lines to represents the holistic health of the brain and the human.

The complete interweaving of my Celtic knot was compromised to include more brain anatomy such as the central and lateral sulcus. I feel this was an appropriate artistic decision because it is more important that the work represent a brain and represent a Celtic knot then accurately portray one over the other.

I used a marker and watercolor pencils to render this illustration because I believe the hand drawn approach has a more organic, human touch. The imperfections are due to human hands but it still comes across as a beautiful, intricate work of art.  I like the boldness and accuracy of the marker contrasted with the softness and organic textures of the watercolor. There is something about art rendered by the hand that makes the viewer think: “I can appreciate that! It is done by a human, I could do that too!” I wanted that feeling to also be a part of this art.

Lost

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I came across this poem at a time in my life when I was feeling quite lost, quite stuck and I found it very helpful. In the painting I did here I am trying to convey the idea of being lost in your own mind and taking the same advice to be still and get to know the “forest” around you.

What do I do if I am lost in the forest?

Stand still. Stand still
The trees ahead and the bushes along side of you are not lost.
Wherever you are is called here.
You must treat it as a powerful stranger and ask permission to know it and be known.
Listen. Listen. The forest breathes.
It whispers, “I have made this place around you. If you leave it, you can come back again.”
No two trees are the same to the raven.
No two branches are the same to the wren.
If what a tree or a branch does is lost on you, then you are surely lost.
Stand still. Stand still.
The forest knows where you are. You must let it find you.
– Northwestern American Indian proverb, as told by David Whyte.

Grain of Salt or Grain of Truth?

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This painting is a wet on wet watercolor with the three primary colors (yellow got covered up) sprinkled with salt. An old prescription (I lost it, got another and found it again) and page from the physician’s desk reference manual of the medication prescribed ripped up and glued on top.

After describing to my doctor a therapy (fairly mainstream) that I was reading about and thought it was doing me some good he reminded me to “take it with a grain of salt”. In my head I said “Like your medicine doctor?”

Triskelion Tree of Life

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After struggling with duality in my own mind, I was introduced to this poem by the Anthroposophist, Rudolf Steiner.  This poem is about the trinity of human creativity. The archetypal tree of life depicted in this image grounds itself in will, grows through feeling and reaches towards enlightenment.  The triskelion is a three limbed symbol appearing in many early cultures and one Celtic Christians continue to use as a symbol of the trinity.

In the heart the weaving feeling,
in the head the light of thinking,
in the limbs the strength of willing.

Weaving enlightening,
strengthened weaving,
enlightened strengthening.

This is the Human Being

-Rudolph Steiner

Emergence 

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This work was done as part of a workshop with Anthroposophical artist Malcolm Glover at the Calgary Waldorf School. I started off with quite a fragmented background but out of the fragments a tree emerged, then a cocoon off the tree and finally a butterfly. The understanding of my seemingly fragmented journey is quite influenced by the writing of depth and ecopsychologist Bill Plotkin and in his book “nature and the human soul” he describes a phase of life he calls the cocoon, it is my hope that I am finally ready to emerge from this stage in my life.

Dragons

My dragon work is largely based on trying to understand the mythical basis of some of my delusions and fears. I attempted to do this by reading some of the work of Joseph Campbell but I now have a more feminist approach to dragons. I currently see dragons as repressed feminine creative energy and I like this poem by Rilke.

“Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.” – Rilke

Western Dragon

She is a monster with a soft spot and if you can find it her treasures will be revealed to you.

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Eastern Dragon 

She is a monster of the dark damp organic wet lands and if you respect her she will revitalize you.

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Alchemy in Art, Science and Life

Nearly a year ago I read the book “Alchemy” by Brian Cotnoir and I’ve been sitting on it for a while. I just recently read the last half of the book “Sacred Economics” by Charles Eisenstein and it has stirred up a few of the ideas I’ve been sitting on over the past year based on principles of Alchemy.

1. Before you begin your Great Work you should have the funding for the highest quality materials available. This Work comes to you as a gift and is to be offered to the world as a gift. This is not a for profit or even a “break even” venture. Make your money elsewhere.

2. To do your best work, the body must be kept healthy through proper lifestyle choices and the mind kept steady through spiritual/meditative/contemplative practices. It is recommended to stick to one tradition.

3. All sources of conflict and disruption around your Work should be reduced as much as possible.

4. Your Work should be started with dedicating it to the alleviation of suffering and any results should be given over to the alleviation of suffering. Ones success with the Great Work should be put towards caring for the poor and the sick.

5. This final principle comes from “Future Primal” by Louis G. Herman and “The Bushman way of Tracking God” by Bradford Keeney and isn’t really alchemy, but I find it useful. When in doubt about if the vision you are birthing into being is Great Work, or not, ask yourself; is it for love or for libido dominandi — a lust for power. That is it.  As Bradford Keeney said: “The final battle is between love and power” 

 

Lost in the Forest

What do I do if I am lost in the forest?

Stand still. Stand still
The trees ahead and the bushes along side of you are not lost.
Wherever you are is called here.
You must treat it as a powerful stranger and ask permission to know it and be known.
Listen. Listen. The forest breathes.
It whispers, “I have made this place around you. If you leave it, you can come back again.”
No two trees are the same to the raven.
No two branches are the same to the wren.
If what a tree or a branch does is lost on you, then you are surely lost.
Stand still. Stand still.
The forest knows where you are. You must let it find you.
—“Lost” by David Wagoner

 

I came across this poem at a time in my life when I was feeling quite lost, quite stuck and I found it very helpful. I am trying to live by it, to keep some time open to just listen and just be. I have started painting again. I have also started to work through the book “The Artists Way” by Julia Cameron. I am trying to work on what kind of artist I want to be to experiment with some different techniques and ideas and learn new skills. I feel that that label “Illustrator” is limiting and “Artist” is a better label but I know I need to narrow it down to something more marketable. I just haven’t figured that out yet. I’m just going to have to be OK with being unmarketable for a while. In the painting I did here I am trying to convey the idea of being lost in your own mind and taking the same advice to be still and get to know the “forest” around you.

 

 

 

Holistic Education

I’ve found this diagram to be a nice framework for my exploration of holistic education with my son in mind and in my own search for optimal well being. http://www.hent.org/world/history/historical.htm

Currently I am:

Listening to Audio Book: The Art of Being by Erich Fromm

Reading Book: Child Honouring. This book includes essays by people mentioned in the chart above who are new to me; Matthew Fox, Raine Eisler, Fritjof Capra…as well as those whose work I was familiar with; Sanda Steingraber and Barbara Kingslover

Taking courses on:
Meditation with Bud Agnew at The Yoga Haven
The Happiness of the Child: Montessori Information Series through Full Circle Parenting