Browsing Category

Articles

Art, Art, Articles, Music, Nature

Jesse Narens – Composition/Decomposition/Art

August 1, 2017

Jesse Narens with artworks in forest. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Portland artist Jesse Narens is most at home in nature.  Artworks with tree motifs, raindrops and layers of mark making reflect the forests and coastlines of the Pacific Northwest.  Collected and followed by a global audience, Narens’ work is both lucid and magical, with creatures that seem to emerge, disappear and re-emerge from an ethereal plane.  What draws one to the artist’s work is an individual preference, but there is no denying an ineffable quality of being transported to another world – sometimes primal, sometimes whimsical  – vaguely familiar, if not altogether forgotten.

It is easy to make comparisons to visionary art when one looks at the works of Narens, although the artist would eschew any hierarchy – spiritual or otherwise – between the artist and other living beings.  In the creative process, Narens becomes one with both subject and object and returns both artist and audience to their wild essence of being.  Narens’ work embodies a transitory moment that is the quintessence of life, death, and art.

TTDOG met with Jesse Narens earlier this year and began a dialogue with the artist in advance of their upcoming show Asleep in A Field, opening Friday 4 August in Portland.  Narens describes the artist’s career to date.

 

I started painting at the end of 2010 after my friend and artist Jesse Reno suggested trying out some alternative techniques.  Prior to that I had never painted before.  I focused on ceramics in high school, and dropped out of art college in less than a semester because I felt like they were creating artists, not letting people just be artists.  I have always done something creative with my time.

I do whatever I feel like doing, creatively, at any given time.  Painting and music are my go-tos , but every so often I get the urge to try something else.

 

Collaboration and a sense of community with other artists has always been important to Narens.  As a teenager, the artist created showcases for their own and other artists’ works.

 

The shows I was hosting when I was 15-20 were one night music and art shows at different venues around the Chicagoland area, made up of people from the midwest that I found online, back when Myspace was popular.  I showed my own work and played music at those events.

I’ve always enjoyed sharing the things I like with friends, so when I started playing music and making art it just made sense to try and be an event organizer or curator of some sort.

 

Collaboration extends as well to the audience where meaning-making becomes an adventure between artist, subject, object and audience.

 

My paintings, titles and music never really have specific meanings.  I am trying to create a feeling.  The feeling I get when I am in the woods or on the coast in the Pacific Northwest.  Where people see bear and wolves, I just see a generic animal form, usually.

Sometimes I choose words just for the way they sound or to further push the atmosphere in the painting.  It’s also important that all of the elements (music, words, painting, etc) are taken in together at the same time to get the full experience of my art.

 

Observing Narens’ recent body of work, one gets a sense of both forthrightness and mystery that allows the artist to give birth to and express the unutterable. Whether seemingly benign or ferocious, the creatures in Narens’ works seem to belong to a world that adults, living in contemporary society, are no longer able to see, let alone access and engage.  Returning to a clarity and confusion akin to that of childhood, Narens leads us back to our own natural connection to the wild that we have distanced ourselves from, over time.  To do this, Narens draws upon motifs of the natural world.

 

Looking back on pieces I can remember making in high school, most of them were tree related; people with branch arms, bark texture on my ceramic pieces…I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and I don’t remember experiencing much nature before the age of 20 when I moved to the Pacific Northwest.  The few experiences I did have before then were all very memorable, and while I might not have thought about it then, I recognize now that the feelings I have now when I am out in nature have always been the same.  It’s the only place where I feel I can just be.  It’s the only place that feels correct to me.  When I go back home I tend to spend a lot of time worrying about things that shouldn’t matter, but we have made them matter.  I paint the places and things that make me feel good.

I find my greatest joy in nature.

 

Jesse Narens with mask. Photo courtesy of the artist

 

As an intuitive artist, Narens’ artistic process mirrors the cycles of the natural world.  The artist composes and decomposes each piece over and over again.  Each layer, rather than adding armour and complexity, seems to strip away artifice and repression and restores freedom of vision.  There is no attempt to obscure what has come before and the history of mark making, evident in the pieces, is like a treasure map the artist has left behind, to lead the audience to a sense of uninhibited being.

 

I don’t have the final piece in mind before it’s done.  I just start painting, whether or not I have an idea, and the piece evolves as my mind processes what I’m seeing and thinking about at that time.  Pieces get to a point where they definitely look like they could be called finished, but something just doesn’t feel right to me.  I’ll paint over “finished” pieces again and again until they are done.  Even pieces that are done might someday become unfinished again.  If I have to sit with them for a long time, at some point, my mind might be in a different place than it was when a particular piece was finished, and I will no longer feel connected to it, so I paint over it.  When I sit down and examine why I do certain things, I feel like working this way is a lesson in letting go and embracing change.

 

 

I get stuck at some point in almost every piece.  Usually when they get to a finished looking point, but I don’t like it.  To move forward, I usually have to paint over the parts I like the most.  It frees up the piece to become something drastically different at that point.  It’s not always the easiest thing to do, but it’s almost always the answer.

 

Narens does not create artworks for archival purposes, and believes that decomposition is as valid as composition in the making of art.  For Narens, an artwork has a life that continues beyond the moment when the artist and the subject have transmuted the mystery of creation into form.  What happens beyond that moment is a part of the life cycle of the art and Narens delights in seeing, for instance, works weathered in nature or by time.  An ecosystem of its own, Narens’ art is in a constant state of flux and adaptation.

Art by Jesse Narens, placed in the wilderness, to be discovered by followers. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

I don’t like making products for the sake of having things to buy.  Sometimes I draw something and want it on a shirt for myself, so I get maybe 20 shirts made.  When I do make something like a shirt or a book, I only make a small number to keep the items special to whoever ends up getting one.  I try to make things on my own, or work with friends so I can keep the prices as low as possible.

 

Narens work is primarily self expression, yet the artist aims to allow their artwork to be a catalyst for a return to the wild.  Using social media, Narens showcases the natural world through the artist’s own adventures as much as showcasing their artworks, encouraging followers to get outdoors.  On occasion, Narens has left free artworks at natural sites as incentive.  Having experienced nature, followers may be encouraged to protect the wilds.  Yet, in the face of our society’s failure to protect ecosystems and natural preserves and our failure to act to avert the catastrophic impacts of climate change, Narens accepts the limits and responsibilities of one’s own place in the lifecycle of this living planet.

 

I’m alive, so I’ll live the best life I can, but I don’t have much hope for humans.

The earth will fix itself when we are gone, if we can’t learn to live with it.

Even though I feel this way, that doesn’t mean I’ve given up.  I’ll continue to try and inspire people to care about the planet, and to share and support the work of people who I think are doing a better job than I am, like E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Archangel Ancient Tree Archive.

 

While humankind may provide no solace for Narens, it is to the pockets of community, cultivated by the artist throughout life, that Narens turns.

 

I am currently going through a big transition in my life, so at the moment I am most grateful for the friends in my life that have been around since I was young.

 

 

“The Moon is Made of Chalk” by Jesse Narens. Photo courtesy of the artist

 

Like an old friend, Narens has returned to the artists’ roots, performing live music with art at the upcoming exhibition, Asleep in A Field.  For many of Narens’ fans, this will be the first opportunity to experience the artist’s music (performed under the name Ghost&Flower) with Narens’ artworks.

 

The last time I played music live was in 2011 and the last time I played music where my art was on display was probably 2008.

As with my visual art, my music is for me.  And with music, I am again chasing a feeling that I don’t get from anything else, and I can’t express it in words, but when I am making music I very quickly go somewhere else in my head.  I’ve recorded very little over the last 12 years of playing music live.  I make music the same way I paint.  It’s improvised, and I build layers through loops.  I use a prepared guitar instead of electronic instruments, and build most of my rhythmic parts with a contact mic to play the room.  Recording, even live, takes me out of the headspace that I am doing music for, so it’s no fun for me.

I went to a Bang On A Can marathon show when I was around 18 that had a big impact on my music.  The show was something like 12 hours of non stop experimental music, but at the beginning they encouraged you to come and go as you wanted because doing so meant that each person would have their own unique experience with what they heard.

 

Setting up for Asleep In A Field, a solo art show by Jesse Narens; music performance on opening night as Ghost&Flower. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

I’ve played so many great shows that I wish I had recordings of, but I know they would have gone different if it was being recorded.  I like knowing that everyone who has seen me play had a unique experience that no one else will ever know.

 

Asleep In A Field opens Friday, August 4th in Portland and runs through Tuesday, September 5th  at True Measure Gallery.  Jesse Narens will play live music under the name Ghost&Flower on opening night, at sunset.  For those interested in purchasing artworks but who cannot attend the exhibition, contact Jesse Narens (Jesse@Jessenarens.com) or True Measure Gallery.

 

 

Asleep in A Field – Jesse Narens’ Solo Show at True Measure Gallery. Music by Ghost&Flower. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Follow Jesse Narens:

 WEBSITE,

INSTAGRAM

 

Articles, Milestone

One Thousand Days of Gratitude

February 17, 2017

Photo: Luca Upper

 

The number 1,000 appears in the Bible some 50 times.  In terms of time, 1,000 is a ‘millenia’ and when referring to quantity, the number conveys the immensity of the thing in question without the totality of it.  In health and development, research has shown that the first 1,000 days of life are what UNICEF call’s the ‘brain’s window of opportunity’ where the future health of an individual is largely set and can either set a child on the path to wellbeing or to a life of morbidity and early mortality.  The first thousand days are are immensely important for the totality of one’s life and that is why health and development agencies focus their investments in those first 1,000 days. So how do we apply this to a spiritual practice?

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali advises:

Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness

In some Buddhist traditions, 1,000 repetitions of a practice is the magic figure at which one becomes an adept.

In some traditions, it takes ten years to even begin to walk the path.  So, let’s not get carried away with pats on the back just yet.  We have another 9,000 days to tackle!

My friend and much admired colleague Alicia once reminded me that we are in such a fast paced world that we often don’t pause to take a moment to reflect and appreciate our accomplishments before we move on to the next challenge.  And although I am inclined to continue to push the envelope by explicitly adding new practices, it is a joy to reach the first 1,000 days that have firmly grounded us in the practice.  This has been the heart, soul and mind’s ‘window of opportunity’ to become attuned to a higher vibration, develop new neural pathways for positive emotions and for the practice to become habitual.

In the first 1,000 days of Gratitude practice, we organically added joy as a by-product of gratitude and then came to see that a sense of abundance led us to want to give back to the world in service.  A sense of connection with others when we looked to be of service in the world grew into our concept of looking for a sense of Oneness in our lives.  After the first year of practice, we moved to a weekly post and started to look for meaning in our experience.  Without being explicit, this has become a fifth practice.

Meaning as I define it, is the symbolic value we give to our experience.  It is the sense we make of the chaos of our lives.  It is the thread of narrative that we write out of our daily experience and which helps us to know who we are, to be in awe of our place in creation and to discover our values in this lifetime.  Meaning then, is no small thing.  It tells us the why of what we are doing. We can find meaning in times that are good as well as those that are full of sorrow.   As we reach upwards to spirit with Gratitude and Joy, we reach into our depths of soulfulness with Oneness and Meaning.

Related to the concept of meaning is living with a sense of Purpose.  Purpose, as I define it, is living in alignment with our values and using our gifts to translate those values into action with the intent to create a positive impact in the world.  Happiness scholars argue that having and working towards a sense of Purpose is one of the key ingredients to creating a life of Meaning.  And so,  the two are inextricably lined and as we formally add the search for Meaning to our practices, we will add working towards a sense of Purpose, as well.

 

 

As I  anticipate the road ahead and reflect upon the 999 days that preceded this one, I feel so grateful for all those who have been on this journey with me.  Getting through the first 1,000 days of practice was no small feat and it didn’t happen without inspiration from others.  If there was something wise that I did to get this practice grounded, it was to seek out and speak to those who inspired me, so that I could learn from them the secrets to carrying on with a difficult task when things were not always easy.  I am grateful to all those artists like Louis Masai, WRDSMTH, Food of War, Noriaki, Matthew Del Degan, Monsu Plin, and C. Michael Frey who have inspired us and shared with our community their beautiful hearts and souls through their artwork.  I am grateful to all those who are not necessarily artists but who are working in their own capacities to make the world a better place, including Alexandra Jackman, Alicia Altorfor Ong, Lord Richard Layard, Action for Happiness , Elie Calhoun, and James Wheale of the Nomadic Community Gardens. They have been an inspiration to me, and I hope they have been, to you as well.  And, because love, and music are my own personal spiritual path, I am grateful to Dan Shears, Jesse Cook, Chris Church and Josh Savage for sharing their music and their hearts with us.

I never know who is reading these posts unless you choose to comment.  But I do always write these posts with you, specifically, in mind.  I am grateful to you for coming here and witnessing this journey.  It is a joy whenever I hear that someone has been inspired to live more gratefully and even if I don’t know who you are, know that you are embraced by me, and we are a community.  You are always part of the circle of Oneness at Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude.

Over the past 999 days, I have at times wondered why I continue to post publicly about my private life.  I wonder why I do what many could see as a pedestrian practice, over and over and over again.  I have come to realize that I value inspiration and one purpose of my life and my time on earth – one of the things that sets my soul on fire – is the potential to inspire others to live a more sustainable, meaningful and connected life.  Rather than just quietly living my own life of gratitude, I have chosen to make show up and make public my triumphs and my struggles with as much truth and vulnerability as I can muster.  And so, as we turn the page from 1,000 days my service is to continue to keep showing up to these practices with you.

In the past few weeks leading up to this milestone, I returned to writing a daily gratitude post with the audience being my friends on Facebook.  For me, personally, if there is any meaning in the writing of a 1,000 day post, and the work of the 999 days leading up to it, it is the way opening my heart to you and laying bare my life has repaid me with love and fullness beyond measure. Words today fail to express how grateful I truly am for you.  I hope that witnessing and (it is my hope) joining in these practices has and will contribute to your deeply fulfilled life, dear reader.

 
So I turn it back over to you…

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Articles, Community, Music

Josh Savage – Living Room Tourist

January 19, 2017

Josh Savage Photo: Common Spark Media

Last year,  TTDOG featured one of  London’s finest troubadours, Josh Savage as he was releasing his 2nd EP, a first french-language offering: Quatre Épines.

Savage creates a direct connection with his ardent followers through the vulnerability of his lyric, the poignancy of his voice and his virtuosity as a musician. What sets Josh apart from others in the industy is his absolute committment to intimate living room performances throughout the world.  When we last saw Josh, he had completed his living room tour of Europe to promote Quatre Épines and was awaiting the release of a film documenting his unprecedented tour.  The film, The Living Room Tour, by independent filmmaker Duncan Trevithick, follows Josh Savage as he plays 44 gigs throughout the summer.

We caught up with Savage to discuss The Living Room Tour,  a Winchester Short Film Festival Official Selection, released last month.

 Sofar Sounds inspired me with the concept.  Living Room Tours are the only way I can tour independently on a large scale and guarantee an attentive audience.

TTDOG asked Savage whether filming the tour impacted on the intimacy his audiences have come to expect in his concerts.

Being documented takes some getting used to.  it didn’t feel like it impacted the intimacy of my shows however.  I guess cameras are more commonplace in today’s society.

Did Savage have a single favourite moment captured in the film?

My optimism about chewing gum when my car was broken into.  At the time, I was in shock so I can’t remember what I said but I’m glad I’m able to see the light at the end of the tunnel in nightmare situations.

Just 24, he reminds dreamers of all ages to follow their hearts.  In a message to his fans at the launch of the film, Savage called The Living Room Tour:

A short documentary about choosing yourself as an artist.  About not waiting for the gatekeepers to say yes.  About finding your own path to your own definition of success.

.

 

TTDOG asked Savage whether there was something for which he was particularly grateful in the making of the documentary.

I’m most grateful for the wonderful people I met on the road who supported me and keep me going to this day.  It’s lovely to have a documentary to reflect back on the adventure and I hope it will inspire new artists to take the plunge and follow their passion.

 

Savage has inspired thousands through his performances and music.  His latest single, Whisper in the Snow, featuring Alice Pearl will launch tonight in London before Savage heads out on the road for his 2017  Living Room “Whisper in the Snow” Tour this Friday, 20 January.  

 

 

Follow Josh Savage on his Website,  Facebook, Instagram, Soundcloud, YouTube and Twitter

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.

 

image

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.

 

image

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.

 

image

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.

 

image

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.

 

image

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.

 

image

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.

 

image

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.

 

image

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.

 

image

“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.

 

image

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.

 

image

“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.

 

image

“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.

 

image

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.)

 

image

“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?

 

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

 

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

 

 

Articles, Nature, Oneness

Making Every Day, Earth Day: A Sea of Plastic

June 8, 2016

image

Today is World Ocean’s Day.  TTDOG launched this series of articles after thinking about the phrase  “Every Day Should Be Earth Day.”

How can we make every day, earth day?  To be certain, it involves changing behaviour and consumption patterns.  Changing our behaviour can seem overwhelming but it can be broken down into manageable pieces beginning with a single first step.  And so, TTDOG offers this series of articles on different aspects of our ecological crisis so that each of us can choose at least one aspect and even just one action to get started.  We will see the ripples expand.

But, first, all behavioural change begins with one discrete decision:  changing our values and committing to living in alignment with those values.

To do this, TTDOG has suggested working with the concept of Oneness.  Unless we are masochistic, really understanding our Oneness with the Earth will undoubtedly cause grief at the destruction we have created.  Our hope is that we can not only play witness to what is,  but make that first discrete decision that can lead us to make every choice one of mindful consumption and of contribution to the rebirth of our world.

Like everyone else, TTDOG is stepping out of our area of expertise and our comfort zone in taking this journey to address our current ecological crisis not only with practical personal action but by participating in a global paradigm shift of awareness and values.   We invite all readers to share their own insights and concerns.  In fact, please contact us if they would like to contribute articles, artwork and ideas toward working with Oneness and Making Every Day, Earth Day.

 

Forgotten Mythologies of the Sea

In many cultures and religions, the sea is controlled by a divinity that is both a benign giver of life and a wrathful destroyer of mankind.  How we are treated depends on how we treat the sea.

image

The Sea Witch by Andrea Villari

As a metaphor for the collective unconscious, she is the vessel of our dreams and of our emotions.  Through her tides and storms, she is depicted as the vehicle for the souls heroic journey from ignorance to enlightenment.

She is a metaphor for Oneness itself.    In the words of the poet and Sufi mystic, Rumi:

You are not a drop in the ocean; You are the entire ocean in a drop

From the sea, humans emerged.  For the last 600 years, the human part of the story of the sea has largely been one of exploration, conquest and consumption.  Through our trance-like pursuit of  advancement, we have not only neglected our Mother Ocean, but we have poisoned her – and in the process, ourselves.

The impacts of our activities all bear reflection on World Oceans Day and include climate change, coral reef acidification, rising sea temperatures, sea level rise and species extinctions.  In this piece, however, we will consider one small part of our impact on marine systems:  plastic pollution.

 

A Sea of Plastic:

Some of the greatest advancements of the modern age has been in the field of material science. One of the most revolutionary materials to be developed is plastic. Strong, flexible, mouldable, and cheap, plastic has allowed us to venture into space, advance medical science with life-saving technologies, create warm shelters for ourselves and increase our productivity with computers, transportation and meals on the go. Yet, in our brash advancement, we failed to consider the lifecycle of what we were creating. Today, plastics from broken, outworn, depleted and unwanted goods is fill our landfills and are poisoning our marine ecosystems.

 

Attribution, Non Commercial

Artwork by Common Folk

 

Plastics have enabled advances in almost every area of modern life.  However, production of plastic requires large quantities of fossil fuels (which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions) and water (which contribute to water scarcity issues).  Extracting fossil fuels from oil sands, the ocean floor and from within the earth’s crust has caused oil spills, and pollution of marine and freshwater systems.  The cost of that disposable water bottle and mobile phone would be inconceivably high, were we to factor in the environmental impacts, for ourselves and future generations.

Every piece of plastic that has ever been created, since the 19th century, still exists somewhere on this planet, in some form.

According to IWMA, 86% of ocean debris is made up of plastic. Solar radiation breaks down larger pieces of plastic into micro particles that have been found on the ocean floor and which make our way into the food chain.  What that means, is that we are eating plastic and if these micro particles are are unable to be digested, they will become a foreign part of our bodies and will trigger our defence systems to begin an attack on our own bodies.

Ocean pollution by micro plastics comes not only from rubbish that makes its way into the sea; Products which we consume every day are made with micro plastics called microbeads. Microbeads are found in everything from facewash to cosmetics to toothpaste. These micro particles of plastic are washed down our drains and find their way into the watercourses, remaining in the environment for at least 50 years.

Micro plastics impact on humans not only through the food chain but directly through the chemicals contained in them. Hormone disruption, obesity, and infertility are just some of the impacts that have been linked with plastics in our ecosystem. Because microbeads add to the existing problem of micro plastic waste, several countries have been seeking to ban the use of microbeads in consumer goods.

And lest we become human-centric, let us remember that plastics in our ocean ecosystem kill more than 1 million ocean mammals and birds every year.  Every year, thousands of birds die from suffocation by ingesting plastics or getting their necks caught in the plastic rings that surround beverage cans in our shops.

There is no gentler way to say it:  Our careless use and disposal of plastics is killing us and our ocean ecosystems.

Attribution, non commercial

Artwork by Zoe Nowak

 

Currently there is ground breaking research being led by Dutch inventor, Boyan Slat, in the Netherlands which seeks to use ocean currents to clean sections of the ocean of its plastic.  This technology, whilst innovative and promising, is not without controversy, in terms of the impact it may have on marine life and on its ability to eliminate micro particles from the ocean floor.  Research is also being conducted into alternative, non-petroleum based plastics that can replace current plastics, and are capable of biodegrading and being re-used in a closed loop system.  However, this is years away from being a feasible manufactured solution.  End of lifecycle research is also being conducted and entrepreneurs are experimenting with novel uses for upcycling plastics.

All of these technological advances provide hope for the future, but if these solutions to the marine plastic pollution that we have created is to have any impact, ultimately, we must stop contributing to the problem that ocean cleaning and upcycling is attempting to resolve.

TTDOG offers the following simple suggestions as a starter to help generate our own ways of building a renewed relationship with the sea and aligning our behaviour with our values.

 

Let’s educate ourselves and others

Let’s choose (if only for  today) to spend some time considering our relationship to the sea and the plastic waste that is in our oceans.   And let’s share our insights, our fears, our sorrows and our creative suggestions for building a better relationship with the sea and healing the ecological crisis that we have created.  It is easier to make changes when we are surrounded by people who share our concerns.  If we cannot find people who care about the sea, by sharing our fears and sorrow, perhaps we can encourage others to care.

 

Reflect on the value chain of your food, at every meal

Let’s take a moment before eating to consider what parts of the meal were packaged in single use plastic. When we are finished eating, how will we store our leftovers?  Do we use glass or do we use plastic containers?  How much of the plastic waste from our consumption will be upcycled or recycled?   We are what we eat.  Was any part of our meal from the sea?

Let’s consider what we would like to do differently, based on this reflection, and take action to change our habits to align with what we value.

 

Spend time at the seaside and on or in the ocean

Many of us may never have been to the seaside.  Many of us may never have had the chance to swim in the ocean.  Certainly many of us have never had the opportunity to go sailing, snorkeling or whale watching.

The seaside is a wonderful place.   Many people who visit the ocean experience a sense of calm and peace, no matter what is going on in their lives.  Many are able to experience the vastness of the sea and begin to feel a connection to that something that is bigger than ourselves.  Watching the sunrise or the sunset on the ocean can be a contemplative time that allows us to slow down and create the space, perhaps, to begin to question ourselves, our lifestyle and whether our choices are aligned with our values.

 

Artwork by Thomasz Zaczeniuk

Surfing with wales by Thomasz Zaczeniuk

 

Let us make a plan today to do something specific to encounter sea life in its natural habitat.  Swimming where dolphins migrate close to shore, taking ecological tours to see whales in their habitats, snorkeling and scuba diving all bring us closer to the beautiful creatures of marine ecosystems.  If this is not achievable, is there perhaps an aquarium nearby?  Let’s plan to slow down and watch the marine life in one particular window of the aquarium for at least 20 minutes and really notice the beauty of the marine life we see.

If we get to the seaside, we may notice a lot of rubbish floating on the surface or being churned in the tide.  Have you ever, in your life, used a plastic bag or drank soda or water from a bottle?  Your rubbish is still out there, right along with mine.

Consider what we would like to do differently, as a result of this experience? Let’s make a single step toward that, today.

 

Create a beach cleanup day, with a difference

Let’s create a beach cleanup day, with a difference.  Whether we organise our own, or participate in an existing cleanup, let’s take the time to really look at the rubbish that is on the beach.  Consider that for every piece of plastic waste, there is much more microplastic not visible to the eye.  Consider that what ends up on the beach is only a miniscule fraction of what remains in the sea and on the bottom of the ocean floor.

image

Oceanside Beach Cleanup by Anne Hall

 

Let’s recycle what can be recycled, and if there is a business in the area that is working with upcycling, consider working with them to provide them the retrieved plastics.

Let’s take time at the end of the cleanup to enjoy the seaside.  Maybe make a bonfire on the beach and tell stories around the fire that revolve around the sea.  Or, if it is a family event, encourage the  children to act out a story with characters (dolphins, turtles, fish, crabs) from the sea.  Perhaps they can be encouraged to speak, in character, about how they feel about the way humankind is treating the ocean.

Let’s find a way to remember and create new mythologies of the sea whilst cleaning up the pollution we have all created.

 

 Use your own cloth or hemp shopping bags

One of the simplest behavioural changes we can make is to bring a bag with us, when we leave the home.  We don’t always know when we will buy something, so keep an environmentally friendly bag in our pocket, rucksack, or handbag.

Non commercial, attribution

Artwork by Federico de Cicco

Refuse single use plastics and plastic packaging

Where possible, let’s seek out shops that allow us to refill our own containers.  We can buy loose vegetables and weigh them, without a bag, at the self checkout.  Let’s bring our your own stainless steel coffee cup for takeaway coffees and use a stainless steel water bottle filled with filtered tap water.  At the grocery store, let’s buy goods from the bulk bins or choose items from manufacturers that have made the effort to reduce their packaging.  Where pre-packaged, buy items in glass (like milk) or paper packaging which is biodegradable or reusable.  Re-use clean glass containers for food storage or for transporting your packed lunches to work.   Let’s decide today to categorically refuse unnecessary single use plastics like straws,  and/or to  switch from a disposable plastic razor to a metal one with blade refills.

There is a lot that we can do in this one small area to eliminate the use of single use plastics and plastic packaging.

 

Eliminate the use of cosmetics containing Microbeads

Let’s find out which of our cosmetics use microbeads and stop buying them.  We can find alternatives to these or check out the David Suzuki Foundation or Mother Earth News or Treehugger  for ideas on how to make our own products that are not harmful to the environment.  If we have a favourite product that we feel we cannot live without, let’s  write to the company or start an online petition to the company to ask them to eliminate the use of microbeads in their product formula.

Attribution, non commercial, no derivatives

Artwork by Rebekah Richardson

Seek out biodegradable or compostable rubbish bags and plant based plastics

Let’s compost all organic waste, recycle all that is possible in our region, and with what is left, ensure that our consumption patterns mean that there is no non-biodegradable plastic within our waste, or making up the bag we send to landfill.  Rather than send whatever waste remains to landfill in a plastic bag which does not biodegrade in our lifetimes, let’s seek out rubbish bags that do use biodegradable material.

There are repercussions of using plants for mass production of plastics and organisations like the World Wildlife Fund are working with businesses to ensure that production is sustainable. One impact, for example is that using plant based feed stock for plastics may drive up food prices for the poor. Let’s not allow ourselves to become complacent about our consumption.

For instance, recently a company invented edible six pack beverage rings.   The press coverage could lead people to believe that beverage rings were no longer a threat to marine and bird life.  This is not the case.  The rings are used by one small brewery only, and all rings should still be cut up to avoid animal entrapment.

Replace Diapers and Feminine Hygiene Products with Reusable Products

Given our busy lives, this may seem overly burdensome.  However, diapers sent to landfill create a biohazard for the community and do not biodegrade.  Similarly, in North America alone, 20 million pieces of feminine hygiene products are sent to landfill or into our water courses each year.  These, too, constitute bio hazardous waste.  And, with an ageing population, there has been a noticeable rise in incontinence products now clogging up our landfills and making their way into our oceans, as well.

Recycling schemes are beginning to pop up, however, taking into consideration the power and water requirements, it still seems that a more environmentally friendly solution is to switch to cloth diapers,  cloth maxi pads and a menstrual cup and cloth incontinence pads.  Again, TTDOG does not suggest we must be perfect in all of our behaviour change.  But, perhaps we can make the switch on those days when we will be spending the day in our homes, working from home or have a light menstrual flow.  Even making this partial shift will make a significant difference to the amount of plastic we send to landfill or that makes its way into our oceans.

It is worth noting that our ancestors used cloth for all of these purposes, for hundreds of years.

 

Choose natural fabrics

Polar Fleece, nylon and polyester are among the many synthetic fabrics that are made from plastics.  Like all plastic products, they do not biodegrade and have been found in the oceans.

If we haven’t already, let’s go forward by switching our future purchases to natural fabrics.  For those synthetic items in our wardrobe already, let’s ensure that they do not end up in our oceans or landfill.  Let’s participate in programs like the North Face Clothes The Loop program which repurposes synthetic fabrics and keeps them out of landfill and our oceans.

 

Remember there are three R’s – Reduce, Re-use, and only then, Recycle

Having reduced, and eliminated the use of as many plastics as possible, let’s reuse what we can safely reuse, and only then, recycle. We need not be the one to reuse our plastic.  If a business in the area is developing uses for existing plastics, let’s engage with them to see if we can bring our own, or our neighbourhood’s or workplace’s plastics to them for a second life.

If an item cannot be reused or recycled, let’s pause and consider our values at the checkout counter.  Is there not some creative way to forego buying it? For instance, instead of plastic wrap, let’s use glass containers to keep foods fresh and use paper or cloth to wrap sandwiches for workplace lunches. And remember that all white goods and electronics – which use significant amounts of plastic – must be recycled, in the EU.

Recycling should be our last resort because only two types of plastic are widely recyclable.  Even these plastics are currently recycled into a lower grade plastic that is not further recyclable and is likely then to end up in our oceans.

Attribution, non commercial, no derivatives

Artwork by Ryan Miranda

 

 

The current ecological crisis, and its impact on our oceans, has developed from our individualism and destructive consumption.  By working to restore a reverence for the oceans and to align our consumption with our sense of Oneness with the earth, we can make Every Day, Earth Day.

 

As a starter, here are some links:

Working with Oneness

The Ocean Cleanup (with Boyan Slat)

World Wildlife Fund

Greenpeace

David Suzuki Foundation

Wake-up World

We’d love to hear from you.

Please share your insights with the TTDOG community!

 

 

 

Articles, Nature, Oneness

Making Every Day, Earth Day: Working with Oneness

June 8, 2016
image

Photo by NASA

Not long ago, we celebrated another Earth Day. For many of us, marking Earth Day demonstrates that we care about the environment, however, setting aside one day per year for Earth Day or Women’s Day or Mother’s Day always sits uncomfortably with me.  I feel that as long as we need a special day of remembrance, we are not fully integrated with Feminine energy, caregiving, or the Earth.  And, on a practical level, there is a danger that attending an event on the given day may generate the good vibes of actually making a contribution, while our behaviour has not changed at all.

On Earth Day, an artist that I follow posted to his social media account a woodcut print that he had made.

 

 

Like the images in the print, he made an impassioned plea to his social media followers to rethink their values and consumption patterns.  He ended his plea with: “Every Day Should Be Earth Day.”  He isn’t the first person to have said this, but he does not seem to use words lightly, so when he speaks, I pay attention, and I think about what he has said.  Over the next few days, I thought a lot about it.

What would it take to truly make every day, Earth Day?

Behavioural change, is needed, to be sure. And so, I set about developing something that, as a sustainability consultant, was within my reach:  A series on ecological issues and behavioural changes that we could all make to help address the issues.  I completed and edited and polished the first article.  But I couldn’t publish.  I knew something fundamental was missing.  It wasn’t the first article, after all.

I needed to get out of my comfortable position of understanding, in order to begin at the beginning.

At the heart of  behavioural change must be a real shift in consciousness and an awakening to the insanity of our apparent indifference to the consequences of our lifestyles.  That awakening would seem to require a deep reverence for the Earth and clarity on what we are doing to destroy her.  I am not saying that we should not reduce and eliminate the use of plastics, switch to clean energy, grow our own food, reduce water and embedded water use and avoid the use of conflict minerals like Coltan, found in electronics.  But I do believe that we must begin with a perceptual shift toward the interconnectedness of all things: Oneness.

Those of you who have navigated around this website will notice that I have not completed the article on Oneness.  I have deliberately left it blank, for now.  I have been writing for nearly two years about Oneness as we each develop our own understanding and meaning.

There are many great thinkers who have had something to say about the concept:

 

“Oneness is very simple: everything is included and allowed to live according to its true nature. This is the secret that is being revealed, the opportunity that is offered. How we make use of this opportunity depends upon the degree of our participation, how much we are prepared to give ourselves to the work that needs to be done, to the freedom that needs to be lived.”

— Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee from the book Working with Oneness

“From out of all the many particulars comes oneness, and out of oneness come all the many particulars.”

— Heraclitus

“A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.”

— Albert Einstein

 

We require a paradigm shift.

Last month, we celebrated North American Mother’s Day. There is meant to be no greater bond between humans than that of the bond between child and primary caregiver, regardless of gender or biological relationship. Our first relationship, with “Mother,” is an archetypal one.  It is, for better or worse, a relationship that defines us.  Yet we seem to have forgotten that our first Mother is the Earth.  Connecting to Oneness may help our remembrance of her and to re-establish and work with our archetypal relationship with the primary caregiver of us all.

Of course, when we begin to do this, if we are truly witnessing what is happening, we cannot help but feel overwhelming pain.  As horrible as it is, perhaps the grief of “witnessing” is a sign that we are on the right path.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, one of the Interfaith leaders dedicated to Working With Oneness offers a brief talk on our current ecological crisis, in this 7 minute film.

 

I understand that not everyone reading this will resonate with the concept of magic.  However, it is useful to note that Vaughan-Lee is not only a mystic but a Jungian psychologist.  I don’t pretend to understand the depths of Jungian analysis, but I have some knowledge.  Perhaps we can consider this destructive entrancement as a kind of strangle hold on our collective unconsciousness.  We need a paradigm shift to break free; It seems, to me, that the first step toward that paradigm shift is in working with Oneness.

So, how can we work with Oneness?

In whatever way is natural to you, every single day.  I came to my own understanding and practice of Oneness through a spark that was lit by Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee and the Interfaith leaders of Working With Oneness.  I am not an expert in Oneness – I struggle as much as anyone to work with it, every day.  However, there are many experts on many spiritual paths which take up the practice, even if not so named.  And, Einstein shows that shifting to working with Oneness is not the preserve of the mystic or the spiritual aspirant.  For the secular among us, an association with a group of like minded people who care about the planet, and who practice compassion towards all living beings, can help us connect and work with Oneness.

For the spiritual seeker, I suggest looking to your own path to see how Oneness with the planet is called to manifest.  If you practice healing, perhaps make it a regular part of your practice to send healing to the planet and to the soul of the planet – the Anima Mundi. If you are a meditator, yogi or have some other spiritual practice, dedicate at least some of your practice to healing the planet. In your remembrances of the Divine Quantum, remember that Divine Life that is Mother Earth.

Working with Oneness will, no doubt, bring us in touch with grief as we witness what is.  It is a terrible burden that is necessary for the transformation that can lead to the creation of a new story.

If you are an artist, writer, or musician, connect with, and start to tell not just the story of destruction and crisis, but the new story of Life.  How?  However you can.  All art originates from storytelling and heroic tales.  We are all on a heroic journey through the dark night of the soul – now, it is no longer just our own soul, but the soul of the planet, as well.  We must make this journey alone, but with the knowledge that we are together, in this darkness, with one another and our Mother Earth.  Like the hero, we must find the light in the darkness that leads us to the other side, or else, we risk being lost.  Too much grief can dim the creative light and energy in us all, if we don’t also work to midwife the new story of Life.

If you are not an artist, writer or musician – create, anyway!   Create a community garden, draw a picture of a tree, tell a story from the point of view of an animal, sing a song when you go for a walk.  I come from the West coast of Canada.  When hiking, it is advisable to wear a bell to warn bears that a human is approaching and to avoid a startled and possibly dangerous meeting.  I don’t wear a bear bell; I sing.  I’m pretty sure I’m not in key, but do the birds worry about being in key?  They just sing.  Rebirth is a creative process; Let’s generate as much creative energy as we can.

Let’s spend more time in and develop a new relationship with nature.  Let’s reflect on the wonder of the natural world and how we have not only taken her for granted, but destroyed her with our forgetfulness.  Let’s learn to listen with our intuition, our imagination and our hearts to the story she wants to tell, and to our role in the narrative.  Let’s  reflect on the food chain at each meal and reflect upon what has gone into bringing this food to our supermarket, our kitchen and our table.  Reflection on this may lead to an understanding of our own role in creating the toxins poisoning our Mother Earth and finding its way into our food and it may help make conscious the ways in which we are creating and exacerbating drought conditions around the planet with our consumption patterns.  It may lead us to switch from fossil fuels, eliminate plastic waste and grow our own food in a community garden, as we care gently for our Mother Earth.

There are so many ways to work with Oneness and discovering the way that is right for each of us is part of our own individual part of the story.

Behavioural change is crucial for our survival.  But a more important change must come if we are to avoid patching up a system built upon a paradigm that is fundamentally broken and unsustainable.  If we really work with Oneness, we all must accept responsibility for our part in the current ecological crisis that comes from recognising we are one with the story of destruction as well as the story of creative healing that is required.

In the coming months, we will look at ways we can change our behaviour and our ethos around various issues.  For me, as much as anyone else, it will also be a venture into the unknown world of working with Oneness with Mother Earth.

If there is an issue you feel strongly about, or if you’d like to write an article, a poem or feature some artwork related to the topic, contact us.

Let’s make some magic.

 

 

Articles, Music

Josh Savage – Lost and Found

May 29, 2016
Josh Savage; Photo: Common Spark Media

Josh Savage; Photo: Common Spark Media

Anyone familiar with the acoustic music scene in London will have heard of singer/songwriter, Josh Savage.  In their ‘Ten Artists to Watch,’ The Huffington Post says:  “Fantastic song writing and a resonant, rich voice, Josh exhibits real skill as a musician and singer.”

At just 24, Savage has garnered himself an international following, performing his own acoustic rock and folk compositions in the UK, USA, Europe, Canada and the Middle East, despite being unsigned and without representation.  The self disclosure of his lyrics, coupled with unexpected phrasing and emotive musical composition engages the ear, and once heard, lingers like the scent of French perfume on a silk scarf.

Listen to him once, and it is easy to get hooked.

Following the success of his first EP, Savage recently launched himself as a bilingual singer/songwriter with his 2nd EP, the french-language Quatre Épines. To promote the EP, Savage booked his own “Living Room Tour,” packed up his guitar and a bag, and with his cameraman, set off for a dizzying schedule of shows in living rooms across Europe. The tour culminated in a sold out EP launch at historic Winchester Guildhall, surrounded by friends, family and fans from across England and Europe.

 

 

We caught up with Josh Savage shortly after the launch of Quatre Épines.  He had just moved to London and was working on writing his first full length album.  We asked him about his sound:

“When I get asked, I say my sound is Folk/Rock but I don’t really know. I don’t believe it truly represents my music but it gives an idea. I don’t like labelling my own sound. When I write music I don’t aspire to sound like someone else, I write songs to get things off my chest. I am obviously influenced by other people’s music but more on a subconscious level.”

Savage’s voice, sometimes soulful, sometimes innocent, has a clarity that blends and contrasts with his instrumentation to generate a timbre of perfect harmony.   Vocal purity, delicate features, floppy curls and a gleaming smile mix with evocative lyrics, to create a cocktail that earns Savage a place in the tradition of medieval French troubadours:

“I would say ‘troubadour’ is an accurate summary of what I do, perhaps not what I sound like. I definitely travel a lot! In time, I’d like to tour with band and more ambitious arrangements.”

Ambitious arrangements are well within Savage’s grasp.  As a child in Paris, and a youth in the UK, Savage stretched and refined his voice, performing as a choral soloist in France, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. A piano player from the age of 4, it wasn’t until Savage began to sing that his passion for music was born.  After school, Savage went on to complete a music degree at University of York in the UK.

The influence of classical choral and orchestral arrangements is clear in his music, as Savage moves with virtuosity between guitar, keyboards, trumpet and vocals, and glides from ballad to rock with ease.

“I recall Henry Purcell was a favourite of mine when I was singing in choirs when I was 10 and Coldplay influenced me into writing songs. I’m a sucker for melodies and I love all sorts of music like Bonobo, Bear’s Den, Olafur Arnalds and Yann Tiersen.”

For Savage, writing is something that begins with melody and composition.  A piece will run through his mind and he hums out the chords, refines and rewrites the melody before he begins to work the lyrics into his melody.  Yet time for composing can seem difficult to find:

“To be fair, I’ve done very little writing since releasing Spaces EP. When you’re managing, booking and tour managing yourself and couchsurfing, it’s very hard to find the right balance and unfortunately it’s difficult to find time to write songs. That’s why after 3 years since university, I decided to move to London to focus on writing.”

Part of the urban myth that has grown around his music is the story that Savage chose to write his final University thesis in French, in order to prevent his professor from grading him on his lyrics.  Those who understand French will know that he is equally versatile as a French and an English lyricist.

Sais-tu je rêve toujours aux mémoires de nos baisers
Mais tu m’as brisé le coeur car tu préviens du malheur
Avant que rien n’ai vraiment commencé

Translation:
Do you know I still dream of the memory of our kisses?
But you broke my heart because you foresee misfortune
Before anything really happened

Lyrics © Josh Savage, from ‘Quatre Épines’

 

Even those unable to understand French cannot fail to be moved by the title song from his EP, Quatre Épines, inspired by the devotional love of the Prince for his ‘Rose’ in Antoine de Saint Exupery’s famous parable, The Little Prince.

 

 

We asked Savage about his influences, as a writer:

“My granddad has an endearing habit of muttering random lines of poetry to himself. I ask him about his favourite poems and borrow his poetry books from time to time and they sometimes inspire me to write songs but other than that I know little of poetry.

Of course, I aspire to get better and better. The danger with art is that success tends to have an influence on your creativity. You can end up taking less risks and trapped in creating what you think you should create rather than what you want to create.”

Savage manages to keep taking risks, writing emotionally complex and mature lyrics with authentic vulnerability.  Deeply personal, his unguarded songs invite the listener to visit their own private places of love, loss and hope.


New bonds won’t stretch thin
In this high tech world we live in
I could see ours rust across our shores
Then I stumble upon clues
And I see them haunt you
You’re so scared to tell the truth

Lyrics © Josh Savage, from ‘Your Lips’

 

Being an affable and optimistic young man, we wondered how Savage managed to achieve such melancholy in some of his lyrics:

“…When I hit rock bottom, I write a song about it and it gets it out of my system. I always aim to add an optimistic spin on my sad songs though. When I’m happy, I tend to be too busy making the most of it rather than writing about it, unfortunately.”

An old soul in a youthful form, Savage achieves a wide range of lyrical moods.  He is a musician that is hard to categorise.

“My demographic is actually pretty spread out and I’m not sure why. I have an international fanbase and my music seems to suit older audiences as well as younger ones. When I first toured the US, Poland and Germany for the first time, I often had people coming up to me after the show saying they’ve been listening to my music for a while and it blows my mind!”

Savage is particularly beloved in Europe.  While in Poland this spring, Savage was invited to participate in his first TedX performance.  The performance has helped to showcase him to a large crowd in Warsaw, and to a larger, worldwide, TedX audience.

Savage has striven for every bit of exposure he has achieved.  As a teenager in Winchester, he worked the summer music festival circuit, studying the bands and meeting people in the business.  Over time, he has been steadily invited to play more and more of these same festivals which are so important for showcasing musicians.  His summer tour schedule is already filling up with festival gigs.  Large audiences, according to Savage, bring a great energy and unpredictability to his performances.

But perhaps it is in intimate settings where his poignant music is best experienced.  Savage holds the worldwide record for performing the most shows (over 40 shows as of last month) with Sofar Sounds, the secret-location, indie gig organiser that was founded in 2010.  Taking the ethos of Sofar to towns even without a local group, Savage booked 44 living room concerts across the UK and Europe in the summer of 2015.  The previous year, Savage undertook a similar living room tour of the UK and France.

 

 

TTDOG has had the pleasure of hearing Josh Savage perform in both large and small venues, but the living room concert is a uniquely intimate experience.

“If I had never played my first Sofar Sounds show in Oxford back in January 2013, I might not still be doing music today. It was the best show I had ever played and it was such a breath of fresh air compared to demoralising shows playing to drunken audiences who talk over you. Sofar Sounds has been a great way to introduce my music to new audiences in new cities where you don’t have the pressure of bringing an audience and can actually focus on playing a good set.”

Savage doesn’t just show up and play Sofar concerts.  This enterprising musician took the idea of these gigs to his own town, organising local acts and venues.  TTDOG wondered how Savage, a singer/songwriter, manager, performer, promoter, and tour manager found the energy and time to take on the committment of organising a concert series involving other bands.

“The energy and hard work I’ve put into setting up Sofar Winchester has never been an issue. Hampshire in general doesn’t have a great music scene and I felt it needed something like Sofar. It’s made me really happy to see Sofar Winchester flourish in the last 3 years and supporting other struggling acts I’m passionate about. I’ve had people help me in my music career and it’s my way of giving back.”

TTDOG asked Savage if he had further plans to work with other musicians in their own careers:

“I would love to produce other musicians but there are only so many hours in the day. That may be something for a later time.”

 

What strikes everyone about Josh Savage is his unwavering hope, both for himself and for others. Perhaps the most personal piece he has written is ‘Mountains in Hurricanes,’ a track from his first EP, Spaces.  Savage explains that the song is about someone close to him, who was suffering psychosis.  The way this person managed his psychotic episodes was to take long runs along a path that led up a local hill.  His lyrics reveal a man willing to go to almost any length to overcome, and to help others overcome adversity.

If it’s too much, give me a call
But I doubt that too much will be enough

You can take it all
You can take on mountains in hurricanes
And if you fall…
I’ll give you my bones to break ’cause I have faith
I’ll give you my bones to break ’cause I have faith

Lyrics © Josh Savage, from ‘Mountains in Hurricanes’

 

At many of his gigs, Savage tells the story of his talented friends who have given up practicing their art, because it is unlikely that they will succeed in the business.  Josh Savage is not so daunted.  He is a man of passion and determination to pursue his dreams and that serves as an inspiration to other musicians and to his audience.  Savage relates a story of a former heroin addict, who, upon hearing his music, decided to walk to the South Pole and achieve his own dream.  TTDOG admits that on days when it seems difficult to be inspired to write, the memory of Josh Savage quoting Nelson Mandela to inspire his audience to never lose sight of their dreams is enough to shake off any lurking defeatism.

Josh Savage is no starry-eyed dreamer.  He knows the odds and yet, he persists:

“I have 3 part-time jobs to keep me going and the reality is that you may never be able to make a living solely in the music business, which is why if you go down that path you have to be very very passionate about it. If it never leads to anywhere, I can safely say I’ve had a fantastic journey and no regrets.

…I don’t see any point in thinking that far ahead. If it feels right to move on from being a singer/songwriter, I will know. However, I have a feeling that whatever I do will always involve music.”

Savage has begun work on his debut album and plans to release another English language EP, shortly.   Yet, he knows that everyone must have a Plan B.  Should he fail in the pursuit of his dreams, Savage’s plan B is to get lost in his childhood city, Paris.  The thought inspired this song and video from his Spaces EP.

 

 

Whether at a Sofar gig, in the recording studio, on a festival stage, or lost in Paris, we at TTDOG are grateful that Josh Savage has found and continues to share his passion:  Music.

 

TTDOG asked Josh Savage:  For what are you most grateful and where do you find your greatest joy?

 

“My friends and family who keep me grounded and have helped me on my journey.

I find my greatest joy after finishing a song, performing or losing myself in a beautiful place.”

 

 

To hear more of Josh Savage’s music, buy his EPs , attend a gig, send him jars of honey, or fresh roses, click the links below:

 

Josh Savage Website

Josh Savage of Facebook

Josh Savage on Twitter

 

 

 


Articles, Happiness

Lord Richard Layard: Creating As Much Happiness and As Little Misery

May 27, 2016

 

 

 

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’  They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” – Unknown

 

Happiness matters.  Yet, for many of us, the pursuit of happiness has remained an elusive goal, despite being the central preoccupation of most of our lives.

At a time when few other Economists were seriously studying Happiness, Lord Richard Layard took up the mantle.  An Emeritus Professor of Economics at London School of Economics, founder of the LSE Centre for Economic Performance and current Director of the LSE Centre for Wellbeing, Lord Layard is a leader in the academic field of Happiness research and champions its pursuit as a legitimate aim for societies and their governments.  In 1980, he wrote the first empirical research paper on Happiness to offer policy implications.  In 2003 he gave a seminal lecture series on Happiness and authored a book on the topic.  He has been invited to share his expertise and findings with the OECD, the World Economic Forum (WEF), and from 2012, with the United Nations, as co-editor (with John Helliwell and Jeffrey Sachs) of the UN World Happiness Reports.  Although he draws from the work of Psychology, Neuroscience and Philosophy, his approach to the science of Happiness is one of Economics.

 

TTDOG is honoured to feature Lord Richard Layard, an individual making a difference to the lives of others, with his work.

 

Lord Richard Layard. Photo: Nigel Rogers

Lord Richard Layard;   Photo: Nigel Rogers

 

 

Happiness: The Overarching Goal

 

TTDOG interviewed Lord Layard, by telephone, about his work on Happiness.

“The goal of society should be to enable people to lead happy and fulfilling lives.  Unless there’s agreement about that as the objective, discussion about what we know about causes of happiness is not that interesting.”

Layard adopted this 18th century enlightenment thinking, after reading Jeremy Bentham at University.   In his book, Happiness: Lessons from a new science, Lord Layard states:

“By happiness I mean feeling good – enjoying life and wanting the feeling to be maintained. By unhappiness I mean feeling bad and wishing things were different.”

Layard outlines the Easterlin Paradox, named for USC economist Richard Easterlin:  People want to increase their wealth, and societies have operated under the assumption that an increase in wealth must result in an increase in welfare. At any given point in time, the richest in a society will be happier than their poorer counterparts, but surprisingly, across society, any increases in income result in only minimal changes to happiness.

In response to Easterlin’s findings, Economists Ruut Veenhoven and Michael Haggerty published their own analysis, using different data sets and arguing against the paradox. Economists Bestsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers conducted a time series analysis in which they showed that happiness rises with incomes, but at a slower rate. Easterlin maintains his original position and Layard agrees.

The Easterlin paradox, Layard argues, demonstrates that it is our level of income, relative to our peers, that impacts our happiness.   In order for person A to be happy, person B must be less well off.  Overall, this produces what mathematicians call a ‘zero sum game.’

 

Photo: Cindy Tang

Photo: Cindy Tang

 

Layard confirms Easterlin’s findings that over the past 60 years, societal happiness levels have remained constant, despite rising wealth. In any given population, changes in income account for only about 1% of the variance in happiness for rich countries, and, in no country does it account for more than 2%.

Layard also points to what Economists call the ‘declining marginal utility of income.’   TTDOG offers an example of the law of diminishing returns: When a person has nothing, £1 adds happiness because it helps us to obtain our basic needs, but as income rises, each successive £1 provides less and less additional happiness. An extra £1 means more to the poor than it does to the rich.

As Layard notes in his book:

“One thing is clear: Once subsistence income is guaranteed, making people happier is not easy.”

 

 

Why Happiness?

Why should we bother with happiness at all, then?

“I’ve always reasoned in the following sort of way: there are many goods that people like Amartya Sen spell out: health, wealth, freedom, agency, and so on, and happiness.  One can ask: ‘Why are these goods good?’

If you ask: ‘Why is wealth good?’   It helps people to feel better about their lives and lead more satisfying lives. Why is health good? Because being sick makes you feel bad, and so on. You can go through all the other things other than happiness, and you can give reasons why they’re important. In many cases, it’s because they make people feel better.

But, ask:  ‘Why does it matter if people feel better?’  You can’t give an answer. That is just the overarching thing that is felt to be true.  I’m very keen to get across the idea that happiness is the overarching good by which we should judge our societies.

Now that’s not the same as saying that we should judge one person against another by how happy that person’s life is, because it is also very important how they contribute happiness to other people. You have to look at it as a proposition that the best state of life for a group of people is one in which they are enjoying their lives.”

But can Economics, renowned as ‘the dismal science’ really measure and contribute to the pursuit of Happiness?

 

 

Measuring Happiness

Happiness is a feeling, and feelings fluctuate constantly.  Is there really a way to measure and compare something that changes from moment to moment and is inherently subjective?  Lord Layard argues that we should not shy away from feelings because it is how a people feel that really matters and is how we can judge society.  Further, he argues that it is possible to do sensible research into the levels and causes of happiness by looking at an individual’s long term average happiness.

 

Photo: Negative Space

Photo: Negative Space

 

Throughout his career, Layard has argued that economic theory and policy must always be based on facts and points to four advances in measurement of life satisfaction:

  1. A person’s subjective assessment of their own wellbeing can be verified by third party assessment, with a high level of correlation;
  2. Factors we expect to impact on wellbeing do, in fact, impact on people’s life satisfaction scores;
  3. Things people say they will do correlate with what they actually do; and
  4. Research from Neuroscience shows that when a person reports their subjective wellbeing, measurable electrical activity is observed in the centres of the brain associated with the emotions being reported.

Since electrical impulses in the brain are an objective measure, and subjective wellbeing responses coincide with these, then, Layard reasons, the subjective responses must contain “objective content.”

“Economists and psychologists are both looking at the facts.  Psychologists have tended to look at small surveys that they’ve done with groups.  Economists have tended to look at big population surveys and what both of these enables you to do is to look at the huge variation in any population in the happiness levels of the different people in society and then look at possible causes.

That’s the essential method of research and then of course it can go on to looking at individual lives over time to see what makes the same person become more or less happy as different experiences occur to them.”

Large data sets like those collected by Gallop and the OECD allow Economists to make comparisons both within and across populations.  Controlled experiments are also undertaken in Happiness studies.

“Until recently it was not that easy to implement this idea. We now know what produces happy lives.  We have a huge amount of evidence that makes it possible to argue that it should be, for policy makers, their goal.

And of course it also enables us to inform people about what would be a good way for them to lead their own lives as individuals and citizens.”

 

 

The Pursuit of Happiness:

So what is it that does contribute to happiness and what would be a good way for us to lead our lives in order to be happy?

 

Photo: Lesly B. Juarez

Photo: Lesly B. Juarez

 

In the 2012 UN World Happiness Report, Lord Layard argues that there are several internal and external factors which co-vary with income.  It is these co-variables, not income alone, that are responsible for changes in levels of happiness.

Broadly speaking, external factors include income, but also include the quality of our relationship to work and our community and the existence of good governance that allows trust and security to flourish. Those countries which emphasised cooperation and mutual respect scored far higher on happiness ratings than did those societies emphasising individualism and competition. Shared values and engagement with religious experience also impacted on subjective wellbeing.

Internal factors such as gender and age, family relationships and educational attainment were predictors of happiness, as was current physical health and one’s history of mental health.

By far, Layard says, the biggest contributors to happiness are our relationships: with family, work and community.

Knowing what causes happiness, is Richard Layard a happy person?

“I think it’s a very good question because sometimes people ask you: ‘Are you always happy?’  Of course a happy person isn’t always happy. A happy person is normally somebody who is trying to do something useful with their life which means that you’re bound to be frustrated sometimes.  But, are you a happy person? Yes!

There’s always things which I’m trying to do which I think are useful and exciting and rewarding. I’m very very lucky in having a wonderful wife. We just enjoy being together and doing things together and being on holiday together and all of that. And also, some social life is important. I play tennis twice a week and we play bridge once a fortnight. I wouldn’t be quite the same person at all without socialising and keeping my body and mind fresh.

A good work life, a good family life and a good social life. This is the basis.”

 

 

What Then Must We Do?

Following the publication of the first UN World Happiness Report, policy makers in a number of countries have included happiness and wellbeing in policy discussions.

“The most important thing is that each country does attempt to measure the happiness of its people and try to improve it.  I think the power of the World Happiness Report is that it has data for every country and that just raises so many questions in people’s minds, they begin to address the issue of  ‘Why are we so much lower than somewhere else?’ and ‘Is there something we can do about it?'”

Might a focus on the pursuit of happiness simply provide justification for social injustice, individual and political self interest?

“Altruism is incredibly important. I think that part of the happiness movement, including some of the people associated with Positive Psychology do focus far too heavily on helping the individual to pursue their own happiness, whereas, of course, if we are saying that the goal that we want to see is happiness spread across the population, that is absolutely not the way to bring that about.  If each person is seeking their own happiness only, it’s not likely to be a very happy population because we’re so affected by how other people behave toward us.”

Lord Layard argues that society has moved away from times when religious belief or the secular belief in socialism provided the foundation for value systems that included a concept of something greater than oneself and a strong sense of duty to others. Modern society has retained a sense of individual rights but seems to fall short on the other side of the social contract: responsibility to one another.

In the 2016 Update to the World Happiness Report, Layard offers an alternative to the competitive individualism that has replaced faith based values.  He proposes the development and promotion of a set of Secular Ethics based on a return to virtue morality and strength of character.

“I very much believe that we should be trying to create as much happiness in the world, in the way that we live, and especially as little misery.  This is the basic principle behind all detailed moral rules.  But it’s not just moral rules which tell you what you shouldn’t do.  It’s particularly moral rules of what you should do.  You should be going out and creating happiness.  The sins of omission are as important as the sins of commission.”

As for how each individual can make a difference in the world, Layard suggests that each person must assess for themselves how they can best use their skills and personality to bring about these aims.  Each of us can do it differently, he says, whether it is through our work, or the way in which we live in our families and communities.  He notes that it is important that each individual develop inner strength and “a certain emotional disposition to keep at it.”

TTDOG asked Lord Layard to share with readers how he maintains his own resilience:

“One does have to remember that many people are feeling a lot worse than oneself at any point in time. That’s important. But I think equally important is to remember what you’re trying to do. If you’re trying to create more happiness in the world that’s quite an inspiring thing to do and if things are not going very well at the moment in one way or another, including your own efforts not being very successful, I think you should take a slightly heroic view of these things. You can’t expect to win every time.  Feel inspired by whatever you’re trying to do.

I also think that we should all have mechanisms for raising our spirits. When I was in Bhutan I asked one of the high Llamas that I’ve visited 3 times now:  ‘If you want to lift your spirits how do you do it?’ So he taught me. You can almost call it a trick but it works extremely well.  I’m sure every great tennis player has some device for cheering himself up when things are going badly. We all need internal sort of tricks that we can play with our spirits to lift them and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.”

 

Photo: Ashley Batz

Photo: Ashley Batz

 

“Matthieu Ricard talks about ‘unconditional benevolence’ and that we should try to develop within ourselves an unconditional benevolence so that when someone is threatening or doesn’t seem very friendly, we are determined not to react negatively; We are going to reach out to everybody.

Then the question is how can we inspire people to hang on to this principle in all the vicissitudes of life?  I think you can’t do it without associating with other people. You just can’t lead a good life in isolation. You have to be associated with other people who have the same values and remind you of something bigger. And this is what I think that churches do. I think most of us, even if we’re not believers, when we go into a church, feel that there’s something bigger than ourselves and we need institutions that keep reminding us of that.”

 

Photo: Ben Duchac

Photo: Ben Duchac

 

“That’s why we founded Action for Happiness as an organisation where people would meet in groups to discuss the things which really matter, what they were going to do about them, and get some uplift at regular intervals.  And we wrote this course called ‘Exploring What Matters’ to help these groups get started. These groups are now spreading like wildfire in Britain, the Netherlands and Australia and hopefully world wide.”

Action For Happiness is a UK Not for Profit Organisation, founded in 2011 by Lord Richard Layard, Sir Anthony Seldon and Geoff Mulgan. The Director of the organisation is Dr. Mark Williamson and their Patron is His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.  The organisation hosts large gatherings in London, with inspiring guest speakers.  Over 70,000 members in 170 countries have taken a pledge to create as much happiness in the world as they can, and as little misery.

 

 

Policy Implications

Lord Layard argues that individual efforts should be met with policy decisions designed to achieve society-wide happiness. But policy decisions involve tradeoffs.  How might the goal of happiness be used to adjudicate decisions where, for example, two public goods associated with Happiness – Trust and Security – come into conflict?

 

Photo: Tania D. Campbell

Photo: Tania D. Campbell

 

“You’ve raised a difficult issue, the balance between security and liberty.  I think that’s a difficult trade-off and I think that the only way of thinking about where along that spectrum you should strike the balance is in terms of the overall level of happiness of the population.”

TTDOG pointed out that social injustice could result from actions that achieve a high sum total of happiness in a society, but which comes at a high cost for a vulnerable minority.

 

Photo: Tania D. Campbell

Photo: Tania D. Campbell

 

“I certainly don’t think we should judge a society by the sum total of happiness.  I think we should judge it by the overall distribution of happiness and in particular, how many people are below an acceptable level.

In particular, you have to aim to lift the happiness level of people who would otherwise be at an unacceptably low level.  So policy should be concerned with the reduction of misery more than raising the general level of happiness.  It should be concerned with both, but an extra special weight should be given to the reduction of misery.

I think that is the basis for establishing minimum standards and basic rights and all the other values within society that governments and legislators have for protecting, as you say, vulnerable groups.”

The 2016 Update to the World Happiness Report contains a chapter arguing for the importance of addressing issues of inequality in the distribution of happiness within society and for adjusting the concept of inequality to be defined by distribution of happiness, not income.

 

 

 

Happiness and Deprivation

When one looks at Lord Richard Layard’s body of work, policy recommendations based on Happiness may seem very far removed from his early work on poverty.  Scratch the surface, however, and it would appear that he has come full circle with the application of Happiness to a wider concept of deprivation.

“Obviously we should address all problems and I’ve spent most of my life working on poverty and unemployment but if you’re looking at what particular ways people that are least happy differ from other people, certainly a proportion of the least happy people are poor and a proportion are unemployed.   But a hugely greater proportion are people living with a diagnosis: depression or anxiety disorders and that is a fact which has been overlooked when people have developed their concepts of what it is to be deprived.”

 

Photo: Ismael Nieto

Photo: Ismael Nieto

 

“What is deprivation? Deprivation is not just to be deprived of the means of earning a living but it’s to be deprived of the means of enjoying life.  We’ve really got to have a much wider concept of deprivation.”

In his work, Lord Layard found that roughly 1 in 6 people in the UK will be diagnosed with a mental illness. Of the diagnosed population, only a meagre 25% receive any form of treatment and for the most part, this is medication, rather than psychological therapies recommended by  National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

“Can we do as much about mental illness as we can do about poverty or unemployment?  There we again have something which has changed radically over the last 30 years because we’ve developed evidence based psychological therapies which have good success rates, after quite inexpensive interventions. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one, but there are others as well.

Typically, after an average of 9 or 10 sessions with CBT costing, let’s say £1,500 pounds, 50% of the people will cease to have symptoms and will continue in the case of anxiety disorders, to be free of them for the rest of their lives.  If it’s depression, their relapse rates are at least halved as a result of the treatment.”

Layard has authored several papers on mental ill health and co-authored the book Thrive with David M. Clark. With mental ill health costing the UK £60 billion per year in benefits, lost taxes and greater costs of physical care, Layard argues that spending to help the mentally ill to recover and stay well has a net benefit to the economy.

 

Photo: Austin Ban

Photo: Austin Ban

 

Some Psychologists criticise Layard’s Economic analysis as glossing over the complexities of mental illness.  They argue that depression and anxiety are not discrete conditions that can be separated from environmental factors.  Behaviour that presents as depression, for instance may be a normal response to temporary situational factors which resolve naturally, in time.   If these cases are diagnosed as clinical depression, they skew success rates by their resolution.  Further, critics argue that anxiety and depression cannot be treated in isolation, as they are often linked to other conditions like alcohol and drug misuse.

Layard acknowledges the complexity of mental health diagnosis and treatment and maintains that even a non-targeted programme which makes psychological therapies available to the general population has been shown to be successful.  His research resulted in the creation of the Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme.  An initial phase has been successfully completed, and serves as a model for countries around the world.  Layard argues for further expansion.

 

“When you think of what it costs to relieve poverty, you can see that this is a rather cost effective way of raising a person’s wellbeing.”

 

Photo: Morgan Sessions

 

Layard has also co-authored a report, with Judy Dunn:  A Good Childhood: Searching for values in a competitive age.  The report is based on several years of research into problems facing children today, and provides more than 2 dozen recommendations for parents and teachers.

TTDOG asked Lord Layard about the role of prevention, particularly in childhood, in helping to avoid the conditions of misery.

 

Photo: xxxxx

Photo: Tina Floersch

 

“Our first moral duty is of course to help people who are in trouble. It’s absolutely shocking that we don’t have good services available to help every child and young person who has a mental health problem so that’s a number one priority, but then we should be trying to prevent people from getting into that state in the first place.

There’s a range of things that we can do.  We have to help parents to bring up happy children. Antenatal classes should include not just how to care for the child physically, but emotionally. We need to be addressing the issue of perinatal depression in mothers and even in fathers. This is a huge problem in terms of its impact on the children as well.”

 

image

Photo: Sarah Graybeal

 

Layard believes that schools have a vital role to play and argues against educational policy that would produce exam factories.  Academic success – like income – is one of the weakest predictors of life satisfaction.

“I think that it’s really important that we change the goals in schools to include higher in their scale of priorities, the happiness of the children, and the skills which they have for leading happy lives both as children and as adults.

Schools should have a proper wellbeing code, and they should be measuring the wellbeing and happiness of their children, and should be looking at how happy the children are in school. There are many ways in which schools can do this, not just in the way they’re organised in their goals and their ethos, but also teaching life skills in a professional way, which can now be done.”

Lord Layard has promoted the 4 year, adolescent life skills programme, Healthy Minds, and his work has led to universal provision of evidence-based psychological therapies in the treatment of children’s mental health, in the UK.

 

Photo: Danielle MacInnes

Photo: Danielle MacInnes

 

Lord Layard’s vast body of work validates the wisdom of the 5 year old child who understands more than his adult teacher: Our life’s aim really is happiness.

 

TTDOG asked Lord Layard: For what are you most grateful and where do you find your greatest joy? He recounted those things which contribute to his happiness: a good work life, a good family life and a good social life, and went on to add:

 

“Music is very important and an awful lot of people probably have many of their deepest experiences through music, either listening to it, singing it to themselves or playing it.  I play my clarinet to myself at various times and I find that quite inspiring.”

 

 

Photo: Mike Giles

Photo: Mike Giles

 

 

 

 

To learn more about Lord Richard Layard’s work:

 

 

Professor Lord Richard Layard’s LSE Website

Action for Happiness

UN World Happiness Reports

 

Art, Art, Articles, Community, Music, Nature, Oneness, Service

James Wheale and Nomadic Community Gardens – Creating Community through Meanwhile Use

May 2, 2016

High costs and chemical contamination of fresh food is leading more and more individuals to seek to grow at least a portion of their own food, themselves.  But as global populations continue to shift from being rural to city dwellers, gardening can be a challenge.

 

Artwork by Monsù Plin in Nomadic Community Gardens. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Artwork by Monsù Plin in Nomadic Community Gardens. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Urban gardening seeks to fill this void.  Urban gardening is the practice of growing food within a city environment and can involve animal husbandry.  It is a way of mixing urban style and design with nature and can reduce food miles by growing foods local to their use.  Urban gardens help improve biodiversity, reduce urban rainwater runoff and help to mitigate the”heat island” effect caused by the concentration of infrastructure and lack of passageways of cooling air in cities. While most cities are far from the ideal envisioned by forward thinking urban planners, it is possible, with vertical farming, hydroponics, various agricultural technologies, and visionary architectural design, to conceive of a future where cities grow most of what the residents need, within the city confines.  In the meantime, current urban gardens, like those on the High Line in Manhattan, provide relaxing green spaces for residents and revitalise business in the area.

 

Artwork in the Nomadic Community Gardens by Artista

 

Making the most of this growing trend is Nomadic Community Gardens, situated in the heart of the hip East End section of London known as Shoreditch.  Nomadic Community Gardens works with city developers to care for disused urban spaces in a “meanwhile” use as they await planning permission to build.  The space provides a venue for not only gardening but for community gathering of all kinds.  The gardens are called “nomadic” because everything is portable and can be moved to a new location. Beds are built on pallettes to be transportable and to prevent contamination of and by the ground.

 

image

 

On Sunday 1 May, Nomadic Community Gardens celebrated a first birthday.  The joyous celebration comes after several years of hard work to gain land use permission and a year of tenancy in the garden.  The success of the community garden is largely due to the vision and dedication of James (Jimmy) Wheale, co-founder and Director of Nomadic Community Gardens and the next in our series of individuals using their skills to make a difference.

 

James Wheale, co-founder and Director, Nomadic Community Gardens

James Wheale, co-founder and Director, Nomadic Community Gardens.  Art by drzadok.

 

We met with Wheale earlier in the spring to discuss the social enterprise that has brought new life to a disused space off Brick Lane.

 

image

 

“I came across and idea in Berlin, when I was living there several years ago.  It was a meanwhile use of space in an old carpark that they’d gotten the permission to use and so they created a cafe and a garden in a sort of foresty area and I thought: ‘Wow! There’s no reason this kind of thing can’t happen here.'”

image

 

Wheale admits “Continental Europe are light years ahead of us in terms of using space for the meanwhile time period and with a concentration on the creation of communities and the qualitative benefits that they bring to people’s lives,” yet, he was determined to turn his idea into a reality, in London.

When Wheale returned from Berlin, he described the idea to his friend, Junior, who had moved into a flat near to a disused space.  Over the next couple of years,  the two developed a winning proposal for the disused land, and when the land was sold to London Newcastle, they pitched the idea to the new owners.

We’re attempting to act as a conduit between a corporation that finds it difficult to reach communities and the communities who need resources and who need space.  Our project is there to find space and organise it so that communities can make use of it and if local authorities support what we’re doing it becomes more attractive to development companies who are trying to get permission from local authorities to do developments.   If they can subside something in the meantime it almost offsets the damage that can happen in development.”

 

image

 

“Luckily for us,” Wheale says “their leadership has vision and believes in social responsibility and so they allowed it.”

London Newcastle quickly gave approval and although the team hoped to have access to the space in February 2015, in order to prepare the land for the growing season, they only gained access in May.  This meant that there was a tremendous push to get garden beds ready for the remainder of the growing season.  Fortunately, they built over 100 beds, and because of the position of the garden between two railway lines, without overshadowing buildings, the conditions were perfect for growing vegetables.  In a densely occupied city like London, Wheale notes, this “breadth of horizon is unheard of.”  With such a great deal of sunlight, the vegetables grew quickly in the first season and gave the residents the boost they needed to their enthusiasm for urban gardening.

 

image

 

The space was initially leased to Nomadic Community Gardens, to act as caretakers, on an initial 6 month lease.   Wheale admits that he couldn’t demonstrate to the owners that he had done this sort of work before and that the plan would work, and he credits London Newcastle for their faith in the team.

“They took a real chance on us,” he says.

The lease has now been renewed, but the garden could be given 2 months notice, at any time, to vacate the space.  

“But, you know, that’s part of the deal,” he adds.

In anticipation of this, Wheale has been talking with other landowners about taking the garden elsewhere, when London Newcastle begins to develop the land.  Wheale explains that the intent of the project has never been to reclaim land from development but to make use of the resources, for the community, in the meantime.

Beds in the garden are free to residents and the garden is self supporting through the hosting of events that generate a minimal income to cover basic running expenses.  Wheale hopes that in future gardens, development companies could subsidize start up costs to allow gardens to focus on being self sustaining once they are operating.  In this way, the garden does not need to apply for funds from limited charity funding sources.

“Obviously we’ll never be earning big bucks,” Wheale says “but it doesn’t need it.”  

For the Shoreditch Nomadic Gardens, Wheale used in his own savings for start up costs to get the ball rolling.  Some of his investment has been repaid, though he admits that not all of it has.

“The boss always gets paid last,” he says, smiling.

 

image

 

At present, the garden is tended by volunteers, but Wheale has plans to pay certain key roles in the garden and if the garden concept spreads to other areas, he hopes to be able to provide employment opportunities, training and skills development along with community garden resources.

 

image

 

Wheale has a degree in Cultural Studies and has developed an eclectic set of skills.  He worked in construction, and gained problem solving skills and determination in his time in the theatre industry. He has managed bars, where he learned to create ambiance and to nurture the social relationships of a community.  Wheale also has prior experience with organic gardening.  He argues that bringing vegetation into the urban environment is important for increasing biodiversity, and allows wildlife to flourish.  The gardens also provide habitat for bees, which are currently under threat in many countries.

Vegetation, Wheale says, “softens the urban environment so you’re not always facing hard, impenetrable surfaces and there is a sort of therapeutic and health benefit to vegetative life, whether it’s just walking around it or growing it and tending to it and reaping rewards from it.”

image

 

Whilst Wheale likes the idea of offsetting carbon emissions with more vegetation, his main reason for creating the garden, was the social aspect and potential to improve urban quality of life.

 

image

 

“One of the most important things for people is quality of life.  We are the sum of our relationships, and I saw that spaces in cities were being restricted with austerity measures and space is really where we get to build those relationships.  Creating a community garden I thought was important, with the idea of growing vegetables because I felt that was a universal language that would create more cohesion as they all share in an activity.  And that grew into trying to meet the more diverse needs of people in the community.”

 

image

 

In our trips to the garden, TTDOG experienced the great ambience of camaraderie and community.  Friendships have been established and grown through the experience of being a part of the community garden.  TTDOG asked Wheale how community became so important to him.

“It really came from my studies.  It opened my eyes to the way society is structured and the way that structure affects people’s experiences, and I think that there is something to be said for support networks.  We need to feel like people are caring for us and know our name.  Anonymity is a really dangerous kind of experience to fall into and the way that society is organised and the way it atomises people not only affects their quality of life but also means that they’re under a level of consciousness that isn’t really benefitting them.  They’re sort of really propping up something that is benefitting out of them.”

 

image

 

The garden has a wide reach through what Wheale calls various “spheres of influence” from the sphere of the immediate community that tends to their beds to the wider community that comes to the garden for workshops and social events to an even wider sphere of tourists who visit the garden and take ideas back to their own communities. And, because they have so much manpower and materials now, the team at the garden has been able to help other community projects, building beds for other gardens, and hosting workshops for other community gardens.

Nomadic Community Gardens currently hosts skills training in pallete furniture building, pallets bed building and basic DIY skills. There is also knowledge sharing in gardening.

Individuals experience a sense of satisfaction from the relaxed atmosphere and previously frictious relations between different communities have been eased and bridges built between members of these communities who have come together in the garden.

 

image

There are cafes in the garden and market stalls can be established to accommodate people’s enterprise.

image

 

The garden plays host to street artists who paint the walls with beautiful murals, musicians who jam on music nights and interactive theatre events.

 

image

Art by Fanakapan provides a backdrop for an impromptu market stall in the garden

 

TTDOG wondered how the community might respond when the landlord chooses to develop the land, removing this wonderful oasis for gathering, learning, sharing and gardening.  Wheale philosophised that there may be a saturation point for community resources, when their impact begins to ebb.  This may be because people have had the benefit of it, learned the skills they wanted to learn, or the limit is reached in terms of the number of beds.  At that point, the garden can become more exclusionary than inclusionary and moving to a new location allows a new community to reap the benefits of the life cycle of the public space.

And, when there is a void that is left behind, this can create the impetus for the community, who has had the benefit of the space, to create it for themselves.  His hope is that this can create a kind of community activism to rejuvenate and develop their own public spaces.

 

image

 

TTDOG asked Wheale’s advice on creating a community garden using meantime use:

“Come to me and I’ll give you the lowdown.  I underestimated what it was going to take to get this project off the ground.  There is a whole world of stuff that you have to do from writing literature that inspires people to having the practical knowledge of how to build things to the social knowledge of how to manage relationships, create and hold space and see yourself as the gatekeeper and not the possessor, how to relinquish control and allow stuff to happen organically, and, how to have discipline to turn up and work and inspire.  One of the things is also creating the relationships with the PLCs and have them believe in you.  You have to come with a proper proposal and a plan and some sort of strategy.

It’s no mean feat.  You need to have a bit of self confidence and self love, because there’s been so many times when you think:  ‘Should I just walk away?'”

Wheale looks around at what he and his team have created, and continues:

“It’s not an easy task and it looks great because it’s come through the really hard work of people that believe in it.  But the only way to have more of these gardens is if the communities run them, themselves.  I’d like to provide consultancy and maybe have some sort of a manual and some Youtube videos.”

 

image

 

“You’ve got to be the change you want to see in the world.  One of the beauties of consciousness is that you can learn by doing.  You don’t have to necessarily know how to do, before you do.  There needs to be a certain conviction and a direction of purposeful intention that you go towards a goal and stick with it.  Appreciate the down times and have gratitude for when it’s all coming together.  You just have to start and you’ll find your way.  And you may have a couple of false starts but it’s about the personal journey.

We’re all destined for greatness as long as we tread that road.”

 

image

 

As is our practice at TTDOG, we asked Wheale:

For what are you grateful and where do you find your greatest joy?

 

“I’m grateful for the experience to experience life. We are eternal spirits that have entered a soul to experience this space time.  And I’m grateful for the tools that I have to experience it.  I’m just happy to try to make the most use of them as I can in my lifetime and hopefully encourage others to live to the maximum of our potential and the fullness of our being.”

 

James Wheale, enjoying the community gathering at Nomadic Community Gardens’ 1st Anniversary Party

 

“My greatest joy is in that experience: the emotions that come from the sensory communications that we have in our life.  As much joy as I can feast myself on, really.  And not without sadness.  I think sadness is as valid an emotion as joy and happiness is.  You need to sit with your pain and work through your demons and I think that everybody has insecurities and everyone has something traumatic happen to them and those are the two defining experiences of our lives, and those are the important things to work on.  

Once you work on those, the door is open for more joy.”

 

Nomadic Community Gardens is located off Brick Lane and is open Monday – Sunday 10 am to 10 pm.  The garden hosts special events and workshops daily. Meeting of Styles UK will hold a major event on the UK bank holiday 27, 28, 29th in the garden with dozens of artists gathering in an annual Paint Jam. The public is welcome to come and watch live painting, enjoy food, music and drinks in a relaxed community setting.

 

image

Meeting of Styles wall organised by artist Jim Vision and End of The Line. Various artists are represented.

 

For other events, and to follow Nomadic Community Gardens or to contact James Wheale, click the links to be directed to the Facebook page, Twitter account, or Website.