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.


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.

Yogic principle to take to my art: Patience

I’m going to have a series of posts about my continuing work at bringing the principles I use in my yoga practice to my painting practice. The first principle is patience.

Patience is a very useful thing to cultivate in all of life. Now I am not a particularly patient person but in my family I am a regular Dalai Lama of patience and calm. My father will swear and rave when he can’t think of a crossword puzzle clue and my mother is prone to outbursts of anger when the cats sit near their food bowls and look at her when she’s doing something else. So you see where I’m coming from.

I have cultivated patience in my yoga practice. Everyday I will turn up to my mat and I do my poses and I wait patiently for my body to respond. I wait patiently in pigeon pose, in forward bends as well as in boat pose and plank and headstand. Sometimes I wait for my body to respond and make more space and sometimes I wait for the strength to build. The thing is I am willing to wait for this, to be patient. I do the ‘work’ and I wait for my hips to become more flexible and my core to be stronger. And it happens, miraculously.

This would be an absolute boon to my painting practice. To just turn up and paint and wait patiently for ideas and for new skill to present itself to me. No more berating myself that I should be able to work competently in ink despite never having practiced it much. Or to just expect to have infinite ideas of what to paint and how. Also it would be helpful to have patience when reaping the rewards of my painting, to realise that it takes time to build up a painting career. Sometimes you have to do all you can and then step back and wait.

What’s the rush anyway?

Where my Yoga’s at right now

Yoga is a BIG part of my life. Before I did yoga I was depressed, now I do yoga and I’m still depressed but at least I do yoga!

I sincerely hope that yoga remains in my life at some form or other for the rest of my life. I’m committed, it’s until death do us part. This post is about where my yoga is right now, as of early August 2011. I like to do these little reviews every now and again but I’ve never posted one online before.

My yoga for me right now is stimulating, grounding, strengthening, reviving, calming, energising. Recently I’ve been doing a more active asana practice. This came on gradually, as my strength and my energy and mood has improved. Every day I try to do a vinyasa practice, with sun salutations, lots of standing poses, jumping back into down dog and forward, arm balances, abdominal strengtheners and my ever-hopeful attempts to get into a headstand. I think this has been influenced by the more demanding classes I’ve been attending but also because I want to get stronger, and I want to be able to do more. The thing that’s driving me is curiosity, I am dying to know what it feels like to be in a headstand. Is it calming? Is it energising? Is it vomit-inducing? I want to know!

To help strengthen my body in order to keep up in these classes I’ve been trying to incorporate abdominal exercises and lots of chaturanga holds and press ups. Planks are good, as are leg lifts and the side leg lifts I’ve forgotten the name of. When I say good I assume they are good for my long term strength but I did have difficulty getting out of bed this morning…

As well as all this asana I’ve been starting my day off with 5 minutes of pranayama and trying to get 10-20 minutes of meditation. I’ve found these are both easier after an asana practice but this isn’t always possible. And easier isn’t always better. I would like to add to this little non-asana routine a bit of studying. I studied philosophy at university and have always been interested in the yoga philosophy. I think it’s high-time I cracked open the books and had a look at what it’s all about.

Ultimately I’m working towards headstand, more demanding arm balances and handstand. I would like to incorporate more backbending into my practice. I love backbending and it comes easier to me than the arm strength stuff but I’m a sucker for punishment and I will only allow myself a strict quota of ‘easy’ poses per session. Why do I do this to myself? So I will do more backbends. The ones I want to work towards are kapotasana and viparita dandasana. I wonder what they feel like.

So this is what my yoga is looking like as the summer comes to a close. It’ll be interesting to see how it changes as my energy changes and I get ready for the winter.

Making ‘progress’

I’m unhappy with my blog appearance. I’m quite disappointed with myself, I mean I’m an artist and I can (sort of) code and I’ve done absolutely nothing to prettify my blog! I designed my whole site and I can’t even come up with one of my own images for this blog, it is truly pitiful. Let’s see what I can do.

On to what I wanted to talk about: progress, in inverted commas..

Firstly yoga. Now I haven’t been practicing yoga for too long, just over 3 years now but because of the place physically where I started (fairly unfit and inflexible) the pattern has been I do asanas and I get ‘better’ at them. By ‘better’ I mean I can hold them for longer/ go deeper/ balance better. As a self-defeating pessimist (or as my dad likes to call himself: a ‘realist’) I have reminded myself that this can’t continue. I won’t continue to get stronger and more flexible forever and ever until I can twist myself up and sit in a fridge like in an old-fashioned freakshow. I have reminded myself of the facts that well all know but don’t want to acknowledge: we all get ill, we all suffer and we all die. I will get ill and injured and anyway I’ll probably die before I can get to do my fridge-trick. I tell myself this.

Except that my acknowledgement of this true fact has been undermined in the past three years by my not getting injured and rarely getting ill. At most it’s only been three occasions I haven’t been able to practice for any extended period of time. Usually it’s one or two days and these are because of my depression and it lifts fast. So I tell myself I will get injured or ill almost willing it to test my super-duper levels of acceptance at my body’s impermanence. But it doesn’t happen! Month on month I get more flexible, stronger, more able to balance. There is not one area of my asana practice that has got harder.

So now I’m finding myself getting attached to the idea of ‘progress’. If I balance a little bit on my head in headstand or a little bit on my arms in bhujapidasana (shoulder pressing pose) this idea that I’m making ‘progress’ can sustain a good feeling for a whole day. Until the next day when I can’t balance or I’m too tired or sad to give my practice my all so I don’t ‘make progress’. These thoughts are poisonous to the wholesome come-as-you-are nature of yoga that I love. Surely it is not about ‘getting better’ surely it’s about just being? It’s strange how I know something intellectually but something, deep inside whispers: ‘if you do it more, and do it better, it’ll be better!’

The strange thing about these voices is I can acknowledge that I have this insidious, unhelpful thought but it doesn’t make it go away. This is in direct parallel to my depression recovery. I’m guessing depression is a hard thing to recover from, it’s certainly hard for me. My whole life is basically devoted to getting better from depression. So why, this little voice asks, am I not better yet? I should work harder! I should be more mindful! If I work 50% harder, devote more hours to recovering from depression I should make real progress.

All these statements are of course ridiculous. As I’ve known now for a long time, sometimes letting myself be is all the ‘progress’ I need. I calmly, patiently see what every day is like and I do what’s appropriate that day. Progress is an illusion, all we have is now. I see it, I know it, I just have to believe it.