Thursday, June 26, 2014

An important anniversary

The 21st of June marked one year since the launch of Wise at Any Age - a project of love and dedication that I embarked upon the day my psychologist told me I no longer had Panic Disorder.

The day of my launch my life was experiencing the most incredible combination of emotions. There was worry, uncertainty and sadness as the city I was born in declared a state of emergency due to flooding. And there was utter elation, joy and happiness to be a published author, finally, after dreaming of it since childhood.

There was also gratitude, kindness and warmth from new friends and old, dancing in public and celebrating together. Covering it all there was genuine happiness - to be alive, to be free, and to be loved. 

When I began writing Wise at Any Age I had no idea what it would become. I was merely attempting to capture the shear volume of epiphanies, revelations and profound realizations I had experienced in a short span of time following the end of my first relationship of great significance.

Looking back, and flipping through the pages of that very first print proof I got in the post, I can honestly say that what I put in there is still so very applicable. But I can also say I've grown so much in the last year. Something I am both proud and humble about.

Proud because I remain open to learning and I'm doing my best to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. We can be given all the tools in the world to wake up and become more open to our experiences but if we don't apply them it amounts to very little, if anything at all.

I'm humble too, though. I'm humble because I can see how much more I can open. I can see it simply because I know how much I've changed in the last year alone. If I thought the growth I went through to write Wise at Any Age was significant, this past year has been akin to an acorn becoming a twelve foot oak in a matter of months. Just think how open a person can become in five year, or ten.

I find myself unable to capture my experience so easily with words these days, but also happy to let it remain something felt. It's like a deep knowing in my bones - a greater understanding than I realised I was capable of and yet, insignificant to how open we can be.

I have had the great fortune to meet certain people who radiate this openness in ways I aspire to. They are profoundly wise but also incredibly child-like.

A single flower can captivate their attention in one moment whilst they speak to crowds of hundreds intimately in the next. They are incredibly present for whatever is going on around them but never arrogant about what they have come to understand. In fact, the greater their understanding the more they want to teach, so those around them can experience the same awareness and presence.

When I wrote Wise at Any Age I was almost creating notes for myself - something to act as a reminder of what I grasped intellectually and knew would heal me. I've discovered the result of application now and I am hungry
to teach, to share, to enthuse.

I appreciate the motivation of these great teachers because even a glimpse of this openness is enough to make us want to share it with the world. There is no value in not sharing it because it is vast and endless and if we could all learn the root of happiness and genuinely understand it, we would never hurt each other. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


My artistic endeavours are wide spread. I work across multiple mediums to my heart's content - creating what I like with any material I feel suits. 

Arnaldo Pomodoro

As of late most of my art has been in the 2 dimensional realm - drawings, paintings, sketches. 
Such things are challenging for me and whilst I know I'm talented, I have always felt I've had to work extra hard to have the same quality of 2D work that I admire in other artists. 

Henry Moore

It's in the 3D - the sculpting and working of shapes with my hands - that I've always felt most at home. I don't know what it is but I can just see the shapes in things and know exactly what to do to mould them how I want. 

Maria Pizzuti
One of the things on my Life Long List of Everything I Ever Want to Do is to create a large-scale sculpture. Every time I encounter one in a public space I feel this intense tug in my heart. I long to know how to cast the large shapes in my mind into glorious structures that can be admired in a park or on a campus. 

Barry Flanagan
As of yet the opportunity has not been one I've been able to make. I am always looking for it, though, and in the mean time I continue to capture images for inspiration and motivation. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Dharma Series - Embrace all circumstances

Pencil crayon and ink on bristol board

The Interweb is littered with inspirational memes. Quotes or words of wisdom written over serene images of Buddhas or sunsets or flowers. They get shared repeatedly and with great enthusiasm.

The idea is these things make some sort of sense and we agree with them. We can muster up understanding that the words are practical and would improve our outlook and feelings about life.

On the very same wall someone posted a meme about the importance of kindness they will update their status to exclaim how obnoxious other drivers are or how little patience they have for parents who don't discipline their children. On the very same wall where they posted a meme about taking life as it comes and enjoying is as an adventure they will post something about how unfair it is that they didn't get the promotion they wanted or that they have had the promotion and it means they have to travel somewhere they didn't want to go.

We all do it and we do it because we're unaware. We're on some sort of autopilot with these things and even if that meme makes logical sense we haven't actually applied it.

The application is the trick.

It's not easy. It involves breaking habits which involves actually noticing the habits which usually involves admitting that we're meaner or sadder or more self-involved than we would like to admit.

But to truly change our lives, to create a happier, healthier world, we must be active participants and we must work with our own thoughts.

This piece came to me as I was taking a walk one Saturday morning. I have been thinking a lot lately about this idea of the application of wisdom and what that entails.

As I made my way along a path lined with wildflowers and grass I was stopping to pick up wayward snails and place them gently out of harms way. I once condemned snails on the basis that they ate all the lovely plants my was-wife planted. I've since come to think of that as disliking something for the very nature of its being. Blaming a snail for being a snail.

Snails are part of the planet, part of the ecosystem and just as deserving to be a snail as I am deserving to be human.

So I pick them up and move them off the path so they aren't crushed.

It may seem like a little thing but it's a genuine shift in my behaviour and thoughts. I didn't change my thinking over night. I examined it, questioned it, prodded and poked it. It changed of its own accord, as thoughts do if you let them run their course, and even if you don't.

As I stooped to move another snail a fat drop of rain hit the back of my neck. I could have run. I could have grumbled about the weather. I could have worried about my clothes getting wet.

I looked up at the clouds, which rippled with the passing wind, purple in some spots, lit up bright white in others. I continued my walk and felt the coolness of the water and the mugginess of the air. I closed my eyes and took in the scent of the grass and soil around me, the crackle of electricity in the air.

The rain began pouring down in earnest just as I came under the shelter of a tree. I smiled at the fortuitousness of this and watched the rain fall, enjoying how the air cooled around me. It let up enough for me to walk on home, and the words for this piece came into my head.

Embrace life. Embrace it all. Embrace the words on those memes and apply them. Free yourself from resisting the circumstances of your life. Free yourself from expectation.

And you can watch the rain fall as if for the very first time.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

You can get my Art Nouveau Animal designs in my shop!

So I have come up with half a solution to your requests for prints of the new work I've been posting. My Art Nouveau animal designs are now in my shop! Or at least they're starting to appear. So far just the Badger and the Fox are up, but keep watching! More are soon to come.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Wonder - Kait's Mixtape

The first time I heard Emeli Sande she was standing on stage at the opening ceremonies for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. I was watching the ceremonies on catch-up several days into the event.

I'd expected London to be awful during the Olympics. Most people did. The newspapers certainly prepared us for the worse - crammed tubes, inadequate bus services, crowds already too large doubling or even tripling in some areas.

A pessimist could say the expectation that everything would be awful led the city to have a pleasant surprise but I genuinely believe what happened was people showing their best.

This is a tiny island with not enough space and London is a city where space is at a premium and culturally, there is a strong need to look out for 'me' and 'mine'.

But during the Olympics and Paralympics, the city transformed. The whole event seemed to bring out the best in everyone. People actually acknowledged one another on the underground. Strangers smiled at each other. Locals stopped to offer directions to lost or confused visitors. People helped out and gave their time willingly.

It was, for me, a beautiful demonstration of basic goodness. It's something which comes out often during a crisis. We heard about it in report about the Tsunami in Japan or around ground zero in New York. When our world is falling to pieces around us we reach out and help.

But at times of great collective joy and celebration the same thing happens. We remember that the person sat next to us on the bus looking a bit queasy or the person who looks dead on their feet as they stand on the tube is another human being with which we share the planet.

And it's because we have seen so many people collectively catch their breath in celebration and we want to share the best side we have to the people who come see us from miles around. One could argue that the motivation is selfish and yes, it is. But in a positive, uplifting way. It's about self interest because of the appreciation we have for life.

I want to be happy so I understand happiness so I can share what it means to be happy so others can be happy. 

I think that's a wonderful way to be selfish and one well worth pursuing.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Unfixated mind

“You’re going to have to hang out in unfixated mind,” Pema said.
At the time I was shaking with nerves and while I listened to her message I didn’t quite hear it. I was too amped up, too flooded with adrenalin. 
When the recording of the weekend retreat arrived I immediately sought out my question and her answer. I listened to it, wrote it down, and began to listen to the entire talk from the beginning. But things didn’t start to shift until I listened to Elizabeth’s talk – the talk I’d skipped because I was talking to Darcy. 
The talk I probably wouldn’t have appreciated anyway. The talk that shifted my perspective and made me realise how my scramble for an ‘answer’ or ‘reason’ caused me far more pain than it was worth. 
Accepting there doesn’t have to be a reason… life gives us experiences and experiences are the very thing we have to work with – that was what Pema meant by unfixated mind. 
So I went there. I sat in meditation and practiced dropping the story line. 
“How could she lie to me...”
Let it go. 
“But it hurts...”
Let it go. 
“She did this thing...”
Let it go. 
And with every letting go I got closer to my experience, closer to the rawness of the emotion. I felt anxiety, not as a storyline, but as a sensation. It’s tightness in the heart, fluttering in the base of the throat, fizzing in the stomach. 
I felt sadness: A dull kind of ache behind the eyes, heaviness in the heart, a sleepiness of limbs and shakiness of the whole body. Tender, raw, but also somehow gentle. 
I felt grief. Mourning is a wailing sensation in the lungs, the skin aching to be touched, the eyes aching for another’s to look into, hands aching to touch – palms seeking out a surface where there is nothing to hold anymore. 
I felt them and embraced them. I felt them and realised they would not break me. They could not break me. They were a part of me – part of my experience. But not mine because they are human experiences. They are not unique but universal and what binds sentient beings to one another. They are the source of compassion. 
And suddenly I realised that ‘doing’ was unnecessary. In fact it’s ‘doing’ which causes the most hurt. Because ‘doing’ involves a sort of resistance to experience, like something shouldn’t be happening the way it is and must be controlled so it will be different. 
Watching 24 Hours in A&E – a mother sits next to her four year old boy. His femur is broken and he’s in incredible pain. She strokes his head, holds his hand, tells him she loves him and he’s a brave boy. 
To the camera, in the interview, she says she felt helpless. She couldn’t do anything. She couldn’t help. 
But she was helping, immensely. She was present for him. She was showing him love, kindness, care. She was giving him touch and reassurance in the face of great pain. 
She was there. 
But we get it wrong. We think we have to ‘fix’ it. We think we have failed because we can’t perform miracles to prevent illness, injury or death. 
We do not realise that just being there – holding someone, listening to them, letting them cry or giving them space to vent, even being on the other end of a telephone – is enough. 
Heartbreak hurts the way it does not because of the betrayal or the grievances, the stories we tell about how they wronged us. Heartbreak hurts because someone who we wanted to be there for us isn’t there anymore. 
And it will hurt. 
This is one of the most painful conditions of the human experience. It’s this suffering we have because of impermanence. Suffering because we wish things weren’t impermanent. It’s a bit like being upset about gravity. 
All things are impermanent. Our state of mind is the only thing we have control over and the only way we can work with this natural part of being human – of being a living, breathing, mortal creature. 
It is not a source of further suffering to accept the impermanent nature of existence. When we accept and relax into something we stop struggling. We open up to the experiences we have. We open up and feel the suffering but know that it too is impermanent. 
It is not a punishment. It is not retribution. It is not the muddled mis-understood sort of ‘karma’ that’s about punishment or reward. 
It’s accepting that life is not black and white but multi-hued and chaotic. The nature of the universe by its very birth is chaos. And suffering will not cease when we accept this but we will take it less personally. We will see that viewing suffering as ‘mine’ and about ‘me’ isolates us. It restricts our experience by creating a focus on a single aspect. It’s like looking up at the sky through a straw and seeing only a tiny circle. 
But when we can move from ‘my’ suffering to ‘there is suffering’ or ‘we all suffer’ we stop looking at our pain as something special. Instead we see it as a fact of life, just as joy is a fact of life. Just as any emotion is a fact of life. 
And we can be happy just to be alive. Think about the absolute miracle of the existence of life. That this molten rock could cool and  change and become a source of sustenance. That causes and conditions could come together so perfectly that you and all other living creatures and plants could come into being. 
We can be happy to be able to have an experience at all. Take joy in watching a sunset or the way the moon looks through the phases or the seemingly magical qualities of animals we share the planet with or the fact that all things are made up of the same stuff as stars. 
Because the alternative is death and whilst energy cannot be created nor destroyed, we cannot know if consciousness survives after we are gone. Never mind about an after-life or reincarnation. What we can know is that right now, right here, this is the life we have. This is where we are. And we can choose to be present for it or we can choose to resist experience or have expectations about how things should or shouldn’t be. 
I have known many people who are open to life in this way, just as I’ve met people who have expectations about almost everything. They expect a certain job or a certain sort of behaviour from those around them. They expect the weather to turn out a certain way or a holiday to go exactly as planned. They expect so much from everything and everyone that they spend their lives angry, frustrated or disappointed. 
Hell is not some place to be found in the afterlife. Hell is something we create for ourselves by holding onto so many expectations so tightly. None of us are without the experience of Hell because we have all generated an idea of what should or shouldn’t be. 
Sometimes we are good at letting things go or being present. Sometimes we don’t have the propensity to be bothered by something that seems to really bother someone else. But that doesn’t mean we are unflappable or holding onto an idea with our fixed mind somewhere else in our life. 
I know what the Hell of expectation feels like and I have incredible compassion for others because I know how hard it is to let go of expectations. I also know how hard it is to even see how we create these Hells for ourselves. 
Being open to life can come easily when things are going well and fitting into our expectations. When we get the job we wanted or the person we like likes us back we can convince ourselves that we are incredibly open and embracing of life. 
But genuine openness and genuine happiness comes from ‘walking the walk’. It’s not enough to sit in meditation regularly but then not apply what we learn to life away from the cushion. It’s not enough to share that meme with wise words but then not live by or embrace what they mean. 
Genuine openness is being present for the sunset even when our heart is breaking. Being in awe of the brightness of the full moon even when our body is in pain. Being amazed at the age of a tree even when we are flooded with anger. 
To live well and embrace life is to accept all of life. To accept the pain and the joy. To not cling to either. To not be the martyr nor the saint. 
To live well is to ‘be’. 
And when you think you’ve ‘figured it out’ let go of that too. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Throw back Florence - Kait's Mixtape

Florence + the Machine

I have several songs on a playlist I call my 'Buddha mix'. They're lyrics that contain wisdom. I use these songs as reminders, songs that compliment things I've come to understand or embrace.

One of the first teachings I came across when I began reading Pema Chodron was about groundlessness. The idea is we all spend a lot of time scrambling for ground - looking for definitive answers and solid reasons behind everything that happens to us. We want security and comfort in the form of a good job, a loving partner, a nice house. We grasp and cling to thing to make us feel 'solid' and 'safe' as if we can get life to fall into place and everything to reach a point of being okay. 

And it doesn't work.

It doesn't work because, to put it bluntly - shit happens. 

We are made redundant or we become too ill to work. Our partner stops loving us or dies. Our income doesn't allow us to buy the 'perfect' house of our dreams or we get our house and a fault in the wiring causes a fire so we still lose everything.

When these things happen, when stuff breaks down or wears out as it inevitably will, and we've used these impermanent things to give us a sense of having something solid to rely on our hold onto, the effect is devastating. It feels like our world has fallen apart and we are helpless to control it. It feels like we are being punished. We ask things like, "Why do bad things happen to good people?"

But it's not so black and white because no human being is just one way. We are people and we are complicated and we do different things for different reasons and life is chaotic and stuff just happens.

The idea of embracing groundlessness is a radical one because it goes against everything we have been taught. In school we are told to get a good education so we can secure a good job and afford a good house and attract a good partner. We are taught that anything less is to fail.

Being told that it was okay for me to embrace the unpredictability of life - to make it what I will as it comes at me - was liberating and terrifying at the same time. 

Applying it is a life-long task and one I've thrown myself into since I first read 'Start Where You Are'. Until recently I didn't really understand what it truly meant, although I intellectually grasped the idea. It wasn't until I stopped trying to answer it with my conceptual mind that I began to truly get living by it.

These lyrics have, for me, been a great reminder of embracing the groundlessness of life. We are all free falling. We create a ground to plummet towards by fixating our minds, by having expectations or holding on too tightly to that which is constantly changing.

By remaining open to experience - all experience - we can free fall with joy. We can be thrilled at the very fact that we get to be here, that we are so lucky to even exist considering the miraculous nature of life, that any experience we have becomes something we're willing to face.

Not because we won't feel hurt or anger or fear - but because we will accept these things as part of the deal, part of the package of getting to have a conscious mind.