Thursday, July 31, 2014

Just admit you're a fraud. You'll be much happier.

I spent last weekend on a meditation retreat. It was one based in London so it wasn't like I was out in the boonies somewhere, totally disconnected from civilisation. I did refrain from using my phone for most of the weekend and only went on my computer late Sunday after it had ended.

After a retreat I'm exhausted. 

This can be difficult to explain because how does one get so tired just sitting around all weekend?

But meditation isn't just 'sitting around'. Meditation is about being present and for anyone who has ever meditated - even once - you'll be very aware of the fact that we're almost never present.

In fact, the entire theme of this particular weekend, presented by the incredibly delightful Jane Hope, was about recognising the stories we tell ourselves and learning to see what actually is, rather than what we perceive there to be. 

One of my favourite bits of the whole weekend was when Jane was talking about studying these teachings and grasping them at the level of mind (intellectually) but having moments when the teachings suddenly sink deeper and we 'know them on a cellular level'. I found this to be such a wonderful apt description for what happens when our understanding of the world around us deepens because it really does feel like that.

In the case of this particular retreat I found myself revisiting an old wound - seeing a lot of messiness about myself that I always hope I'm leaving behind or that people can't see but that I know is there. Effectively, I spent the weekend just totally embracing that I'm a fraud. 

I never really think I'm 'together' but I know how easy it is to mask something or cover it up and feel like maybe I'm actually more stable than I realised. This was a weekend of seeing my neurosis, how deep it runs and still loving myself regardless. Because I know the people who matter most in my life can see all the messy stuff too and they still love me regardless. They accept me as the complex, messed up human being that I am because the people closest to me know they're just as complex and messed up too. We love each other for it - even if it's not always easy.

So I spent this weekend seeing how much I've not shed and where I'm still messing up and causing pain and being arrogant or foolish. And the neatest thing about it was that it didn't break me because I know that I can't work with anything I'm not willing to see. And I can't accept things as they are if I pretend to be something different. And ultimately, none of this stuff defines me.

But I've rambled on quite enough. I felt this was a good opportunity to share a snippet of a photo piece I did back in February when I shaved my then blue and pink hair off. This is just the first instalment of a triptych which will be on display at my exhibition come December.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

More glorious wings!

I'm more often than not a starving artist - which means I generally can't afford all the really awesome stuff I'd buy for people if I had more money than I knew what to do with. 
The thing with gifts is, I'd rather not get someone anything at all if I can't get them something meaningful. And if the most significant or meaningful thing I can think of for them is out of my budget it means I don't get them anything...

But sometimes I realise I can make them something just as fabulous - if not more so - purely for the joy of it. 

This is one of those things. 
A work colleague celebrated their first full year at work and it sort of slipped by because so much as been going on in the office. But then I thought of just the thing that would bring her joy and be a very suitable gift. 

I sketched these out based on a Monarch Butterfly wing. 
The cutting is really the most challenging part.
The three layers of card are so difficult to cut through
that my hand just ends up aching by the end.
I recommend wearing a glove! 

Glued down to the cellophane. I left them overnight with
books piled on top to really flatten them out and let the glue harden. 

Cut them out the next day! 

And then glued the wings together using some scrap bits of the
card stock and put looped elastics through to make them wearable.

A bit of animal testing to make sure they work... 
One happy fairy!!! 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Best Day of Your Life - Kait's Mixtape

Katie Herzig - Best Day of Your Life

Most of Katie Herzig's stuff has graced my OCD playlist. I have at least four of her songs on there currently and this one is right at the top. 

I've really started to understand how it's one thing to say something and even to understand it intellectually, but it's a whole different thing to live by it. 

Live every day as though it may be your last. 

Seize the day. 

If death is certain and the time until death is uncertain, what's the most important thing? 

These are the kinds of sayings or phrases that made me feel like I should be doing something. I should be squeezing out all the pips, using up every last drop of life, that time not spend doing was time wasted - lost forever. 

These are the sort of thing that lead me to being an anxious neurotic mess because on an intellectual level I got them - I understood that I am going to die. We all are, and when we die that's it as far as any of us knows. There may be something after but since I have no conscious awareness of anything before it's safe to assume that this life is the only one I'll get and I had better live it well. 

But then living it well was about cramming things in and that wasn't pleasant or enjoyable. I may have been able to say I'd accomplished a lot but I was hardly ever present for any of it. I planned so far in advance that the actual moments I'd been planning for slipped by so quickly it felt more like just striking something off a list than actually having had an experience of something. 

When I first moved to the UK I was definitely in this mind-set. I felt like I was making up for lost time. I wanted to explore, to see and do everything possible. I made huge lists of all the museums I'd visit, the places in Europe I'd get to, the events I'd attend in London. 

Sometimes I was present for these incredible experiences simply because the mind does this for us naturally. 

The first time I went to Trafalgar Square and stood on the steps of the National Gallery is as vivid to me today as it was when it happened because my mind just stopped. I wasn't thinking about the crowds or the journey there or what I was going to do next. I just stood there, looking down Whitehall to the Houses of Parliament and the sheer history and significance of that spot stopped all my thoughts. I felt the breeze and saw the crispness of the sky and the haziness of the distant buildings. It was amazing. 

And it wasn't about setting anything up or planning or doing or getting anything 'right'. It was just being there. 

So recently - and I mean dry recently - I've begun to relax. 

It's odd because I'm still doing and experiencing and planning but I'm not 'should-ing' any of it. When something doesn't work out and something else happens instead I don't mind because I'm letting go of expectations of things going a certain way. It's no big deal if plans fall through and I'm finding myself more relaxed about planning. I don't put nearly so much energy into it - or maybe it's that the worry about it going 'right' is gone. I plan as much as I can but understand it doesn't always work out and that's fine. That's life. 

Because life is unpredictable and none of us know how long ours will be and for that very reason life is to be enjoyed. To be savoured. It's not about how much we can accomplish in a lifetime. It's about how much we enjoy the time we have, however long or short it may be. 

And for that reason any given day could be the best day of your life simply because you got another one. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Book benches! - London Journal

Ralph Steadman 'Alice in Wonderland' 
Jane Headford doing Dr. Seuss' illustrations

Jane Headford doing Clarice Bean's original illustrations

London is full of book benches!!! Those are the first three I've encountered. I'm going to be on the look out for them all summer. I'm keen to find the Terry Pratchett bench (Featuring The Librarian!), A Brief History of Time bench and On the Origin of Species bench. 

Books are amazing. Reading is wonderful. Art that celebrates books and is free is fantastic.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Just Be - Dharma Series

There are many wonderful stories, metaphors and similes used in Buddhism to illustrate the meaning behind a particular teaching. One in particular that has resonates with me is about being like a heron - still and serene, waiting for the fish to come, poised elegantly and fully aware of its surroundings and purpose.

For the longest time I felt like I was grading myself when it came to my spiritual practice. Actually, if I'm totally honest, I've often felt like I grade myself in everything I do. I wondered if I was doing it right or doing it effectively or doing enough.

Doing. Doing. Doing. 

When I began to meditate I was under the misconception that meditation was a tool to get rid of the unwanted aspects of myself - a way to transcend the uncomfortable things in life by going deeper or having some incredible revelation where I would suddenly be unflappable.

Enlightenment was my goal and I knew I should meditate as much as possible and I should be reading Buddhist texts and I should find a teacher.

I've already referred a few times to my visit to New York last year, when I finally got to hear Pema Chodron speak in person and was also fortunate enough to get to ask her a question. While the retreat was amazing I didn't start to genuinely appreciate the teachings by both her and Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel until I got the recordings of the weekend and began listening to them.

I can't tell you when the shift in my understanding happened because it wasn't like a switch. It was more like a gentle settling - like I'd been working at a puzzle for hours and then suddenly all the pieces just started fitting together and then the whole image was so obvious I was amazed that I'd not been able to see it all along.

I already knew that meditation wasn't about 'getting rid' of anything. I knew it was a tool for remaining present. This made sense to me. But I didn't know how to remain present when things were uncomfortable. Meditating when I was upset or hurt seemed terrifying because it meant sitting with a feeling I didn't want to have in the first place. 

But I persevered and it was listening to the recordings from that weekend that connected the dots.

I've written before about my five days of wakefulness - the experience of being able to drop the storyline no matter what was coming up and just appreciate my surroundings and whatever was happening in any given moment. I don't think there was any one thing that contributed to it and I don't believe I could 'make' it happen.

Because it wasn't a doing. 

It was a 'being'. 

Just being. 

Just be. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Re-reading Pema - a Book review

'Start Where You Are' was the first book I read by Pema Chodron. She is, by far, the most influential teacher in my life and I remember that reading this book was like having someone take all these jumbled ideas and thoughts and contemplations in my head and putting them down on paper. 

Recently I've found myself re-reading a lot of the Buddhist books I own as I've found a deepening of my understanding means I'm getting whole new levels of insight. 

To pick this book up again was amazing because in some ways I felt like I'd not actually read it before, like so many of the words hadn't really sunk in on that first reading five years ago. I know a lot of it probably has to do with my understanding of Buddhism. Whilst Pema writes in an accessible way, regardless of whether you practice Buddhism or not, she does use many Buddhist words and phrases in her work - which don't really make sense without reading or studying classic Dharma texts. 

But there was something else about re-reading it that made me feel like I'd simply not had an appreciation before. It was almost like the first reading was giving me a glimpse of the possibilities and on the second reading I could look back and go "Yes! Yes! Yes! All those things!" 

It's the difference between liking an idea and grasping is intellectually to actually just knowing and experiencing something first hand. 

I love all of Pema's writings and teachings but this book will hold a fond place in my heart simply for being the first. It was the first time someone who wasn't obligated to do so said, "You're fine just the way you are." 

It's powerful and very transformative to be told that right now, right here, no matter what is going on, you have everything you need to be a happy, fulfilled human being - because the very nature of your experience is the stuff of waking up and being open to life. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

How to make super amazing wings!

A few years ago I made myself a pixie king costume. I was quite pleased with it but it lacked one fundamental element that would have made it perfect - wings! 

I decided to refresh this costume for 2014 and that entailed making wings for it. I was about to begin the rather complicated task of sourcing wire coat hangers (These are seriously difficult to find these days.) when I came across a tutorial online that claimed to be a way to make 'Amazing cellophane wings without wire!'

I watched the video and was amazed at the simplicity of the process and how utterly fantastic the end result was. 

So one weekend I gathered up the supplies (Which came to about £20 in total) and set to work! 

First step - take three layers of card stock and glue them together using a permanent spray adhesive. Then sketch out the wing you'd like on the paper. 
I chose a bee wing as my inspiration. 

Next, cut out the basic outline of one wing and use it as a template to cut out the template of the other wing. 

Using a utility knife and careful hand, cut away the ribbing of the wings. This stage requires quite a lot of elbow grease (three layers of card stock is pretty tough to cut through) and patience. 
Apply a strong adhesive or the spray adhesive to the cut out frames and place on bog standard cellophane (Not the shrink wrap kind). 

With the cellophane wrapped around both sides of the frames, use an iron on the lowest setting to 'stick' the cellophane layers together. You can put a towel down between the cellophane and the iron or use the iron directly on the cellophane if you like - but do a test first. Melted plastic is gross. 

Cut off the excess cellophane! 

There are many ways to mount wings and the video I found gives a good quick solution (as long as you can find a wire coat hanger). 

For this particular costume I've got a plan that involves attaching it to the shirt I'm wearing which should make them look like they're growing right out of my back...but that will be for another blog. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

FaunawolfCreations designs, originals and prints available!

Another Art Nouveau animal design is now available on stuff in my Zazzle shop!

You can get it on greeting cards, a water bottle, this lovely notebook and t-shirts!

I know several people have asked about getting prints of my latest additions to the Dharma series. I'm happy to report that you WILL be able to get prints and buy the originals BUT, not until December.

"Why December? That's AGES away?"

Why December? Because December is when I'll be having a month long exhibition of the series held at the Oolong Tea House in Calgary, Alberta. I don't want any of the originals to go to buyers before the exhibition so you'll just have to be super-patient until then.

However, if you would like to reserve one of the originals you can send me an email: faunawolf 'at' gmail 'dot' com

To see all available originals visit the photo album of the Dharma series on my Facebook page. I will be posting listings of the originals for pre-order on my website in September. The originals range in price from £45 - £75 and prints will start at £15.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Dharma Series - Fearlessness

Teachings on fearlessness can be so difficult to grasp. While I didn't struggle to grasp the concept on an intellectual level, truly embracing teachings around fearlessness proved to be very challenging for me. 

The translations from Tibetan or Sanskrit become misconstrued and muddled due to a lack of an English equivalent, making overcoming the Western definition of 'fearlessness' half the challenge. Sometimes it's described as 'unconditional confidence', which I think can muddy the waters even more. 

But the idea isn't about being unflappable or untouched by the challenges of life. It's not some ideal of 'perfection' where you sit there with a beatific smile on your face and nothing bothers you in the slightest. 

It wasn't until I heard a particular talk by Pema Chodron that the concept began to make sense on a deeper level and it was because she talked about resistance to fear. 

I'm familiar with this but didn't realise it until I heard her explanation. Resistance to fear is about not being willing to feel an inevitable emotion. It's putting up walls or wrapping ourselves in a cocoon so the world doesn't touch us with anything that makes us uncomfortable. 

I had Panic Disorder for nearly seven years. Panic Disorder is an anxiety disorder whereby the individual experiences a constant sense of anxiety. Constant. Every single moment of every single day I felt an underlying feeling of worry that was higher than average and not healthy.

Anxiety is rooted in fear. I've come to learn that my anxiety is at its worst when I ignore that something in my life is not okay. The anxiety isn't caused by the thing that isn't okay. It's caused by my resistance to see what's actually happening. 

This seems like a great defence mechanism because it does shield us from painful things - but only in the short-term. 

We can only tell ourselves 'Everything is just fine and peachy keen!' for so long. Denial merely masks the truth and creates a ticking time-bomb. In my case that time-bomb went off and put me in hospital and on medication for the first time in my life. It also lead me to my psychologist and, consequently, to Pema. It taught me how to listen to my gut and trust it. It taught me the importance of this. 

Which brings me back to fearlessness and this particular piece, which features a Snow Lion. 

Fearlessness is not about putting on a brave face, ignoring the things that scare us or shrugging off life's challenges as if they don't matter. Fearlessness is about accepting that things will fall apart. The rug will be pulled out from under us and we will be let down, abused, hurt, sad, angry, disappointed and have to grieve. 

Fearlessness is seeing all of these things and seeing that, as difficult as they may be, we also know they won't last forever and we will survive them because we will take care of ourselves. We will allow ourselves to feel the emotions and let them run their course. We will give ourselves time and space to heal. We appreciate that part of the joy of being alive involves feeling these things, getting through them, and growing from them. 

Because we will also feel joy, happiness, love, elation, delight, amazement, awe, wonder and beauty. Life is rich and when we open up to it, all of it, we have nothing to fear.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Great Canadian Author - Book Review

It's Canada day! So it seems appropriate to do a review of an author I only recently discovered and have come to really, really love.

This isn't so much a book review as an author review but the three books of his I've most been impacted by are:
Girlfriend in a Coma, Hey Nostradamus, All Families are Psychotic

The first Douglas Coupland book I read was 'All Families are Psychotic'. I was in desperate need of something to read and I had some Amazon vouchers to spend. I went into the recommended stuff to see if I could find someone new. Based on my love of A.M. Homes and Kate Atkinson, Coupland came up as a suggestion. I liked the title (I totally judge books by their covers ALL THE TIME and it serves me well.) so I bought it. 

When I began reading it I didn't yet know that Coupland Canadian but it didn't take long for the language and characters to act as a dead give-away. Despite being set in the States, something about it just struck me as inherently Canadian. And then we find out the family is from Canada. 

And this book is amazing because it's just about people and it's really honest. It's honest about how much can happen in a single family and how interdependent we all are. It's also really funny and clever and I came to adore the character so much I hated for the book to end. 

My interested was piqued and I soon began looking for Douglas Coupland books in charity shops. As it turns out, his are the sort of books that end up in such places. They're not thick volumes although their content is thought provoking. 

'Girlfriend in a Coma' asks us to question the very nature of our existence through a strange post-apocolypitic scenario involving a Gen X cast. Many of his books are very much about this generation that came in the wake of the Baby Boomers. 

'Hey Nostradamus' has the voices of four different narrators pulling us through the thread of the story. It's so much about how we are our own little Universes but still intricately connected. This connectivity seems to be something he explores in all his novels. 

I so rarely come across Canadian authors and to find out so incredibly talented and interesting is an absolute joy. If you're only going to read one of his books I recommend 'All Families are Psychotic' but I've been genuinely impacted by all five of his books that I've read thus far. 

Happy Canada day! 

Other awesome Canadian Creative types you should check out: 
Anne Marie-McDonald, author/actor
Esthero, musician
Feist, musician
Peaches, performing artist/musician
James Hergel, painter
Rick Mercer, comedian
Rufus Wainwright, musician
Russell Peters, comedian