The Magic 5 – A Formula for Enthusiasm

Rainbow Series No. 1

I always seem to be looking for a formula for happiness, or well, not happiness necessarily, just that enthusiastic verve for life. That sense of feeling at peace with myself, finding myself funny, lovely and quirky, and having that as a platform for being excited about the day ahead. Being able to see colour and comfort and contentment. Yesterday I woke up, as I have for many days recently, feeling inert; I sit at my desk most of the time in pain, checking emails, checking social media, telling myself that in the next minute I will go to the paintings, decide what I’m going to do and get on with it. But’s it’s so hard. Regardless of this I am managing to work; (and should congratulate myself on that!) I put in the hours, but it feels like a trudge, a slog and the constant question going around my head of “What’s the point though?”. I know this is part of the battle through depression, anxiety and not helped by the nerve disorder that I have (still as yet unexplained by Doctors). So I endlessly search for the formula that will create that verve, that enthusiasm.

 

Hopes and Dreams

A Different Day

I woke up this morning feeling somewhat different; I do indeed have that verve for life, hence why I’m actually writing, before I set to, to do some painting on a flower piece that I’ve been (not really) working at for some time. Well, it’s been there silently waiting for the right moment. I can’t tell you what I’ve done or not done in the past 24 hours that might have changed things for me. The truth is, I really don’t know.

Some possibilities….

Yesterday, I went out on a bike ride with my boy. It was bloody freezing, we were back within 20 minutes! It was painfully and bitterly cold (perhaps that was part of the magic formula?). I also started off the day eating healthily (perhaps that?) but then that quickly deteriorated into wine, cheese and biscuits, cookies in the evening (perhaps that?). I also spent a good chunk of time journaling and trying to figure out what force I need to motivate myself and what are the things that are functioning as the resistance in my life, (another blog post!) in order to try and feel some form of… enthusiasm and momentum. So perhaps some of these things, maybe all, maybe none.

Seascape

Today

So today feels different, the sun is shining, which I think helps immensely and I probably underestimate that. I’ve resolved once again to eat well and get some fresh air (yes I will actually go out for a walk not just nip into the garden every now and then!) And I’ve already managed to cook myself and my son a healthy but delicious breakfast, which feels like I’ve started the day well. AND I have some clear intentions around painting today (even though I’m still not sure what the point is – I just feel like giving it a go). I did also however get on the scales and was disappointed at the result – my weight has been a determiner of mood and self-esteem for a long time which I suspect isn’t uncommon. This weight gain would, and does usually throw me into a complete grumpy-funk for the rest of the day, but not today – I just thought “Ah well, it’s not THAT bad, it’s OK”. So… I don’t really know how or why my attitude and mood is different today than from yesterday!

Ah but what about Magic 5 Lynne? Well, you know, personally I think there are far too many people out there on social media telling us the magic things to do …”If you do this, then you’ll get these results” – and they might work of course, but quite frankly it plays up to this belief and value system that other people know better than you do. They don’t. I do not. I don’t even know what works for myself half the time.

Rainbow Sands

This could be seen as a complete lack of self-awareness, (yep, I’m questioning this as I type) but anyone that knows me well would say that’s not true. I just think that it’s part of being human. There is no formula. There are so many things going on in us and around us that we are totally unaware of that we can’t possibly know what the formula is. You only need to appreciate the complexity of the body and its myriad of interactions between hormones, blood sugar, organ and brain function, medication, nutrition to see that we don’t know what going on inside us. And outside of us… the world is pretty random. I’m sure there are links I could post to Chaos Theory and stuff but I need to get on with some painting pretty shortly (oh alright that didn’t take too long) It’s also something else I’ve been looking into in terms of art too – again more on that another time. But anyway, we like to think we can control things, but it is really quite random. So MY Magic 5. And yes that’s capitalised because really… yours maybe entirely different. You might find that a kick up the arse is what you need. But not for me.

My Magic 5

  1. Maybe I could stop trying to figure it out, or maybe not because maybe that helped me get to this place today.
  2. Trust that, yep, that slog, trudging feeling… it will pass. This too shall pass and all that. So maybe patience as medicine.
  3. Acceptance. For goodness sake accept where you are today. Especially when it feels awful. That’s when you need it most. And…
  4. Be or do whatever you feel you need to do and be. Without judgement. Crikey judgement is a big theme at the moment for me that I’m working on really hard.
  5. Keep doing the work, whatever the work is, however small or big. You have many responsibilities, needs, goals, tasks etc. so be ok with whatever you can do today.

And is there anything in this post about painting?

Well, painting is like the icing on the cake, the flourish at the end of an awesome orchestral piece. In order to do the work of actual painting and creating there’s a whole host of other things that need to be in place for that to happen. This is also very much like my counselling work; the time spent in the counselling room is just the cherry on top of a lot of hard work on self, research, reading, reflecting, CPD etc. You might find this too with your work (or not). But it’s all so important. This stuff is really important to me. I struggle to paint, I struggle to get showered some days, I struggle to love myself at times and I struggle to answer the question “What’s the point?”. But… some days there is a point. This slight sliver of light, like the dust shining through an opening in the curtain, it’s there. I think it’s called hope; the ability to see even a slight possibility of something good happening. And on that note, I shall go and paint, because something good might come from it today.

I would LOVE to hear your Magic 5, really… please please please get in touch, it would mean so much to me. And… if you’d like to support my work and help enable me to carry on painting, please consider purchasing something from my Etsy shop  or from this website. I carry out commissions and can pretty much print anything from any of my artworks, so do get in touch (links below). That would help immensely and in magical ways.

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Finding balance, healing and connection through art and counselling

There are four themes that pervade my life; learning to love myself, personal growth, a yearning for peace and the ubiquitous difficulties that arise between the internal mind and the external world. It is no wonder then, that one of my first paintings that brought together my counselling work and love of art involved the Carl Rogers’ quote; “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I can change.” (Rogers, 2004, p.17) I still struggle with this paradox and my journey, I suspect like many, is one that involves creating space in life where self-acceptance, personal growth and resting in self-care are all somehow held, perhaps gently juggled or nestled somewhere together, within.

I am a person-centred counsellor and I am also an artist; painter, mum and writer amongst other things. I have my own art business that I started up 4 years ago and is still growing. I wanted to write this piece to share some of my work in the hope that it comforts and inspires but also to talk about how my art has naturally evolved into a way to connect with people that struggle with mental health. Art is also part of my own personal development and I feel that this journey through art exemplifies self-actualisation in its subtleties.

When I began to create art, something that I would often ask myself was “What does your art do Lynne?” and I floundered trying to find a coherent and useful answer. Art was originally something I used to aid my own counselling that I had some years ago to deal with long term abuse, depression, anxiety and trauma. I began expressing in paintings how I felt and what I wanted my life to look like, trying to create in pictures what I couldn’t see or feel in reality and to express what I could feel. It was entirely self-directed; expressionistic and abstract in quality. I had no official institutional training or experience in painting, I just…began. I have come to love and prefer this exploratory method as it is congruent with my person-centred value of trusting our own internal voice. There can be a place for learning techniques and skills but I have found that an emphasis on instinct and embracing myself as a feeling being is fundamental in the process of creating. So when I opened my art business I was still in the stage of art being about me and my expression. What my art did was provide me with an outlet for my emotions, visions, thoughts and in all honesty: it was an attempt to make some money for my son and me, whilst I was training as a counsellor and trying to find some ground upon which to build a future.

I have had a good deal of successes throughout the past four years; painting commissions, hosting my own exhibition, having my work appear in various galleries and some sales along the way but I am always striving to answer that question: In a world of so many creative and talented people, what can my art and art in general do? During the last four years I have also worked part-time in a rehabilitation centre for addiction and trauma, which was a wonderful opportunity that came along serendipitously and I learnt a great deal from it. I was able to work with some inspiring people and sit alongside them on their recovery journey. Taking a person-centred approach in group work we would tentatively use art and poetry to explore emotions and hopes for their futures. We know from verbal and written feedback that clients found creating art and exploring art, enabled them to be present, find some peace and express themselves; create an external visual that embodied or bridged the gap between their inner and outer worlds.

During that time my own art went through what I would call a fermenting period: I didn’t paint a great deal but I was absorbing and learning from people and practice.  I decided to leave my job at the rehabilitation clinic due to a desire and need to manage my own mental and physical health, and time more preciously, focusing on my future as a counsellor and artist. Again managing my own life seems an ongoing process; through constant self-reflection, I find I need to consistently monitor my own health in order to be able to care for others.

In the 2 years and quite organically; through becoming comfortable with acrylic painting, I started using watercolours. I was ready to explore different media and play with something I was unsure about and had always thought was very ‘wishy-washy’. Challenging my own tacit judgements, I discovered that the unpredictable way the colour would seep and merge reminded me of how life events are often interwoven, beautiful and random. There is a reassuring consistency in the way that the paint can be autonomous and sometimes unpredictable. For me this mirrors life and the counselling process; the relationship between myself and the paint, the counsellor and the client; allowing creativity to emerge in the space and being accepting of what is. Through this experimentation and again, a desire to find words to comfort my own soul I began writing words for my paintings. I am also an avid collector of quotes through my love of reading and use these in my paintings. So, I finally started to answer the question “What does my art do?”

There are aspects of myself that still need healing, care, expression and encouragement and these paintings are a personal reminder to me to look after myself. But they are also attempt to make visible, words that might be whispering in others’ hearts, words that might resonate. They are an attempt at expressing and connecting internal experiences. I publish most of my work primarily on Twitter, Facebook, and my website and when requested, I print postcards and archival quality prints of the paintings. I have found that the watercolour paintings with words are some of the most popular and purchased pieces of work. I believe this is because they voice the gentlest and sometimes most painful parts of ourselves; giving our struggles, external expression of honesty and hope through the difficulties we can all face at times.

In my experience, one of the sneakiest aspects of depression and anxiety is how it can shut down a person’s world, at times paralysing energy, crushing hope and leaving them despairing. Particularly in the world of social media, where people are exposed to so many opinions and success stories, it can be difficult to stay attuned to our own internal locus of evaluation. It can appear at times that we are not now communicating and building relationships with people, but simply observers of people’s narratives, commentaries on their own lives. It is a dangerous paradigm where worthiness is measured by numbers of ‘likes’. However, I do also see people reaching out to one another, supporting one another; compassionate people searching for connection. People sometimes share my work through social media and it gives me hope that it will help someone in a small way and maybe even in big unknown ways too! I believe art can ‘assuage the anxiety of separateness’ (Rogers, 2004, p.356).

One of the challenges I face as a counsellor, artist and single parent (or ‘whole parent’ as I like to say) is how to hold my internal passions and compassion for people close to my heart whilst striving for financial stability and meeting the external expectations that the society places on me. A struggle for balance is always present. When I began my journey in counselling and from there my journey as an artist, I didn’t really have a specific plan and any plan that I did have has often been derailed and taken many colourful turns. It is sometimes tempting to start from a position of needing to change and grow as maybe clients do when they enter counselling. They want to move from pain to pleasure, out of sadness to happiness. However, the ‘curious paradox’ is true; by way of being present and accepting of self, there is somehow a subtle shifting and life naturally changes. When I really listen to my voice, sit with where I am, embrace what I love and express that, magic can happen.

For me it has become clear that counselling is one of the most precious ways a person can heal, by being seen and heard, prized and understood. Creating the space that allows someone to look within and the gravity of what occurs in that space can be quite magical and it can change people’s lives. There are still too many people on waiting lists, people unable to access support, people that struggle alone, unable to reach out for a multitude of reasons. I hope that in some way by sharing my artwork I can connect with people and that they find comfort and inspiration in their painful and lonely moments. In the same way I hope that as a counsellor, committed to continued personal development, understanding people’s needs and through practice of the person-centred approach, I can help people in their struggles. Unconditional positive regard, empathy, connection and congruence are truly the cornerstones of all my work.

My hope is that art becomes more of a way of helping people to express the pain and hope that they cannot put into words. A way for people to find comfort and soothing of their souls in this often bittersweet world. I have recently been able to share my artwork in a local school and work with the children to discover what art means for them and how to express themselves through this medium. In our first session I asked the children who would consider themselves as ‘an artist’; five children (out of twenty-six) raised their hands. I asked them again at the end of our five sessions together, which modelled a person-centred approach and twenty-one of the children raised their hands. Having carried out qualitative and quantitative research I know this result is open to interpretation and scrutiny, but the difference in numbers, their expressed confidence, excitement and self-definition was significant and this brought me joy. Hopefully by encouraging them to listen to their inner voice and expression from an early age, we will make a small drop in a large ocean of humans that desperately need confidence in themselves as the artistic directors of their own lives.

I am looking forward to the years ahead; enjoying my art and becoming a more experienced art therapist one day but I am staying open to discovering what the years ahead hold. Rogers himself wrote ‘My attitude is very well expressed by Max Weber, the artist, when he says “In carrying on my own humble creative effort, I depend greatly upon that which I do not yet know, and upon that which I have not yet done.”’ (Rogers, 2004, p.23) and this I echo looking towards my own future. If you’d like to share your experiences with art and creativity; personally or professionally, please contact me by email or through any of the social media channels below. Finally, if you feel any of my work can be useful for your practice and clients, would like to collaborate or have any thoughts or feelings you would like to share, I would love to hear from you.

lynne@lynneblundellart.co.uk

www.lynneblundellart.co.uk

www.facebook.com/lynneblundellcreativeart

Twitter: @LBlundellArt

Rogers, C.R. (2004) 2nd Edn, ‘On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy’ Constable & Company Ltd, London.

This article was originally written for and published by the BAPCA (British Association for the Person-Centred Approach)

 

Balance, Self-care and See-saws

Self-care see-saw by Lynne Blundell (Acrylic on canvas, 40cm x 40cm, £45)

I have this ridiculous expectation of myself to be a grounded and balanced individual, in a kind of peaceful centred, spiritual, floaty-dressy type way. You know the vision… of waking up and gently leaning into the day, everything falling into place because you have lovely routines that you have honed and moulded to work for you and everyone around you. You feel you have purpose, meaning,.. ahhh, there’s the quiet inner confidence that you are on the path, some kind of right path. Today will be a good day full of meditation, ting-sha bells clearing energy, painting, healthy food, yoga, plenty of water, productivity through flow and wonderfulness and by the end of it there will be a sense of purity and balance. Now that, (for me anyway) is all a bit too floaty headed, up in the clouds nonsense. I am sure there are people that live like that, but not me. I need to bring myself back down to earth here.

The visceral qualities of being born every day on waking, begin (currently) with an awareness of how cloudy headed I am from medication. If I took it early enough last night I will feel fairly clear, if too late, I will have a heavy kind of headache and fuzziness for the first hour or two. Then I will wait to see how whether or not my skin feels like it’s on fire this morning, which is what the medication is for) generally a ‘3’ at this time in the morning on a scale of 1-10. I then contemplate whether I ate the right amount and the right things yesterday to have not put weight on and to determine how likely I am to suffer with IBS today. And all whilst this is going on I am internally groaning at the pain that is cystitis – an ailment I have suffered chronically with all my life. So my day starts, very much in my body and already in a bit of challenging spot on the scale of floaty-dress peacefulness. Then I start piling heaps of pressure on myself by asking myself what work am I going to get done today whilst being a mum and trying to balance the many roles I have as a painter, mum, friend, daughter, counsellor. Bla bla bla. Stress city. And all before I’ve even got out of bed and had a coffee.

Not very Zen

I am generally not very zen like about all this physical stuff and the roles I need to fulfil, and it has a massive impact on my mental health and probably vice versa. I try all sorts of coping mechanisms including diet, exercise, keeping my mind busy, keeping my body busy, focusing, journaling (which I do every day at the moment), fun, wine, maybe more wine (because that does give me some relief), books, TV in order to find some balance. But, as I said to a good friend of mine the other day “I just don’t feel very…. balanced” hinting at the zen-like floaty dress quality already spoken of. Her response was priceless. “Imbalance. Mmm that’s what I like about you.”

Bam. There it was. Exposing my implicit assumption that balance, or at least the kind of balance I am aiming for, is where I should be at. Imbalance is maybe what I do so well! Go me! Sometimes I think self-deprivation or self-loathing shows up more in these ways than we are aware of. The expectations we are putting on ourselves, the judgements, the shoulds, the ridiculously high bars we aim for. I realised that when I naively conceptualise ‘balance’ I am expecting to feel at peace with everything, to be the perfect mum, to eat the right things, to write, paint, study and exercise all in one day, to maybe just have one glass of wine or none at all, to have some spiritual practice in my day… and I realise that there is this absolute stark factor underpinning it all – that it all needs to be done in one day and underpinned by a sense of effortlessness. Na-ah. Not possible.

See-saw type existence

So I propose that I (and you if you feel this too) aim for a more imbalanced see-saw type existence. Sitting on the see-saw in perfect balance isn’t much fun after all. No-one wants to just sit suspended in air do they – it might have floaty like quality but it sounds pretty boring to me now I think I’d get a numb bum.  It is the movement flowing between the two that causes the excitement and the tummy turning giddiness. You have to know when to bounce back though don’t you, you have to prepare your knees for the impact of the ground so you can push yourself back up. And then enjoy the high, the moment at its pinnacle of flight. This, I would argue is true balance, or at least the better conceptualisation of the kind of balance I need in my life. Balancing in movement.

Of course, I know this is not a new idea. Many philosophers and philosophies have argued the imperative need for two sides of the coin, rest v. action, sleep v. wakefulness, cake v. veggies, wine v. water, good v. evil, life v. death etc. and I’m pretty sure I’m never going to wake up and feel completely at peace with my body or work or role as a mum. But I think the important thing is to be able to see the continuum upon which we ride and ride it passionately and lovingly. Yesterday I was clearing out my son’s room which ended in me completely losing the plot and went all nuclear rage at the mess and inability to find anything. It’s the summer holidays, I struggle with this, this is OK. Sorries were said, hugs were had and today I’m bouncing back up from the depths of mummy stress. I’ve also slept really well so that helps. Kindness to self is paramount. Lowering expectations, or get rid of them completely. Ride the see-saw. Balance doesn’t happen in one day, it is spread over a lifetime. Maybe there will be a moment of floaty-dress-like peace today but striving for it won’t be peaceful in itself.

One last thought:

There are so many parts of ourselves, so many aspects of our lives that might be going well or not, flowing or struggling at any one time; physical health, friendships, mental well-being, family, work etc. I believe what I am aiming for is a day where they all come together on a collective see-saw high. I remember as a child I used to think “If I can just get this problem, and this problem, and that… sorted… then everything will be alright” (yeah I was quite intense as a kid); this aims towards the same thing. That perfection. I’m not sure it’s easy to get everything flowing in the same direction. So no matter how many see-saws you are on today, how many roles you are juggling, I hope you find time to enjoy the ride and know that if you’re at the bottom, you are getting ready to bounce back up.

Love love x

It isn’t pretty

You can’t see it on this picture but there are words embedded in this painting that say “I am not an artist… Just so you know”. I need to share this with you and get it off my chest. I don’t think I’ll ever feel like an artist. So I’ve started art journaling to get to the bones of being more me and discovering what that is in terms of art. (It’s part of another project too (“BODE”) but more of that at a later date.)

This is the first painting I created as part of an art journaling process I’m currently, reluctantly… (as in “dragging myself to the canvas” reluctantly) engaging in. I want to do it, I really do, but… it’s not an easy process. Eimear McBride’s brilliant article on her writing day comes close to this feeling  – I will almost certainly find everything else to do first and then in-between too.

The focus for the painting was “What does my life feel like today?”.  So after lovingly preparing this beautiful piece of white duck cotton canvas (which was pretty just as it was, naked and fresh) I set to and this is what we got, me and my molecules; pain, frustration, angst, bitterness and general bad feeling…and what looks like a dog pooping in the top right hand corner (what is that about!). Hmmm.

But you see, I am, at the moment, trying to find ways to live with chronic paraesthesia and neuropathic pain which ranges from itching, to pins and needles, to a full on burning sensation of my skin. The frustration I feel at having been tried on all sorts of drugs to no avail and without a proper diagnosis or cause, drives me to despair, – and this is just one of a load of things expressed in this painting. Having painted it though I just felt even more like a fraud … “This isn’t art Lynne, this is shit!” swam and raged inside my head for the rest of the day.

When I woke up the next day though, I remembered that I was encouraged to actively avoid making it pretty. It isn’t pretty, so I achieved at least one of the objectives. And so I’m kind of feeling like yeah, this is probably part of the process. Maybe I’ll submit it to the National Open Art Competition. Because it’s probably the closest I’ve come to true expressionist work.

But the truth is I feel like a fraud most of the time, I don’t feel like what my brain thinks an artist should feel like. I don’t have a style, I don’t have a consistent, identifiable-as-me body of work, I don’t have a focus, I don’t have a desperation to get the paints out most of time. The urge to create is already buried alive by my negative thoughts. It is however, trying to smash it’s way out of the coffin. So I rarely feel like an artist and I rage against my shitness. And then I remind myself that I shouldn’t be calling myself shit.

The art journaling is part of my mission to “be me” which is a mission that I set with the wonderful Neil Simpson some time ago now. There is a constant tension between wanting to create something that will sell or that is pretty, and… creating for myself. Creating for oneself is of course, what I’m sure any artist worth their weight would tell you is the key to creativity. But I keep having to remind myself EVERY time I paint, in fact, every time I wake up. Be more me. How can that be so hard?

This is a challenge and I need a constant reminder to go inward and barricade my motivation and resolution against the temptation and hope of pretty, success, a sale etc. To be me I need to accept that my work doesn’t have to be pretty and according to some: Art isn’t about pretty, anyway.

Of course, if you’ve read this far you probably know me and know that I do DO pretty… like this. But that’s a completely different part of me.