Thursday, 26 December 2013

india diary 1

Whenever I've travelled, I've almost always wished afterwards that the writing  I did  at the time had been less personal, more descriptive, less reflective. And yet this seems to be what I do. You could say it's just an obsession with the self, but it doesn't feel like that, in the sense that what interests me is not myself, per se, but what it feels like to be a human in a body; to be an awareness, perceiving, a consciousness in this world. This is really what this blog has been about so far - what does it mean to be an awareness in the world that is trying to create, to make art, to play music?

What helps this awareness to create, what stuffs it up and stops it from flowing? How does consciousness and mind and feeling interweave with creative products coming into the world, or not? From this point of view, it seems to me that I might be able to document this journey to india in a way that is relevant to the overall aims of this blog.

As I go to sleep my first night here in Dubai, I have an image of being clogged up with smoke, of being congested, stuffed up with lists and intentions, with thoughts and plans, coiled up and crunched into a tiny ball.

A few hours earlier, in the  arrivals hall, back here in the middle east, where all of my adult adventuring started, I begin to feel myself open to the huge world that for so long was the only home I knew. Crisp white cotton reaching to the floor, the Arab male constantly rearranging his perfectly non-creased red and white headscarf, the religious figure, provenance unknown, in a long navy gown, dark female eyes ringed with black, profiles from India, Arabia, the Philippines, Thailand.

Lyng in bed, I  feel the smoke that I didn't even know was there starting to clear, my lungs starting to splutter and cough and heave as the accumulated blackness of decades begins to heave itself out of my system.

This morning, in the warm, breezy winter sun, I begin to feel my spine gently uncoil, remember how softly straight I felt at the end of my last trip to India. Some sort of weight is already slipping off me, a scaly snake skin eager to drop off and leave itself behind. Sitting on the roof of hotel looking out across the city skyline, the drawing that so often feels like an effort is as natural as breathing. I think of Matisse leaving his wife and child in winter for the sun of Morocco, of impressionists going south for the light. Perhaps I just don't vary my environment enough in normal day to day.



Saturday, 21 December 2013

solstice reflections

A lot less blogging these days. This is a period of creative recuperation, of being out in the world and looking and feeding, of listening and watching.

I see now that it's also a period of transition. My show this year was an extraordinary bringing together of years of work; a harvesting of the intuitive, of all that had come as I tried to step out of my way, holding my breath, looking for lightness and fun, for life itself.

I will paint again in the fractally world of deep cells and stretched out universes. But now whatever it is that calls and resonates in that way is now calling and resonating (again) in its second form, the constant return to India. Not only literally, but conceptually, emotionally, existentially.

I remember when India broke through... Wondering what was going on, how these two things were going to connect, work together.

I can remember posts where I looked at what I called the two strands and could not see how it was going to happen. Innumerable posts, on both blogs/sites, about this relationship, including ones about times when I just decided to just stop trying. 

And I remember coming back from my-first-trip-to-India-for-nearly-two-decades last February and feeling all this moving again. And then I got the chance of the show, and it all went back underground, or so it seemed, back to waiting in the damp earth.

Except that actually it didn't. I remember a time soon after the show, when it suddenly became clear that everything that I was interested in, in terms of the Indian aesthetics, and the purpose of those aesthetics (because they do have a very clear purpose), was actually happening with the sand. Most importantly, not just in the image, but in the process; and not just between me and the image, but between the process and its audience.

Sandpainting as performance was actually creating the conditions that the aesthetic image is designed to create within the ritual spaces of India, and its effects. Eventually I'll write something about this, but for now, I can see it, and I know that it's true.

What emerges always seems to come from the corner you least expect it.

And, without this kind of reflecting and writing here, especially with something as transient as a sandpainting, it's easy to miss what has happened.


Monday, 16 December 2013

why emotional excess is essential to writing and creativity

'I like to live always at the beginnings of life, not at their end. We all lose some of our faith under the oppression of mad leaders, insane history, pathologic cruelties of daily life. I am by nature always beginning and believing and so I find your company more fruitful than that of, say, Edmund Wilson, who asserts his opinions, beliefs, and knowledge as the ultimate verity. Older people fall into rigid patterns. Curiosity, risk, exploration are forgotten by them. You have not yet discovered that you have a lot to give, and that the more you give the more riches you will find in yourself. It amazed me that you felt that each time you write a story you gave away one of your dreams and you felt the poorer for it. But then you have not thought that this dream is planted in others, others begin to live it too, it is shared, it is the beginning of friendship and love.
You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them. If it seems to you that I move in a world of certitudes, you, par contre, must benefit from the great privilege of youth, which is that you move in a world of mysteries. But both must be ruled by faith.'
Anais Nin

From a brainpickings post at:


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

working more, working less, working

In relation to my constant sense that I should be producing more, or differently, I found it very refreshing to read these thoughts from David Whyte:

'....we long for the everyday with a work we can love and have and hold, and then we find that it is a rare living art form to keep... a work fresh and alive.

....From the outside very little seems to be happening, but in good work we return every day to the desk or the workbench to push it along a little further. We inch along or fly along, depending on what part of the cycle of endeavour we have entered. What we remember looking back, is the rhythm and constant sense of returning to the frontier we have just established...'

The Three Marriages, 2009

This seems to connect to his idea of being satisfied simply with getting some kind of purchase (discussed here); of working from the point of contact that you actually have, right now, instead of a fantasy about 'the right way', or some other future-projected insubstantiality.

I like the idea that what's important is not what you feel you manage to do or achieve on any given day, but that you keep coming back to do some more. This idea seems to be much more forgiving, a more real description of some sort of creative process, than the cultural fantasy of the artist disciplining and obsessing and producing without cease all day long. The endlessly productive fantasy leaves out the need for feeding and reflecting; for periods of rest and gestation, the time for things to come in from the outside and contribute something new, for disparate images and colours and thoughts to bump into each other so that there is at least a chance that occasionally something unexpected will emerge...

And all for what?

'...I (was reminded that I) could work wherever there was a knee or a pen or a pad, wherever there was a pause in the besieging clamour of the world. I didn't need a paradise in order to work, but work itself, given focus and given time for that focus to blossom, could open a little Eden of its own...'


Sunday, 8 December 2013

whatever it is

whatever it is
inhabit it
go deeper in
this is experience
this is life


Monday, 2 December 2013

keep changing how you do it

Oliver Burkman in The Guardian seems to have been looking over my shoulder. Ok, it's a bit glib compared to David Whyte, but I think he's got a point...

My favourite bit of "meta-advice" – advice on how to deal with the advice that rains down on us from friends, books, columns like this – comes from the novelist Rick Moody. He happened to be talking about writing routines, a topic with which I'm dangerously obsessed, but his wisdom applies to any work, and to relationships and life in general. "The insight I offer you is this," he told the Writeliving blog. "There's no one process, and as soon as I imagine some approach to generating work is foolproof, it becomes suddenly worthless to me, and I have to start over." If, like me, you're always fiddling with your work systems, reorganising your stuff, testing new tricks for cultivating habits… take comfort. One tactic works for a while, then the self-sabotaging part of your brain gets wise to what you're doing, and the cycle begins again. The problem isn't that you've failed to find the One True Secret of productivity, happiness or love. The problem is believing you ever might.
Indeed, there's one view of psychology according to which everything we do to make ourselves miserable – every dysfunctional behaviour, from minor to destructive – begins as an approach that once worked well, often in childhood, then passed its sell-by date. We're not idiots who choose unhappiness; rather, we develop coping mechanisms that make sense at the time. The psychotherapist Suzanne Lachmann recalls a typical patient whose mother was "so volatile that [the patient] never knew if she'd come home to find all her belongings strewn across the front lawn… As a result, [she] developed her own set of rules to navigate these situations, remaining on guard at all times." That's a pro-sanity strategy – until suddenly it isn't. Unfortunately, we often then respond by pursuing the old approach more vigorously. We're like drivers stuck in mud, accelerating and wondering why there's no forward motion.
This trap is what Donald Sull, a London Business School professor, calls"active inertia". Companies do it, too: time and again, he's watched established firms respond terribly to industry changes. They don't adapt nimbly, but nor do they pause to take stock. Instead, "stuck in the modes of thinking and working that brought success in the past, market leaders simply accelerate their tried-and-true activities. In trying to dig themselves out of a hole, they just deepen it." One case study is Laura Ashley, which thrived in the 60s as an alternative to miniskirts and knee-high boots, but floundered as the demand for stylish workplace womenswear grew. Panicking, the firm hired a string of new bosses – the televangelist Pat Robertson even joined the board – but just drew nearer to collapse. It was only much more recently that it made the changes necessary to move on.
What's the answer? This may be a rare case in which business school insights are truly useful outside business. Sull recommends "active waiting". When an old technique's not working, stay watchful. Contemplate alternative techniques, explore likely scenarios and focus on general readiness. (Can't figure out where to go with a relationship? That's OK; for now, try paying attention to exercise and sleep.) There's no shame in not yet knowing what the right next approach will be, and no single path to unbroken happiness anyway. Take it from a man named Moody.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

no more intentional practices for me...

Where, then, is the place to be, in relation to your work?

I have tried everything to get away from this discomfort, these turbulent tides, these cold winds that seem to blow from nowhere. This sense, always, that I should be doing more. Doing differently. But mainly, doing more.

Why more? Is it only the outsider's fantasy of the 'serious' artist's life, that knows nothing of the tides, of the rhythms, of the gaps and the frustrations, the dead ends, the non-productivity? David White is brilliant on this....

'But what if we have no recipe to consult? What if we have no grand architectural plans? What if we do not know what we are building or baking? And what if that lack of knowledge of what to do and where to go is debilitating, and therefore, as it is to most human beings, slightly, or for some, deeply depressing? What if we really do have  a blank page?

...How do we proceed where there is actually not meant to be a plan, because we are actually working with a way of being, a slowly building conversation between what we want for ourselves and what we are most afraid of?

...Rilke asks us not to try to get around the feeling of stuckness itself but to see it as having as much right to a place in our life as our other free-flowing accomplishments. He sees anything that is real that presents itself to us not as a barrier but as a necessary next step. The inability to write is just as real as the ability to go full steam ahead to the bottom of the page. He asks us to go right into the exile and the sense of burial itself, as if our malady is not the visitation of loss itself but our inability to feel it fully. He suggests, in effect, that our ability to know what we want is first of all, often marked by an early and profound experience of its very absence. In a sense, he is saying that one way to come to love is to do without it for a long, long time.

...People who are serious about pursuing their vocation look for purchase, not for a map of the future or a guided way up the cliff. They try not to cling too closely to what seems to bar their way, but look for where the present point of contact actually resides. No matter what it looks like.

The point of contact is what allows us to take the next step.

...Not knowing what to do, we start to pay real attention. Just as people lost in the wilderness, on a cliff face or in a blizzard pay attention with a kind of acuity that they would not have had if they thought they knew where they were. Why? Because for those who are really lost, their life depends on paying real attention. If you think you know where you are, you stop looking.

...All those imagined guardian angels in their painted guises trying to help human beings through the millenia...'Thanks', we say to the descending angel, 'but you obviously don't understand my position. Look...I will show you, the next step cannot be the one I have to take, because it won't hold me. Please elevate me straight to the top, wherever that may be, and let's get this over with.'... That is the next step, their extended robed hand seems to say, there is no other step and no other way. But you need a different attitude (literally) and a different inclination (again, literally) to accomplish it.

...There is no possibility of pursuing a work without coming to terms with all the ways that it is impossible to do it. Feeling far away from what we want tells us one of two things about our work: we are at the beginning or that we have forgotten where we are going.

Remembering what we have forgotten is a first practical step home; the opening of the tidal gate that brings us into contact with the larger, stronger currents of existence. Exile and forgetting are natural state for most human beings, but so are remembering and recalling. All tasks are completed through cycles of visitation and absence. We should get used to this cycle and integrate it full into the way a work or a vocation is achieved and not hold ourselves to impossible standards that are often quite tedious, giftless states, in any case.

It may in fact be, that the very essence of what individuals have to offer the world is through a close understanding of their weaknesses and blind spots - blind spots in themselves or others. The very dynamic we confront when we feel it is impossible is the very dynamic we will put into the work, a dynamic that will make it distinctive and entirely our own.

...For both Mozart and Shakespeare, despite the breadth and volume of their work, more time was probably spent not writing than writing itself. A work is achieved not by creating a hermetic space sealed off from the world, but nel mezzo, in the middle of everything.

...In building a work life, people who follow rules, written or unwritten, too closely and in an unimaginative way are often suffocated by those same rules and die by them, quite often unnoticed and very often unmourned'.

David White, The Three Marriages, Chapter 6

I've given up all of my attempts to do a daily practice for now. It's hard to explain why, but it's something to do with having disciplined myself for decades in relation to work-related things, to such an extent that I hollowed myself out to a shell. The only thing that seems to work for me now is a kind of unstructured, intuitive wandering. 

Freedom, play, exploration - with whatever level of technique I currently have, allowing myself to follow a pulse which I can scarcely feel, and which seems to slither away the minute I try to force it into any kind of shape....


Thursday, 21 November 2013

radical interiority

Radical interiority
I don't know
It's what I lack
What my body is always trying to teach me about making art
Not discipline
Not the firm structuring of time
Not intention or plan

Going into a room and waiting for something to happen
Not ideas and thinking
Not interacting, not out in the world
Radical interiority
What it's always easier to flee from
Myself, alone in a room

And why the fleeing?
If I do it for only minutes
Everything starts to come
Everything starts to move
It is as easy as breathing

When I pick up a pencil
My whole system sighs with relief
On my rails again
Going nowhere
Just being here
In the stream that's open
Instead of fretting about the one I think is closed


Wednesday, 13 November 2013

struggling with freedom

This thing that Kath picked up on about what I called the commitment to the practice seems to go right to the heart of something. I feel that I've picked up from my teachers the need for this commitment, for something that can be carried out over time, in some kind of regular and consistent way. And yet the idea of absolutely sticking to something is also against the spirit of it all, somehow.

Apart from anything else, it's both my impression from them, and my own experience, that one of the points of the whole idea of the practice is that it's enjoyable. It's enlivening, it's surprising, it makes you feel wonderful, alive, connected. It makes your art happen and moves it into new places. So why do so many of us struggle to find a way to do it that works on a regular basis?

If anyone reading this wants to wade in with a comment or a personal report, please do, it would help me a lot. Or email me privately and I'll incorporate your response into another blog post.

I came back from the workshop feeling very inspired by the simple idea that it was clear to me that I needed to discipline the wonderful freedom that I have now set my life up to give me, and also that I needed to free any idea I presently had about the nature of that discipline.

And it seems to be as difficult as ever, perhaps even harder.


Monday, 11 November 2013

the daily practice, take 2

The daily practice is a very specific aspect of Paul Oertel's Discipline of Freedom work.

A daily practice is not 'practising your scales'. It's not that thing you do where you discipline yourself to sit down at a certain time, or for a certain length of time, and repetitively work on small corners of technique, over and over again. Of course, this kind of technique work has to be done, but it's not my understanding of 'the daily practice' in the DoF context.

I've written about this before. I wrote about it a couple of times after my first DoF workshop in May 2012. I'm not going to look back at that now, though, I just want to try to articulate what I think it is now.

In a daily practice, you don't practice technique, you set off on a exploration. You give yourself permission to shut out all the 'shoulds' and 'oughts'; either in the rest of your life, or in relation to your art form. You decide what form you want it to take, and you can change it whenever you need to.

It might be quite free, or it might have a structure that you've decided on. Some people work with something like 'three bits of movement, two songs, two sonnets, and then a painting'. Some people only do it for five minutes a day, some do it twice a week. An important aspect of this is that the structure you choose, and the length and frequency of the practice, has to be something that you are committed to doing, regardless of anything else that's happening in your life.

I remember when I came back from the workshop last year sticking to an hour a day for quite a while, and some quite different work started to happen. All the Indian dancers came out of that time. After a while, though, although in theory I really could have kept it up, something about the length of time, and the formal structuring of the practice, started to get fixed, to feel like a thing I had to do. Which doesn't work at all for me. I over-disciplined myself in a very rigid and will-driven way for decades, and these days my body and my whole being go into revolt if I start to do anything that feels forced or rigid (which is one of the reasons that all of this structuring of creative work is so difficult for me).

Because of this old habit of over-disciplining, sometimes I've been forced to see that my practice for the day actually has to be not doing the practice - releasing myself from that sense of fixed obligation. If I'm tired, or stressed, or wound up, my practice sometimes has to be  to just STOP, and not do a damn thing. Which frustrates the hell out of me because my default is to want to do this kind of work all the time. Interestingly, though, when this happens, it turns out to be exactly the right thing - when I do stop, I suddenly see that I've been busy and running and not in myself properly at all; all in my head, following lists and intentions and 'have to's. So the practice of not practising is as effective as the practice of doing the practice, if it's judged correctly.

In the end, though, I lost sight of what was a practice and what wasn't. I realised that the practice was a whole lot more complicated than I had thought.

I came away from the DoF workshop this time with a different understanding of what this was all about. For a start, I had tended to see it as a block of time, and one that had to be 'made space for' in the midst of the changing complexities of daily life. Finding that full hour was sometimes pretty difficult. Also, in that conceptualisation, there was a kind of 'in the practice' 'out of the practice' thing, despite the fact that Paul had made a joke on the first workshop about Nancy sending him out to the freezer to get something and him having written a sonnet by the time he came back....

When I got back this time, I suddenly realised that I had missed a lot of musical opportunities at the workshop, where there had been more musicians than ever before. I'd gone with such a fixed idea of my intentions around voice and art, that I'd hardly noticed that my music channel was completely blocked up. I realised on the workshop that my movement channel - which I always assume is the one that comes so easily to me - was also all stuffed up. I could do the movement work, but it felt wrong, disconnected. I was moving my body, I realised, through the moves I used to make last year - a kind of knee-jerk habit that I was no longer fully connected to, something that could  happen in the witnessed space, but that didn't feel entirely honest. It was coming from a body memory, instead of from being connected to myself in that moment.

So now I see that one of the points of the daily practice is to KEEP EVERY CHANNEL OPEN. Because I had been singing every day, and painting every day, I was able to properly work in these channels both with others, and when being witnessed. But I couldn't just pick up one of my three instruments with ease, despite all the glorious musical things that were happening.

It's easy to tell myself that I can't play easily in that situation because I don't have the years of  training and practice that others have. But actually, though I could do with a whole load more technique (which I'll never get because 'practising' things that are designed to improve me kills all my joy stone dead...) this isn't point. With my limited technical skills, I can play just fine with people who have more training and experience than me, IF I'm open in that channel; if there has been a relationship with the instrument through time, and it doesn't feel like a stranger.

I've found it very hard to 'stay focussed' on movement, violin/viola/mandolin, voice/piano, and painting, equally. One always seems to get the upper hand, in terms of my day to day work. It's as if I can only concentrate on one thing at a time, in a way that I don't fully understand. Perhaps it will always be this way, in terms of things like preparing for a show, or whatever it is that demands most of my attention. But I see now that the practice of all four, in order to keep them all open, is essential to me. I don't think it has to be a a lot of time on any of them, it just has to be that all four are connected with, in some way, every day.

I currently have a commitment one song/voice piece, on movement piece, one painting and one violin/viola sounding a day. It doesn't have to be  in  specific daily practice time, or for a particular length of time. This seems to have been one of my main problems. It's not, 'go into the practice' and 'come out again', it's 'be in a state of creative awareness off and on throughout the day'. So, draw a bit here, sound or sing in the kitchen, move, if necessary, in a public toilet, or as I go up the stairs (differently!), play a bit of viola while listening to some recorded music.

In other words, STAY AWAKE, in a creative sense, as much of the time as possible....

The reason that this is important is not only so that I can develop my work, allow it to move more freely, encourage different things to relate to each other and produce new forms of emergence....

It seems to be important in relation to what I was writing before about creative energy. If my creative energy, which I see as my actual, biological and physical life force, is not moving through me freely, I don't feel right.

I don't feel right physically, I don't feel right emotionally, I don't feel right psychologically, I don't feel right in relationship, and I don't feel right alone. This practice holds the key to my life.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

a nice little explanation...

Interesting post here on creativity in relation to the work of the guy who made the idea of 'flow' so famous...


Saturday, 9 November 2013

creative energy

I want to write about creative energy. Energy is a very difficult thing to write about these days. It's a word that's being used all over the place, by physicists, by environmentalists, by fitness advisers, by nutritionists, by healers, by those who are interested in spirituality.

My use of the word energy  is, at first glance, strictly physical, in the sense of energy moving through the body in biological and physiological sense. But this sense of plain, physical energy in the body turns out to be much more complicated and subtle than I used to believe. Can I run for 20 minutes? Looks like a fitness question. Do I regularly go outside and run for twenty minutes? Seems like a time management or discipline question. Do I feel like going outside and running? Oh, is this a mental health question? Or is it an 'I need a holiday' question? How come I can feel incredibly tired and then when the right person phones up and says, 'you wanna meet up?', I suddenly feel excited and exhilarated? How come I can go out feeling the same on two different days, to see two different sets of friends, and come back from one meeting utterly knackered and the other beaming with delight and sit up half the night writing poetry?

And what about driven energy, that energy of the mind and will that can push me through just about anything on this earth, if I've set my mind to it - the energy that can completely shut out my body screaming for rest and fun, and push myself onwards towards some deadline that I've convinced myself I absolutely 'have to' meet?

Recently I've begun to recognise another kind of energy, which I think has been powering all these other energies throughout my life, I just didn't understand it. It's the energy that made me always want to join in to any song I knew, whether on the radio, the tele, at a concert, on the bus; the energy that made me do annoying things with my hand to the rhythm of Indian music; the energy that made me want to leap up from my seat at a concert and seguey into that bit of open space that seemed just made for me to dance in; the energy that made me want to buy up everything in an art shop and threatened to kill me when I saw an exquisite drawing.....

As I've been reviewing my entire life, personality, habits, and foibles, these past few years, I've tried on various forms of explanation for my extremes and the intensity of my desires. Of all possible explanations, the stream that they all seem to keep flowing back to is the idea of pulsing, creative force, which my upbringing and culture have done their best to redirect and suppress. I can frame up the twisted forms this force has been forced to take, the road blocks it has tried to work around, in any number of ways, but in the end it all seems to come back to this.

There's nothing godly, mystical or spiritual about this energy. It's the force of life, the physics and biology of myself as a dynamic system, emanating from and completely enmeshed in the moving tides of a vast universe, which is itself a huge pulsating movement of physical energy. This energy is, by definition, creative. Creativity is what life is, the way that life is able to be life, in the sense that it's something constantly moving and adapting and changing; technically speaking, novelty and change evolve continually form all biological systems in the form of emergence.

As a human, it's my nature to respond to the ebbs and flows of energy that pass through me; for my muscles to start to move if a drum resonates nearby, for sound to emerge from my throat in harmony with frequencies that enter me via my eardrums, for my hand to reach out a pick up a burnt stick and scratch it onto a rock.

The suppression of the flow of these energies has nearly killed me.

How did we become so disconnected?

Saturday, 2 November 2013

interview with Paul Oertel

Interview With Paul Oertel in Health & Nutrition
by Tammy Simon

This issue's Health & Nutrition is taken from an interview with Paul Oertel conducted by Tammy Simon, host of KGNU's Live From Planet Earth. Mr Oertel is a movement and voice specialist, performer, dancer and actor. He is a principal of the internationally renowned Nancy Spanier Dance Theatre.

TAMMY SIMON: You believe that the Earth is in a time of crisis. What do you see as the components of survival, in terms of self-expression and attitudes during this phase?
PAUL OERTEL: A critical element right now is for people to look within. To find one's own strength, one's own inner song, inner power and own resources. And to really get that power going. People who have done that are infinitely useful to everyone around them. They have the resources to take charge of the situation and to survive what seems to be unbelievably stressful and changeable energy.

They have the flexibility, the openness and the resources to walk into whatever situation no matter how polluted, confused or negative and survive it. Not by virtue of denial or separation, but by virtue of strength, compassion, understanding, openness, inclusion of the full environment. They have included all of their own emotions so they become an enormous vessel that can embrace all of reality for whatever it is. Therefore, they can become useful to anybody in need or who is hurting. They can embrace them and deal with the situation constructively.

TS: In a world of crisis, what role does art play?

PO: One of the roles, unfortunately, is that of creating distraction arid diversion and confusion. Because of that, art is developing into a very depressed state. Art in a world of confusion is becoming what art often will do, which is simply reflect the chaos. As things are getting in a sense tighter, as people are hanging on and clinging, art is getting thinned out, reduced, concerned less and less with larger issues. But in this situation we need more than ever people who are willing to create an art that embraces the more humanistic and total approach.

TS: What is your belief about the connection between self-expression and healing?

PO: For healing to happen there has to be an absence of denial. There has to be a full expression and full realization of what the person is and what they are feeling. Movement or voice brings the person into contact with that expression. These tools help them make the relationship between the expression and the facade, or the denial, apparent. They break that up so a person can come forth.

Essentially, a healed human being is one in which there are no blocks. Everything flows freely. The person can be breathing in and out, taking in and out, giving off in a way that maintains health. If one is absorbing too much or giving away too much - or what is coming in is blocking in some part of the body or being - then that part can become stagnant. It becomes unhealthy. It begins to die. The person becomes ill. Self-expression is a way of keeping everything in motion, fluid.

TS: What is the edge between being in control so you are technically excellent and disciplined, and just letting go?

PO: Traditionally, the process of skill is one of control. If you use control to get control, whatever you do will look rigid. In terms of the physical body, that process is destructive. That is why many dancers are ruined with knees breaking and cracking by the age of thirty-five. Voices are ruined through the same misuse of control. That approach to control destroys the physical form.

The other way to work with control is through the idea of letting go. Your freedom, or your control, or your discipline is the process of understanding a free flow in your body. That can be a difficult process because it requires letting go on all levels. Of understanding how to let go of the flesh in order to control it, rather than hanging on to the flesh. People are beginning to explore that more and more.

One aspect of the discipline of freedom you are talking about has to do with being able to just be okay with whatever comes.

I feel that is an absolute necessity in these times. In order to survive the whole situation where there seems to be such violent and chaotic and confusing forces at hand, one needs to be extremely flexible in order to survive. If you are rigid when a great force hits you, you'll break. If you are flexible, you can work with it and play with it. Flexibility is the key to the whole notion of survival at this point.

Friday, 1 November 2013

painting people working

It's hard to have any idea where to start reporting on my recent Discipline of Freedom workshop with Paul Oertel. I thought I might start by posting these pictures which were made while people were working. This is a unique form of painting, for me anyway, that has slowly developed over the last year or so. In the image above, Daniel Mandel was working with Paul on a song - a very melodic and beautiful song - and the work went on long enough for me to go on working the painting for some time. Before this one, he sang a different song which looked like this:

This allowed me to experiment with the feel of the voice and the melody, and the overall flow, before working on the longer piece.

The next one is of a piece of work where someone was dealing with a lot of unprocessed pain, which was an incredible and moving piece of work by Paul and the participant.

The one that follows was a dance piece by two people, moving to very earthy sounding provided by voice and viola.

And this next one was a solo sounding which went on a long journey...

Finally, this was a positively ecstatic dance piece by Paul and a participant that made me feel that I was watching Rumi dancing with his Beloved... Yes!


Monday, 14 October 2013

off to Wales

I want to write something here before I go off to Wales for my second Discipline of Freedom workshop; my sixth of these workshops with either Kath Burlinson or Paul Oertel in two years.

I've been finding it less easy to write here recently. Perhaps this is indicative of the fact that this is a period of disconnection; a refractory period, after such an intense and focussed period leading up to the show. Breathing in, and breathing out. Feed, digest, rest, act. Act, rest, digest, feed. Act, digest, rest, feed.

In addition, some of the things that are coming up in the workshops now are too deep, too personal to write here. That's always been the case, but what comes up seems to get harder, and to be more fundamental, in terms of whatever the problems, issues, struggles, difficulties are in relation to being free to create as you want to create.

I've been pondering again on that quote of Paul's:

Never belabour your creativity.
Follow the juice.
Outsmart yourself by following the fun.
Follow the stream that is open.

Thinking about the streams that were open, I decided that:

  • movement is now relatively open; it's the one area where I never had an agenda
  • painting is now relatively open, at least in terms of doing it as a private activity
  • sandpainting has appeared, and is asking to unite these two areas
  • music and voice are still quite stuck, particularly in performance

I came to the conclusion that I wanted to work both with what's stuck and also with what's open. In terms of stuckness, I want to work with breath, voice, body, grounding, communication, staying present. In terms of what's open, I want to work with understanding and accepting that some forms come more easily now, and that there's no need to ask more of them, or try to push them over some kind of an edge, to try to make them get hard again. And then to focus on where that more easily coming work is trying to go.

The sand wants to join up with music and movement. And the painting wants to find out more about the Mattanchery thing; the Indian dancers and Indian forms that keep trying to find their way in...


Wednesday, 2 October 2013

get a therapist honey

An actor/puppeteer friend of mine was talking about some ideas she had for her puppet. She said she liked the puppet because then she could concentrate on what the show was about in terms of performance, in terms of the audience. 'It's for the audience', she said, 'If it's not for the audience, get a fucking therapist'.

This little comment seems to me to hold vast worlds of art-making conundrums within it.

'So, do you sell your paintings?'

'Well, it's great if I do, but that's not actually the point'.

'Oh, so you just do it for yourself, then..'

'Well, no, I mean, I don't want to do hundreds of paintings and just shove them all into my attic...'

Perhaps it's clearer if you're a performer, but for me, making paintings, the idea of doing your work 'for' an audience is deeply problematic. It could derail what I'm trying to do completely. 'Well, that green one could have sold four times, I think I'll do some more green ones'... is more subtle than... 'I'm going to try to repeat that one that sold yesterday'... or.... 'I'm going to do a series of paintings that I hope to sell in my next exhibition'. For me, this approach would completely change the nature of the work I'm trying to do. I see it as the art version of 'people-pleasing', which, as some of us may have discovered in our personal lives, is doomed to hopelessness. If you start wanting to please people you're stuffed, as far as I can see. Off on the route of trying to second-guess an imaginary person or audience who will never, actually, be the person or audience who ever stands in front of one of your paintings anyway. So you'll never get it 'right', you won't please anyone, and, in fact, you won't even be doing 'your' art. You'll be remaining a puppet of your own emotional history/lacunae; of some murky aspect of your psyche which is trying to get some attention without you even realising it.

This doesn't mean that emotion doesn't inspire and inflame and feed the making of art. My understanding at the moment is that experience and emotion are my raw materials. But I'm beginning to see that some kind of transformation needs to happen if the experience or emotion is to become something that can communicate with other people. I don't say communicate itself to other people, which is the pipeline view of creativity; the idea that the artist can pass something from themselves to someone else in a reasonably direct manner.

I find it easier to see this in relation to performance, which in my case is currently confined to singing in the protected space of an Authentic Artist or Discipline of Freedom workshop. I've discovered that I can actually 'sing from the heart' in two distinct ways. I can mainline directly to my own experience on every level, feeling completely exposed, completely raw. All of my life's experience is somehow carried in that way of singing, all of my troubles and my vulnerabilities and all of my pain. I'm vulnerable when I sing like that, and not in a good way. I'm vulnerable firstly because I'm not completely in the song; part of me is watching myself from across the room, making judgements. I care what people think, and I care what think. I don't want to sing badly, I want to sing my best possible singing, I want people to know that that best possible singing can come out of me, not this mediocre version which seems to be appearing in the moment... And there she is, the critic on my shoulder. My conservative ego, my traumatised child, sitting there like vultures, intent on stopping me from moving into a new story.

And then there's another way of singing from the heart. The same song, the same voice into the same air. But now the focus is not on me, on my voice, on the way that I am singing, on how I or anyone else may be judging me. Now the focus is on the song. On the words, on the feeling in the words, on the notes, on the nuances of harmony and expression. It feels different to sing from that place. There's no fear, there are no palpitations, no pumped up fantasy of how important the event of singing is. It's not a big deal. It's just a song. Like breathing, like having a glass of water. My birthright as a human.

So, I can see that the second version of this is offering a song to an audience, rather than strutting about or collapsing at the importance of it all. In the second version I'm still connected to emotion, to myself, but I'm not doing the scared child/crazy ego thing. So how does this translate into painting?

The great thing about painting is that you can do it alone, so you don't (necessarily) have to be distracted by the sense of being judged in the moment by others. You can become immersed and forget all that while you're  actually making the work. Perhaps the 'for the audience' thing comes around in painting when you exhibit or try to sell. I suppose the real issue here is whether or not your ego is sitting on the edge of the picture frame, waiting to be pumped up or to defend itself to your audience. Does it matter whether or not people say it's 'good'?

No. The work has been offered to the audience as the work, not as you. I guess this is the way in which painting can be 'for the audience'. It's subtle.


Tuesday, 1 October 2013

time for a new story

I can't really get used to the fact that I am, at least most of the time now, living a new story. Sometimes I forget. A dark figure steps silently from the shadows, and I'm momentarily derailed again. Wandering in the desert, tearing at my hair, breathing hot winds.

I've been living for the last few years in this silent, interior landscape, with only the sound of my own tides for company. Trying to let my art come. Trying to get out of my own way. Preferring the idea of creativity to the idea of art, wanting music and movement and colour and texture and words to be together, to be dynamic, to be free. Holding on to the mast, determined never to let go again.

In the fantasy world of an artist that I made up at the beginning of my adult life, I was alone in a studio day after day, week after week. People were incidental, connection was irrelevant. Creativity was art, art was painting, painting was something that would possess me, soon enough. And it did not. And I waited.

...There were a few (of my friends) who seemed afraid of what was on offer, and... afraid of something it called for in their selves. As if they did not feel worthy of the invitation or felt at some essential level they were not equal to that world into which they were being invited. They had no belief in what they had encountered. What they glimpsed seemed too large for them and some part of them eventually became afraid of it. It might have been that they were afraid of an ambitious form of falling in love and the commitment to which it might lead.

...Refusing to fall in love with a vocation and thereby refusing the necessary insanities for the path ahead is hardly ever a passive process where everything goes into neutral; it is actually corrosive on the personality and character of the one who repeatedly says no to something that keeps on whispering yes.

David Whyte, 2009, The Three Marriages

What seemed dead turns out to be alive. Full of holes, blind spots, dangerous ditches, pathways and habits of destruction. But, finally, alive.


Tuesday, 24 September 2013

green grass

there is green grass
all around the gravestones
I see it now


Monday, 23 September 2013

ripe sun

the ripe sun of autumn
falls sideways across
my face
at last


Saturday, 21 September 2013

power, vulnerability

We are powerful beyond measure, and so deeply vulnerable at the same time. This may seem like a dichotomy, but it isn’t. We have misunderstood real power. It has been something assertive, non-surrendering, pushing on through. This is not real power. This is simply willfulness. Real power is something else- receptivity, openness, the courage to keep your heart open on the darkest of days, the strength to feel it all even when the odds are stacked against you. Real power is showing up with your heart on your sleeve and absolutely refusing to waste one moment of your life hidden behind edginess and armor. 

 Jeff Brown


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

wild moments

Someone in my family asked me to send them reviews and critiques of my show. I don't know how to explain to them that, apart from the fact that no contemporary art critic would have any reason to visit a show like mine, the views of people from that world would mean nothing to me.

I don't want to know if a critic judges my work to be 'good' or 'bad'. What I want to know (and I don't mean, you must tell me, only that I would find it interesting to hear...) is whether it touches you or not. Does some part of your imagination respond to the corner of a painting, does something in your belly move as you read a poem? There's nothing I can do to make something touch you. I can't meet the right people, go to the right places, learn what's in and what's out, or learn a particular way of talking. I can only share my explorations with you, for you to do with as you will.

Here are some of the things that did mean something to me:

...the twenty-nine year old horn player working in a restaurant to put herself through training to be a teacher, who said, 'this is the best art I've ever seen' and was prepared to pay out for an original watercolour

....the two kids watching me making abstract figures in the sand, saying 'but wot is it? wot is it?', then running up and down the space shouting 'it's weird, it's weird!'. Then when I started shaking the paper their imaginations getting the better of them... 'look, there's a fox, oh, it's a squirrel, now it's a bird...'

...the fifteen-year-old daughter of the AA man who fixed my car who's preparing a portfolio for art college playing with the sand, then wanting to know where she could get some

...watching five kids all painting into sand at the same time

...the realisation that people were interested enough in moving sand to want to film and photograph it on their cameras many friends and family turning up to try out the experience I had made for them

...someone telling me that after listening to the music, watching the sand, and listening to the poetry, they felt how they would normally feel after a good yoga class

...seeing the faces of two old friends I hadn't seen for many decades

....the generosity of the friends who bought pictures, and the care and deliberation that went on as they were making up their minds

...the unfailing good humour and generosity of the poet, turning up day after day, to perform an astonishing piece


on the ebb tide beach
everything we pick up
is alive

Basho 1644-94


Monday, 16 September 2013

Wild Life 2013


is what lies beneath our feet. It is the place where we already stand; a state of recognition, the place or the circumstances to which we belong whether we wish to or not. It is what holds and supports us, but also what we do not want to be true; it is what challenges us, physically or psychologically, irrespective of our abstract needs. It is the living, underlying foundation that tells us what we are, where we are, what season we are in and what, no matter what we wish in the abstract, is about to happen in our body, in the world or in the conversation between the two. To come to ground is to find a home in circumstances and to face the truth, no matter how difficult that truth may be; to come to ground is to begin the courageous conversation, to step into difficulty and by taking that first step, begin the movement through all difficulties at the same time, to find the support and foundation that has been beneath our feet all along, a place to step onto, a place on which to stand and a place from which to step.

GROUND taken from the upcoming reader's circle essay series. ©2013: David Whyte.

Monday, 19 August 2013


I've been experiencing an odd kind of bashfulness about promoting this show. Perhaps this is one of the problems of doing everything yourself. I feel as if I'm pushing myself into people's faces in a way that's very uncomfortable. I make flyers because I don't want to go to all this trouble to put on a show and then have no-one experience it. Then I don't really feel like putting the flyers out because they make me wonder what on earth I think I'm doing and if I'm going to be able to deliver....

Going to the Edinburgh Festival a few times recently has helped to get some of this out of my head and into this - new - world. Of course you promote your show - look at them all there, jumping around in makeup and doing magic and putting flyers into your hand - they've done all this work, they've got a show, and now they want you to come and see it.

The confusion is between myself and my show. The discomfort comes when I think that it's me that's going out there. Then I remember, with the great relief of what is still quite a new perspective, that it's ok, because it isn't me at all. It's a show. Art is much bigger than the person who made it.

I don't mean bigger in the sense of grand, I mean bigger in the sense that the artist has no control over how or what people will see or feel in response to what's been made. It becomes something else once it's shared, something unknown...


Wednesday, 14 August 2013


A crisis of confidence in the last few days, brought on by insufficient sleep and overactivity chemicals in my blood.

In the midst of it, some wise, unflappable part of me manages to wake up and remind me that this is one situation where the notion of 'faith' actually has some meaning for me...

I want to write about faith,
about the way the moon rises
over cold snow, night after night

faithful even in its fading from fullness,
slowly becoming that last curving and impossible
sliver of light before the final darkness.

But I have no faith myself
I refuse it even the smallest entry.

Let this then, my small poem,
like a new moon, slender and barely open,
be the first prayer that opens me to faith.

David Whyte

I feel so grateful that the extremes of my life have allowed me to learn something about the nature of the psychophysical interactions (behavioural, chemical, internally conversational) which lead to instability and doubt... and so grateful to the hidden parts of my being which come up with their antidotes....


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

alisa burke

In the midst of all this soul-searching, today I want to share the delightful website of one of the most creative people I've come across on the internet. Her name is Alisa Burke and her blog is a real pleasure...


feeling pugilistic

Sometimes I wonder what on earth I'm thinking of, doing an exhibition. Five years ago, I wasn't even painting, and believed that I would never draw or paint again. I never expected to do paintings like the ones that I'm showing. I don't even know what I think of them, though I do know that as I made them, my life began to change.

There seems to be an instinctive impulse to share the things that use us to create them. This morning it occurs to me, as well, that one reason that I'm having this show is simply to say YES to whatever it is that has formed itself. To show up in my life, and to say, well, this is just how it is. I give up on fantasies of brilliance, or fantasies of awfulness, both of which prevent anything from happening at all. I don't believe that this stuff is good, and I don't believe that it's bad. It's itself. And it wants to be seen, as itself.



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