One of the most potent stages of healing, for me this year, has been as a result of opening up to times in my life when I know I felt most at peace and at liberty to pursue my most unfettered creative urges, also free of almost all practical worldly concerns, and then using sensory prompts from those memories to revisit those times and some of their most joyful, least conditional, impulses. As I have gone into this more and more (using simple acts like allowing myself to curl up with a light-hearted book in the middle of the day or doodling with kids pens because I want to…), I have had whole waves of sensation from childhood come back to me and, on the back of those waves, long-buried desires and aspirations have carried in on the wind, not to mention feelings that have felt like a breath of fresh air coming into a stuffy old room. For weeks now, I have allowed myself to pursue whatever the passions were that consumed me at those times, however “childish’ they may seem (remember, no one else’s opinion matters when it comes to undertaking this important act of self-exploration…), including a willingness to dismantle all my own self-judgement and, yes, pride around doing whatever thing suggests itself to me.
Below are just a few personal examples, designed to encourage anyone reading this to identify their own latent, long-buried impulses and desires which may, perhaps, go all the way back to childhood, harking back to far simpler times before the plaque build-up of life began to distort the way they allow themselves to spend their time and energy. The point is to go with these urges, outside of self-judgement or any bashfulness about how trivial or childish some of the pursuits might seem to be since there is so much potential waiting to be unlocked in the act of deep-diving into the simple, unconditional pursuits of an earlier time, before the momentum of life seemingly took over. Due to work or other commitments, you may think that it is not be practical for you to do many of the kind of things I have listed, or perhaps it would mean taking a holiday or sabbatical to make it possible; the point is, to prioritise doing what you can to allow yourself to pursue your version of the kind of pleasures and freedoms I am trying to suggest since they can have a quantum effect on unlocking an earlier version of self; one that predates any trauma that has occurred (and gathered in your cellular memory) since. Its posible to refind something as subtle as the ghost of a feeling from a very long “time” ago that awakens a latent potential or initiates a whole new trajectory on your current timeline. So, here are a few of my recent deep-dives into an earlier version of self, extracted from my longer article on Spinning the Light, The Rescue Party of Myself.
OK, for starters, at the beginning of the year I started to teach myself the piano…and not in a terribly prim way but by selecting the most fun and unconventional online course (I use Decplay) that I could find so that it more-closely resembles the playful, instinctive method I was using to try and self-teach myself to play tunes on my aunt’s piano every week when I was eight or nine years old. This – and the fact I allow myself to do this whenever the urge comes over me – has become one the biggest joys of my life, with no other agenda than to pursue it for my own enjoyment (which is considerable); and which is on top of my thrill at being able to turn out a half-decent attempt of the first part of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata already, amongst other things. When did I know I wanted to do this? I really didn’t until suddenly there it was and I didn’t question it or try and talk myself out of it but, without being hard on myself, tried different methods until I found the one that seemed to work for me. I have no grand scheme to become a concert pianist, to impress anyone or even to commit for a very long time; I simply intend to continue for as long as it brings me enjoyment. This has opened up my box for considering the possibility of other musical pursuits whereas (I realise) I had tended to assume I had missed the boat on all this at the end of childhood, when my lack of musical tuition or opportunity was certainly a point of frustration to me. A case of never say never…but do it for you, only for you!
Recently, I allowed myself (yes, me, the professional artist who ordinarily paints in oils) to order a large rainbow pack of children’s colour pens and do “colouring in” because I used to really absorb myself in doing this so much as a child so why not? Its not something I do often but it can be mildly diverting from time to time and the very fact of allowing it has been a massive breakthrough in what was an invisible wall around my creativity. I’ve also stopped making my blogging into such a chore (maybe you noticed, I haven’t been posting nearly as much…) and have dispensed with the last remnants of any strict time-keeping to my daily routines. A big one is that I have side-stepped my art practice away from the stuffy painterly approach that was already floundering by the end of last year (when I realised I had kept to the roughly the same painting and exhibiting routine for almost a decade) into designing fabric and a whole range of related products (from clothing to furniture), which offers me vastly more freedom to play around with my creativity. In fact, I am already reaping the benefit of this childlike approach to “what I do” as it has injected my art business with a whole new lease of life. Inherent in this new child-like, playful approach to my work is that I am using criteria such as joy, freedom and fairness as the most important benchmarks of my business – so when the first manufacturing model I considered turned out not to meet these criteria, I moved on until I found another manufacturing business with whom to work, offering me the kind of freedom and returns that I am am happy with. I know my nine year-old self would heartily approve of the shop and range of products that I have now set up (which remind me of the kind of things she loved to create…) and a child’s innate sense of fairness is no bad thing to use as our guide through business and life in general since many of us have taught ourselves to compromise way beyond what feels comfortable to us as we have matured.
For the first time in well over half a decade, I have allowed myself to read pulp fiction just for the fun of picking up a page-turner as a way of relaxing. (I was then forced to ask, had I really stopped myself from reading what I wanted just because I felt it was a waste of time or that I would rot my intelligence? Sad to say, yes!) Letting myself off the intellectual hook has felt like making a quantum leap in my own expansion and, now, I see how my insistence upon some sort of hierarchy of relaxation pursuits had been keeping me at arm’s length from the very freedom I claimed to be the exemplar of. Its true, not always having to be the intelligent grown up or guarding my academic persona (for fear that a small detour could result in me loosing some kudos, some brain cells or even the grip on my own evolution) has felt like such a break for freedom. In fact, I find I can duck and dive easily between some very diverse reading material (from the most trivial romantic fiction to quantum physics…) and get even more out of all of these as a result of the contrast; even finding bizarre synchronicities that tie them all together. Getting rid of fixed ideas as to what constitutes evolutionary behaviour has been a classic case of getting out of my own way, acknowledging that everything I experience (without classifying experiences “good” or “bad”) contributes to that process. I have to say, life feels all the richer for allowing more diverse experiences in and I have learned how to relax to a whole new level in recent weeks, which is paying dividends in terms of my health. (So, when was the last time I was this relaxed? Probably about four decades ago, back in the days when reading was so much fun…)
I’ve also been having fun with my clothes, my interiors, my lifestyle, my social life….choosing things from a far more playful place instead of driven by ingrained motivations that feel conditioned or maturity dictated (“you’re neary 50, you’re not meant to do that” – well, “pah!” to that). I’ve always loved to have fun with clothes and this is now fuelling my newly expanded business as fabric and product designer, which has lit me up in so many ways that span both my personal and business lives (which, itself, is a reconciliation that suggests my life is coming together to a whole new degree that looks like a left and right hemispherical, yin and yang party). I finally realise how I have so much unleashed potential in these areas and that they are all wanting to come on board and express themselves across the whole of my increasingly eclectic way of life.
Impossible not to notice is that I’ve been spending much more time outdoors, not just for walks or to do gardening (though I’ve been wanting to do that too) but to just sit with my feet in a river or wrapping up warm to read a book in the garden in the middle of the day when I might otherwise have felt I should be working. In fact this is the first springtime in a decade that I have had such a relaxed, unscheduled routine as I normally insist on making it my busiest time of year…well, not this year (and, so far, the sky hasn’t fallen in)! I’m still keeping busy – but in an entirely fluid way, following my urges. I’ve also been giving myself time off – LOADS of time off – from doing what I traditionally think I ought to be doing and letting all that entrained guilt fall by the wayside. I’ve been observing (and side-stepping!) all those entrained impulses to feel time-poor and all those other versions of lack-mentality that we tend to use to keep ourselves running in ever more dizzying circles of supposedly “too much to do” and “not enough time” to do them all; allowing life to move at a gentler, more organic pace and for some of that other stuff to just fall by the wayside as, frankly, trivial. I am now regularly experiencing waves of the most wonderful feelings that I recognise from childhood (like it was only yesterday…) but had not experienced in any sustained way for all those decades in between and it is tremendous to dispel the myth that they simply disappear when we become adults; what rubbish, it simply isn’t true and one of the things that makes us feel so unwell as adults is the insistence that we are meant to feel whatever this thing “mature” is and drop all so-called childish things. You’ll know you have finally dispelled that myth (and have reached a whole new place of healing) when you wake up feeling like the child you once were and that incredible rush of vitality, excitement and the simple joy of “life for life’s sake” come flooding in, which is probably the best tonic I can ever push in anyone’s direction; much more powerful than anything you can get on prescription!