That’s how the light gets in

That’s how the light gets in

Imperfection is fascinating. It is how we notice difference. It is what the mind picks up on. Our minds find imperfection interesting.
Everything is in flux. Our worlds change and decay. We cannot stop this and we cannot hide from it. We cannot be perfect. We can be present for it. This is the only refuge. Perfection can not be attained and it won’t bring calm to our agitated minds. We can only move with the changing reality.
This piece was inspired by Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

We can try to find shelter in our own inner shadow. Sometimes this is comforting for a short while, although it can keep us from facing the brightness outside our own illusions. We can’t keep the light out.

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Observing Existence

Observation is inherently existential. It is communication about our experience of our existence. I find it impossible to separate the two no matter how mundane an object I choose to paint. The human form is not mundane – especially not to humans- yet it is ordinary. It is something we all possess. And everything about this fact is interesting. This is existing and this is experiencing.

 

lightheaded2-2
Lightheaded by Jodi Hugo

On Anxiety

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.”
― Georgia O’Keeffe

Anxiety is a topic that I struggle to talk about. But I do believe it is an important one because so many people in our society suffer from anxiety disorders. It is estimated that 18% of the US adult population suffers from an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders can be so destructive and disruptive. They can completely paralyse a person. I struggle to talk about it or face it because I feel like I would be stigmatized or shunned. It makes me feel weak and pathetic. Yet, I would never think somebody else was weak or pathetic if they were to talk to me about their mental illness. So I decided I would write a post about my experience with anxiety just to put it out there.

I have been suffering from a bout of Anxiety – or an Anxiety Attack- for the past two weeks. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) which means that I am constantly anxious but it varies in severity and the past two weeks have been horrible. It has been so difficult to keep my routine and even more difficult to stick to things outside of it. And every time I have not been able to live up to my inevitable expectations of how things will go or how they should be or how I should just be able to deal with it, I have felt like a failure. This perfectionism was driving the anxiety even more. I was struggling to be mindful of what was happening and I just wanted to escape it all.  So I have been struggling to work. My house has become a disaster zone. Some mornings I couldn’t even get dressed and driving anywhere became almost imposable. Yet I had to do it. This is a very frightening and debilitating feeling.

You can easily end up comparing yourself to all the other people who don’t find it difficult to do these things.  I have been sitting in my studio but nothing would happen. Nothing would come. And if I did work I would just immediately destroy it. I couldn’t even look at it. I have written many blog post attempts in this past week and then deleted those. I tried to write about other topics. Topics that weren’t Anxiety related but this was impossible.

How Anxiety feels:

It started with an ominous feeling. Something in the atmosphere seems to vibrate at a high frequency, never ceasing. This annoying buzz that seemed to be outside of me was interfering with my mind. My stomach started to churn and then it was as though my mind started to search for the reason for this feeling. My body seemed to start the fight, flight or freeze response before I had consciously recognized that I had something to worry about. I can’t place the trigger and then I start searching my mind for it: for some rationalization for this feeling of impending doom.

This means that I often end up making up reasons for this feeling. Or I can’t place it and so I end up feeling very paranoid about every little thing. Every response from other people is weighed. Can they be trusted?

I was so frustrated because I was exercising and meditating and even taking my medication. I was doing everything ‘right’ but this state wouldn’t go away and I started to feel as though I might slip deeper and deeper.

Six things I have learnt to be true about Anxiety:

After so many years of dealing with this I have realized that I always make the same mistakes and then it spirals out of control. So I decided to focus on the things I know:

1. I am being irrational. The fact that I feel incompetent and mistrustful is just a symptom of the anxiety. It does not mean that it is true.

2. This feeling will subside. It will inevitably feel better after time and being a perfectionist and getting depressed about it will only aggravate it.

3. I must keep my routine. Even if I get nothing done it helps to just sit in my space and just be. I need to keep the structure otherwise things spiral into a feeling of instability. But it is ok if nothing actually is done during this routine. I just need to show up. This is incredibly difficult and that is ok.

4. I must not isolate myself. I tend to become a hermit when I feel like I am a huge burden to other people. But this can easily become a situation where I become so lonely and focussed on ruminating that it leads to a deepening of the Anxiety and even switches into Depression.

5. Anxiety will always be there. It is not something you can fight or suppress. Sometimes it will bubble up stronger and sometimes it will be somewhere under the surface. But will show up and it will always be there.

6.Mindfulness is not a cure. Meditation, Mindfulness as well as exercise, medication and other stress relieving ’tools’ are there to help manage the Anxiety. They help a lot but Anxiety will still show up every now and again. In my experience these attacks are less frequent and less severe and I have a different view of it because of the lifestyle changes I have made.

I focussed on these and just tried – sometimes successfully and sometimes not – to keep my routine. And it calmed down. I always feel somewhat anxious but right now it is manageable.

If you have somebody in your life who suffers from an Anxiety Disorder remember that they are aware that it is irrational. They are aware of how they come across.

The best thing to do is just to be understanding because then you become a safe space. This does not mean enabling or indulging avoident behavior. It just means that this person will be able to relax a little bit and break the cycle a little. Don’t shun their experience. They know how it sounds.

Do you or someone in your life have an Anxiety Disorder? How do you deal with it? I would love to hear about it.

work in progress
work in progress

 

 Turning Thirty-Three


My birthday was two days ago. My brother phoned that morning to wish me happy birthday and then asked me how old I feel.
My response: “ageless” 
This was because of something one inspiring woman had said to me in the past week. 

Last week I attended a white belt training intensive in The Nia Technique. This has been a long awaited opportunity and was the fulfillment of a dream to teach Nia. Dancing has always been an important source of happiness for me. A friend suggested that I should take a Nia class a number of years ago. I instantly realized that this was something I wanted to share with all the people in my life.
Nia has been an amazing mindfulness tool for me as well as cardio and brain exercize. It also gives me a boost of fun, imagination and inspiration. 
The training intensive was amazing. I met wonderful women there; beautiful people in every way. I was the youngest to attend. Our ages ranged from women in their thirties to women in their sixties. To be the younger one was a lucky position to be in, since I was surrounded by beauty, wisdom and inspiration. It was strange to feel young at (almost) thirty-three. I spent the week in awe of these women. They respected themselves and were treating their bodies with compassion. They moved with joy and ease. Even though some had been through physically challenging times, and some still are, they were respectful of their bodies and celebrating them.
Absolutely amazing in a world where women are taught to be at war with their bodies. 

I left feeling so grateful for my body. 
How amazing to have this human body! It can dance, play, express, grow, change, heal and breathe.
Growing older is a priviledge. It should be something we are grateful for, something to celebrate.  

 






Expectations: Letting Go of Outcomes.

Expectations: Letting Go of Outcomes.

|This will be the first of a few posts on expectations. So I will start with a general discussion.|

Mindfulness of Expectations.

Practicing Mindfulness and Minimalism have made me realise how many things I need to let go of.So many are in the mind. Every time I hit a roadblock it is because of an idea I am clinging to. Anxiety is my biggest mental challenge. When I am anxious I try to watch my mind and body without judgement or making up a story about the feeling. And this helps immensely. Until I anticipate the next thing… Then it reappears. Then it fades and I anticipate.
I started thinking I should let go of anticipation but I realised that the root here was not the anticipation (although ‘anticipation’ definitely means I am not being mindful of that moment in the moment and so it is something to let go of.) I realised that the problem was my expectation of the outcome of whatever was happening whether good or bad.
So when I notice anxiety or excitement now I try to watch what the mind is expecting and let go of the expectation. Expectations will still arise but we can notice them and let them go. Specifically letting go of the outcome.
When we have an expectation it means we have an idea of an outcome and think or wish it to be a certain way. We try to control things in our future or as they occur.
In this way we are identifying ourselves with results. We are imposing our hopes on outcomes and trying to predict the future as though it were fixed.
This sets us up for frustration, demotivation, delusion, disappointment, suffering, heartbreak, feeling sorry for ourselves, underestimation, overestimation, narcissism, perfectionism, anxiety… The list gets longer the more one thinks about it.

Anticipation

Whenever the feeling of anxiety or excitement arises in us it is in anticipation of a certain expectation we hold.
We can become fixated on outcomes. In small ways – like how my next sip of tea will taste- and in big ways – like expecting someone to be your perfect partner and to make you whole and marry you before the age of 30.
What breaks us is our rigid mindset. We get so invested in these outcomes and when things change – even slightly – we can’t cope.
Whether we are expecting good things or bad things, we are expecting something from most situations.
Good expectations provide excitement and bad expectations give us anxiety. It is the anticipation of these expected results that are the feeling of excitement or anxiety.
We expect things to turn out a certain way or people to act or react a certain way.
Many of our decisions are based on our expectations of how other people will receive it. And many of our decisions are based on our expectations of other people’s expectations.
Excitement is when you are anticipating positive results.
When your positive expectations are realised, you feel good temporarily. If they are not you feel disappointed or unsatisfied. We can often have such high expectations that we will never be satisfied. This leads to feelings of frustration or even unhappiness.
Anxiety is a state where you are anticipating negative results.
When negative expectations are realized, you feel justified. If not, you feel relieved temporarily. Often you don’t even see that things are better than expected or you start expecting the next negative result.
When we are caught in the anticipation of expectations we miss out on reality on what is truly happening. We are not mindful of the moment.
All of this does not mean that we do not have goals, make plans or set intentions.

Confusing goals with Outcomes

A painting I was working on was frustrating me so much because I had invested in an expectation of what it should be. This perfectionism and obsession with the outcome paralysed me for months. And in the end: I was disappointed with it. As I always have been. I was dissapointed in myself. Why did I always feel this way about my work?
I became so fascinated by this question. After thinking about it for weeks it dawned on me: I always confuse the outcome with the goal. I associate myself and my worth with the result. Every single time. And the expectation of this was paralizing me and keeping me from my goal.
It seems like we confuse goals with results, outcomes and expectations.
A goal should not be a fixture. It should be a direction to move towards. If we can let go of outcomes and our expectations: we free ourselves from being disappointed or disheartened or even overly confident or righteous. The goal is still there no matter what the outcome. The intention is still set in the direction of our goal and the plan can change. We can get up and try again.
When you let go of the outcome you are free to work toward your goal.
It means that you can respond instead of react in changing situations. The world is in flux and we need to be flexible. If we let go of expectations we are flexible and open.
You can be calm.
You can be happy.
birds

Painting Flowers

Painting Flowers

Cycles and Memories

Complicate
Being the artist I always dreamed of being has been a big challenge. Business sense does not come naturally to me.  I have spent most of my life feeling the pressure of being a failure. Self inflicted of course! Someone who just can’t live up to this image that everyone (mostly young me) had, or has, of who I was and who I would become.
I have found the past decade to be the most difficult. How can I be an artist if I can’t even show anyone my work? After spending my whole life preparing for this ‘role’, I just couldn’t do it.
And how could I be me if it is so painful to work, because of my relentless criticism of myself?
And yet, I just can’t stop doing it. My mind is obsessed by it. I see everything around me as a potential work of art. I breathe painting and sculpting, yet it has caused me so much pain.  It was too heavy, too emotional.
Simplify
About two years ago I made the conscious decision to do it as a hobby and not hang my whole identity on it. I started producing in a meditative, relaxed way. I tried subject matters that were not too intense but still meaningful to me. I started painting our local indigenous flowers. This has brought me the most happiness. But I couldn’t help but wonder why something so basic could calm me so. Then, as I was working on my newest paintings, I realised:
My very first memory is of painting my first still life at art school when I was 3 years old. I have vivid pictures of my teacher taking me to my seat and where I sat in the room. Mostly, I remember the bright yellow sunflowers. They were so beautiful. The memory is so much more than the result. The memory is so detailed. And I think it is because of the space my mind was occupying. My mind was focussed on the present. I was there, observing, understanding shape and trying to show this by painting it. The act of observing and then portraying what I saw became a lifelong obsession.
my first clear memory
my first clear memory
And here I am. Still painting flowers. Still painting what i see: quite literally. Our brains observe and process and then somehow reflect what we experience, no matter how basic. And by using painting is my method of communicating it. This is what I have always wanted to do. This is who I am. For now.
Protea
Protea

Pink protea

Grayton flowers
Grayton flowers

Some more of my work: State of the Art Gallery and my website