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Ten Thousand Days

To Walk Beside Me

October 12, 2016
Photo: James Bates

Photo: James Bates

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 768 – Day 774)

Albert Camus famously outlined a balanced view of friendship:

Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow.
Just walk beside me and be my friend.”

In any friendship there will be times when we are more knowledgeable in something than the other person and we can share our expertise.  And then there will be things we don’t know how to do that our friend will.  Last night I cooked friendsgiving and I have no idea how to make gravy.  So my friend – who is also not the gravy master of her family – gave it a shot.  I cooked the rest of the meal fine, with a little input there, a dash of advice here and it never felt like a burden to be the one having to make the decisions and get it all together.

Sometimes our expertise in an area is so much more advanced that we become a mentor to a friend.  This can be a tricky situation and can impact on the friendship.  I try to steer clear of these situations in every possible way.  But sometimes, you have to bend the rules because you have been placed in the path of greatness and you have the opportunity to be at the crossroads for someone who can either disappear into obscurity or – with a little encouragement – move on to greatness.

Sometimes, we are called to act against our better judgement.  Most times this is because oh – we want to get with that person and date them or because we want the job with the extra money and the long vacations.  Usually, there is an ulterior motive.  And sometimes, there is nothing in it for you – in fact, it costs you, in the long run.  And still, you have to step up and boost someone who will soon run past you and never look back.  Sometimes, you just know that this has been a gift from the universe and you have been entrusted with something special.  At that juncture, do we go with the ego, or do we surrender and go with what is being asked of us?

It’s not easy to surrender, but surrender we must.

I’ve been given an opportunity to exercise my non-attachment and to go beyond ego.  Not every opportunity is painless, but I am grateful that the universe seems to trust me with this one.  I’m grateful for a blossoming friendship that is powerfully intense and may soon burn out if not stoked slowly and left to a slow smoulder.  And, I am grateful for old friends who cannot see the forest but warn me of the tree that lies dead ahead as I run towards it.  They will not understand that cutting my face on the branches was what I needed to do, in order to clear the way for someone else.  It is a joy to see someone excited and fresh at something and there is a closeness and a Oneness that comes from sharing those moments.  Eventually the roles will reverse and if a balance of walking together side by side is not achieved, then I will be grateful that I was given this chance to be of service and wish him well.

In times of crisis, I have always felt that we are not in a position to understand the meaning of the moment.  And so it is in times of gifts as well.  If we are called to step up, it is not necessary that we understand why.   Faith is about trusting that we may never know the why, but that the what was profoundly important.

For what are you grateful this week?

 

Ten Thousand Days

The Half Life of the Human

September 19, 2016
Photo: Marat Gilyadzinov

Photo: Marat Gilyadzinov

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 739 – Day 752)

When I first entered University, I was a physics major and I loved nuclear physics almost as much as astronomy.  In nuclear physics, we have the concept of the half-life or what might be considered the time for an element to decay and become unstable or simply to diminish to half its former size.

Living in a country where the cookie was trumped by the noble biscuit, I haven’t eaten a chocolate chip cookie in some 20 years. The exact date when I last ate a chocloate chip cookie is not something I have recorded in a notebook.  But let’s say 20 years – roughly the time I’ve been away from this city – for argument’s sake.

Tonight, I sat down with a cup of coffee (tea is a thing of the other side of the pond) and a couple of chocolate chip cookies.  They looked sort of like chocolate chip cookies.  They were round, beige and sprinkled with dark spots where the chocolate would be.  They certainly didn’t taste like the chocolate chip cookies of my childhood.  And rather than the size of my palm, they were the size of my thumb.  I think we can safely say that the half-life of the commercially produced chocolate chip cookie is less than twenty years.

But what of the human?

Years ago, I left this country and I abandoned all of my household goods that I did not pack with me.  I gave them to my father because they were my mother’s things and a few old day planners I no longer needed.  I assumed the planners would be shredded and my father would take what he wanted and pitch the rest in the charity bin.  He didn’t.  He avoided dealing with my mother’s things.  When I returned, he gave it all back to me to deal with and to send to charity.

I have spent the last two weeks moving these boxes into my space and opening them to uncover their secrets.  And while they have been boxed away for 20 years, they trigger memories and grief.

Mixed in with the lot are the things I brought from the UK.  In those boxes are my treasures, including photos and journals from long ago that I haven’t read since they were written, but which I could never bear to shred.

Friends say I talk a lot about death and not having much time anymore.  My mother was my age when she moved to this city, just as I have now done.  And a couple of years later she fell sick.  And not long after, she died.  I was just a teen when she got ill and just coming of age when she died.  It has been probably the single most important defining experience of my life.  And I am smack dab in the middle of it again – revisiting my mother’s things and remembering the sound of her voice, the way she walked, and the crazy pink sweater she always wore.  And in my journals, I am meeting again the girl, coming of age, and so full of dreams and ambition – most of which never came true.  We can add ‘yet’ to that sentence, but there are some dreams that are too late to be fulfilled.

There is a lot of grief in these boxes. It is not only the grief of a life half-lived by being cut so short, but the grief of the half-lived life of the one left behind.

I was texting a long-time friend today while I drank my coffee and we were talking about men as we always have; or at least we have, for as long as the half life of a chocolate chip cookie.  Men, she said, only fall in love with young women.  She continued on about the need for perky breasts and of sexual attractiveness being a thing of youth, for women.

I have known her a long time and I value her opinion. I felt punched in the chest.  Is that it, then?  I am not old, but I am not young.  Is it over for me, then?  Should I pack up my sexuality and my love and put them in the charity bin with my mother’s clothes and other ‘items no longer needed?’

What is the half life of a human?

Is it the time it takes to go from well to ill to death?  Is it the time it takes to let one’s goals get detached from one’s dreams? Or is it something perhaps more subtle than that?

As we think, so we become.  We will decay with time – that is the nature of things.  But the rate of decay is dependant on our inner and outer environments.  I am sad for the girl who forgot her dreams. I am sad for the woman whose life was cut short.  Loss is a part of life and grief comes with that loss.  There is loss and grief that comes with middle age.  But our beliefs shape our reality.

Recently the young SP-, who unwittingly challenges me to face myself and my dreams in a bittersweet fashion, said to me of my dreams: “it’s never too late.”  Whether, from his position of youth, he believed what he said or not, I do.

The half-life of the human comes when we make the decision to let our beliefs rob us of the remaining half our life because we don’t believe that it is ours for the taking, any more.

Photo: Francesco Gallarotti

I am grateful for SP- who not only throws up the mirror of who I might have been, but inspires me to start again. And I am grateful for Addila and CM who remind me all the time that people our age are highly productive and that dreams are just wishes unless they are our life’s purpose. Wishes are not to be taken seriously, but purpose ought to become our guiding force.

I am grateful for the friend who exposed her limiting beliefs so that I had the opportunity to take the time to examine my own.  And, I am grateful for the crazy, messy, non-linear narrative that has been my life.  It didn’t go the way I dreamed it would but it has been eventful and made me the insightful, loving and grateful person with sore knees and laugh lines, that I am, today.  It isn’t over yet and if I don’t fall victim to my mother’s genetics, I have a long way to go, yet.

Joy is hard to come by at this moment and that nostalgic rest break with a chocolate chip cookie sure fell short of it, like much of nostalgia does.  It is a melancholy state.  But, I anticipate being on the other side of this traumatic process and setting off on those dreams again and that will be a joy.

As I look at my mother’s things, I feel that she is around me and that Oneness with her is a gift, albeit one that comes with rust.  My service is to honour the ghosts that this time in my life has presented me – my mother and my youth.  They’re both gone now, but in being remembered, their half life can serve as a reminder that life is short and the end comes unpredictably and all too soon. Although we are in the process of decay from the day of our birth, we make the choice, with the beliefs we choose to hold on to, about whether we live each day fully.

It is that choice which gives the meaning to the half of our lives we have left.

 

For what are you grateful this week?

Art, Art, Articles, Photography

C. Michael Frey: Heart in the Clouds

September 9, 2016

In a city like Los Angeles, whole industries are based on revision of reality.  One Georgia-born artist, turned LA native, C. Michael Frey, seeks to capture the sublime in the every day world.  His exhibition “Clouds” is currently showing in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles.  With this collection, Frey invites viewers to “get lost in a sense of wonderment and escape.”

Frey achieved a B.F.A. in painting and drawing from the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia and later moved to New York City to pursue his art.  There, Frey worked in a commercial photographer’s studio, where he honed his skills in digital illustration and photographic retouching.  An award winning artist, Frey’s work has been featured in advertising campaigns, on album covers, and in magazines such as The New York Times, New York Magazine, Numéro, V, and Wired.

We caught up with Frey in Los Angeles about his upcoming exhibition of Clouds, and his other current works.

 

C. Michael Frey with his “Clouds” series. Photo: Lisa Osborne

 

TTDOG: Tell us about the move from painting and digital design to photography.  Why Clouds?

CMF:  I’ve always used photography as part of my creative process, so I don’t really feel I’ve moved away from painting.  It’s more of an exploration of another medium that has happened organically.

The Cloud photos weren’t really planned.  I moved to Los Angeles about ten years ago from New York and the sky feels so different here.  It’s expansive and seems limitless.  If I’m having a bad day or feeling stressed, I can easily escape in nature by taking a walk around the neighborhood or going for a hike.  The open sky puts things in perspective.  We seldom have clouds, but when we do the sunsets are often amazing.  I started photographing these moments and really wanted to capture the drama of the clouds and take a subject that is generally seen as pedestrian in art and reveal the sublime nature of these clouds.  Clouds are representative of the creative process itself: daydreaming and romanticism.  There is a quote by Henry David Thoreau: “you must not blame me if I do talk to clouds.”  This communion with and escape to nature and finding divinity in nature that the Transcendentalists strived for really resonates with me.

 

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From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Romanticism is about the heart and idealism.  Clouds are great symbols of idealism to me.  I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve so not engaging my heart isn’t really an option.

 

TTDOG: When you say spirituality in this context, do you mean Judeo-Christian concepts of heaven being in the sky?

CMF: It can mean that, but it doesn’t have to.  Even in non western and pagan traditions, the sky is held in high regard, often where the gods reside.  But specifically for me, spirituality is about a connectedness to our environment.  It’s more about recognizing the power of Nature and how there’s a seemingly “other” world happening above us all the time.

 

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From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

TTDOG:  What is your creative process?  Does it differ for photography, art and design?

CMF: With painting I always have a clear idea of what I want to paint and a plan before I take paintbrush to canvas.  I mostly paint people and photography has been instrumental in capturing subjects and developing the image I want to create.  Usually a subject will sit for me and I take a series of photographs.  I’ll edit the shoot and pick my favourites and then start manipulating them on the computer until they are close to what I want to recreate in a painting.  I’ll print out images I refer to while I’m painting.  But it’s not so much about just recreating what I see.  It’s about the feeling.  When I paint someone’s portrait, I really want to show their essence.  Georgia O’Keefe said: “Nothing is less real than realism.  Details are confusing.  It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.”  This really sums up what I’m trying to accomplish as a painter.

 

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C. Michael Frey in his studio. Photo: Tania D. Campbell

 

With photography it’s a much more simplified process that’s about being in the moment and being a witness to that moment.  I capture what I see in front of me.  There’s no planning and I’m not controlling the subject.  With the Clouds photo series, I’m zooming in on details to find something that’s compelling.  In a way it’s much more freeing than developing a painting that I spend weeks working on.  The tedious part comes with editing thousands of images down to the best ones and getting the printing right.  With the Clouds series, I wanted to capture the same ephemeral nature of clouds with the printing, so I had them mounted on acrylic to get a sense of lightness and light.  It also helps the colours to pop and gives the images a gem-like quality.

Graphic design is a totally different animal that requires a mindset that is often the opposite of what I’m doing when I paint or take photographs for myself.  With design, I’m always trying to communicate to a specific audience for a client.  It’s not about my message.  I may be using many of the same tools, but the goals are different.  In creating art, whether it be a painting or photograph, I’m trying to inspire or challenge a viewer to think about things or view things differently, which can sometimes be uncomfortable.  With graphic design, you generally aren’t trying to challenge the viewer.  It’s more about positive engagement and commerce.  Good design usually makes the viewer feel good whereas good art may leave the viewer crying in the fetal position.

 

TTDOG:  Goodness! I’m not going to your gallery with you!

CMF: I meant that more figuratively but I did have someone start bawling in front of one of my paintings, once.

 

TTDOG:  I think if I were to start bawling in front of your cloud series, it would be in a healing way; they are full of joy and love and even innocence.

CMF: Yes, and it’s actually a big change in the subject matter of my work.  The paintings of my earlier years are very dark, intense and melancholy.

 

TTDOG:  To what do you attribute this change?

CMF: Mostly, deciding that being an artist doesn’t have to be about suffering.  At 41, I’ve also become content in who I am as a person.  Presently, life is more about what I can accomplish now and being happy in the moment rather than struggling to figure it all out.

 

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Frey in his home with his French bulldog, Lola. Photo: Tania D. Campbell

 

TTDOG:  I know that you paint from a sense of deep connection to something bigger than yourself.  Do you experience the same connection with photography?

CMF: They are very different experiences.  When I’m painting I can go into a very meditative state where I lose track of time and really just start feeling what I’m creating.  There’s a flow to it where I feel like I start to channel that creative muse.  There is also a lot of time spent just looking and thinking.  There is something very therapeutic about it that I don’t experience from anything else.

 

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Frey, at work in his studio. Photo: Tania D. Campbell

 

Photography is much more about a single moment in time.  It can actually be frustrating because the camera separates you from the subject.  The real challenge in photography is capturing what the subject is making you feel.

 

TTDOG:  How much of the feel of the cloud photos is from digital manipulation?  What do you make of those purists who define photography as only that which is captured in camera?

CMF: For the Cloud photos, there is very little digital manipulation beside some colour tweaks to make prints match what I’m seeing on screen.  For the most part they are cropped the way I have shot them.  I try to find the most interesting moment happening at the time and shoot many frames so I have options.

I can understand why some people define photography that way, but I’m no purist.  It gets boring to have too many rules.

 

TTDOG:  Your photographs in the cloud series have a painterly quality to them.  Some of them have a feel of a Rothko or an Agnes Martin, in that the colour and subtle gradations draw the viewer in to a meditative state.  How, if at all, do you think your painting has influenced your photography?

CMF: That’s a very flattering comparison.  Thank you.  My most recent paintings have been minimalist portraits that use colour gradients.  I’ve become interested in the way colour and subtlety can have an impact, rather than spelling everything out with great detail and realism.  That interest has definitely carried over to my cloud photos.  I like the idea of breaking things down to their most basic parts.

 

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From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Minimalism is very freeing, I think.  It allows you to see things you’ve never noticed before in a new way.  It’s amazing to me how a single colour can evoke emotion.

 

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From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

I want people to have an emotive response through colour when seeing my work but it’s not as simple as if I paint someone’s portrait in blue that I want them to feel sad.  Mostly I’m using colour, when I paint, to relate to the individual I’m painting.  I guess it’s more about how I see them and the aura they give off.  With the clouds, I don’t have any control over that.

Of course I’m in control of what I choose to photograph.  But how the subject changes while I’m photographing, I have no control over.  I love the ephemeral nature of the Clouds for that reason.  If I’m not fast enough I can miss out.

 

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From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

And definitely through the editing process, it’s all about what speaks to me and what I find interesting.

I have a long work history working in print so I’ve learned the technical ins and outs of how to get a print to look the way you want.  But, having a printer who you are confident in is definitely vital.  Luckily most printers these days have colour profiles available if you are making digital c-prints.  But, there is still a lot of trial and error.

 

TTDOG:  Who are your influences?

CMF: In general, I really love old masters like Caravaggio, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Jacques-Louis David.  I’ve always been drawn to figurative work and especially artists who know how to manipulate light and expertly render the human form.  Cindy Sherman has been a big influence on the subject matter of my painting.  I used to primarily paint self portraits and have always been drawn to exploring the concepts of identity and perception.

 

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“MIKHI” by C. Michael Frey. Acrylic on wood panel. Photo provided courtesy of the artist

 

The cloud photos have been a big change in the type of art I make.  When creating the cloud photos, I thought a lot about William Turner’s cloud study paintings.  His expressive use of colour captures the power of nature in a way that I wanted to communicate through these photos.  It also made me think a lot about color theory and has influenced my recent portraits which are much more minimalist in colour.  I’ve developed a great appreciation for modern minimalist artists that play with colour and spectrum like Josef Albers, Elisworth Kelly and James Turrell.

 

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From the Clouds series by C. Michael Frey. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

TTDOG:  You mentioned colour theory before, when we were looking at some artworks together.  Can you explain more about that for those of us who are unfamiliar with it?

CMF: Color theory is understanding how different colours relate to each other and how they interact when they are combined.  Color created by light and color created by pigment work very differently.  It can get rather technical and complicated, especially when you are trying to get a photograph to match what you are seeing on a digital screen.

Colour created through light is additive.  If you combine Red, Green and Blue, you get white and there are millions of colour variations.  The opposite is true with paint, which is subtractive.  Mixing those colours together in pigment would leave you with a muddy mess.  And the spectrum is much more narrow with pigments:  there are only thousands of colours that can be reproduced.

 

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“LISKA” by C. Michael Frey. Acrylic on wood panel. Photo provided courtesy of the artist

 

TTDOG: You have some pretty exciting work that has come out of this collection.  Tell us about that.

CMF:  Yes, Urban Outfitters recently contacted me about doing an artist partnership with them using some of my Cloud images.  The images will be printed on a variety of products like tapestries and bedding as well as clothing.  The first pieces of the line will be available this coming holiday season.

 

TTDOG: Will there be more photo series?

CMF:  I intend to continue photographing clouds as long as they are in the sky, which is hopefully a few more years, at least.  I’m not sure where this series will lead; I’m just going to see where it goes naturally.  I’ve been thinking of ideas for how to mix the Cloud images with painting.  But in my heart, I’m more of a painter than a photographer.  Ideally I’d like to be able to work successfully in a variety of mediums, and for there to still be a common thread that can be seen.

 

TTDOG: Artists have a certain reputation for being free spirits and promiscuous.  But you are married, settled and stable.  How has this helped or hindered your work?

CMF: For the most part it’s given me the space and ability to work freely without having to worry so much about income.  My husband, Tim, is very supportive of my work.  If anything I’m sure he wishes I were more prolific and spent more time painting.  It is challenging to work as a freelance designer and manage my time so that I have time to paint.

 

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“TIM” by C. Michael Frey. Acrylic on wood panel. Photo provided courtesy of the artist

 

In western culture we have a very romanticized view of the ‘starving artist.’  When I was younger, I had the notion that one needed a lot of drama and sadness in their life to be an artist.  That’s not very sustainable or interesting after a certain age.  I’m very grateful for the happiness I’ve found being in a happy, long term marriage.  It’s been freeing for me to let go of my preconceived notions of what life as an artist and particularly a gay man, should look like.  I’m not really one to look back and question what could have been.  Life is a journey about learning, and I’m grateful for the choices I’ve made that have led me to the life I have today.

 

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Portraits by C. Michael Frey. Photo provided courtesy of the artist

 

TTDOG: You have exhibited Clouds in a West Hollywood shop at now an Eagle Rock craft beer tasting room.  They are not conventional venues.  What made you choose to show this collection in this way?  Why do you suppose more artists are exhibiting in this way?

CMF: I originally showed my Cloud series at TENOVERSIX in West Hollywood.  The owners are great friends of mine and I’ve been doing design work for them since they opened.  They’ve an amazing eye for everything from fashion to housewares to art.  I was honoured that they showed my Cloud photos.

Craft Beer Cellar, where I’m showing the Clouds from Saturday night is in Eagle Rock, a couple of blocks from my house.  They opened about a year ago and recently started showing art.  I’ve become friends with the owners and asked them if they would be willing to show my work.  Eagle Rock has a unique art and social scene and in many ways feels more like a small town than just a neighborhood in LA.  I haven’t been showing my work in Los Angeles until recently.  I’ve mostly been focused on my graphic design business and haven’t been putting my art out there.  Honestly, I find the art world extremely intimidating, but I’m getting over that and am taking the first steps to have my work seen.

 

C. Michael Frey hanging his Cloud series at Craft Beer Cellar in Eagle Rock. Photo: Lisa Osborne

 

I think more artists are showing their work in unconventional spaces because there is so much competition out there for gallery shows , and there are also just a lot more interesting spaces that people can interact with your work these days.  But non-gallery spaces like coffee shops and restaurants have always been great starting points for getting your work out there so people can see it. You have to start somewhere.

 

TTDOG: What’s next for you?

CMF: I really hope to show more of my work in the coming year, get in some group shows, and hopefully have a solo show in a gallery.  I’m going to continue to grow my portrait series and cloud photos.  I’d love to create a book with the Clouds, but the expense of printing a fine art book is rather prohibitive.  If I could find a publisher, that would be wonderful.

 

TTDOG:  Where do you find your greatest joy and for what are you most grateful?

CMF:  I find my greatest joy in sharing food with friends and loved ones.  I love to cook – it’s a quick creative outlet that helps me be more social and share my talents with other people.  There’s something very comforting about providing nourishment for others.  We host a weekly potluck for friends that has become something I look forward to each week.

 I’m most grateful for my relationship with my husband.  Tim is my rock.  He’s my biggest support, but he also grounds me, gives me very practical critiques in my design work and art, and keeps me balanced.

 

***UPDATE:  Clouds will be showing again from 6 Feb-12 Feb at Space 15 Twenty, 1520 N Cahuenga Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028.  Closing event  will be held on 12 Feb 11am- 2pm***

(Previously, there was a Clouds opening event Saturday, 10 September, at Craft Beer Cellar at 5 p.m. as part of the NELA Second Saturday Art Walk.  Craft Beer Cellar is located at 1353 Colorado Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90041.  Tel: 323-206-5164.)

 

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“Clouds” by C. Michael Frey, exhibiting 10 September – 30 September at Craft Beer Cellar. Photo: Lisa Osborne

Images from the exhibition will be on sale at the shop and tap room and via Frey’s website.  The show runs now through the end of September.

 

For more on C. Michael Frey, follow him at:

Frey Art and Design;

Instagram; and

Facebook.

To commission Frey, send him an email at:

michael@cmichaelfrey.com

Articles, Milestone, Ten Thousand Days

Voices of the TTDOG Community: A Gratitudeaversary

September 5, 2016
Photo: Ian Schneider

Photo: Ian Schneider

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 725 – Day 738)

Last month we celebrated our first year as TTDOG and 2 years of personal gratitude practice.  When we reached the first milestone of a year of personal gratitude practice, I threw a party in London.  This year has been much more subdued in terms of celebrations.  This milestone comes in the midst of the most stressful, chaotic and manic-paced 4 months of recent memory.  The pace may slow down soon (I hope) and while I had anticipated this would be a challenging time, and tried to set things in motion to cover my absence from TTDOG, things don’t always work out as we plan.  We haven’t been posting much here at TTDOG.

When we hit 365 days, I was grateful for all the people in my life because without them, there would be nothing to write.  I am even more so, now.  We knew that keeping up with the website during this challenging time would be difficult but we wanted to do something meaningful to mark the milestone.  Since community has been a key theme in the past year, we put a call out to the community to help create a milestone post and you responded.

With gratitude, we are delighted to present the voices of TTDOG’s community on our gratitudeaversary!

Photo: Annie Spratt

Photo: Annie Spratt

URSPO is one of TTDOG’s most dedicated readers and a writer in his own right.  We have followed one another’s writing for nearly a decade.  I am personally delighted each time he takes a few moments to write a comment.  His words are always well considered, insightful and advance the conversation.  Candidly, it means a lot to me to know that the time I take in reflective practice and in writing about it publicly is having an impact on others – even if it is only one person.  I would still do the practice, but doing it publicly is a vulnerable action that I need not undertake.  While there are likely lurkers out there reading and not commenting, it is satisfying to know that it means something to someone.  We are grateful for all the comments from URSPO since our first day of practice and we asked him to share a little about what being part of this community has meant to him:

“I have been a regular reader of TTDOG for some time. I am very glad to be part of the blog. I’ve had many delights from reading its prose; I have greatly benefited from the entries. The chief lesson from Tania’s blog is gratitude, of course. She continually reminds us to look for the gratitude in all that happens in our lives. 

There is always something for which to be grateful. This is not mere complacent wish-thinking. Studies show when we focus on the positive it trains our brains to think positively and be healthy in our approaches.

A happy consequence of her posts is I do not lose touch of gratitude. She comforts me; she stiffens my spine when I feel despondent. I start each day with the prayer “I thank thee lord for thou hast given me another day’. When I need help I evoke Tania and find the gratitude. I feel grateful for her and her journey. I am honored to be part of it.”

 

Photo: Joshua Earle

Photo: Joshua Earle

 

At the annual gratitude celebration, our friend Faith Romeo took on the task of making sure that everyone wrote 3 things for which they were grateful on the wall at the Canvas Café.  For many people this was easy.  For some, however, this was deeply challenging and brought up all sorts of emotions.  Faith helped me to identify the people who were facing emotional challenges with being grateful so that we could sit together and could come out the other side. Everyone left the event with an understanding that gratitude isn’t about having an ideal life or even a fulfilling life but that by working through the small wonders in our day, we can build our emotional resilience to be able to take on the challenges that keep us from being fulfilled.  I would like to believe that the event was the start of a transformational journey for some.

Faith shared with us her thoughts on the journey she has taken alongside TTDOG:

“When I attended the launch of Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude in the Canvas Café last year, things were going well in my personal life but could have been better in my working life. I had left my job as a teaching assistant to look after my son who’s behaviour had become unstable following a diagnosis of ADHD and was working in a unsatisfying job that was personally unrewarding.

Following the party, I decided to adopt a more positive approach to life, an attitude of gratitude, if you will. I applied and was accepted as a volunteer youth wellbeing trainer for a charity that delivers mindfulness and wellbeing sessions to young people. Part of this scheme is that I have to develop my own mindfulness practice, which has been very beneficial to me but also to those around me too. In the last year since the launch of TTDOG there have been a lot of changes in my life.

I got married in November to my long term partner and have never been more happy or fulfilled. I feel very fortunate to have a loving husband and son and never forget how lucky I am to have both. I returned to teaching assistant work in January. It took working under a terrible manager for me to realise that I needed to leave a job I didn’t like. Since returning to teaching assistant work I am working in a lovely school, with some amazing children. I can honestly say that this is my vocation and I feel incredibly lucky to be working in a job that I love.”

Photo: Daniel Watson

Photo: Daniel Watson

Seeing gratitude practice transform others has been one of the highlights of the last two years for me, personally.  With gratitude, we added joy, when a long time friend, Paula Montgomery started posting about moments of joy in her life.  We noticed that gratitude practice created that joy and so, in the first year of practice, we made that connection more explicit in our writings.  TTDOG is grateful to Paula for that prompt.  And in turn, it is rewarding to hear that she, too, has gained something from the experience:

“Since being part of the Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude community and having the chance to reflect on gratitude on my life, I have become less angry and judgemental. I find that having gratitude for what I have in my life, instead of focusing on what I don’t have, takes the edge off my demeanor and makes me more understanding. I have some unhappy negative people around me who complain about everything and everyone, and knowing that we all have allot to be grateful for helps me keep a positive perspective, and to feel better about my life.

I am very grateful for a community that reminds me everyday that I have much to be grateful for! Thank you.”

Photo: Thomas Kelley

Photo: Thomas Kelley

I am delighted to present to you some of the key voices that have been part of this journey.  The community that keeps me accountable to keep coming back to the basic practice.  This summer has been tough.  The last 18 months have been tough.  Honestly, the last 3 years have been tough.  But this practice really has been like drinking an emotional energy drink.  Without taking the time to come back to and reflect upon those things for which I am grateful, the moments of everyday joy, my sense of oneness with something greater than myself and the reminder to give back, life really would be meaningless, for me.  When we have meaning, we can withstand any temporary trials, stresses, health concerns and problems because we are living a life of purpose.  My purpose, I hope, is to make the world a better place, by the way that I live.

This year, I chose to feature several people who also seem to be living their life on purpose to make the world a better place and to build up that community of positive change makers.  And so, we went back to the seminal moment that prompted that series – an article about the charitable work of Dr. Alicia Altorfer-Ong.  Writing to us from Asia, she said:

“I think you are the community.  The value of the springboard that you’ve given each person is in affirming, encouraging, incubating.  I often enjoy the “work” — the gritty and backstage bits — but not so much talking about it, because of the attention.  Yet if we don’t tell people about what’s being done out there, we might miss an opportunity to teach touch or inspire.  

The world needs connectors: people who seek nothing else than to bring others together.

I am grateful for the chance to have shared an episode/a belief/an anecdote in my life on TTDOG.  I also appreciate the power and energy that I felt from reading about the others who were profiled.”

It has been a great journey for me, personally, these last two years.  In many ways, the first year was so much easier.  I was buoyed with the next milestone – one month, three months, six months, a year!  Then the spectre of more than 27 years (Ten Thousand Days) of practice hit me, in the second year.  This cannot be a project.  This must become a way of living, if I am to achieve Ten Thousand Days.  And so, in year two, the hard work began.

None of us is an island, and we need to draw inspiration from others.  I have been so fortunate to have been able to bring you feature articles about artists and musicians and people living their lives on purpose to make the world a better place.  James Wheale completed a crowdfunding campaign to install a sustainable pedal power energy source in the garden, and has brought new life into the world with the birth of his first son, this month.  Action for Happiness has celebrated their 5 year anniversary and continues to grow its membership worldwide.  Alexandra Jackman has become a contributing writer for Huffington Post and honoured with a university scholarship to be able to continue her education that will ultimately involve advocating for people on the autism spectrum.  Elie Calhoun completed her crowd funding campaign and together with Code Innovation, is working on developing a rape crisis counselling app for survivors.  Wrdsmth, Matthew Del Degan and Louis Masai have continued to thrive as artists, bringing their messages of inspiration, love and animal welfare across North America and Europe.

There are so many good news stories out there and so many good news moments in our lives.  I don’t expect that the next 365 days will be easy.  In fact, I anticipate that they will be very personally challenging with changes in my circumstances and personal life.  But nobody said that living gratefully was always easy.  I am individually grateful to CM, FR and LK who always remind me to come back to my practices when things get too difficult.  Although it is difficult to carve out time to sleep, let alone write at the moment, it is a joy to sit with you readers and disclose myself each time.  I feel a sense of communion and oneness with you, known and unknown readers and it is my ardent hope that if you’re having a bad day, week, month, or year – coming here gives you that sense of community as well.  My service is simply to dedicate myself once again to keep showing up and together, I hope that the process creates meaning, for both of us.

Who knows where we will be in another 365 days?  I hope that wherever it is, we arrive gratefully, safe, and together.
Photo: Evan Kirby

Photo: Evan Kirby

For what are you grateful this week, month, year?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Someone Like You

August 16, 2016
Photo: David Marcu

Photo: David Marcu

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 714 – Day 724)

Recently I had a wonderful but all too short lunch meeting with a close friend.  I talked up a storm – more than I normally do – because time was so short and there was so much I wanted to share.  As we were dining and talking, the background music seemed to break in and become a part of the conversation, on a number of occasions.  He asked me a question and it touched on something emotional for me.  Just then, Adele began to sing a very sad song and for a brief moment, I lost my words.

I believe that when something catches our attention like that, we are either selectively creating our own reality or we are being called by Spirit to pay attention, because this is important.  In that moment, both were a part of the experience.

I spent many years in a relationship with a man, the second love of my live, P-.  After we broke up, we remained friends.  He cried on my shoulder when his childhood sweetheart later broke up with him and it was that very song, by Adele, that made him cry for her.   It was as though he had lost his soulmate but was trying to deny it, by forcing himself to remember that there will be someone else in his life who will replace her.

P- is a big fan of Tim Minchin and he is a scientist.  He does not believe in God, or Spirit or any ‘signs from the universe.’  Tim has a song “If I Didn’t Have You” that debunks the idea of soulmates and someone being “the one.”  P- loves that song; I always found that to be rather unflattering, as his girlfriend.  I don’t believe we can replace anyone with another person, but I also never really believed that there is only one person we can love in our lifetime.  Had I believed that, I never would have dated again, after the breakup with the first love of my life.  But then again, I did choose someone very much like him, when I fell in love a second time.

So there I was, sitting with my friend, who is around the same age these men were, when I met them, and the ghosts of these other men were interjecting themselves into the conversation. Why was my attention being called to these men?  Certainly, SP- is super intelligent like both of these men, but I don’t think I was being called to pay attention to the similarities between these men.  Since that meeting, I have become aware of the way I have, in the past, created a reality that both projected and rejected the reality of “me.”  And so it was, with both the first and second loves of my life.  My friend SP- is the first remarkable man with whom I can be present and feel confident in being more myself than I ever have been.

Authenticity is a catchword these days but there are very few truly authentic people.  I don’t believe we try to deceive others about who we are.  I think we play that game on ourselves.  We are all afraid of failure, of being seen as weird, of not being loved, and many of us are afraid of being found fundamentally unloveable if we are really seen for who we really are. Our soul would be annihilated if that were to happen.  So we become someone we are not, and we often don’t even know the difference.  We become someone ‘like’ ourselves, but not ourselves at all.

There is a concept in psychology that we project the disowned parts of ourselves onto others.  When we hate something in someone it is probably because we hate it in ourselves, but we can’t bear to believe it is part of our personality.  And similarly, when we love something about someone – it is because we cannot love that part of ourselves.

By loving and losing the first and second loves of my life, I learned to own my intelligence and to walk away from a relationship when it was causing me emotional and psychological harm.  I learned that it was okay that I not save someone who is damaged and unwilling to walk through the hell that would lead to their healing.  I learned to begin to put my wellbeing at the centre of my life.  What I didn’t learn was to accept myself as I am and to accept my destiny as my own.

Someone Like You.  What an odd song to act as the vehicle to deliver a message.  Yes, SP- is someone like them.  Yet what strikes me are the ways he is like ME – he mirrors so many of my own dreams and values.  He may not know it because I tend to skate past it when he talks about the dreams and values we share.  It freaks me out a little to hear someone speak the things I only aspire to be.  It forces me to confront myself.

I was looking at a home today and oddly, the real estate agent started talking about living one’s dreams.  This has been on my mind very much for the last few months.  It is so easy to settle and let things go and to use the excuse of duty or practicality to let fear push aside our dreams.  I did this for most of my life.  Life is but an instant and I feel its preciousness now, more than ever.  I don’t want to compromise my dreams again.  We talked about London and about friends that travel.  I told the agent about SP- and how we share many of the same values and dreams and how he is really only beginning the journey of adulthood.

‘I can’t help but think…’ I started.

‘Where was he, when you were 25…?’ she offered.

No, actually.  That wasn’t what I was thinking.  In fact, I wasn’t ready to pursue my dreams at 25 and I think we would not have been friends, had we met then.  I am so grateful we have become friends now, but I feel sad for that woman – so like me – yet unable to give herself permission to be.

I can’t help but think of what she might have achieved.

I hope SP- achieves his potential and fulfills all his dreams.  With all my heart, I want the best for him.  I want to see him have a life of laughter, love, health and success – as he defines it.  And at the same time, I selfishly do feel grief, for myself, for all those years I wasted.

“Who would know how bittersweet this would taste?”

I am grateful for my friendship with SP-.  He is so solid and steadfast and without guile or pretense.  We work our whole lives to shed all that armour and be who we are.  And there he is, simply being.  As they say, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

I am grateful for O- and P- , the first and second loves of my life.  They acted as signposts on my journey as I travelled back to the same spot over and over and found someone like that someone I had loved and lost.  They were simply holding up the mirror so that I could see that someone was “me.”

I am grateful for the place I am in my life.  I feel vulnerable as hell and in a tumult half of the time.  Many days I return to that feeling of despair that pervaded my twenties.  But something good is possible out of all of this, and as SP- unwittingly holds up the mirror of my un-lived dreams, I find joy in being able – if only for a millisecond – to give myself permission to imagine REALLY leaving the world of expectations, stepping outside of fear, and living the life I was born to live.  Why it should be this hard to do, I don’t know…but I was meant to travel this journey this lifetime. I hope I can master the lesson this time around.

With each of these men, I have experienced a different kind of connection and Oneness. With O- and with P-, I really wanted and felt I needed them to be the life partner that would live out our dreams together.  But, we had different dreams and so, I was too scared to make a go of mine, alone.  Now, I have met a friend who returns me again to that crossroads of opportunity and compromise.  Through his fresh perspective, I glimpse again my own dreams, and he inspires me to move beyond my perceived need for a partner, to grow beyond my limits of fear, to consider living my dream on my own terms…and then to invite others to join me, where and when our journeys coincide.

I am being called to pay attention to myself, in the most fundamental of ways, and to create the reality of my choosing.

My service in all of this is perhaps to recognize and to own my projections and see them for what they are.  At the same time, I have been given the gift of being able to see my friend for the glorious, wondrous, gifted and beautiful person that he is, and the opportunity to do for my friend what was not done for me: to do my best to hold space for him and his dreams, and to delight in watching him blossom, without imposing my ideas (I fail sometimes at that, but I can be a bit opinionated).  I hope we will be friends for a long long time, and I have even allowed myself to consider what it might be like for him to see me blossom.  As my mirror, I am aware that this is also my way of trying out how it would feel for me to see myself living my own dreams.

I can start to see that woman in that picture.  She’s not quite there yet, but when that woman finds her way, she will find that she is someone talented, inspiring, beautiful, loving and infinitely loveable.  She will find a woman that is someone like me.

 

For what are you grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

Time Passes, Life Changes, Love Remains

August 5, 2016
Photo: Paul Earle

Photo: Paul Earle

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 704 – Day 713)

In my late twenties, I moved to New York City.  I remember seeing a hand crafted metal bracelet in some little boutique. The artist had etched words into the surfaces of grey metal cubes that, as it wrapped around my wrist, told a story over and over again.  It was a simple story;  the story we all hope to live.

It read:  Time passes, life changes, love remains.

I was young but I had already lived enough to know that this was a rare story but it was the story that I wanted for my life.  I bought the piece and wore it as a talisman to help draw in the love that I wanted.  I am a romantic and an idealist.  I hoped to fall in love and have a partnership that would tell that story.  Over the years, finding partners was easy.  Finding a match, however, was not.

Time passes.  This is the cruelest truth of our western existence.  We idolize youth but it is such a short span in our lives.  When we are young, we believe that time stretches out before us forever.  When we have spent some of that precious time, we realize that the next moment has never been guaranteed.  The moment has gone and it will never come again.  Standing silently, unnoticed in the continual flow from what is next to what is past is the only thing that is real:  the present moment.  The only right time for anything is ‘now.’

But most of us don’t manage to live in the moment – and if we do, it is for fleeting moments, before we are carried away by our to do list and our regrets.  And so, we live forever in a race to the next moment where change is a constant.  But it is not the change in our circumstances that matters in our story.  It is the way in which our circumstances change us, in this moment, that dictates how we will write our narrative.

I was in Los Angeles just a few days ago.  Coming to Vancouver, I have lost the person I worked hard to become.  I found her again for long moments in LA –  in the gaps in the passing of time.  It wasn’t the circumstances of being in Los Angeles or with beloved friends that brought me to life again.  It was the way I was able to react to being there.  I managed to do the kind of work that I love, while I was there, and it was effortless.  I was able to connect with loved ones and I was able to laugh.  I was able to look at great art and to let it change me.

I love to look at paintings by Mark Rothko.  It is not a quick glance but a long and lingering gaze.  It is a meditation.  And when I sit for 30 minutes looking at a single painting I could swear that it morphs, before my eyes.  His paintings are like portals to another dimension just beyond my perception.  Slowly, with enough attention and relaxation, I become present with the painting in the moment.   I am able to see through the eyes of the artist that created it, and experience the love of creation.  It is me that changes and it is me that is revealed in the looking.  Art may seem to change as we look at it.  But it is we who can be transformed, if we allow it.

Like that bracelet, time seems to wrap around our life, bringing changes, but we are returned to the same point over and over again.  The question is: can we be present to it when it happens?  Sometimes there is rough edge on the links that keeps catching and drawing us back.  If we can be present and really look, we can see through the eyes of the artist that created our bracelet.  We will see where the rough edges need to be smoothed so we can stop catching.  If we file the bracelet too aggressively, it will break.  It can be mended but there will forever be a weakness where it was broken.  If we want to keep the block that reads “Love Remains” we must bring love and care to the snag.

 

While I was in LA, I had the chance to spend time with old and new friends.  It is a joy to have these men in my life.  They model for me new ways of relating to men.

I am grateful for a new friendship with TCLA.  His caring wisdom has been fortifying for me.

I am grateful to have spent time with CM whose unconditional love is one of the most transformative experiences in my life.  I am grateful to have met him and that he remains such a positive force in my life for so long.   His wisdom and counsel helps me to approach the snags of my life in a whole-hearted way.

I have tried over and over but life keeps snagging in one particular spot.  I find it difficult to be grateful for this.  But I am grateful to LK for pointing out that love begets love.  That doesn’t mean that love is always reciprocated.  But, only by approaching life with love can we attract the love we want.  I find myself in the discomfort of anger over the shape and contours of this snag.  Anger is the right response and anger – although scary – is a fiery emotion that brings about change.  We need fire to forge the metal into the blocks that make up a bracelet and we need fire to  solder the metal links of the bracelet, but uncontrolled fire can melt the entire thing into a puddle of molten metal.  We must use fire to transform, not destroy. Fire is at the heart of a passion and while passion can be scary, without it, we do not have a very interesting story.

My anger has caused me to be sweary and even to slip into feeling hatred at times.  This is uncomfortable.  It is not a person I want to be.  My service this week is to try to find a way to be open hearted and the loving person I want to be, while feeling my anger and allowing it to burn and transform me so that the situation can shift.  As CM points out: transformation is painful. And none of us looks pretty while we are doing it.  We make mistakes, we become the person we don’t want to be and then we change again.  Love is the only thing that gets us through it.

I am grateful that I got to spend some time with SP in LA.  Our friendship is still new, but it is unlike any that I have ever had before.   I am grateful that at a time when I am experiencing anger and disorientation, this friendship is gentle and certain.  No matter where in the world I am, I am connected to this man, and that certainty of Oneness is a kind of Grace.

Let time pass; it will anyway.  But, be present in the moment.  Good or bad, it is all we really have.  Let life change; but let us choose how we are changed by it.  Bring love to every situation and we will see: Love remains.

 

 

For what are you grateful this week?

Art, Art, Articles

Monsù Plin: Illuminating the dark corners of cultural history

July 27, 2016

When a woman first senses and responds to the spirit of her unborn child, this is known as a “quickening.”  When the spirit of an age changes, the mystic, the poet and the artist sense this shift in global consciousness. If this quickening ushers in darkening times, the world relies upon these keepers of culture to work with the dying light to reflect not only what is being lost, but what can be birthed and shaped into alternate possible realities.

Each day seems to offer a fresh serving of bloodshed, hatred and intolerance, calling the artist, the mystic and the poet to respond.   Opening today in Los Angeles is one such response: “Satan’s Disco,” a group exhibition of contemporary art whose “artists are not afraid to shine a light into the shadows …” (Art Share-LA)

Contributing to this show is Monsù Plin (PLIN), one of TTDOG’s most often referenced artists.  PLIN draws from traditional fine art, folk art, indigenous art, graphic art, street art and graffiti to create expressive and communicative works that directly engage the viewer.  In his collection of works for “Satan’s Disco,” he has brought together and integrated aspects of each of these influences.

TTDOG caught up with PLIN by email for a Q&A about his collection.

 

TTDOG:  What inspired this collection and how does it fit in with the brief of “Satan’s Disco?”

PLIN: It all started with a visit to the De Young Museum in San Fransisco about 4 years ago when a Papuan ancestry skull caught my eye on the way out. It was the skull of an Asmat ancestor beautifully decorated with beads, shells, feathers and warthogs tusks. I have always been intrigued by masks and something about it immediately entranced me. I knew I needed to incorporate it into my work. When I returned to LA, I overlaid it on a 19th century cavalry portrait and the collection was born.

Seated Figure 1 by Monsu Plin. Photo courtesy of the artist

Seated Figure 1 by Monsù Plin. Photo courtesy of the artist.


Although the collection can be interpreted many different ways I believe that it forces the viewer to confront the messy and often ugly history of imperialism and the expansion of western culture. I see this as illuminating a dark corner of my own cultural heritage that is far too often ignored although it is shared by most of the world in some way or another.

 

TTDOG: In revisiting a 2013 theme that you began with Seated Figure 1, what has evolved for you, in the intervening time?

PLIN: Over this time I have been working on a body of oil paintings and the collection for Satan’s Disco all of which share the same theme. Although in the past 3 years I feel that I have grown as an artist and my work has developed in depth and sophistication, I believe that the most significant changes have occurred in the world around us rather than in myself or my work. Today, as we are experiencing the repercussions of industrialization and globalization, issues regarding cultural identity, compatibility, appropriation, and domination have become much more acute and poignant. Because of this, the body of work has become more relevant and enters into an important discussion in which we have to reassess how we interpret culture in a new global era.

 

TTDOG:  Tell us about your choice of the particular branches of military/military rank and the masks worn by the figures? What appeals to you about these combinations and about the particular associations or cultural references these may conjure for the viewer?

PLIN:  I tried not to get too specific in my military references in an effort to allow the viewer to explore his or her own ideas on what they represent. I selected the ranks and uniforms more to give the collection a bit of diversity in its representation of cultures and climates. In contrast with the mask, differences between the bodies are minimal, even superficial. Their utilitarian quest for uniformity have made them homogenized and faceless much like our modern, globalized culture today.

Artwork by Monsu Plin for Satan's Disco Exhibition: Figure 1, Figure 2, Figure 3 and Figure 4. Photo provided courtesy of the artist.

Artwork by Monsù Plin for Satan’s Disco Exhibition: Figure 1, Figure 2, Figure 3 and Figure 4. Photo provided courtesy of the artist.

 

TTDOG: Your pieces reference 19th and early 20th century, empire-era, military portraits. Why has this period and type of portraiture captured your imagination and what concepts has it allowed you to play with, in this collection?

PLIN: I think the turn of the century captivates me for many reasons. It was an incredible transitionary period for the world, much like what we are experiencing today. Besides the obvious reference or western imperialism, I am also interested in the many ambiguities the photographic portraits represented. This transition from the traditional to the modern manifests itself both in the uniforms and representation of military power but also in the early use of photography influenced by the transition from painting. Not only do they capture the death of an ancient agricultural society, but also the death of painting and traditional art of the time.

 

TTDOG: What is your relationship with various forms of power and the exercise of that power? In what ways did that relationship impact and find its expression in this collection?

PLIN:  Power is a concept that is difficult to grasp as it is often elusive and opaque. I think I have always exercised a healthy suspicion for power structures, a habit I owe largely to my experience with graffiti. However I am also becoming aware of the unwitting role I play (as we all do) in reinforcing these structures which leads me to seek out forms of empowerment, such as art making.


The figures represent these authoritarian power structures we are all familiar with and, in the context of my experience, the masks can be compared to those colorful bursts of graffiti decorating the grey walls of an oppressive urban landscape. Just like in graffiti, there is a certain amount of struggle over the idea of ownership, both in physical and creative property.  My collection examines ideas of a dominant culture appropriating often sacred cultural features of indigenous communities, but ignoring the rest.  This non-consensual cultural theft permeates the modern psyche which is especially visible in the progression of modern and contemporary art.  Although the masks are somewhat dominated by their unforgiving military bodies it is important to note that if you neglect the head, the body is rendered useless, just as isolating a mask from the cultural context in which it was created dismisses its very significance.

 

TTDOG: You contrast head and body.  From a holistic point of point of view, there is also the heart and the spirit.  The kinds of masks you incorporate in your visual language are associated with the endowment of spiritual powers.  What, if anything, has been your journey to work with the spiritual meaning and power of these masks?

PLIN: Although I am not religious in the traditional western sense, I feel much more of an affinity to the types of spirituality often practiced by indigenous cultures around the world.  To me, the two are distinctly different in that traditional organized religions tend to look inward at the human spirit while other, often indigenous, spiritual practices address the interaction between humans and their environment.  Another distinction which is present in my work is the idea of hierarchy which is fundamental to our western psyche and determines the way we structure our society and approach our spirituality.  In Western religions, we are inclined to anthropomorphize omnipotent deities, whereas non-Abrahamic spirituality tends to look to spirits who reflect the patterns of nature rooted in our experience on earth.  Considering the fundamental differences between these strains of spirituality and religious practice, I am drawn to their visual representation and the differences between indigenous abstraction and the realism of human-based depiction in western tradition.

 

TTDOG: On a more practical level, why have you chosen to use this format and media for this collection that is being exhibited in “Satan’s Disco?” What challenges did you face in executing the pieces?

PLIN:  I decided to go for the large format because I wanted the viewer to relate in a direct way with the subject matter. Since I had chosen to essentially personify cultural relationships, it seemed only natural to make them at a human scale.


I chose pen and ink because I was looking for a medium that could capture the ambiguous effect of the photographs I was referencing which had intrigued me. I liked how the pen and ink could be built up, rendering the figures (a) somewhat photographic quality yet remain soft and ephemeral, lending itself to the painterly qualities of early photographs.

Monsu Plin creating the artwork for Satan's Disco. Photo credit:

Monsù Plin creating the artwork for Satan’s Disco. Photo credit: Cyndy Fike

 

The biggest challenge came with combining a compelling level of detail with the life-size scale. At times it was difficult to remain consistent with so much area to cover.

 

TTDOG:  This collection is quite different from the work your street art fans may associate with PLIN. I recall you once said that it was important to be consistent on the street in order to make a mark and not be dismissed. All artists face this dilemma: How do you reconcile the need to give the fans what they expect and the artist’s need to respond to the art that is calling to be created, to keep developing and to keep pushing boundaries?

PLIN:  Well that is definitely something I am still working through. I am inspired organically and experiment with a lot of different media and subject matter and for a while have tried to keep these differences separate in my art. Although most people may have not have seen these different sides of me they have always existed and as all these ideas, influences and techniques become more coherent and interconnected, I find myself breaking down those barriers, revealing the different sides of Plin. The most important thing for me is that my work remains visceral and for that to stay true, it must adapt as I change and grow. To me, that is true consistency.

 

Monsu Plin with a street art paste-up. Photo credit: Artem Barinov

Monsù Plin with a street art paste-up. Photo credit: Artem Barinov

 

TTDOG: What is next for PLIN?

PLIN: A lot! The body that this collection belongs to is still in production and will be for the foreseeable future. That being said I am excited to have a chance to take a bit of a break from realism and delve back into some of the more classic Plin ideas which had been evolving in the street.

 

TTDOG: As an anonymous artist, you wear a mask to conceal your identity. Why is playing with identity important to you? How do you see this manifesting in the world around you and how have you translated these concepts into the visual message of this collection?

PLIN:  Identity is a funny thing. Sometimes I feel that it is more self imposed than anything else. As individuals we identify with real things and experiences but as a society we tend to set up awkward constructions of identity for us to fit into. I think that masks are an interesting representation of some of the complexities of cultural identity, after a certain point do we create the mask or did it create us?

Monsu Plin. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Monsù Plin. Capture by Francesca Perruccio.

 

As is our practice, we had one final question for PLIN:  For what are you most grateful and where do you find your greatest joy?

 

I am most grateful for life, I cannot think of anything more precious and fragile than the years we have on Earth.

What brings me the most joy is exploring that elusive world of creative possibility. Whether it be art, music or any other creative endeavor, nothing brings me greater satisfaction than bringing an idea out of the realm of imagination into fruition.

 

 

“Satan’s Disco” runs 27 July through 14 August at Art Share-LA at 801 E. 4th Place, Los Angeles, CA 90013, 1-6 pm.  Gallery opening 30 July, 7 -9 pm.

 

Follow Monsù Plin on Instagram and Behance

 

Ten Thousand Days

Surfing Home

July 26, 2016
Photo: Artem Verbo

Photo: Artem Verbo

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 693 – Day 703)

It’s been just over two weeks since I packed up my life of more than a decade and moved to a place I haven’t lived in over 20 years.  I averaged 1.5 hours sleep a night during that last week in London and when I arrived, I fell ill with the typical cold that hits everyone who has run on adrenaline and suddenly comes to a grinding halt.  The problem is that I didn’t come to a halt.  I’ve been working on getting my goods from the UK, replacing broken luggage, reporting a fraud that happened overseas and the repercussions on all of my banking details, dealing with health insurance, two different tax jurisdictions, filling in government forms and finding a place to live.  After two years of discussions with my employer, I landed and found chaos around my job which has obstructed my ability to find a place to live for yet another month.  And, all this is going on while I am staying in the basement of my folks’ home, as a fully grown adult.

It has been one hell of a two week churn.

I have had bad timing.  Apparently it is in the last 6 weeks that the market for rentals has gone insane in the area.  It has now a lower vacancy rate than either London or New York and people are bidding on rentals in a way that the Vancouver area has so far only seen in sales.  I’ve seen at least 20 places.  Some were very dodgy, and some quite nice but not within my Canadian budget or they have some kind of backhand deal that just feels fishy.  I’ve encountered 4 scams (that I spotted) in my two weeks of looking.  I feel less secure here than I did in London or New York because in both cases, I found my first place to live within days.

I need very little in an living space – a feeling of safety, light, and the ability to sleep at night.  Even with that little in the way of criteria, I haven’t found a place to live.

I’m just trying to swim with the tide but I keep getting churned up.

I’m re-thinking what it is that I really want in my next home.   Security is a must – and that includes knowing who I am contracting with, and living below my means.  Beyond that, I guess it comes down to this:  What does ‘home’ mean?  And that is a question I can’t answer or the answer I might have in my heart is not the answer I can easily express to the world.

I once told a friend, in London, that I get sucked into Facebook quite easily – or I used to, anyway.  She asked me if I tend to be more on Facebook when I’m away from home.  I was unable to answer that.  The question pre-supposes that there is this mythical place called ‘home.’

I moved 9 times before the age of 12 and then we settled down for what seemed like an eternity – 3 years.  But all through that time there was the looming certainty of moving, again.  I never got used to having an idea of ‘home.’  We had a house, but roots was not a thing I knew. I lived in London longer than I lived anywhere in my life.  Is Canada my home?  Is London, where I am a foreigner despite having dual citizenship?  I don’t know that I will ever know what it is to call a place ‘home’ other than the limits of my own skin.

I am my only home.

For me, it is about being safe enough in myself and my surroundings to be able to surf the waves of change and chaos and not get churned up.  I don’t know this for a fact but from my limited experience of actual surfing, I found that I got churned in the surf when my board went one way and I went the other.  The churn happened because I was attached.  And so it is in life.

The day I arrived in Canada, my step mother asked me whether it was difficult to leave my friends behind.  I had no words for the grief I feel at leaving them.  If I were leaving them to go to Singapore or Zurich it would be different still.  But I have left friends and a way of life that I’ve come to love to come to a place that is both foreign and full of ghosts  – both living and dead.  Detachment becomes particularly difficult when we are dealing with ghosts. It is they who seem to have the grip on us, not the other way around.

Two children in any family will have different experiences and this is particularly so when there is a big age difference.  My eldest sister is 10 years older than I and the sister closest to me is still 5 years older.  I ran away from home when I was 13.  I ran away twice that year.  And when I was 16 and able to go to University, I went.  I moved away from home but it wasn’t until my mother died that I really ‘left.’  She was the closest thing to what I think we all consider ‘home,’ for me.  And so I really really left home – First across the continent; and then across the world.  In one way or another, I guess I’ve been running away from ‘home’ since I was 13 years old.

I am my only home.

I am here and I am surfing.  And that is enough.

Photo by Tania D Campbell

Photo by Tania D Campbell

I am happy to share my joys, but pain is something I keep private.  I’ve asked my friends not to ask me any questions about my life right now.  I will share what I feel like sharing when I am ready to share it.  My private and my public self are split in a way that they haven’t been, in a very very long time.  I am grateful that even if they cannot understand it, they seem to accept it.  And I trust that you will, too.

While it is awful, I am grateful that I am in tune with my feelings of discomfort.  This discomfort helps me to pause.  I need time to process everything right now.  And, while I’m doing that, I’m grateful for my ability to draw.

Drawing is helping to keep me calm in a turbulent time.  It is a joy to see my drawing improving because I know that I am no longer in my head.  I draw portraits of the people I love, because while I am processing all of my anxiety, grief, and hope, it is important to have that connection with people I consider to be my closest allies.  That Oneness with them is a great reserve of strength for me right now.

My service is nothing spectacular this week.  In fact, I think just keeping my hair on and not disrupting those around me more than is necessary, with this incredible undertow, is a service.   Today I walked out of a bad situation and went to my car.  For the first time in my life, I let out a primal scream that left me without a voice and gasping for air.  The meaning in all of this is that sometimes, it takes everything we have to just try to keep our head above water and it is in those times we most need to look for the things in our lives for which we are grateful, that bring us joy and that connect us with something bigger than ourselves. Swami Satchidananda used to say to us, his students, that it was in these most trying of times that our practice really gets tested and we see how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to journey along the path ‘home.’

 

For what are you grateful this week?

Ten Thousand Days

The High Cost of Betrayal

July 15, 2016

imageGratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 678 – Day 692)

I’m not going to talk politics this week.  I think there is enough of that going around and we are all in our heads much more than our hearts.  Even politics, if we could be honest right now, is all about a sense of what should be, and our deep feeling of betrayal that it is not.  Betrayal, as I define it, is that feeling that comes from a circumvention of our entitlement to the world being the way we expected it to be, given the promises we made and that were made to us.  Infidelity is the classic instance of betrayal.

I was ‘unfaithful’ once.  I was 14 and I kissed another boy over the long summer absence from my boyfriend.  It had happened the night of my grandfather’s burial and the start of a 3 day wake. I felt so guilty that I told my boyfriend about the indiscretion as soon as we met. In the face of betrayal, he modeled commitment, faith and forgiveness..  He chose not to see my behaviour as a reflection of my love for him,  but rather as the act of an emotionally distraught young person, ill prepared for the intensity of a wake that goes on for days.

I know it is perhaps naive in this neo liberal world of individualism and ‘me first’ thinking but I take people at face value and I believe the best of them.  As an adult, I don’t make commitments lightly, but when I do, I am fierce about keeping them.  When I say ‘I love you,’ I mean it.   If I say it to friend, family or lover, I mean it.  And what comes with my expression of love is the commitment to continue to love, despite what comes.

I see the best in people even when they hurt me.  What I cannot bear, however, is lies. Whether they are overtly stated, come under the heading of topics-avoided, or they come in the guise of second guessing and judgements, all are a fabricated story designed to avoid discomfort.

I remember that in writing school, some classmates and I were out for coffee and the topic of ‘why do you write?’ arose.  Aside from the obvious – ‘because we have to’ – we all had reasons.  I said that for me, it was the pursuit of Truth.  They looked at me as if I was from Mars.

I guess my top values in life have always been Truth, Justice, Love and Beauty.  And sometimes, those values can seem to come into conflict.  We want justice when we are lied to, or when our love is betrayed by ugly behaviour.  It is natural, but it is a false sense of justice.  Ego wants to act out of entitlement and expectation.  We are hurt.  We must have restitution.  But sometimes we can’t go back and make things the way things once were.  And that is where Love can bring us to Truth.

Right now I have a friend who is behaving less than ‘respectfully’  or ‘open’ towards me.  I have no idea why, and I cannot know unless he tells me. I could jump to conclusions – and other friends have done this for me, and they are angry with me for continuing to have faith in him.  I don’t know what to make of the situation.  My intuition has been pretty strong on this friendship in the past and now it is like the signal has been turned off completely.

Instead of jumping to conclusions, I am choosing to live with a question mark that cannot be answered by me.  Sitting in this is painful.  The question may never be answered, in this lifetime.  I am desperately human and so I want jump to conclusions so as to fill in the story and complete the narrative of this chapter.  And, I could easily do that and move on.  But that would only be a cheap literary mechanism of Deus Ex Machina (God in the Machine).  It would be a fabrication to avoid the discomfort and mess of epiphany.

And Truth is my highest value.

A few weeks ago, I saw a friend that I love.  We had a sudden split over something that was said in jest and which was taken to heart.  For him, it was a betrayal.  He cut us all off, shortly after.  For some reason, he has forgiven me for what I said.  Perhaps it is because I just never stopped communicating and in that, he came to know me.  I don’t know if he remembers that I am the one who said the comment, or if he has rewritten our narrative, in his own mind.  Whatever the case, I am very grateful that we met after all this time.  I love him, and hurting him had been painful for both of us.

For me, a meeting with him was one of the two unfinished relationships I had in London.  I thought about him a lot and I was about to go to some length to get my closure of this chapter.  It would have been a form of Deus Ex Machina.

But sometimes the Universe enters the machine in its own way if we just open our hearts and love fiercely enough.

I had spoken about him, with love, on that spot where I was when I met him again.  I had cried about not seeing him, on that very spot.  And within a week, after wishing him there –  there he was.    He walked up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder.

I was shocked.  Sometimes I actually have problems accepting the gifts that the Universe manifests for me and the signs that something deeper is going on here.  But after a few seconds, my joy was clear as I leaped up and hugged him, over and over and over again.

We had a special, soulful,  beautiful, and unexpected evening – very intense – and we talked about everything.  I came to see the Truth of the situation.  I saw him again a few days later but that was on a different level than the soul.  I don’t know if I will see him again.  My intuition says that I may not, in this lifetime.  But a chapter in our story is now complete and it has written itself in the time and in the way it needed to be written.  And if there is another go round in another lifetime, I am sure that we will find one another again and we will open a new chapter.

As for the first friend I mentioned in this post, I don’t know what is happening with him. What is in my hands, is whether I choose to see some strange behaviour as a betrayal of our friendship, or not.

I think that the world is full of opportunities to be offended, if we want to take them.  Most of that is manufactured in our own minds.  I am grateful that my mother always tried to teach me not to take other people’s behaviour personally.  I am also grateful that she never wanted me to be a doormat.  Sometimes, those two principles can seem to be in contradiction with one another but by taking care of ourselves and also being loving to the other, we can walk even the finest of lines.  If we really believe in Oneness then we know that ego is the source of feelings of betrayal and this only adds to our feelings of being separate.  I think that right now, my service to the world is to live by example and to try to access my own intuition in whatever I do.  Sometimes that may leave me isolated.  Sometimes the process is painful.  But, I suppose that the real meaning of commitment and of faith – whether it be in a deity, a person, or in our own internal knowing – is that we are able to stay the course of our commitment and sit in our discomfort without throwing that false God into the Machine.  If we heed the soul’s call, I believe that eventually, we will come to the Truth.

Photo: Dino Reichmuth

Photo: Dino Reichmuth

 

For what are you grateful this week?

Ten Thousand Days

Leaving Las Vegas

June 30, 2016
Photo: Jenelle Ball

Photo: Jenelle Ball

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 671 – Day 677)

It has been nearly 2 years since I quit my job, intending to leave London, and I am finally leaving.  I am in shock, and when I think of leaving, and returning to my birthplace, I start to feel like I am suffocating.  I have done so much work on myself in my lifetime to become who I am.  When I am there, I feel that people see me in the way I was, when I left, more than 20 years ago.  Nobody knows me, there.

I have lived in London longer than anywhere else in my life.  It is home to me, now.  I have a life that I love.  Or I did, until the country voted to throw it all in the air.  There are things I must do and they are calling me away.  For two years, I have been sentimental about my love of this city, my friendships and my life.  I find myself grasping to hold on while trying to let go.

I’m not ready, but it is time to go take care of some things.

While the timing now means that uncertainty stretches out in all directions, I am glad I waited.   I took time to invest in myself, in my healing and in my writing again.   In the first year, I spent a lot of time exploring and I made a whole new group of friends.  In the second year, I  assimilated, and learned a lot about myself.  I have gone from watching artists paint to taking baby steps of picking up a pencil and trying to draw, to picking up a paintbrush and watercolours.  It has been an incredible journey of trying out and of pouring out my love into everything I draw and paint.  I have also been writing for 2 years and writing like mad these past 6 months.  In the last 2 months I rarely left my desk.  Along the way, I have unearthed and dared to dream (again) a few writing dreams that were long ago buried.  I couldn’t have imagined that it could have been like this, if I hadn’t had the love, encouragement and support of very accomplished artists along the way.

I think that this is the path of art, psychology and spiritual work: Experience, savour, explore, unearth, assimilate, pour out the heart (some would say “tear out”, but leaving is the only thing that tears out my heart), transform, and move on to a new vulnerable place, to experience anew.

I just don’t feel ready to move on, yet. But, I must.

Even before the death of my friend, a few weeks ago, and all the world events that followed (Orlando, Jo Cox’s murder, Brexit, Istanbul), so much had happened in my inner world, stirring up my dreams. In my spiritual circle, we work with dreams and so I take their symbols seriously.  My dreams are very vivid, particularly when I send Reiki to one particular spiritual friend.  He has been “absent” and so I have not had the chance to get closure before leaving.  It is surely one reason that my dreams are so charged.

Recently, I dreamed  I was sent to awaken a man.  When I looked into the room, I saw that he was levitating and so I thought: I must wake him slowly.  I knocked gently on the door several times and when I stopped knocking, I awoke from my dream.  The man was me.

Readers will know that I have very recently and sadly come to the end of my association with my spiritual community in London.  They have introduced me to a new kind of work, which involves a sort of spiritual alchemy and I have taken tentative steps into this work.  It makes me feel vulnerable.

It makes sense that this dream would come to me when I am sending Reiki to my friend, because when I met him, the word “Shaman” came to mind very strongly.  This is not as strange as it seems – Shamans exist in the modern world, working with spiritual alchemy.  I told a friend about that experience.  She looked at me directly and said: YOU are the Shaman.

Now, I still believe my friend has unusual spiritual qualities and I certainly don’t believe that I am a Shaman, but as a healer, light worker and as a storyteller, I guess I share an aspect of their work.  Perhaps the dream suggests that despite my anxiety, I don’t need a spiritual community and it is time to let myself fly.

"In My Dreams, You Levitate". Photo: Tania D. Campbell

“In My Dreams, You Levitate.” Photo: Tania D. Campbell

 

A few nights later, I dreamed that I was on my way to see my friend, but my journey kept being interrupted as I was greeted by people who no longer lived in London.  I was preoccupied with giving away my things to them, and as I parted company with someone who left London years ago, I realised that I, too, was already gone.  I texted my friend, asking him to join me somewhere underground, though I wasn’t certain that he would come.   Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars  played like a soundtrack.

On the face of it, this is a love song, but to me, it is a song associated with death and a kind of melancholy that leaves one unable to reach out, but longing for someone to lean in.  I suspect that the melancholy is my own.  When I last lived in the city where I will be going, I identified with the archetype of Persephone who was kidnapped to spend half her life with Hades, in the underworld.

The dream probably speaks to my anxiety about leaving London and what lies ahead.   I fear losing all the inspiration, love and transformation that has characterised my relationship with friend and my Tribe. At its essence, that text message was an existential cry from a universal fear of being, and of dying (suffocating), alone in our own private hell.

It is bittersweet, because the dream has come to fruition: I am leaving London without connecting with him.  I have tried, but it hasn’t happened.  If this is the end of a chapter and this sense of connection is lost, then I am grateful for the many ways that my friend and my Tribe have touched my life.  I am scared, but I am grateful to be so deeply in touch with and able to express my fear. I know it causes me to feel and act rather intense right now, and this all may seem dramatic, but I am grateful for a rich inner life.  I have to face some tough things, ahead, and I am grateful that I have the courage to decide to face them, head on. Courage does not mean there is no fear; it means we feel the fear and walk through hell, anyway.  It has been a joy to live in London (not always, but overall) and to be part of this quirky Tribe I have come to know and love.  I will miss them more than they know.

When we really have faith in Oneness, we know that the connection, whether conscious or not, is always there.  The tree, the flower, the pomegranate, the ocean, the raven, the whale, the bear, the people – we are all connected, always and everywhere.  Like everyone, though, I struggle with my faith in Oneness.

My service this week has been to make sure that the last of my things have new homes and are sent on to the new owners with love and blessings.  I am trying not to say goodbye.  I say that I will be back, and I hope that I will be, soon. But the truth is, I don’t know what will happen.  Chaos stretches out before me, and I leave a Britain in chaos.  I don’t know where, when or how I will emerge.

The meaning in all of this?   Nothing original.  Some people are with us to take us to the next crossroads and then we are meant to walk our separate ways, because we have learned all we can from one another.  And some people are meant to walk on with us, wherever we go.  Who will be in which group isn’t really ours to determine.  Attachment causes anxiety.  So, when we get to that junction, let’s embrace one another and then let go, with gratitude, and have a dance.

If this is to be the last dance we will do together, let’s not make it a sad one.

 

“Those 3 words are said too much.  

They’re not enough.”

 

 

For what are you grateful, this week?

Articles, Community, Happiness

Action for Happiness: A Social Movement, Creating Happiness

June 28, 2016
Lord Richard Layard speaks at an Action for Happiness Event (Photo courtesy of Action for Happiness)

Lord Richard Layard speaks at an Action for Happiness Event

Last month, TTDOG featured an article on Lord Richard Layard who, together with Sir Anthony Seldon and Geoff Mulgan, founded Action for Happiness.  In this article we depart from featuring an individual making a difference to introduce a group of individuals in a worldwide movement working together to create as much happiness in the world as possible, and as little misery: Action for Happiness.

 

Left to Right: Geoff Mulgan, Sir Anthony Seldon and Matthieu Ricard

Left to Right: Geoff Mulgan, Sir Anthony Seldon and Matthieu Ricard.

 

TTDOG interviewed the director of Action for Happiness, Dr. Mark Williamson and Head of Campaigns and Communications, Alex Nunn, who agreed to speak on behalf of the organisation.

 

Director of Action for Happiness, Dr. Mark Williamson speaking at an Action for Happiness Event

Director Dr. Mark Williamson speaking at an Action for Happiness Event

 

TTDOG:  What is the mission of Action for Happiness?  How do you hope to achieve this?

AfH:  Action for happiness is a movement of people taking action for a happier and more caring world. We bring this about by provoking people to think more deeply about where happiness really comes from, with learning from the latest wellbeing research, and helping them commit to taking action in their own lives. These actions go on to benefit and inspire others in their families, workplaces, and communities. It is through the collective force of these ripples that we hope to see values shifting in society.

 

Action for Happiness is organised as a UK based not for profit organisation as part of the Registered Charity, The Young Foundation.  Action for Happiness is run by a Board of experts in various fields related to Happiness and a team of dedicated volunteers.  The organisation hosts large events in London with inspiring guest speakers and self-managing groups meet worldwide. The organisation has provided a (by-donation) 8 week course ‘Exploring What Matters,’ which is facilitated by volunteers, to help these self-managed groups get started.  The patron of Action for Happiness is His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.

 

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, at an Action for Happiness event

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, at an Action for Happiness event

 

According to the Action for Happiness website:  “Everyone’s path to happiness is different. Based on the latest research, we have identified 10 Keys to Happier Living that consistently tend to make life happier and more fulfilling. Together they spell “GREAT DREAM.”

 

Action for Happiness' Ten Keys to happier living

Action for Happiness’ Ten Keys to happier living

 

The letters in GREAT DREAM stand for:  Giving to others; Relating, because as we have seen from the work of Layard and others, relationships are the greatest contributor to happiness; Exercising, because we feel better when we’re fit and healthy; Awareness, because it’s impossible to be happy if we are not present in the moment.  Living mindfully helps us to be aware of our emotions, including happiness; Trying Out, because people who try new things throughout life are able keep the brain healthy and feel happier.  Direction, because people who have goals and a sense of purpose are happier; Resilience, because having the tools to bounce back from hard times is key to long term happiness; Emotions, because paying attention to, and generating more positive emotions, like gratitude, helps us feel happy; Acceptance, because it is not possible to be happy with ourselves until we accept ourselves – warts and all; and Meaning, because happy people cultivate a feeling of being part of something greater than themselves.

These are the keys, according to the organisation, to build a happier life.   However, the mission of the organisation is not just to focus on each individual’s happiness, but to create more happiness in the world.

 

 

TTDOG:  In what ways are the members of Action for Happiness taking action in the world to promote happiness?

AfH:  Everyone’s journey is different, and the actions they take along the way can be really diverse: we have members who do small daily acts of kindness, helping out strangers, picking up litter, practicing mindfulness to reduce quick-tempers and stress, to people who quit high-paid jobs that aren’t making them happy to try out something new. It’s great to see that a lot of our members also take action to support the mission and movement also (e.g. volunteering to run one of our courses, host a local gathering or set-up a happy cafe).

London’s first happy cafe, the Canvas Cafe in East London will be featured next in this series of articles.  It provides a venue for people to meet, share conversation and to attend events related to self improvement, the arts and – of course – Happiness.

 

TTDOG:  Critics of positive psychology and the happiness movement might say that the focus on individual happiness and wellbeing leads to a society of selfish and isolated individuals. Does the pursuit of happiness make people more or less concerned about social justice and issues like rising inequality in the world?

AfH:  There are two reasons why people fail to stand up for social justice issues, either they are insufficiently aware, or they insufficiently care. Taking happiness seriously helps with both. When we start to look at where happiness really comes from in our own lives two things tend to happen: we gain perspective on the things that don’t matter, that distract us and fill our heads with unnecessary stress, and pay more attention to the things that really do, particularly the importance of our connections to other people. This shift frees up people’s minds to become more aware of what is going on around them, and cultivates caring for others – the very foundations of a social conscience. It’s also worth noting that relationship between inequality and materialism, the fact that we’re in the collective habit of seeking happiness in the insatiable consumption of stuff, and the pursuit of ‘wealth’ which provides it.  A more enlightened understanding of happiness can be quite helpful in liberating people from this.

 

Action for Happiness members

Action for Happiness members

 

Like all organisations, however, it is really the ‘tone at the top’ that creates a pervasive ethos and determines how an organisation will contribute to a society. And so we thought it incumbent upon us to inquire a little into the personal motivations and feelings of those who lead the organisation and its volunteer activities.

 

TTDOG: Why is Action for Happiness important to you, personally?

MW:  As Aristotle said, ‘Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life; the whole aim and end of human existence’. And when you ask parents what they want above all for their children, by far the most common answer is: “to be happy”. So happiness is the thing we want the most for the people we love the most. But in modern society we spend too much time focusing on money, status and possessions – and don’t give enough priority to the things that really matter for a happy life… like good relationships, mental wellbeing and having a sense of purpose. That’s where Action for Happiness comes in. We help people take action to focus on the things that really matter and help contribute to a happier and kinder world.

AN:  My background is in campaigning and activism, but I became deeply frustrated that so much energy in that space is wasted on generating anger (however righteous) towards society’s problems, creating unproductive ‘us and them’ divisions and only very rarely putting forward constructive solutions that everyone can get behind. Action for Happiness to me is exactly that: a positive idea, with the potential to radically improve the world that anyone and everyone can get involved in. Whereas in other movements constantly suffer from activist burnout, our members become happier, more aware and more caring the more they get involved. It’s got such potential, and it’s hugely exciting.

 

Alex Nunn and other Action for Happiness volunteers

Alex Nunn and other Action for Happiness volunteers

 

TTDOG:  Are you a happy person?

 

MW: Yes I’m generally very happy, although like everyone I have my moments of sadness, anger and despair. For me a happy life isn’t about smiling all the time or pretending everything’s fine when it’s not. Rather it’s about being your own authentic self, finding ways to cope with the dark times and learning to respond constructively to what ever life throws at you.

I attribute my happiness to a combination of my upbringing (grateful to have a close and loving family), my good fortune (lucky to have good health, freedom, opportunities and a degree of stability) and my choices (ie habits and behaviours I’ve learned that make a big difference to my wellbeing – eg mindfulness, helping others).

 

AN: The idea of a ‘happy person’ suggests it’s some intrinsic aspect of my personality – which if true, would be pretty unfortunate for anyone who’s not happy right now. I have the same ups and downs as anyone. But when tough times come around I’m really fortunate that I’ve invested time in cultivating skills that contribute to happiness and wellbeing: I’ve trained my mind to notice things I’m grateful for, to seek learning in a challenge that can help me grow, to accept problems without obsessing about them, and if things get too much to step out of my own head for a moment by exercising or doing something kind for someone else. So happiness isn’t about yellow-washing the dark times, it’s about finding ways to accept whatever is happening, remember that happiness is possible, and stay willing to try to make things better for yourself and others.

 

At an Action for Happiness event

At an Action for Happiness event

 

TTDOG:  Action for Happiness recently celebrated their 5 year anniversary.  What have you accomplished?

AfH: We’ve accomplished a lot but we’ve really only just started and there’s so much more to do.

In terms of numbers, we believe our messages have been seen by over 20 million people, around 7m have used the resources on our website, we have nearly a million online followers and over 70,000 signed up members in 160 countries.

Since our launch in 2011 over 100,000 people have taken some kind of personal action based on our ideas, including over 2,000 people who have put themselves forward to run local activities and 200 of these who have been actively running Action for Happiness courses and groups in their local communities.

 

The Action for Happiness 8 week course: ‘Exploring What Matters’ was featured on the BBC, following the Dalai Lama’s visit with Action for Happiness members in London last year:

 

 

 

As is our custom at TTDOG, we asked Mark Williams our final question:  For what are you most grateful and what gives you greatest joy?

I am eternally grateful to my mum and dad for all their love and support and for giving me the most important start for a happy and meaningful life – ie a loving, safe and supportive family environment. I am also hugely grateful to all the amazing and inspiring people who give their time so generously to support Action for Happiness and help bring our vision to life in their communities, schools and workplaces.

 

What gives me greatest joy is spending enjoyable time with the people I love, especially my wife Kate and our three young children. Other things that make me very happy include cycling (a lot!), time with friends, singing in a choir and taking time every day to notice the good things, however small.

 

Messages of gratitude at an Action for Happiness event

Messages of gratitude at an Action for Happiness event

 

TTDOG would like to thank Action for Happiness for providing all the photographs appearing in this article.

 

 

 

For more information on Action for Happiness, follow the links below:

 

 

Action for Happiness Website

Action for Happiness on Facebook

Action for Happiness on Twitter