Strengthening my centre

Since the beginning of the year I have been doing lots of abdominal strengthening work. That area of my body, I’ve discovered, is a bit of a weak spot for me but I realised it wasn’t going to get any stronger by moaning about it so I started a (mostly) daily routine of boat poses, lolasana, and whatever other fitness/yoga hybrid abdominal poses I can think of.

The aim for me is not to get stronger abdominals for their own sake, but so that other poses can come easier. There are so many I want to work on: headstands, handstands, jump throughs, arm balances. These are all demanding poses, requiring strength as well as practice. So I figured why run before I can walk? I need a strong centre to face these challenging poses.

I’m also at a bit of a turning point in my life. After 4 years of recovering from depression, 2 years of seriously painting and a year of trying to get my painting taken seriously I finally have an exhibition in April and my depression has finally lessened to the point of disappearing most days. And I applied for a residency I didn’t even expect to pass the first stage, now I’m told I have a “good chance”.

I’m scared. Do I want this?

The real turning point in my depression recovery came in November last year when I started Jon Kabat Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living programme. I have carried on my daily mindfulness meditation ever since as well as successfully cultivating the mindful state in my daily life. It’s working! So I now have a coping mechanism for when things get scary and stressful. I can sit with my stress and my fears and I can understand them and know I have what it takes to get through them. And I do sit with my fears, every day. They come and go and I am still here. I doubt that I will make that terrible descent into depression like I did 6 years ago, ever again.

So I realised a connection between the work I’m doing on my physical body in yoga and my emotional/mental self. There’s no point in working towards some amazing fancy poses if I’m not strong enough to hold them comfortably. And there’s no point in aiming towards these high dreams and goals if I can’t cope with the inevitable disappointments and stresses that’ll come with them. So I meditate and I do my boat poses.

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Injured

Today I am injured. Some form of RSI, I’m guessing, in my right forearm from painting. Working diligently towards your first exhibition will do that. Right now I am trying not to panic and resting it in the hope that having a day off now will mean I won’t have to take weeks off later.

This pain is not new to me, it increases every time I paint a lot. This is in itself alarming because it keeps coming back… I want to paint for the rest of my life, I need to sort this out now. I’m frustrated with myself that I spend at least an hour everyday doing mindful yoga and I pride myself in knowing my body well and not creating unhealthy, unconscious patterns of movement and I injure myself painting.

I must be a mind-less painter.

Fear

I’ve had a lot of fear recently. I’m thinking of applying for a residency at a gallery (yes the one that’s caused me no end of grief lately) and it’s brought up all the old anxieties about my teeny tiny CV. I’m going to say something now that may shock you…

I have not been in any kind of employment for over 3 years.

Now after you’ve picked your jaws up off the floor I’ll explain. I had a job at a bookshop in the year after school and before university. It was pleasant enough, a bit boring and lonely. I went to university and came back depressed but still felt pressure to get a job so I got a temporary job at the same bookshop. I soon realised that this was not the right thing for me when I started daydreaming about running out and going up to the nearby hills. There I thought I’d be left alone, it’d be peaceful. I knew I was “losing it” and left the job fast. It was clear that I was not in any fit state to have any kind of job.

The years that followed have brought verrrrry gradual recovery. I still felt pressure to get a job and worry about how difficult it would be to get a job after being unemployed for so long but strangely the longer I was unemployed the less I worried about it. Everyone who knew my situation (my boyfriend, sister, parents, counsellor) agreed that not having a job and concentrating on recovery was the best thing for me.

Over this time I have thought a lot, done lots about of self-enquiry about how I want to live my life and what is the best thing for me. Money hasn’t been an issue because I live with my parents, my boyfriend has a full time job and I, crucially, don’t spend much. I still have savings from my job and every so often I get some money from selling paintings. I decided that it’s definitely the right thing for me to give making paintings for a living a go. If not now, when?

This has been the best thing for me, and if I had to live it all over again (and thank god I don’t) I would make the same decisions. But it’s so hard to go against the grain of full-time employment even when it’s unnecessary and actually detrimental to your well-being. I worry about how it looks to other people, worry about having to justify the way I live my life. Sometimes I feel worthless, like I’m not a real person because I don’t have a job.

How ridiculous. I know how boring jobs can be, how soul sucking, and how easy it is to get up and go to a building every weekday to do the perceived “right thing”. This¬†is hard. Living not the “right way” but the way that’s right for me and it takes a lot of courage to do this. I hope that some day I can look back at this point, at my self now with pride for my choices and my courage and tenacity.

This is what’s getting me through this fear. I hope to see through it to the other side.

Is life ever easy?

I probably have more insights about the similarities between the practices of painting and yoga to share but right now I just wanted to ask:

Does life ever get easier? Or does it just involve accepting one bad thing after another?

So I (mainly) recover from depression. After 5 years I don’t wake up sad for no reason anymore. So the universe decides to give me reasons to be sad. The past few weeks have been very frustrating, hurtful and lonely for me. I’ve had to deal with tiredness, other people’s issues, realising that years of painting and work does not mean I will get support and help, not being invited to an old friend’s wedding, my parent’s inability to help me and a very rainy miserable birthday.

To counteract this I’m doing two things: I’m getting a couple of pet rats and I’m starting a morning yoga and meditation practice. I figure that I need something that will love me unconditionally and a morning practice will mean that I can start the day off mindfully and peacefully no matter what crap happens during the day.

I can find peace in whatever happens to me.

Yogic principle to take to my art: Persistence

Persistence is an important principle in art and one of the ones I’ve valued from even before I started practicing yoga. It seems obvious, you just keep going.

People tell you your art is good, you keep going

People tell you your art is not as good as you thought it was, you keep going

People tell you to keep at it, you keep going

People tell you “don’t bother trying to sell when you’re 20, wait 30 years” (an “artist” actually told me that) you keep going

People buy your art, you keep going

People don’t buy your art, you keep going

People tell you “you can’t just paint”, you keep painting

Good days, bad days, sad days, busy days, lazy days, just show up and work at it. I haven’t been trying to build up my art career for very long, only seriously for a couple of years but I have had more than my fair share of setbacks. Strange mixtures of encouragement, rejection, discouragement, closed doors and complete bewildering silences. I have persisted despite being depressed and every setback being a little knife in my poor sensitive artist’s heart. But on days like today when the path seems a bit too much like an uphill struggle (or a sheer cliff face) I need to attach a lightness to my persistence. So it’s gentle persistence, not drudgery. A river carving its way through stone, that kind of thing. (I apologise for the mixed metaphors, I am not a writer)

I need persistence, yoga-style.

I have recently committed to practicing handstand everyday. This is a slow process that I realise will mainly consist of a few hops to nowhere for I don’t know how long… weeks, months? I have never done a handstand in my life before, never got anywhere close. I do not expect to be able to first time, second time or twentieth time I try. I persist. I realise the ¬†journey is long but it some ways that is the reward, the persisting. You just do it to do it and who cares about “getting there”?

I can paint, and persist. I do what I do for me and I carry on and deal with whatever blows other people decide to throw at me. There’s nothing like a spot of depression (or 5 years, whatever) to instill a steely calmness.

So keep at it, keep going and let go of attachment to the results.