Wednesday, 30 April 2014

found in space

In my last post I was writing about the need to anchor myself in my body, and more than that, in myself in some broader sense, in order to survive so much shifting around in the physical world (which mainly meant my move to my new studio space).

Easier said than done. After another extraordinary Authentic Artist workshop in the Highlands, I'm even more convinced about the usefulness of some kind of metaphor of (at least) twoness, in terms of trying to ride the wave of my creative life.

For now, let's leave aside ideal formulations of Oneness and the problem of duality. As far as I'm concerned, they're the truth, and in the rare moments that I manage to inhabit myself in a way that knows this, I need nothing else.

But another truth is that, as an imperfect and human being, I don't manage to inhabit an awareness of Oneness a lot of the time. So I need other models and metaphors, other kinds of framings, in order to pick and sort and let and allow and try to let go of a thousand myriad things that sometimes seem almost to be at war with each other.

For some people, a helpful twoness model is Body and Mind. My mind wants to 'work', wants to 'get on with it', to work more, is desperate to paint and create, and can't understand why I don't just sit and paint the whole day long. My body, however, often suggests to me after a while that something quite different is required from whatever it is that mind has been so intent on.

For example, I get back to the studio after my week in the Highlands. My mind is unconsciously assuming that I'll now be able to 'get on with my painting', having 'got over' what it lazily frames as 'a difficult transition to the new studio space last month'. I go to the studio, enjoy putting all my things in order. Enjoy being in the space. The space. I start to flow easily into a body/movement practice, which the huge sense of space and light there brings out of me without any intention or thought whatsoever. I notice this. I think, oh, I'm finally understanding what a daily practice is. Doesn't this feel good. I sing a bit, play the piano. It's all unconscious, a kind of instinctive response. Which my mind 'allows' because it thinks, well, it's Saturday, no need to start work (on the painting) until Monday.

Monday comes, and the same thing happens again. As time passes, Mind starts to get a little anxious. Isn't this supposed to be the preamble to painting, it says? At the end of the practice I make something with paint on paper. It isn't very satisfying. As part of the whole, it's ok.

Tuesday comes. I'm tired. Body finally overrides anxious Mind and it's clear that even my gentle slow movement practice of the previous two days isn't the thing today. I'm keen to 'start on the painting' but now I don't have the concentration for it. I go through some motions. Then Mind gives up. Body takes me to the piano, and I sing. For hours. And that's the thing.

Later I see it. Not least that on the workshop I was working with music and movement and voice, and that various things happened which allowed some of the damage and trauma around these things (when being witnessed) to shift. Why would I come back from this subtle and deep work (which operates on myself as a whole) and just carry on as before?

It's a whole. The system is a whole. But dividing it into Mind and Body helps me to see something of how different elements twist and turn and influence each other, and how they can sabotage each other.

Though it can be so useful, however, Mind/Body, like all twoness models, also has problems. My Mind, for example, does have plans and intentions, but these are not only problematic. Mind/awareness is not actually separate in any way from other aspects of humaness, of body and of feeling. It's all biology - a great soup of chemicals all influencing each other, implicated in each other, in every single moment.

Awareness incorporates visual elements, my dancers and my colour, and feels these things; feels a moving response to them (I much prefer the definition of mind/awareness which you find in Hindu texts, which doesn't see feeling and mind as separate from each other, or from the body - 'awareness' incorporates them all....). Mind/awareness is always involved in some way, even if responses appear to come from the body or not be connected to thought.

Another twoness model is a subtle splitting of the range of half-conscious/instinctive impulses that lie beneath the surface into a) forces that attempt to move the system in the direction of flourishing (because this enhances the system's chances of survival) and b) forces that attempt to restrain the system from moving in this direction out of fear (the need for protection, old patterns of response to trauma etc).

This model is a lot more subtle than Body/Mind. It doesn't privilege 'feeling', or assume that what one feels, or knows in the body, or moves towards or away from instinctively,  is 'true', or beneficial.

Body/Mind is a good beginners tool, especially for those of us who have been trained to operate almost exclusively with our Minds. Body/Mind helps me to see that my Mind was full of stale plans and assumptions, while my 'psycho-physical emotional body' was in quite another world and dying to get on with something it had been working on during that workshop. I use the model of Body/Mind to try to help me develop a larger awareness of the whole, because in fact my system is always trying to operate as a whole, and until I see/feel this, it will keep throwing me between these extremes, trying to teach me about these splits.

The last thing I want to comment on in relation to these recent experiences is the focus on the human system as if it was distinct from its environment.  I see a habit in myself to think that 'once I'm working well', or 'have a good routine', or 'have been doing more drawing' etc. then the creative work will be able to flow just about anywhere. There is certainly something about keeping interactions live and connected and continuing through time; if this is not happening there will be little chance of emergence, and creative products and processes will be unlikely to appear. But my recent experiences have also shown me very strongly how the nature of conditions effect what appears.

We are always 'in' multiple sets of conditions - physical, social, spatial - but, despite decades of social science trying to make us think differently, the culture that we're in still encourages us to individualise and personalise our own behaviours and responses. The social science model is arguably biased towards attributing causation almost entirely to the social; the private enterprise/governmental handing back of 'responsibility' to the individual is its opposite - and both are extremes. In my reality, we are emergent selves who are constantly arising from the multiple conditions in which we find ourselves; both together, two in one, all in all.

The difficulties I'm having 'transferring myself' to my studio space? Perhaps these arise from a lack of understanding of this link between conditions and emergence. In the vast, open, light space of the studio, what comes easily is movement, song, physical practice, and a desire to welcome others in to share creative experiences.

Perhaps my painting self needs to be held more tightly in the private space of my home studio; swaddled in layers of history and privacy. Worth considering.

The earliest temples in India, caves carved into rock (South India)


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

when everything is shifting, where do you hold on?

It's very hard to see where I am at the moment, from anywhere. My work grounds me in the world, and yet it seems to be so easy to lose my place in it (my work, and thus the world!).

My process is always silent, invisible, beyond understanding. It doesn't respond to will or intention. There's no point in me putting myself in certain place at a certain time and saying, now, work, come. At the same time there is procrastination and avoidance - spawned by fear of disappointment - or the sense of generally being lost at sea, which, if allowed to go on for too long, become like a noose around my neck.

I am permeable. Things come to me from the world, sometimes to move me on, to shake me out of stuckness; sometimes to distract and derail me. There seem to be no constants. With hindsight, flipped now out of my goldfish bowl and finding myself suddenly aware of the need for water, I can see that there were constants, of which I knew nothing at the time. There was the constant of the same place to work, the same room, every day, day after day. With that held steady, process still bucked and squealed, only starting to gently settle in January this year, when I returned from India, momentarily sated with food and material.

The fuel fed what was trying to burn. The work diversified, became both smaller and larger. At a crucial moment, a new space appeared, and my instinct followed. With trust, there was no other way to proceed. The new space embraced me, enveloped me, plucked me out of my limited sense of myself with a skillful crochet hook and ran round and round in circles of joy until I became dizzy.

Conditions, and the constraints of those conditions, create emergence. When conditions change externally, what emerges into the external changes its form, at the same time as internal conditions are forced to shift and turn. The whole system is transformed, blooming here, dying there, shaking in that corner, screaming in another.

What can hold? In these shifting sands, in this violet sea, there is only one place, which has to be willfully created and recreated in every changing moment. That place is my sense of myself. It doesn't matter which room I'm in, which set of conditions are present, without a calm anchor within my own consciousness, and my consciousness squarely situated within my body, there can be no meaningful emergence, no work, at all.


Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Daily rituals

This book looks like a mine of alternative realities (in the sense of what creative people actually do, rather than what perhaps we think they do, or should do...).

I  particularly like this bit in this overview:

So many behaviors in the book are ways to take a break. You can’t just work constantly on something that requires a high degree of focus and creative energy, whether it’s writing or composing or painting. No one can do it nonstop for hours on end. Taking a nap and drinking coffee were typical. Igor Stravinsky would do a headstand. Thomas Wolfe had the weird fondling-himself habit. Walking seems the most common, especially among composers. Composers all seemed to take a long walk every day.

I've learnt it from my body, over and over, but my mind still tries to tell me that I should be drawing or painting all day long. Even though I know it doesn't work for me...

What is this nonsense, why is it in our culture???



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