Confession

I’m doing well blogging every day in August! It feels nice to commit to something see it through.

This leads me into a big confession… I have not been keeping up my meditation practice.

As a result I have been riding the ups and downs of other people’s opinions of my paintings, illnesses, injuries, sales of paintings, meeting new people, thinking about starting my teaching career, how my yoga practice is “progressing”, how my painting is “progressing”… I’m exhausted. And it makes me think back to the past year, when I had little success in selling paintings, or getting into exhibitions, I talked to few people, the teaching was not even on the horizon… I was able to be content. In between the bouts of depression yes but I was able to be content and feel the misery and know it will go. I had less but my mind was calmer.

What a horrible realisation, that as soon as recovery is on the horizon I down tools and find myself lost in these mind fluctuations again. The sad fact is that the external factors will always have their way with my moods, but the good fact is that I can cope with these external factors. I have to “up” tools again, and get back to sitting on that zafu!

Competition

Strange how the day after I admit I don’t know whether to blog anymore I find myself wanting to write. But something happened yesterday, nothing major but something.

I have said I’m not a competitive person, that people can do their thing and I’ll carry on doing mine thanksverymuch. But I do feel threatened sometimes and I do feel like I’m competing. Even in my non-competitive yoga class I think about how my strength/flexibility/general air of calm compares to those around me. These days I’m mindful of it and I say to myself “ego” or “judging” if these thoughts arise. They still come.

Months ago I applied to be represented as an artist by a gallery (the same one I’m applying to be artist in residence for). I was rejected initially, along with another painter. However, the directors of the gallery overturned this decision and decided to accept us both. Unfortunately I had already followed up my application and was told I’d been rejected. The other painter hadn’t and got accepted. Over the coming weeks after hearing about this I came to terms with the corruption and unfairness of it and I dealt with it.

Until I suddenly suspected the super-duper-ace yogi in my class was that rejected/accepted painter. She has the same name, the same hairstyle, the right accent… it all fitted.

My god I felt jealous and resentful. Jealous of her handstands, her forearm balances, her headstands, her incredible strength, her thinness, her acceptance within the yoga class, but most of all the blissful ignorance she had of the inner corruption and politics within that gallery. All that had happened to her is she had applied to be an artist and she was accepted. I (who was recovering from depression, with no other job) had to deal with the initial rejection, the criticism of my work, the hurtful comments of the director who was supposed to be supporting me, the ripping apart of my identity, the worthlessness, the doubts, the insecurity.

As you can imagine, this all put me off my yoga. I am very proud of my dual identity: my yoga and my painting. I think it makes me unique, different, special. “But this woman does both too, and she does it better!” I said to myself. This is all ego. I do what I do, let others do what they do. I am not defined by my talents or my practices, I am me regardless. I wish these lessons were easier learned.

The bizarre end note to my little story is I don’t even think this woman in my yoga class and the painter are the same after all. How does that change my little narrative?

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.

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┬áis 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.