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Gratitude

Gratitude, Ten Thousand Days

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 401 – 407)

September 30, 2015

Photo: Paul Green

I flew to Vancouver, this week. In fact, I decided to go, booked my ticket, packed and flew in about 4 days.  I make the trip 3 or 4 times a year so you would think,that a 10 hour flight and 8 hour time difference would be nothing.  You would be mistaken.

The trip to Vancouver is the easy part. I warn you – there will be a lot of sleepless nights in London, on the other side of this trip!  But for now, it is okay.  The sun is out, and I have seen both sisters, my folks, my aunt in hospital, attended a concert and even Got to see an old friend already.  It is hard to believe that this week started out in London, interviewing an interesting new art collective, Food of Warin London and ended in an old Commonwealth outpost, For Langley, over a cup of tea.  Life feels busy but I feel a bit like a scrambled egg.

I am grateful that I arrived safely and despite getting ill after being awake for 24 hours on 1.5 hours sleep the previous night, I am still standing and moving! I am grateful I got to see my Dad and sister, who both have health issues that worry me, when I am far away. And, I am grateful that I had time to visit my aunty Lilly in hospital after her recent stroke.

It was an absolute joy to hear Jesse Cook and his band play, on Monday night.  I am grateful that I managed to get one of the few remaining tickets, for the show.  If you’ve been following me on an old blog for the first year of gratitude practice, then you will know that he is special to me.  I would have to say that my moment of Oneness was not found in being squished by a broad-shouldered neighbour on the plane until our shoulders became one. Nope, it was better! For the second encore, Jesse played Fall at Your Feet and the entire audience sang the chorus softly back to the band.  It was beautiful. I can only hope it was as moving for the band as it was for me.

And finally, while my whole trip includes an element of service, I would say that I am grateful that my work schedule here is flexible and that has allowed me to visit my aunt in hospital 3 times.  I am single and childless, and her situation as a childless widow is also my greatest fear. I am grateful that for even just 10-15 minutes a day, I was able to be there, for her.

And so, it only remains for me to ask you….

 

 

For what are You most grateful, this week?
Articles, Gratitude, Music, Oneness

Centre Stage: Dan Shears & The Velveteen Orkestra

September 9, 2015
Dan Shears featured on Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude.com

Dan Shears & The Velveteen Orkestra (Photo by: Plainview Media)

“While weaving tales of love, heartache and fantasy in his intensely dark and mystical style, Dan Shears is proving himself to be one of London’s more interesting and captivating artists…”

(www.danshearsmusic.com)

I first encountered Dan Shears in 2012 at Union Chapel. He was opening for another folk singer, Charlene Soraia.  Charlene was riding a wave of popularity following a successful commercial campaign for Twinnings tea which used her cover of The Calling’s song “Wherever You Will Go.”

When Dan took the stage, the room fell into an awed hush as our senses were captivated and our hearts were lost.   His bio describes his sound:

 

“Beautiful, flowing vocal melodies, with lyrics that bring to mind carnivalesque lullabies written by a much older soul, cascade over delicate and intricate guitar work and songs so immersed in passion and pathos that they’re sure to haunt the memory long after the first listen…”

Dan Shears has played gigs throughout the UK and Europe and has garnered himself a loyal following.  Quirky, witty and waif-like, his angelic voice floats through dark lyric and complex melodies causing audiences to swoon as he sings of longing, loss and revenge.  Sometimes playing solo, often accompanied by Megan Affonso’s enigmatic harmonies and cello, and by Sarah Boughton on the violin, the sweeping orchestral richness of his sound is fully realized when the full Velveteen Orkestra takes the stage.

 

This evening, London will be treated to such an event at the Karamel Club (Chocolate Factory, 2 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London N22 6UJ ) as part of a Pledge Music event.  I caught up with Dan about tonight’s gig and his upcoming first album, Shadow & Whimsy and asked him about the process of crowd funding his first album.

 

You’ve had a really great crowd funding campaign!

I was very nervous about launching a crowd funding campaign in the beginning.  There is a real risk that you could look really silly in public if you don’t get the interest you were hoping for.  When we launched and people started pledging and sharing the campaign online, I was thrilled but also a little relieved.  We reached our target 2 weeks before the deadline which was great, because now it means we can continue running the campaign right up until we release our album.  It is wonderful to have had so much interest but most importantly, I am so excited to get the album finished and hear it complete, all the way through for the first time. 

 

You’re headlining tonight at the Karamel Club as a result of that campaign – Can you tell us more about that?

I think it’s more to do with us having more band members than the other acts, if I’m honest.  There are other people playing who seem on far more people’s radar.  I certainly won’t get carried away by the fact that we’re playing last, it’s just nice to have been invited to play off the back of our PledgeMusic campaign.  We’ll put on a good show and hopefully let a few more people know about us. 

I understand you’ve had a challenging journey to get this album made?

Actually, since we began making this album, it has been a joy.  The lead up was hard though.  Our third EP was recorded and pretty much complete but then was lost.  A great deal of time and energy was spent trying to get it back but to no avail.  It got to a point where I considered knocking music on the head and just spending my spare time going to watch my football team instead… perhaps if Millwall had been having a better season at the time, things might have turned out differently.  After all that time we decided to draw a line under the music that we lost, put a load of new songs together and make our first album.  Although it has taken a while, making this album has felt very liberating and has definitely brought us together even more, not only as a band, but as a group of friends.

 

How does the new album differ from your previous EPs? 

The new album (Shadow & Whimsy) is heavier than the previous EPs but there are still a lot of elements that have remained in our music.  We are always influenced by European folk music and Americana but with some of these new songs, we have added a bit more bite that I guess is reminiscent of bands we love like Queens of the Stone Age and Masters of Reality.  The horrible situation with the lost third EP bred a lot of anger and frustration, so some of the new songs started to come out a lot more aggressive.  We have really tried to use the instruments to add drama and paint pictures.  The strings and brass instruments add a real elegance in songs like ‘Pound of Flesh’ and ‘Waltz in Viscera’ but there are also songs such as ‘Hook in Your Head’ and ‘The Bloody Anthem’ where they sound like a horror soundtrack.  The last 45 seconds of ‘The Bloody Anthem’ sounds like a thumping gypsy dance around the roaring fires of hell.

 

 

That sounds amazing! I’m curious to know more about the band and how you chose the name? 

Quite a lot of things about our band are juxtaposed.  Musically, artistically and sonically we are both: – elegant yet unrefined; noble yet savage; pompous yet inferior.  We have a sound that some might consider to be nodding towards the baroque composers, yet we do it with a degree of venom and snarl that somewhat tarnishes or humbles that ornate, gilded beauty.  Our lost EP was going to be titled ‘The Street Urchin Opera’ which was kind of leaning on the same theme.  Velveteen is a very cheap material made to look like something very expensive and luxurious so we thought it was a good way of describing a group of penniless musicians playing passionate, operatic music.  The album title of  “Shadow & Whimsy” is another reference to those opposed themes.

 

How did you first get into music, Dan?  Mandolin is rather unusual – How did that come about? 

Joining a band was always something I wanted to do even when I was very young.  I sang in my first band at school when I was 12 just doing Beatles and Kinks songs.  I began teaching myself the guitar soon after that and began writing songs as soon as I could put a few chords together.  Writing songs was always the goal, right from the beginning.  I think I was always drawn towards those dark, melancholic folk sounds but it took a lot of time to actually discover that was the case and where I could find that kind of stuff.  When I began finding out more about the folk music that I liked from various parts of the world, I realised that the mandolin was quite often used so I bought one and decided the learn.  If you can play the guitar then it’s not a difficult transition to the mandolin.

What is your writing process and your inspiration for the haunting melodies and lyrics that are a Dan Shears signature?  What part does the Velveteen Orkestra play in the writing process?

I can’t really be mechanical when it comes to writing, I could never force a song out of me.  Sometimes a song will be complete all but for the lyrics for months before it gets finished.  Suddenly the melodies and word spaces that I’ve been “humm”-ing or “la la”-ing for several months, will align with each other and the words come.  I want people to form a relationship with our music in the same way that I have with my favourite artists.  For me, a compelling melody is your first line of communication. Your melody is like your first kiss with your listener and your lyrics are the warm embrace and the flutter in the heart that says they want keep you in their life.  The Velveteen Orkestra is wonderful at enhancing the aesthetic of the songs.  Illuminating the mood and imagery that emanates from the lyrics or the chords.

 

Well, you’ve certainly fluttered the heart of this fan!  Your lyrics are rather dark.  Should we be worried about you, Dan?  Worried about those who live with you? 

You should all be worried… I’m coming for each and every one of you haha.  I’ve always been drawn towards art that is darker in nature.  I wrestle with the darker thoughts that reveal themselves in my head and exorcise them by putting them on the page rather than letting them fuel anything destructive.  I find being onstage, quite liberating as well.  I share things in songs, I’d be far less inclined to share in life.  I can be a me that I’m a little frightened of being out in the world.

 

Are there any other collaborations in which you are engaged and any other media in which you’d like to work that you haven’t yet?  Why does that interest you?

I have sung vocals on an album with Woody Woodgate from Madness which has been my main collaboration in recent times.  Woody used to teach at my school when I was doing A-Levels so we’ve known each other for a long time.  I hadn’t spoken to him since I left school however, so I dropped him a message one day and he said how spooky it was because he was actually trying to find me so he could ask if I would sing on his album.  Charlene (Soraia) and I have talked about maybe doing a duet one day, that might be fun.  I would envisage it to be something similar to that song Nick Cave did with Kylie.

 I would very much like to get involved in film.  Our music kind of veers towards the cinematic so I think it would be great to get involved with a film project.  A song from the new album is being used in a film over here but it would be great to try and compose some music especially for a film.

Your Pledge Music campaign is still running and there are all sorts of goodies and special offers including a pre-order of your new album, Shadow & Whimsy.  Where can people find those offers ?

Yes!  I have done a little video appeal you’re welcome to share and people can find the album pre-order and other offers at my Pledge Music site:

 

http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/shadowandwhimsy

Can we give the readers a little sample of your music?

Sure, our video for ‘Dressed Up in Sables’ from Shadow & Whimsy is still in editing but will be out soon.  We have a video by Plainview Media of our song ‘The Rest is Silence’ from our first EP, The Eternal Mystery of the Human Heart.  It is softer than our current album but it will give you a flavour of our sound.

 

Where can people follow you?

Everything is under Dan Shears music – that’s Shears like the shears you cut with, because nothing says Rock n Roll like gardening equipment. 

 

Facebook:  www.facebook.com/danshearsmusic

Website:  www.danshearsmusic.com

Twitter:  @danshearsmusic

 

And my final question for you, Dan is this – For what are you most grateful, in this moment?

I am most grateful for my family.

Articles, Chronic Illness, Gratitude

On Gratitude and Chronic Illness

August 27, 2015
Photo: Andrew Phillips

Photo: Andrew Phillips

I have decided to write this in response to an article by Toni Bernhard in the Buddhist magazine Tricycle: 12 Things You Should Never Say to the Sick

Unless we are enlightened beings, there can be no happiness without first experiencing and accepting our suffering.

Unless we are newborns, we will have had experiences of loss, abandonment, despair and suffering.  Unless we are able to feel those feelings and move through them, they will become repressed, possibly lead to somatic illness and will at the very least, get locked away in a part of our hearts that is no longer available for other emotions, like love and joy.  We must be able to suffer our pain in order to celebrate our joy.  There is no escaping it.  Trying to push someone past their pain and trying to cheer them up with positivity short circuits that process.  It is often not even for their benefit, but out of our own discomfort with the spectre of empathy, and the personal pain that might be triggered, that we do this.  I am pretty sure that I have been guilty of this same behaviour from time to time but it only serves to alienate the other person from me.

I think about this in relation to chronic illness. There is stigma around incurable conditions and so, when I approached my “someone” about talking to me for this article, she asked not to be identified.  This, however, is what she had to say, on the subject:

“I have been suffering a setback for the past week and simultaneously, am in denial.  It doesn’t help that some people closest to me have been feeding my denial for over a year.  I understand that their intentions were to keep me positive, but the thing about denial is that unless the thing you’re denying turns out not to exist, you eventually have a rude awakening at some point.

I am awakening to the reality that after a year, I am not cured.  I’ve had a good year.  I’ve been productive, I’ve become happier despite my situation, I’ve accomplished milestones and I have plans and a purpose for the future.  But I am not healed, I am not ‘recovered’ and I am not cured.  And, with this knowledge, I need to take on a major challenge.

I am facing the need to return to employment. I have a job offer.  The problem is that it requires a huge relocation.  I’m not sure a relocation would be the best thing for me right now.  I’m not sure my employer ‘gets’ my capabilities and needs.  And, I’m not really sure I understand my own capabilities anymore.  The other night, I was having a bad day of chronic illness symptoms and I did an unwise thing:  I read the Wikipedia entry on this illness.  The prognosis is poor.  The success with return to work is poor.  The amount of adverse impact on an individual’s life and the emotional stress of this illness is higher than any other chronic illness.  Great.  Just what I needed to hear (not).

When asked what impact reading this dismal view of her future had on her, she replied:

Intellectually, I know these statistics but I have chosen to ignore them.  You might say it is denial.  (And, of course, you would be right) I chose to call it positive thinking.  And, to be fair, I seem to be functioning at a much higher level than many people with this illness.  But, that doesn’t mean that I am not aware of how much my life has changed.  I met a fellow recently, who has unbounded energy.  I used to be like that.  I remember my yoga teachers asking what my secret was.  They wanted to bottle it and sell it.  I certainly don’t have that energy any more.  He’s a lovely fellow and so full of life and he has held a mirror up to me and I struggle with the image I see – of not being that person I was – anymore.

I have always been an over achiever – give me anything to do and I will learn to do it and I will learn to do it well.  I will put everything into it.  I went to an ivy league school and came out with other ivy leaguers among the top 1/3 of the class.  I have moved, shaked, travelled, done and accomplished a thousand things.

And I am not that person anymore.

Who am I?

I have been asking myself that question a lot lately. It is certainly not a question one expects to be asking at this age. Okay – midlife crisis aside.  But this is not a midlife crisis.  It happens to be a crisis that has occurred at midlife.  I don’t know what my capabilities are, anymore.  The main thing associated with my illness is an overwhelming fatigue that rest cannot assuage.  But it is so much more than fatigue.  There can be pain, dizziness, body system dysregulation, immune system failure, and cognitive impairment, among other symptoms.

I don’t know what of all of that is mine to keep.  And depending on that – I don’t know what my capabilities are, in this world.

I am afraid of trying, of getting back out there – and failing.

I have enjoyed having this time away from everyone.  It has allowed me to rest, to retrieve those things like art, music, writing and photography (and lately, meditation and yoga) that bring me joy.   It is also, at this moment, allowing me the space to figure out who I am in this changed physical body and who I want to be, in the future.  But in that process, there is a lot of grief over the person who is no more.  It is like I’ve lost my spouse and I have to learn to go on with my life, with half of me gone.

I am in mourning.

And just as we would not say to a widow:  “Oh don’t worry, you’ll get over it, I did,” it is equally less helpful to tell anyone the same thing about an illness that fundamentally changes the way we must engage with the world and leaves us essentially isolated when we are ill.

I asked what friends and family could do to help her feel less isolated:

They could educate themselves and not place the entire burden on me to always explain myself.  I haven’t the energy to keep explaining and educating others, let alone justifying my treatment or life choices.  I need to preserve my energy for daily living and getting the most I can out of life.  I need to be able to be assertive with my needs and I am happy to offer an initial resource but we don’t expect a cancer patient or a paraplygic to keep explaining their condition.  We should not expect this from those with chronic illness – even those that are ‘invisible’  and unpredictable, like mine – to do so.  

On the nature of an invisible and unpredictable illness:

People think that because fatigue is a key symptom of this illness, they know how I feel. Everyone is tired. But this trivialises the debilitating nature of our fatigue. This illness is not tiredness, exhaustion or burnout.  Those alone go away with enough time and rest.  Tiredness is just a symptom of my illness.  And, I think a lot of doctors use the label of this illness when people present with chronic tiredness and do not have any other physical cause like low iron or thyroid issues.  There is no definitive test but Universities in California have found that there is a distict difference in the brain of those with this illness – particularly in our white matter.  When I read about that, I wondered whether I would rather know or not know what my brain looks like and what that says for my prognosis.

But, misdiagnosis leads to further misunderstanding of the illness.  Those who ‘recover completely’ probably never had it in the first place.  The prognosis for this illness is that it is chronic.  One does not recover.  One ‘manages’ and one works to improve dramatically impaired levels of functioning.  Nobody ever ‘recovers.’

I spent the last year in denial about that – hoping that I would find that the diagnosis was wrong.  I hoped that with enough rest, I would also be jumping around claiming to be completely recovered.  A year on, I can’t say that.  And that causes me grief.

On how she sees herself returning to her professional career:

I won’t return to working 36 hour days and to the levels of stress I was under.  I won’t return to that.  Who would want to? But, I may never return to full time employment.    I do need to bring in an income.  I am going to have to find a way to earn a living as a single woman on a part time salary.  How I will do that is something I don’t know.  And that scares me.

And for the first time in the time since I left employment, I must face this hurdle and it is daunting.

And so, after a year of denial and isolation,  I’m scared.  I am frustrated and angry, I am saddened, I am still bargaining my diagnosis but I can see I need to move to acceptance and to mapping out a new and changed life.

Nobody is where they thought they would be.  I never thought I would be here.”

Photo: Tania D Campbell

Photo: Tania D Campbell

 

One of the things I hope that I can do with my book on gratitude is to provide it to people suffering from debilitating chronic illness.  It would be worse than useless if I wasn’t honest about the down times, the sacrifices and how difficult accepting and coping with illness is – especially given that there exists so much misunderstanding and judgement around it anyway.

What people never really understand is the shame of being unwell in a culture obsessed with wellness.  And, every time someone tries to cheer up a person with chronic illness with talk of how they or their friend or their second cousin once removed managed to recover from this illness, it compounds the shame and the guilt of not being able to heal oneself and get well.

Like the article in Tricycle advises, if you love someone with a chronic illness, don’t advise them on treatment, don’t cheer them up, don’t tell them they look wonderful and force them to correct you by telling you they actually feel awful.  I would add that this would force them to explain how many days of rest they had to trade for this moment ‘out’ or what they’ve had to sacrifice that you might simply take for granted, in order to look good and be out.

Just let them be who they are because they are struggling to know and to accept who they are – now.

The positive talk in the head of a person with chronic illness needs to come from them, from their appreciation of life and of what blessings they still have, despite their limitations.  So, Please don’t tell them to be grateful for what they have – it only serves to highlight what is lost.

When asked about gratitude, our sufferer had this to say:

“I am grateful that I have had more therapy than Woody Allen and I continue to have support because that foundation has given me the ability to be self reflective and given me the tools to cope with whatever I discover about myself.  

I am grateful that I have my gratitude practice to keep me positive and I am grateful that I can still be creative.  I know that I am blessed with the opportunity to redefine myself, even if it is due to illness.  And, in the passage of time and in acceptance of what has been lost, I will come to appreciate what is to be gained in this experience.

I am not there, yet.

And that’s okay.” 

 

 

Art, Articles, Community, Gratitude, Milestone, Music, Oneness

Celebrating 365 Days of Gratitude

August 16, 2015

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For those who could not attend Sunday’s milestone celebration of reaching 365 Days of Gratitude….

I am not one for big speeches but I wanted to just take a moment to thank you all for marking with me the passage of a milestone of 365 days of Gratitude practice. Well that’s Actually a year of Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service.

I realise that some of you have followed me on Facebook some have followed my blog and some had no idea I was doing this at all. It really wasn’t something I set out a year ago to do but as is the nature of the process, it kind of snowballed.

What began as a Facebook meme to post 3 things daily for which I am grateful quickly became a daily practice of appreciating 3 good things and noticing moments of joy. I felt the positive effects of the practice quickly and soon added a component of daily service and a daily practice of nurturing empathy, connection, compassion, awe and purpose.  What started as a 7 days commitment snowballed into 21 days, a month, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months and now…a year of Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service.

And while we celebrate this milestone of a year, I am happy – and a little scared – to commit today to Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude practice and to continue to write about it. For you keen mathematicians and accountants here today, you will already have calculated that by the time I reach that milestone I will be more than 27 years old….er. 27.2 to be exact.  If I am still around at that point, I will renew my vows, then.

You might wonder why I am making such a big commitment…well, it’s simple… After studying to write drama and fiction, I quit writing stories several years ago because I just couldn’t find my way to writing a happy ending.  Writing about gratitude (and joy, oneness and service) has given me both the experience of and the ability to write about happiness.  I think those who have been on the whole journey will agree that I have blossomed and I intend to see it through to the end.

I have already written a year’s worth of gratitude journals and observations on the practice and now it’s time to focus on shaping that into a book. I am also launching a new web magazine Ten ThousandDaysofGratitude.com and I am working to find a way to use my skills to work with the UK charity Action For Happiness.

My wish, if I can put it out there, is that others will pick up the practices and this will spread. So please, do spread the website far and wide.

I want to thank Ruth from Canvas café for giving us this space, Street Art curator, Greg Key (Instagram: @speckles76) for leading our lively street art tour, Dan Shears for providing us with some of his music, Luke Harvest for his work on setting up the website, C Michael Frey for the logo design, Faith Amy Romeo and Natasha Westover for being gratitude wall guardians, Debbie Heath for the original 7 day Facebook challenge, Paula Montgomery for prompting me to add Joy, all the street artists of London for the beautiful art that gave me so much joy, and Louis Masai for agreeing to be my first interview on my focus for the year ahead – Service. It hasn’t happened yet so watch for it in upcoming posts.  A big thank you to all my readers here and overseas.

And of course I want to thank You all for being a part of my life. You have each been a part of my daily practice. Without you, I wouldn’t have much to say.

So, here’s to you. Thank you.

 

 

A Street Art Walk in Celebration of all the Street Art of London that has been part of the Joy of this year!

Greg Key, Street Art Exhibition Curator and Photographer took us around today and highlighted some of the works that have meant so much to me over the last year.  Greg has been one of my street art mentors this year, helping me to get to know which artist is associated with which works and to find the works I’d like to see.

After a career in the entertainment business and in hospitality, Greg’s passions for modern art and particularly street art have created the hottest new curator on the London Art scene.  He is curating his first show, “Underhand,” in London, opening 10 September, with a dazzling array of some of the finest talent on the London Streets today being represented.  Check out the show:

“Underhand”
(10-21 September)
BSMT Space
5 Stoke Newington Road
N16 8BH

Follow Greg on instagram: www.instagram.com/speckles76

 

1. Louis Masai (paint)

Louis paints about endangered species, he says, in order create awareness for beings without a voice.

Louis went on to art college in Cornwall and was rather discouraged by his teachers not to pursue art as a way to make a living.  In 2010 he moved to London where he has proved them wrong. While Louis does not like the image that the term ‘street art’ conjures and prefers to think of outdoor art as public art, his outdoor paintings in London, and particularly his campaign to save the bees (with Jim Vision) led to massive exposure of his work through social media.  Since 2010 he has had at least 3 solo shows in London and has been included in several group shows.  He continues to paint a combination of indoor and outdoor pieces with a focus on animals, giving them a human trait as human beings like to anthropomorphise animals.

  Personally: Louis Masai holds a special place in my heart.  In the midst of the first few days after leaving work, a friend posted an article about Louis.  My friend and I are both champions of environmental issues and both have a special interest in water.  I was aware of the dangers facing the honey bee, but seeing Louis work made me take street art a little more seriously than I had done.  I started following him and his work to find that he not only was concerned with the bee but also with endangered species and biodiversity loss.  Louis has worked with activists like the IUCN on the RED Endangered Species List to raise awareness through his paintings and of course he and Jim Vision created the whole bee project and worked with beekeepers, honey users in manufacturing things like candles, honey, beer and with seed companies who provided seeds that were distributed where he painted in order to help the public re-conceptualize where and how to plant seeds to protect the bee habitats.  Louis doesn’t really sit comfortably with the idea of being an activist per se.  The intersections between art and music are another area that interests him.   He considers himself an artist, but does recognize that his paintings and his visual language have a power to raise awareness and make people engage emotionally with the issues and he does make visits to schools to talk to young people about art, the environment and about music.  When it became clear to me that my friend’s mother was unwell, I made it a mission to find whatever murals still remained of Louis’ bees.  I contacted Greg here on instagram and asked the location of the murals.  I wanted to send some cheer in a very dark time to my friend.  Greg kindly offered to show them to me but given the reason why I was photographing them, I decided to go alone.  I didn’t know how serious the illness was and within hours of sending the photos, my friend’s mother passed away.  So Louis (and also, Greg) will always be a part of that tender moment. Later, I had the good fortune to be able to attend a solo show of Louis’ and I found what I already knew would be the case – a passionate, purposeful and open hearted soul with a heart breaking sensitivity to the decline in biodiversity and loss of species that is accelerating around us today.   That night,  I bought my first piece of street art as a gift to myself for my birthday.  It really was quite accessible for a painting.  Of course, it was a bee.  And I plan to buy more and support his work in the future. Follow Louis online: www.louismasai.com Follow Louis on Instagram: www.instagram.com/louismasai Follow Louis on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/louismasaimichel?fref=ts       2. Anna Laurini (paint, paintedpaste up) Anna Laurini, is an Italian painter from the abstract expressionist school who works in acrylic,collage and mixed media.  On the street her paintingsreflect a cubist style.  Her work ranges from cubist to non-representational expressionist and touches on a kind ofneo-plasticsm with abstract and vibrant geometric shapes.  Shehas been painting for more than 20 years.  She  has studied at Central Saint Martins in London and at the Art Student League in New York City and the F.I.T. in New York.  In case you’re wondering that is the Fashion Institute of Technology. For that past 10 years, she has lived and worked between London, Milan, and New York City.

  Personally: Our paths have criss-crossed for those 20 years but we only met this year.  She is Italian, as I said, but she lived in New York around the same time I did in the mid to late 1990s.  She moved to London about ten years ago and her paintings have been sold in London, New York, Australia, I asked her why she paints on the streets and she told me it was for fun and also because of the same experience I’ve mentioned from the other artists – it gets exposure.  Her street paintings currently feature the face of a woman and a man – although she has told me that if you prefer, you can see in them two women or two men.  She uses the faces and the couple because they are very quick to paint on the street and as I’m coming to understand, all artists seem to have a character that is associated with them and is in a way – their brand – though this she did not tell me, I’m just figuring this out. When I first saw her faces, I fell in love with them.  There is something very different about these pieces to the rest of the paste ups or paintings on the street.  They’re cheerful.  She must have hit the area I was walking hard because when I first noticed her faces, I suddenly saw three in one day and I was on a mission to find out who painted them.  I was certain the person behind the faces was a very interesting person, indeed.  Anna often adds the text that inspires the painting to her works – sometimes it is a quote from a philosopher and sometimes it is a song.  To me, the reason I love her paintings are that they are so vibrant and positive – something that isn’t popular in art but I think should be – her work enlivens my spirit while making me think.  You can’t get better than that as a result, from a piece of art. A sample of Anna’s paintings:  http://www.saatchiart.com/annalaurini Follow Anna on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/anna-laurini/45169637820 Follow Anna on Instagram: www.instagram.com/annalauriniblue         3. ALO (painting, hand painted paste up) The Saatchi gallery, where ALO had a solo show in 2014 describes ALO this way:

“ALO is an Italian artist based in London. His first works appeared in the streets of Perugia, Rome and Milan. Subsequently, the artist expanded his practice to include works on canvas and found materials as well as continuing to install works on walls in London, Paris, Berlin and elsewhere in Europe. The artist describes his style as ‘Urban Expressionism’.”

As mentioned, ALO was the focus of a solo exhibition, Hail to the Loser, at the Saatchi Gallery last year.

 

 

Personally:

I had taken a street art tour in 2010 and I learned some of the main artists around at that time who Greg may show you today – names like Stik, Cityzenkane, and JimmyC.  I remembered being delighted to see JimmyC paint while we were walking around Shoreditch and so when I decided to go out and find something to shoot for my new Instagram account last year, I set out to find a JimmyC painting.  Across the street was this very interesting paste up of a person that drew me from across the road.

The piece struck me as conveying the angst and energy of German expressionism between the wars with a very modern feel.  I looked all around it because his pieces often have words embedded as part of the art as if jar and force the viewer out of any intimate engagement with the representational form and designed to make you think about the image, rather than simply feel it.  At least that’s what it does for me.

I remember looking at the writing on the side and thinking AILO?  What is AILO?  I didn’t realise it was ALO but it was one of the first pieces I posted in an attempt to identify the artist.

Recently, I saw another piece of ALO’s work near Liverpool street and I noticed the word ribbon in the hair of the figure.  I really hadn’t noticed those details when I was looking at the art on the street.  Anyone who knows me knows that I like to look at art very very slowly and I take my time with a piece so you don’t really want to go to a gallery with me…I will spend the whole day there.  On the street, however, I look quickly.  I snap the shot and move on because I am influenced by the hurried feeling of being on the street in London.  When I saw that detail, I realised that I wasn’t giving these pieces their due and I decided to go out and find a piece by ALO and when I did, to let his work remind me to slow down and really take in the art on the street as if I were in a gallery.  It was a wonderful lesson for me.

Follow ALO online: www.aloart.org
A sample of ALO’s paintings at Saatchi:www.saatchistore.com/74-alo
Follow ALO on Instagram: www.instagram.com/alo_art
Follow ALO on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/aloartofstreet?fref=ts

 

4. Skeleton Cardboard (paint)

The bio on the website for Well Hung Gallery as this to say about Skeleton Cardboard (https://wellhung.co.uk/artists/skeleton-cardboard/):

This anonymous artist has littered the streets of London with his skeleton figures for the past few years. Painted on walls around the east end of London and on discarded pieces of cardboard free for passers by to admire or to take – These macabre yet playful figures on one hand remind us of our own mortality and on the other show a whimsical take on our existence.

Like Basquiat, Skeleton Cardboard uses primitive images to challenge the consumer culture that alienates the individual in a world where technology creates the perfect image at the expense of intimacy.

Skeleton Cardboard’s recent show in Shoreditch was a smash success and he currently has installed a piece in a group show at the Lollipop Gallery in London.

 

  Personally: When I was walking around the streets in East London, I found these cheerful skeletons that looked like they were dancing and making fun of the consumer culture of the 21st century.  They made me laugh and as I anonymously appreciated and photographed the street art around town, I found the skeletons became like friends, meeting me here on Redchurch street, popping up over on Sclater street and then surprising me with a big fat hello on Bethnal Green Road.  The first ‘secret location’ show I attended (at the invitation of Savant) was Skeleton’s show in London.  A delightful man, I ventured to tell him what I thought about his art and I mentioned another famous street artist.  I hoped he wouldn’t be offended that I had to resort to a comparison, but it was the right thing to say.  He had been greatly influenced by the other artist and I was happy that the way I had interpreted his work aligned with his intent.  He has given me confidence to say what I think when I engage with art.  His work makes me smile and it also makes me think.  A sample of Skeleton Cardboard’s paintings: https://wellhung.co.uk/artists/skeleton-cardboard/ Follow Skeleton Cardboard online: www.Skeletoncardboard.tumblr.com Follow Skeleton Cardboard on Instagram: www.instagram.com/skeletoncardboard Follow Skeleton Cardboard on Facebook: Scot Bared Kolanerd / Skeletoncardboard           5. PLIN (paint) PLIN is an anonymous US based artist who works with paint and paste up.  His figures create a whimsical look at modern man in all his angst and joy.  PLIN’s art celebrates the potential of positive images to create a more thoughtful, engaged and happier community and society.

 

 

Personally:

There is a running theme in a lot of the art that has been part of my life and my practices this year has been that which is cheerful, intelligent, makes me laugh or becomes a ‘friend’ on the street.  I started noticing PLIN’s toothy faces some time ago, and for the longest time, the piece on Quaker street made me smile every time I passed it.  Like a friend saying hello on Brick Lane, the face on the corner told me to have a great day photographing art or wished me to get home safe when I was heading down to the night bus. They look a bit ferocious these faces, but to me, like an older brother that looks out for you, they are comforting.

I had the pleasure to meet the artist recently and discovered an intelligent, poetic soul.  I will never forget what PLIN said to me:  ” Street artists have a duty to paint every day here” because of the relative freedom that artists in London enjoy.  It made me think of my own writing and the fact that I have lived in reasonably free societies.  I think its a duty to write every day and maybe sometimes to say some uncomfortable truths.  That is how we defend our right to free speech and truth – by exercising it.  I am grateful to PLIN for that insight.

Follow PLIN on Instagram: www.instagram.com/monsu_plin

 

6. Fanakapan (graffiti artist and painter – paint)

Fanakapan is a British artist best known for his realistic yet whimsical and luminescent balloon animals and letters.  He is a pop artist, using commonly known images in uncommon and unexpected ways.  His images often evoke memories of childhood, sometimes evoking happier times, sometimes injecting a dark sense of humour to his images of innocence. Fanakapan works throughout Europe and in collaboration with other artists.

     Personally: It’s no surprise that these cheerful and sometimes darkly comic figures would appeal to me.  When you see Fanakapan’s balloon figures lighting up the streets, its like there is a birthday party going on everywhere.  In a difficult time in my life, Fanakapan’s art made me happy.  My favourite piece that I had the good fortune to see has been painted over but that is the beauty of photography.  In fact, when I saw it for the first time, Pharrel’s song ‘Happy’ came to mind.  I know its not a deep analysis of his work but I don’t care.  It moved me and it made me feel good.  We need more of that in this world. The very first live painting event I ever attended was because I saw that Fanakapan was advertising it on Instagram and I wanted to see the artist paint.  I was still too shy to say hi, but I loved watching the artist paint. Follow Fanakapan on Instagram: www.instagram.com/fanakapan           7. Savant (painting, paste up and collage) Savant is an anonymous British paste up artist whose art is of the original political genre of art with disruptive messages.  Savant’s work challenges the structures of society and the loss of critical thinking.  His works include both images and words and displays a wry sense of humour.  His images depict the sinister side of complacency and the death of the “individual” in the modern world.  His paste ups which use words, on the other hand, prompt the viewer to stop and to think, and moreover, to question the process of thought itself, thereby saving themselves from the oblivion that is the modern consumer culture.  Being paste up, these works are more transient than paintings and are part of a street conversation where other artists and viewers contribute to the dialogue with their own disruptive messages.  In this way, Savant is one of the artists on the London streets that is upholding and defending free speech and political discourses of the “common man on the street.”

 

 

Personally:

The first day I went out photographing street art to do something with my instagram account, I encountered several artists that I would continue to follow in the future.  Savant was one of these first.  The first piece I saw by Savant was a collage paste up that said “Art is Dead” but it had been degraded and hit by a graff who had ripped off the “Dead” and had written in the word “Jesus.”  I liked that:  Art is Jesus.  I really liked that.  It not only spoke of a dialogue between Savant and the anonymous graff, but it challenged me to think – what did I believe? – Is art dead, or is it a spiritual salvation.  For me, I knew it was the latter.

Savant was really the first artist who invited me to meet other artists.  I had given the artist a positive quality of them and their work on my How to Fall in Love with Anyone photo series on Instagram and I received and invitation to a Skeleton’s show with Savant’s partner and friends.  I felt very warmly welcomed into a world full of wonderful, creative, intelligent and positive people.  I am grateful to Savant for that and I love to find new pieces that make me think.


Follow Savant on Instagram: www.instagram.com/seanussavant
Follow Savant on Facebook: www.facebook.com/seanussavant

 

8. WRDMSTH (paint stencil and paste up)

WRDSMTH is an American artist.  He is a street artist and writer living in LA and he posts a new piece daily around the world.  His signature is a stencil painted typewriter with a pasted up saying above it.  Each of his paste ups are inspirational or romantic in nature and are designed with the feel good factor.  He began pasting up the street art in November, 2013 and intended only to continue until he had 1K Instagram followers. He currently has just shy of 50K followers and continues to post daily.  WRDSMTH has always loved street art and as a kid was intrigued by the graffiti messages he would see on walls.  After a good year creatively (ie in front of the computer) he took up street art as an active and creative outlet that would give him a daily break from the relentlessness of sitting in front of a computer screen, writing.

He was born in the Midwest, worked as an advertising copywriter and then moved to LA to pursue his dream of writing.  When asked why he has taken up street art, he has said:  “I write things on walls that I wished people would have said to me when I first moved here.” (TheLAgirl.com)

When asked for his mission statement, WRDSMTH has said “WRDSMTH aspires to inspire others on a dialy basis with colourful and well-chosen words crafted into indelible thoughts that are temporarily tattooed onto walls around the world…” (hdfmagazine.com)

  Personally: For me, WRDSMTH is extremely dear and speaks to the writer in me as well as the person who has struggled from a rather beaten down and physically unwell individual a year ago to who I am now.  In the course of trying to get well this year, I dusted off the old writing pen and paper and tapped the keyboard for months until the rust was gone and things started working again.  For me, both my writing and my sense of positivity has grown in the process and along the way, this anonymous fellow writer was sending out positive messages that, some days, I needed so very badly.  I follow him on Instagram and Facebook because I don’t always see a new piece in London but I can see a new piece daily on social media.  WRDSMTH has come to be a little bit of a cheerleader in my head and really represents for me, personally, what PLIN talks about – the positive power to street art to change the world. Follow WRDSMTH on Instagram: www.instagram.com/wrdsmth Follow WRDSMTH on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WRDSMTHinLA?fref=ts           9. D7606 (paste up) A relative newcomer to the London street art scene, anonymous paste up artist D7606 juxtaposes vibrant crayon box coloured images of iconic objects with iconic star personalities to create pop art paste ups that brighten the city streets.  A pop artist, he collaborates with other artists and has made a name for himself for being a great collaborator.  Most notably, his work is usually seen with painter and paste-up artist C-3.  The name D7606 is taken from the model of a British train engine from an era when he was a train photographer, but he is quick to note that he is not a trainspotter.  He is not an artist by trade or training but his passion for the street art he was photographing on his rambles in East London took him into creating his own works.  He takes great joy in seeing his work up on the streets of London and being seen, enjoyed and photographed by thousands of people a week.

 

 

Personally:

I knew D7606 on Instagram before I had ever seen a piece of the artist’s work.  Mr. D kindly tagged the art that I was photographing and posting on Instagram and quickly became a street art mentor to me.  When I photograph a piece of art, I am well aware that the beauty of it is all in the artist’s hand, not my camera.  My job is to hold the camera straight and still, not to add weird photos and then to give proper credit to the artist.  Mr. D helped me to do that.  I don’t actually think I would have become so interested in street art this year if it hadn’t been for Mr. D.  The day I spotted my first piece by D7606, I was so excited – here I had found a treasure left behind on the London streets by Mr. D.  I went to Upfest specifically to meet Mr. D and say thanks for all his help this year.

Follow D7606 online: www.d7606.co.uk and www.d7606.bigcartel.com/
Follow D7606 on Instagram: www.instagram.com/d7606art
and www.instagram.com/d7606
Follow D7606 on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/D7606/395466227213600?fref=ts

 

10. Zabou (stencil and freehand paint)

The Upfest Website describes Zabou (http://www.upfest.co.uk/artist/zabou)

Originally from France but based in London, Zabou is an exciting street art talent who, since bursting onto the scene in 2012 has been gaining a growing reputation for her striking art. Her images are a mixture of stencil and freehand technique, combining both sharp lines, colourful shades, dripping and splashes of paint. She plays on stereotypes and pokes fun at conformity, from spray painting nuns to satirical takes on the surveillance state.

A photo posted by Tania Campbell (@pinkstarpix) on

Personally: You will recognize Zabou’s art from the image used for the milestone event today.  Zabou’s work makes me smile and is bright and cheerful and that’s why I like it.  She is irreverent and that aligns with my own sense of humour.  I had the pleasure to briefly meet Zabou artist at Upfest and like many of the street artists we finally meet, she was nothing like I expected her to be.  Firstly, I thought she was a he.  I somehow thought that her large scale murals were the work of a man.  It was a delight to find that she was a charming young woman with the courage to be so wonderfully outspoken through her images.  There are a couple of pieces by Zabou on the streets of Paris that I hope to see.  They are much more poignant and beautiful.  I’d very much like to see that side of her art. Follow Zabou online: www.zabou.me Follow Zabou on Instagram: www.instagram.com/zabouartist Follow Zabou on Facebook: www.facebook.com/zabou.artist

 

The Music of 365 Days of Gratitude

Dan Shears EP’s were available for those who attended as a little thank you for coming.    A little taster from Dan’s Youtube channel for those who could not make it:

As you know, Music is one of the things for which I am most grateful.  And, over the year, I have written many times about how much I am grateful for music.  Many times it has been for certain artists that have meant so much to me like Jesse Cook, Dan Shears, DJ Sheb i Shabbah, Jai Uttal and Krishna Das, but over the year I have posted happy songs as well, and so I put together a playlist of music that meant something to me this year for the party.  I have to thank Milo V- for adding a few updates to my music taste which tended to run from sappy housewife to runaway yogi to 50 year old gay man.  You’ll still find my personality all over it, don’t worry.  I chose all the songs and their order. DJ Pinkstarpix Lola Sumangali in da house! Don’t be put off with the Sanskrit at the beginning.  I have played Jai Uttal to invoke Ganesha because it is good to invoke Ganesh at the start of any new venture (oh I dunno – like TEN THOUSAND DAYS OF GRATITUDE, perhaps?) and I have closed by thanking the patron God of all Bhaktans like me – Krishna.  I have had the pleasure to sing with both meant at kirtan and they fill my heart, always.  If you couldn’t be there, I hope the videos will give you a sense of the spirit of the day.   As always, please buy the music.  I have chosen youtube videos rather than Spotify simply to encourage you to support the artist by buying the actual songs.   DJ Pinstarpix Lola Sumangali’s 365 Days of Gratitude Mix

 

Spreading the Practice:

I want YOU to be happy.  No strings attached.  I just want you to be happy. Please consider taking up some of this practice into your own life? Almost everyone attending today’s celebration wrote something when asked for 3 things for which they are grateful.  Here is the result:

 

Won’t you add your three things in the comments?

Articles, Gratitude, Ten Thousand Days

Welcome

August 9, 2015


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Welcome to the new home of our practice of Gratitude on the net!

Many of you will know that I have launched this site to mark the completion of a full year 365 days of daily gratitude practice and for those who have been on that journey with me, I want to thank you for your support and for following me here. For those who are new to this journey: Welcome! I hope you will continue this journey and find some useful resources here.

My devotion to gratitude began as a whimsical self tag on a friend’s meme that suggested practicing keeping a gratitude journal and counting every day 3 things for which I am grateful. I was to post the results. I had always loved the practice of counting my blessings and so I thought it would be a positive injection into my life.

The challenge was to last 7 days. During that week, I noticed another friend had pledged to post her daily moments of joy in her life for 21 days. I liked that, so I decided to practice both keeping (and posting) a gratitude journal for 21 days and noticing moments of joy. With 3 weeks in, it seemed simple to make it a whole month. A month became 3 months. Three months became 6 months. A year seemed within reach.

As I journeyed through the year, I found many positive changes in myself, my outlook, my physical health and my good fortune. It wasn’t long before my overwhelming sense of abundance compelled me to give back to the world. And, so, I added a daily practice of service. I didn’t want to focus on big lumpy investments of time and commitment but the small things we do for others as we go through the day and to try to amplify them.

It became difficult to remember those small things and so I considered that most times I would have done things for others because I would have experienced empathy or compassion for others or because I simply felt an inexplicable connection with them. And so, we incorporated a final and wide sweeping element of the first 365 days of practice: noticing Oneness.

People have asked me about religion and gratitude. While practicing gratitude is part of many religions, I don’t believe there needs to be any spiritual basis for practicing Gratitude or noticing moments of Joy and Oneness or for being of Service. In a world without ‘God/dess’ or a force greater than ourselves (What I call the ‘Divine Quantum’), one can still be grateful that the winds of chaos have brought good things into one’s life.

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As for Service and Gratitude, they are part of the social contract of life. We give to others because our life is full at least partly because of the service of others.

The only part of this daily practice that really overtly makes reference to spirituality is Oneness – and even then, it is only a part of the whole concept. Oneness involves a connection with something greater than oneself and also, to me, other things, including friendship, empathy, compassion, love, sex and those moments of awe experienced when looking at beautiful art or in the presence of nature.

I have achieved a year of daily gratitude journaling but achieving the milestone is not the reward or the end of the journey. And, so, it is time to go on, and expand on what was learned in that first year – here.

Of course, underlying all of this practice is the practice of Mindfulness – the practice of being attentive, in the present moment, without judgement. Without a mindful approach to life, one would not be able to recount three things each day, but more importantly to notice our moments of joy, connection and compassion. We haven’t really explored in the first year some of the underlying themes like mindfulness nor the wider dimensions of application to our environment and ways of working.

We have so much yet to explore with the simple concept of gratitude and where it will lead us. I am so excited that you have decided to explore with me!

My hope is that what I share will encourage you to try some of it at home, in your own lives. To be completely transparent, I think it would be great if the whole world took up daily gratitude practice and we all learned to live gratefully. I think it would be the salvation of our planet, our communities, and of ourselves.

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Already there are so many people living gratefully, although they wouldn’t call it that, per se. The artist and musician who gives all to her art to make the world a more beautiful and/or positively thoughtful place is living gratefully and using her gifts in the service of others. She does it because it brings her joy and into oneness when she is in the flow of creating. The nurse, who tends to the sick and dying lives gratefully by making each of those precious moments meaningful and full of tenderness. She experiences the joy of helping someone either become well again or die with dignity and there is no doubt that in her patients most vulnerable moments, she is able to experience oneness with them and that what she does is service to the world. The humanitarian or environmental activist who takes action to save the planet is serving us all in his efforts and has surely chosen the profession because of a sense of oneness with the suffering of others or the planet and understands gratefully that he is fortunate for the world is a fragile place and needs caretaking. When he makes a difference, it fills him with joy. The mother who raises children and works a full time job lives gratefully for the opportunity and privilege to give of herself to raise and nurture good hearted children into good hearted adults and she experiences joy in their successes as much as her own and it is she who perhaps experiences the ultimate oneness with another human being as she and her child were once One.

Won’t you join us in living gratefully?

xx

If you’d like to see some of the posts from the first year of practice, you can still read a selection of them here:

My First Year of Daily Gratitude Practice

Articles, Gratitude, Ten Thousand Days

Why Ten Thousand Days

August 9, 2015

photo-1429041966141-44d228a42775When I started thinking of writing a book on my experience of practicing gratitude, I was looking for a title for that book. I work with an idea – a title, a character or an event as a launching pad when I write.

I thought of 365 Days of Gratitude as an obvious title and I chatted it through with a friend who has been with me on every step of this journey. She was not impressed. It was backward looking, and sounded as if I had completed my journey.

Had I really completed my journey? The year had been transformative. Why stop now?

Well, I hadn’t intended to stop, but I also hadn’t intended to continue my journey publicly. But, why not? I came back to our next meeting proud that I had made a new and, if I may say so, a rather “stretch” target. I had been reluctant throughout the year to commit to anything bigger than another 3-months. Each time I committed to another milestone, the ego would get all over the path telling me how boring, stupid and useless was this whole idea. I knew it would call forth my demons, but I bit the bullet and announced: “A Thousand Days of Gratitude”.

She thought it was a good idea. Good. Not great.

Meh.

“Well,” I said, a little more defensive than a person grounded in gratitude should be, “Malcolm Gladwell says it takes ten thousand hours to master anything, but I felt the benefits of gratitude in the first few weeks. I don’t need ten thousand days of gratitude.”

“Don’t you?” She asked.

Did I?

I wondered. The idea really sank in. Ten thousand days is nearly 30 years. Given the age I was, that would quite conceivably be the rest of my life. A lifetime of gratitude. Wow.

But what if I didn’t make it? I had taken milestones in manageable chunks so as not to fail in a public commitment. Thirty years was not guaranteed. But then again, neither is tomorrow. If I continued to write about gratitude for ten thousand days – and I physically didn’t reach that milestone – I would guarantee to write a real happy ending, to my own life.

I would learn to write what I had always wanted to put out into the world, as a writer.

It is morbid to think of creating a happy ending for one’s life, so instead, let’s consider Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude as a roadmap for an adventure into a happy life, built on grateful living.

So, welcome, friends, to the rest of my life. I hope you will journey with me, for at least awhile, and maybe find and take something to inspire your own journey of grateful living.

Gratitude, Joy, The Daily Practice, The Practices

“Practicing” Joy

August 8, 2015

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I have often been asked how one can “practice” Joy. It is either something you feel, or you don’t.

Joy is not always an easy practice. 
As Brene Brown puts it, Joy is the emotion that requires us to be the most vulnerable. Life’s knocks can make it difficult for us to experience joy because we would rather numb our emotions or beat bad fortune to the punch by rehearsing tragedy. But as she reminds us – we cannot selectively numb emotion. When we numb the pain of life, we also numb our joy. And, so it is only by going into our pain and being vulnerable enough to experience our anguish are we able to access joy.
 
As we practice and build that emotional muscle, I can promise you that it will be much easier to find and stay in those moments of joy.

Of course, emotions are transitory experiences that result from our thoughts and our circumstances,  but once we are willing to be vulnerable enough to stay present to our sorrows, it is possible to train ourselves to experience more of the positive emotions, including Joy.

Training the emotions:

Eastern philosophies like Buddhism and Yoga tend to view emotions as transitory states, attachment to which destroys our peace of mind.  A mindful approach to emotions would involve observing emotions as they arise, without judgement and then returning the attention to the present moment.  Emotions arise from the mind and are a distraction from being in the moment.

The ancient Yoga Sutras of Patanjali addresses negative emotions and thoughts with the technique of Pratipaksha Bhavana. Pratitpaksha (“opposite/rival”) Bhavana (“thoughts/imaginations) is the technique of replacing negative thoughts with a focus on positive ones. Our thoughts result from deep habits, or what the yogis call “samskaras” and these habits of thought can be changed through this practice of training the mind. By training the mind to focus on positive thought, neurosis can be transcended.

Psychologists would also agree that emotions and thoughts are inter related. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy encourages individuals to track emotions back to the originating thoughts. When emotions are negative, we often find that it is negative catastrophizing, judgemental and pessimistic thinking that has contributed to the emotional state in which we find ourselves. Questioning the validity of our thoughts, looking for evidence, and reframing our thoughts helps to turn our negative, self effacing thoughts into more positive and compassionate thoughts. A change in mood is often the result.

Neither practice is intended to suppress negative emotions. Life happens and sometimes we grieve, sometimes we are angry, sometimes we hurt. In neither practice are we intended to deny or judge the experience. Sometimes a situation warrants sadness or other negative emotions. These practices, however, help us to identify and experience our emotions without becoming awash in them.

On Cultivating Joy

For many people, joy is an emotion that is foreign to us. For whatever reason, in Western society, cynicism and negativity are easier to achieve than joy and bliss. Look at a joyful person and your first thought may be a judgement: “nutter!” With thoughts like this, it is difficult to allow ourselves to experience joy.

So how do we cultivate joy? We begin by practicing gratitude.  And after noticing all the abundance in the world around us, it is easier to progress by being mindful of moments in the day when we experience joy. As I said, in the beginning, there may be none. That’s okay. Start with moments of positive emotions like calm, lightheartedness, or contentment. As we begin to notice and direct our thoughts to the positive, the positive will grow. We may begin with noticing the relief of the first sip of tea when we arrive home after a long day of work. Or, perhaps we delight in the smile of a baby on the tube.

So, rather than practicing joy, we practice training our mind to notice joy. It does not matter how transitory these moments are – all emotions are transitory – but as we focus on the positive, it grows.   If we can increase our ability to be vulnerable and sit in those moments of joy, by practicing gratitude rather than as Brown puts it “rehearsing tragedy”, life will become joyful.

Give it a try. Let us know how you get on.

 

 

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy”

– Rumi