The Art of Stillness

Stillness. Peace. Tranquility.

I long for these. I imagine life to be so much richer, more enjoyable and fulfilling with these three virtues in your life. What scares me, though, is the idea that it may never happen to me.

All my life, I've been told my brain flits around subjects at a mile a moment. It's been a constant source of tension- things that seem perfectly understandable to me can be incredibly hard for others to follow. I'm always in some kind of motion, always doing something. More often than not it takes at least an hour for me to fall asleep: it takes that long for my mind to stop rushing from idea to idea, and settle enough for me to sleep. It's exhausting.

I've tried to meditate, but I've yet to manage more than a few seconds of quiet. I feel as though the more I try, the more my mind rebels. Thing is, I'm tired of flitting. I'd love to be able to just put my focus on one thing at a time; to start something, finish it, and then move on to something else. At this point in my life, I think I'm seeing life stillness as the ability to devote myself to one thing at a time, wholeheartedly. Stillness is slowing down the constant frantic motion of my life, lowering the stress and calming everything down so that life flows more smoothly for myself and those around me. It's removing from my life the things that don't work but I feel duty bound to keep. It's choosing where my energy goes, and learning to stop giving my power away to non-deserving causes. It's setting clear boundaries, and sticking to them. It's guarding my time so I don't have to try to catch up later on.

Stillness, it seems, is a commitment to live my life in a way that makes serenity possible, rather than inadvertently making it unlikely or downright impossible.

It's a tall order, though, so perhaps I'll start off small.

  1. Continue to start each day with a cup of tea and no distractions.
  2. When I remember something I have to do, write it down and go back to what I was doing.
  3. Start new things only when I've finished what I've already been working on.
  4. Stop trying to meditate. Try and create quiet moment every day and enjoy them, rather than trying to force your mind to still.

Tim Minchin and his Orchestra

Sorry for the post flood, but my computer died and I'm borrowing my friend's while she sleeps.

Because the theme of the blog has been a bit, well, depressing, lately, I wanted to post a happy thought.

Recently, I got to see this:

Image from here

Very, very amazing. I've mentioned Tim Minchin before. He's an Australian comedian who plays the piano like it should have a health warning, an evil streak, and a turn of phrase that leaves me speechless. He is one of my heroes. As much as I adore him, though, if you find yourself easily offended by someone who happily points out the flaws in your beliefs, he is someone to avoid like the plague.

I loved this show. Hard. It's one of those performances you have to see to believe. My inner photographer was overwhelmed by how many times I wished I had a camera: the orchestra bathed in purple light, Tim and his piano in aqua made me wish I could draw well enough to at least capture the feeling of the moment. The visual aspects of the show were beautiful, and the music was divine.

I can't remember ever having seen an orchestra perform before, and wow. I want to see them perform again, not just modern music but classical as well. I'm fascinated by the sounds, by the richness of the music an orchestra creates. I could cheerfully spend days listening to them. To hear 'Not Perfect', which was already one of the most beautiful songs I'd ever heard, made somehow more beautiful? Heaven.

I can't wait until this comes out on DVD.

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Wishcasting Wednesday: Sparkle

How do you wish to sparkle?

I've been struggling a bit with the Celebration of Wellness, in so much as healing means acknowledging  large amounts of emotional debris. Once you've acknowledged it, sooner or later you have to deal with it. It hurts. It's scary. It's hard to look back at some bad moments and work through the things you couldn't deal with before.

Pushing all that baggage away just gave it time to pile up.

If I'm brutally honest, right now I feel wrung out. I feel like I'm struggling; caked in dirt and as far from sparkling as possible. It would be easy to step back, call it too hard, and walk away. Painfully, obscenely easy. But damn it, I want to sparkle. I want to feel vibrant, not exhausted. I want to be able to see my inner light. I want to work through all the bad stuff so there's far more room for the good.

I want to sparkle with positivity.

I wish for the strength and grace to move through the painful, dark moments and into my sparkling future.

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Confessions on Play

When I was in high school, I took a subject called Early Childhood Studies. Part of the assessment involved working at a school based playgroup.

I hated it.

The reason for my loathing came from the fact that I got stuck refilling paint, scrounging more paper, dicing fruit. While I took care of the work, everyone else was outside playing with the kids. To make it so much more hurtful, instead of forcing the others to participate in the less fun parts of running a playgroup, my teacher just marked me down for not interacting as much as everyone else.

At first, I cried. I worked my butt off, and I was in trouble? After an hour or so of self pity, though, my anger took over, and I made a decision. I decided to play. Let someone else take care of the boring stuff: it wasn't my responsibility. So for one day, I played. I laughed with the kids, I enjoyed myself. Kids were laughing, happy, gravitating towards me to show them how to use the monkey bars and showing me their sand castles. I loved every second.

The paints began to run low. I told the student who came to tell me this where the bigger containers were, and how to refill them. As a bonus, I told them where the paper was kept. I played. I had fun.

One of the kids put a sparkly silver hat on my head, and I told them I'd wear it with pride.

My teacher took me aside, towards the end of playgroup. It wasn't running as smoothly as it usually did. It looked bad to the parents, apparently, because my teacher was upset. She lectured me, but one of the things that stays with me even a decade later? She told me I was scaring the kids.

No, really.

One thing I know about young kids? They're not great liars. If they're scared, they don't laugh and ask you to help them reach the monkey bars. If you scare them, they go and hide behind their parents- they don't come and ask you to paint with them. They avoid, not approach.

For everyone, the day was a struggle. I think part of the issue was that I'd been looking after kids since I was eight. I already had experience with keeping kids amused. I already knew when to start prepping fruit for morning tea, or to look out for the paints running low. No one else in the class seemed to have that same life experience, and I didn't think to let them know that there were hints and tricks. I should have let everyone know in advance that I was no longer prepared to be alone in taking care of the boring stuff.

Instead of asking me to share those hints and tips with the others, my teacher wanted me to 'put the playgroup first', accept a lower grade, and stick to the shadows. Thinking myself a failure, I did what she asked of me. Once more, I played the grown up, when all I ever wanted to be was a kid.

Play was already an issue for me. Before I was 13, I was looking after young kids. In a lot of ways, my childhood ended when I was 8. I had to be a grown up, had to be mature and responsible for young lives, had to carry an awareness of the bad parts of life long before I should have.

Play, for me, is a foreign concept.

I don't want it to be. I want to be free and fun, i want to not be so grown up all the time. I just don't know how to get there. I feel there's a gap between where I am and creative freedom. Not an impossible distance to jump, but an uncomfortable one. I find myself running to the edge, ready to jump, and then I stop. I freeze. I panic.

Maybe my teacher was right: maybe I'm better as the boring behind the scenes type? What if I am scary? What if play and creativity make me somehow bad? I can list dozens of examples of the people around me treating my creativity and playfulness as something hurtful. It made others feel that they're were somehow lesser; less creative, less fun to be around, less everything. It was unhelpful; playing doesn't feed kids, or clean the house. You can't make a living out of it. It's a hobby, nothing more. There were so many ways in which I became tangled up in other people's issues.

I think that's why I freeze. Since I was too young to stop them, people have tied their beliefs and issues to me like lead balloons. They are so heavy I worry I can't make it across that divide, that I'll fall into the nothingness between where I am and where I want to be.

It's time to start freeing myself, one piece at a time. Today I think I'll start with the idea that creativity is a hobby, not a lifestyle. I'll give myself time to work up to the idea that play is scary.

Reworking Meaning

Today, it felt like a supreme act of will to just get out of bed. The notion of finishing my creative tasks? Eep. Impossible. The problem is, most of the tasks in progress are things for me. Celebration of Wellness activities, prep for book making, prep for a craft circle tomorrow... all rather self focused, which is both good and bad, since I don't want to do anything for me right now.

My therapist, of course, calls it a bipolar thing. I think it's more something that happens when you don't put yourself on top of your list of priorities for the majority of your life and then try and change it. This is what happens when you listen when people tell you stupid things about yourself: that you're not good enough, not creative enough, not ever going to get better.

Bah. Negativity. It's so easy to fall into that mindset, no matter how old you are or your state of mental wellness. More often than not, you don't even notice it's happening. No shock, the hard part is getting back out of it. There are probably a million and one different ideas for how to get out of the negative mindset (I'll probably post different ideas from time to time), but for the time being, I'll just talk about one.

Here's what I know about me. It's not that I can't do these tasks. I can. I want to. It's a mental block based on the notion that it's for me. So to solve my sudden halting of creativity, I need to change the language. Take the me out of the equation temporarily.

There was a challenge at the Creative Collective blog last month to make little gifts or cards to be left in public places for strangers to find. Though I can't remember exactly which blogs, I've seen bloggers who have left decorated canvases as gifts for strangers. I love this idea. I love the idea of leaving it to the universe to lead someone to the card or gift. How nice would it be to be having a bad day and stumble upon something beautiful, a reminder that things can get better.

Tonight, then, I'm going to make some small, pretty cards to be left in public areas over the next little while. In a way, it is for me. To move past this block, I need to create something. It's better to start small and work my way back to larger projects. It's mixed media and painting practise, which I've been hoping to carve out some time for lately. But, and here's where the semantics comes into play, it's mostly for someone else. It's not something I plan to keep or sell or gain any major benefit from (if I squint and don't pay much attention to the notion of 'benefits').

One of my bipolar induced lessons is that sometimes changing the way you look at something makes it easier to do. I can't always do it, but when I can, the change is large. I hate doing things for me some days (like today), but if I can find a way to make it doing something for someone else? I get it done, usually without much trouble. Maybe I can't be bothered to make sure I eat three times a day, but if I can remind myself that it makes life easier for my flatmate (I'm grumpy when I forget to eat), more often than not I take the time to make myself something good and healthy to eat.

My BFFs grandfather, who was an amazing, amazing man, used to say that if you take care of the cents, the dollars take care of themselves. It's just as valid as a life lesson as it is a budgeting tool.

Lessons from an unquiet mind: Stepping back (Part One)

I'm adding a new discussion topic to Cracks and Photographs that centres on the positive lessons you can find in mental illness. Mental illness is one of my passions- it's one of those topics that rev me up and set me off if I feel as though mental illness is being misrepresented. Instead of ranting and raging against the status quo, I thought I'd add some of the life lessons I've learned because of mental illness. I think that in life, if you move past the initial fear of something, you can almost always find a profound life lesson in there somewhere.


I feel as though a lot of aspects of my life have screeched to a halt this week. It's a roller coaster in my life right now.

I have rapid cycling bipolar, for which I cannot currently be medicated. Because I'm not medicated, one of the things I need to be incredibly careful of is my stress levels. I know when I reach a certain point, that it's a warning sign for a manic episode. And when more of the neon warning signs start flashing, life has to come to a grinding halt. I need to step back.

It's one of those moments that makes me glad I'm bipolar. It gives me an excuse to do something I've never felt allowed to do. As an adult, to step back from commitments and put yourself first? Downright unthinkable, isn't it? And if you're a parent, it's practically a hanging offense. But because I can't be medicated, I've had two choices forced upon me: step back, or fall into a manic episode. Stepping back is the lesser of two apparent evils.

To step back is to distance yourself temporarily from the stressors in your life, no matter what they are. It means admitting that you can't help those around you when you're running on empty. Mostly, though, it's admitting one very important notion: you deserve to be a priority in your life.

Sometimes those stressors are also known as loved ones. It hurts to say 'I can't help you right now', or 'I am not answering the phone for a few days to think over some things. Please don't contact me unless it's an emergency'. But you need to. When you're a snarling mess, sometimes the nicest thing you can do is send the kids to stay with a friend or relative for a night or two and get them out of range of your meltdown. Sometimes, stepping back is the kindest, most loving thing you can do for those around you.

Ask yourself: are you happy right now? Or do you feel overwhelmed, like you're drowning in stuff and other people's needs and wants? Do you feel like someone has cut about 9/10ths of your fuse? When was the last time you really laughed, or really smiled? When was the last time you had a totally good day, free of fighting and stress?

Do you feel like the people around you are a help or a hindrance? Do they help you meet your needs, or make it impossible for you to meet your needs?

All notions of duty (being a good daughter/son/wife/husband/partner/worker/whatever), responsibility and looking good for those around you aside, are you really happy? Is the way you're living now actually working well for you, and making life better and easier?

What did you do on your last day off? Did it involve housework, catching up on jobs or running around after other people? When was the last time you had a whole day where you had no responsibility to anyone but yourself? How did you spend it?

What will happen if you take time off and focus only on yourself? This is an especially important question. We all generally feel as though something bad will happen if we hand over the housework, the child raising, the job stuff to someone else or put it aside for a few days. Instead of a vague something, try and figure out what it is you think will happen. Then, when you have an answer, think about this: is the world really, truly going to end if you don't do whatever it is you're scared about not doing? Will the entire business collapse if you take a day off? Seriously? What will happen if you don't have a perfectly clean house? Or if the kids stay at a loved ones for a few nights?

If you're answers are along the lines that it's been forever, and that the world will end, you should at least start thinking about taking some you time. It's always better to take the time before you're a complete and emotional wreck. Prevention, as they say, is better than cure.

Think about it, and I'll post again in a few days with the second part of this topic.

Wishcast Wednesday: What limits do you wish to set?

My choices today are to search through a dozen gig of photos for one that suits this theme, or to go outside with a cup of tea and watch the rain. The kettle is boiling as we speak.

This week over at Jamie Ridler Studios, the theme of Wishcasting Wednesday is the question what limits do you wish to set? I've spent the day with this question at the back of my mind, trying to narrow down the list in my head. Maybe I'd like so-and-so to stop doing that annoying thing they do... maybe I'd like to set a limit on phone calls late at night... there were just too many options until I realised one very important fact: every single idea was something I would like to see other people limit, in order to lessen its impact on me.

Silly, huh?

I wonder sometimes how many people feel the same. Does anyone else ever sigh deeply and accept unfair treatment, all the while getting frustrated that nobody in their close knit circle treats them with the dignity and respect they want? Has anyone else ever sat there and let themselves be verbally abused and blamed for things that they had nothing to do with? Has anyone else excused ill treatment because the other person is overtired, sick, stressed, or they need to vent? Has anyone else ever bitten back their anger because those justifications are self inflicted? Oh, she promised to be here but she went out partying last night and needs to sleep.... that's fine.

I'm guessing probably a lot. A lot of people probably crawl into bed some nights, devastated that they move heaven and earth for people who treat them so poorly. It would be so wonderful if they could realise their poor behaviour and change it, wouldn't it? You'd be happy then.

It's obscenely easy to externalise, to ignore your issues and focus on someone elses. But what if, instead of begrudgingly wishing that the people around me would change how they treated me, I wished for the ability to set myself limits as to how much bad behaviour I'll accept from those around me? What if I gave up wishing for some mythical white knight to stop the badness, and got to work channelling my inner Macguyver and scrounging up some rubber bands and chip packets? I'm guessing it'll be a lot more interesting than sitting alone in a room drumming my fingers and doing my one woman version of 'Waiting for Godot'.

This week, then, I wish for the strength to set myself limits, to stop myself accepting hurtful behaviours out of fear of causing trouble. I wish for the strength to see the difference between 'causing trouble' and protecting myself from unfair treatment.

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Celebration of Wellness: Wellness Mood

This one was a shocker. Looking at where I'm at with the different aspects meant seeing that my excitement about progress may have been a little bit early. It was actually really depressing to realise just how small some of the areas are.

The trees, of course, are meant to indicate where I'm at. Lets be honest here, that doesn't look great. The good news is, even though where I'm at seems a bit bad right now, it's not through lack of trying, more through a random series of setbacks. There's lots of things coming up that have been planned and worked on. Even if the above ground measurements seem far less than what I'd like them to be, the root systems are huge. Hence the purple and silver area. Every silver and gold line represents actions that are working towards the healthy growth of each area. They merge and tangle, working with and benefiting the other trees. It's depressing to see how little physical progress has happened, but it's pretty good to see that there are signs of life.Trees need strong roots to grow. Hopefully it's the same for areas of wellness.

When I looked back at the painting, I realised there's symbolism aplenty in this. The spirals remind me that things change constantly, that just because you're somewhere now doesn't mean you'll stay there. Onwards and upwards, as it were. Trees are strong, powerful living beings. They bend instead of break, and are long lasting. Originally I was going to use waves, but they seemed wrong. I like that they're a way to remind myself that trees take a while to grow (it's a journey, just like the Celebration of Wellness is a journey), but they're stronger and more lasting because of it. Trees learn as they grow: their shape alters depending on their surroundings. Strong winds, and they lean to one side, their branches growing as though giving direction. They grow around obstacles if they can't go through them. It's one of the reasons people talk about trees in terms of wisdom gaining. Taking time to learn, to make things stronger and better rather than just rushing in blind? That's something I need to remember. It would be nice to wave a magic wand and have everything be perfect. But it wouldn't last. Change comes from effort.

Purple is a colour I love, mostly because it speaks to me of strength and courage. Pink is a colour of calmness; there was a theory that painting cell walls pink would lessen jail violence. While a lot of people associate black with monsters and scariness, I tend to associate it more with growth and new beginnings. So many creation stories begin with darkness that gives birth to life. Blue is a colour of creativity, gold and silver represent solar and lunar energies (both of which can be useful in reaching your goals), and white is a colour I associate with spirituality and faith- including the faith in things getting better. All of it seems kind of appropriate.

For now, this is a work in progress. It's almost barren right now, but through the year I plan to add to it, to add leaves and flowers and new growth as it happens, until one day (however long away it may be) those trees fill their space and move beyond it, blending together into one big knot work.

Celebration of Wellness: Where I'm at

I'm a bit late with the challenges for the Celebration of Wellness blog party.

Originally, this challenge was to create a time capsule to show where I am at this point in my life. As is becoming quite usual this year, my original grand plans ended up as something completely different.Originally, I imagined a box filled to overflowing with representations of the different aspects of wellness: physical, social, emotional, intellectual, environmental, spiritual, and occupational. Instead, I got the idea of Persephone's ascent from the Underworld stuck in my head, and painted how it related to where I'm at.

I feel like I'm walking my way up a million stairs to get out of the darkness, and into the light. It's rough sometimes, and for a good long while it was hard to imagine that there was something bright and beautiful ahead. Life gets that way sometimes. It's easy to get scared by the darkness, to begin to feel as though it's all there is. Like somehow the world got sucked into a black hole last time you blinked. Sometimes you manage one or two steps a day, sometimes dozens. Still, it's darkness.

Lately, though, I've been starting to see the end of the tunnel. At first it was the slightest lessening of the darkness. Now, I can imagine it as a world; all bright colours and fresh air.

You realise quickly that, even though you can see the outside world, even though you can imagine the feeling of cool fresh air, there's a long way to go before you actually get outside. There's still hundreds, maybe thousands, of steps to go, and the ascent is getting steeper each and every day. Eventually, though, it'll get easier.

It's like that, healing. I remember seeing on a forum once an analogy that seemed so utterly perfect. Healing is like being in a basement full of hot coals. It hurts, you hate it, but you're still scared to leave. After all, whatever is up the ladder could be so much worse than where you are. Change is scary, and even if you hate where you are, it's still at least a bit comforting to know it's twelve steps to the ladder and that it's half a degree cooler in the far right corner.

Sometimes, you go running towards the ladder. You decide there's nothing worse then where you are, and you'll take your chances with whatever is up there. But a metal ladder in a hot environment? You make it up maybe two rungs before you let go. It's too hot, too painful. Suddenly where you are doesn't seem too bad.

One day, though, you have to get out. Something happens that makes it impossible to stay, and you force yourself up the ladder. It hurts like hell, but you somehow make it all the way to the top. The next room is cooler. The next ladder doesn't hurt as much; each and every time you move forward, you're also moving further from the heat. Eventually, you're not even in the house anymore.

I haven't quite gotten away from the hardest part of the journey. But it's coming. An until that day comes where I step outside, I'm just going to be happy I can see the outside world again.

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