17 minutes

17 minutes are what is needed for your brain to completely focus on something or relax- our brain works in 17 minute cycles.  This summer, my sons and I went on 17 minute breaks during our trip to Venice to either pause and reflect on what we had seen or experienced or to take a ‘sketching break’.  This is one of my 17 minutes sketches from Murano-


Tourists busy taking selfies, stopped to watch us sketching. In this harried world where photographing oneself is more important than observing things, they were perhaps surprised to see two boys (one in his late teens), sketching.  Bad moods and waiting times were happily passed by these moments.  Below is another one from Torcello, done while waiting for a boat to take us back to the hotel.  People were respectful and thoughtful.  One of them even started ‘crowd control’,  to make sure that I had a clear view- this without saying even one word!  How powerful is that?!


My sketch book has been travelling with me and my children since then.  I think we have learnt a powerful lesson- that creativity is power!  You don’t have to sketch but you can write or even relax.  In the corporate world, people are taking 17 minutes breaks after working for 52 minutes (not sure where that comes from!).  Ted talks are also that length so that people focus.


acceptance and art


I was very fortunate yesterday to hear Annie Fennymore speaking about her process of creating art.  Annie gradually went blind as a young woman until she lost her sight completely in her forties.  At the age of 49, she lost her grand daughter which turned to be the last straw but also proved to be the start of her career as an artist.  Her husband gave her some quick drying DIY putty and using the long ‘ropes’ made with putty, she created her first painting which she is holding in the above photograph.  This painting of a cottage is very simple, almost childlike-but for her this was a huge step forward.  In the years following, she developed her style to a mature style of abstract colourful paintings that she says reveal her passion and love for life.  She has exhibited all over the UK and has won awards including a commendation for Helen Keeler International awards.  A selection of her works are exhibited at the moment at the Moorfields eye hospital in London where I am am outpatient too, with my eye problems. Do go and visit if you can.


Initially Annie depended on her memory for colours and shapes. Today she uses a number of electronic aids (colour identifiers) for the blind all of which have the software that converts all text into speech. These gadgets enable her to label her tubes of paint using a system which tells her the colour of the paint or the surface. She uses her finger tips to ‘paint’ on her colours after realising the painting in her head. Using ‘glue tack’ she outlines her painting just as someone would use a pencil and then she colours it in.  Annie jokes that her adorable guide dog, Amber, often emerges out of her studios covered in paint!  The drawing on the right is of Amber.  Annie uses putty, PVA, paper and even toilet paper to create textures on her paintings.  The painting on the left was made on driftwood.

I have written about ‘blind art’ before but Annie made me realise something very deep about being an artist.  She said that she accepted her situation, she did not fight it.  Instead she funnelled that energy into creativity.  Now, I have spent a lot of my life fighting for things, fighting on behalf of other people.  As I grow older and with increasing ill health, I see that sadly that energy could have been spent creatively instead.  However, it is never too late to learn.  Today, with great humbleness, I accept many of the situations I find myself and have decided to move on, concentrating instead on revealing my creativity and following my heart.  Thank you, Annie!


Amazing benefits of meditation

I had heard a lot about meditation and its benefits, including enhancing creativity and receptivity to ideas.  However, I always used to think that meditation was for people who did not have jobs or children.  Yet after reading ‘Healing power of mind’ by Tulku Thondup, I realised that everyone can incorporate meditation in their lives.  It does not have to be for hours (although I have heard that even many industry leaders meditate for hours- apparently Rupert Murdoch (News Corp); Bill Ford (Ford Motor Company); Rick Goings (Tupperware); and Marc Benioff (Salesforce.com) and others do so.

Meditation is part of many religions, not just Buddhism or Hinduism but also Islam, Christianity and Judaism amongst others.  Reading the holy scriptures of these religions, we find that the founders spent much time, reflecting and meditating alone. So I started doing it for about 5 minutes every night and it has been amazing.  Much of my sleep problems have gone and I feel quite relaxed, even in stressful situations.  On the other hand, I feel alert and able to concentrate through long meetings at work or at conferences- whereas previously my mind used to wander.  Apparently it has ‘beautifying’ effects too, although I have not yet experienced those yet!  But do take a look at these amazing photos-


Work and Play

The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.

 L P Jacks
Lawrence Pearsall Jacks (October 9, 1860 – February 17, 1955), was an English educator, philosopher, and Unitarian minister who was also an ardent fan of militarism.  Militarism is not my cup of tea but I have been intrigued by this quote which is attributed to his 1932 book “Education through Recreation”.  At first I thought this quote was about mixing work and pleasure- a kind of multi-tasking very welcome in this age of home-working and hot-desking.
However, I am not a multi-tasker as I have discovered through the years, most spectacularly when I set the kitchen on fire!  I work best when I concentrate on one thing and I have found that I can actually do more by doing one thing at a time.  Nichiren Buddhism talks about viewing your work as your Buddhist practice, i.e. the same concentration and philosophical frame you apply to your religious practice, can be applied to your work too.  There can be no difference to your frame of mind when pursuing either creative or spiritual development.  So I have tried to apply over the last few months are these ideas-
  • Concentrate– I don’t even now play music when I am creating.  The relationship at that moment is between my soul and my art and nothing comes in between.  That way, I can do my best whether it is creating or even tidying up.  I seem to notice small details and vibes when I do one thing at a time.
  • Finish-I used to always go back several times to embellish a bit more or to regret something that I had worked on.  Now once I finish, I finish, knowing that I have given it my best.  No regrets!  Life is too short for that.
  • Savour– Appreciate that gift you have whether it is a lovely cake you have baked or the peaceful baby or an amazing piece of work!  Life is full of joy and you have the great gift of revealing that joy- appreciate and savour your creativity!