Travel drawings

Before the advent of digital cameras and the art of selfies, were the simple tools of sketching and notes.  Recently  I was looking at my quick sketches and paintings made in five different continents in the 1990s.  Most were made in no more than 15 minutes, and yet looking at them more than 20 years later, I can remember how I made the drawing, how hot/sunny or cold it was, how I was feeling and what the place felt like.  This can done even today.  It is sometimes good to get your head out of the camera and observe what is going on. Find a bit of time to sketch and paint. I used all sorts of things- one painting was done using cherry juice.  Travel is also time for creative rejuvenation!

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creativity from rubbish

Creativity comes from all sorts of places and things that inspire or make connections.  David, my friend, who has a problem in his hips, was visiting a friend when he spotted a back frame of a ‘Thonet‘ chair, waiting to be put into the rubbish dump.  A trainee furniture designer had been making it for practice and had left it behind.  David asked his friend if he could take it and she said yes.  On the way back home, as the crowded train swayed back and forth it , he realised that he could put his weight on that frame and it supported him.  He also realised that when a bus braked, it was good to put it at the side so that it steadied him.  So he put some plastic feet on the two ends and there it was, a sexy curved support instead of the awful grey walking frames used.  If he didn’t need it, then he could put it on his shoulders, so it is easily portable.  Here is David showing the different ways he uses the chair back.

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For me, the main lesson here is that you can have a problem but you need to put it in the back burner of your mind.  Then slowly and unexpectedly, you will find a solution in your own ‘Eureka’ moment.   Archimedes shouted”Eureka! Eureka!”and ran out naked in excitement after he noticed that the water level in his bath rose and he made the connection that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged.  Friedrich Kekulé’s theory on the structure of benzene, which proved to be correct, was apparently influenced by the image of a snake eating its own tail.  Einstein also arrived at his theory of relativity when he was watching a train move as he sat in another.  There are many more examples of such moments- from artists, scientists to inventors and engineers- who have made connections to arrive at solutions.  Where 2+2=5 or more!

The other thing I noticed was that it is the creative mind that notices and makes the connections. When David walked in, I was the first person to notice his innovative walking frame.  No one else commented or looked at it.  David said that on the street, it takes a certain kind of person, to come up to him and ask him about it.  So I guess, if you have noticed something creative in another person, then it is most likely you have the same creativity yourself.

Creative traditions

Every country has age old traditions that manifest themselves creatively in days of celebration.  But these traditions have become commercialised.  So in an age of mass produced goods and of artificial perfection where the sign of hands and any ‘errors’ have been carefully removed, it is good to make things by hand and make them not too perfect.  Easter offers one of those occasions where the hideous and unhealthy tradition of factory made ever larger chocolate eggs have captured children and parents’ hearts and stomachs.  On the other hand, many traditional Easter foods have been home made, free from additives and perhaps more healthy, if not entirely so.

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Having an Armenian link in my family, I decided this year to make traditional Armenian Easter eggs alongside a traditional meal.  Making these Easter eggs involves using onion skins, turmeric and other natural dyes to colour eggs.  Here are some of my efforts.  I collected red onion skins- shopkeepers were happy to get rid of them.  I also put in some chilli flakes that I was not using (these also make the water red).  I boiled these for about twenty minutes and left it to cool overnight.  In the morning, I pasted some leaves I found in the garden on the raw eggs using water.  I used organic hens and duck eggs.  Then I put the eggs inside cut up old stockings and boiled them further for about 20 minutes. After removing them from the stocking, I left them to cool.  When they were cold to touch, I polished them with some olive oil to make them shine.  Even though the duck eggs were less successful, the over all effect of mottled colour with silhouettes of leaves, was charming on both types of eggs.  We ate those eggs with some goats cheese, yoghurt, traditional bread, olives and tomato and onion salad.  My children had been given some of the shop bought chocolate eggs but after eating lunch, they did not feel like eating those!  What did I do with the waste?  The skins were put in the compost and the leftover liquid was used to dye an old silk blouse.  No waste- a perfect end to Easter holidays!

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three secrets of a successful micro-business

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As a self employed creative, I have been reading business books on creativity and business for many years.  Through these years I became aware that I did not wish to create a business empire but do what I do efficiently and productively; that I did not mean to mass produce but only produce something that was well designed and beautifully made; and not be a mad bad crazy person that creatives are thought to be but live a balanced, joyful and creative life.  I am sure that many of you also wish to live like that- we are not all Warren Buffet, Richard Branson or Bill Gates or even Steve Jobs (notice all are men which I am not!)

Most of the advice I read or listened to was not about small or micro- businesses- but about how to mass produce, how to make huge profits and how to influence widely.  There was not much advice if you just want to live a simple, creative, healthy and joyful life- following your heart- and making enough money to achieve all this.  I wanted to distill all the stuff I had read and listened to, in to some essential aspects which could apply equally to any scale of business.  What could I distill out of all that I had read and give back to you?  I found that essentially it boils down to three lives we lead- the contributive life,  the balanced life and the joyful life.

1. The contributive life:  This term was coined by Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, a Japanese educator and philosopher.  He said that our life should be about contributing to the whole of which we are en essential and creative part.  So if you are doing work that contributes to society, that work will be naturally meaningful and productive.  As part of cause and effect, you will find that your needs are satisfied in the most amazing ways- I have had people helping me out on things without asking for money because I helped them before.

The contributive life is an anti-dote to the monetary life.

2. The balanced life:  Contrary to what many people think, Yoga is not a series of stretching exercises or a type of mediation.  Yoga is about the balanced life- where you r health matters as much as anybody else’s, where you eat and sleep in moderation and where your work and personal lives balance.  This is the middle way- not extremes and our task is to find a middle way every day.  Sometimes, it may mean we do more work, sometimes it means we take more rest- everyday is a day of finding a balance for our physical needs and creativity.

The balanced life is our everyday practice of living.

3. The joyful life: Finally, if your work or business does not give joy to you, is not contributive or balanced, then let go of it.  Find something that tugs at your heart strings, pulls you towards it and asks you play the music of life.  If you are not smiling and forgetting the time, than it is not a work that you love.  For seven years, I was doing teaching that I thought was a contributive work but it was not a balanced life I was leading nor was it making me happy.  I finally left it and now I find myself doing similar work but on my own terms.  I have set up a charity for this and use my lectures, teaching and work to improve the lives of others.  The joy I feel out of this, is immeasurable and priceless.

Find your joy, follow your heart!

Reading tea

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Everyday my tea offers something on the piece of paper at the end of the string. I look forward to it- sometimes as advice, sometimes as encouragement and sometimes as a friendly warning. I have been going through a difficult time- following my heart has been made almost impossible. Long standing friends have accused me of being afraid, of giving in and of ‘not being in solidarity’ with them on an important campaign. However many times, I have considered this, I have felt unable to support them. I have often wondered why these friends cannot be comfortable with different opinions about the same thing or consider different solutions to the same problem.

Last night as I sat sipping my tea before bed, I finally saw that my friends’ opposition to my views have actually made me more creative. I began to understand why I felt uncomfortable with their views and uncover my own reasons for not going along with them. Previously there was just this uncomfortable feeling and now it is rationalised. It may be that I am proved wrong in the future but for now, I have to go with what I feel. It is important to give this space to those thoughts we hold dear. My problem has become my opportunity for personal growth, only by deeply considering it for a long time and staying true to my heart. When I looked for my ‘tea advice’ last night, it was- “if you can’t see God in all, then you can’t see God at all.” This is very good, I thought, and can apply to anyone. I can substitute the word ‘God’ with Buddha, Allah, creativity, problem….and it still reads well. It was perfect for me. I slept well last night. My tea brought me comfort and showed me that life’s problems can be turned into opportunities and I can learn to see the good in all that it offers. I wonder what tonight’s tea will bring.

Have a great week!

+ vs –

Joseph Conrad asked us to run towards something we love, rather than run away from something we hated.  The difference is very important for our life energy and direction.

Running away from negativity is a panic reaction- we simply run without knowing where we are going and mostly we end up being in the fire right from the frying pan.  Recently I had many people were asking me for help in resolving a negative situation created by someone else.  Although I had some interest in this and usually I would have jumped right in bursting with righteous anger and wanting ‘justice’, this I time I felt a different approach was needed.

I felt that rather than getting involved in denials, accusations and bad mouthing that others were in, it was more productive to be silent and just do something positive instead.  This has saved me from being implicated in slandering and negativity while I have continued to be engaged creatively and constructively.  I am sure this situation will resolve soon and I wish everyone happiness.  I have run to happiness and creativity myself and feel at peace.  I have not let the negativity of others affect my own creativity.  I feel I am doing good by being creative and peaceful.  This is my conviction.  Justice comes in different forms and not at the time when we may want to see it.  But it does come and we don’t have to spend our life energy all the time on dispensing ‘justice’ to others. We must trust that the universal law of cause and effect will work.  In the meanwhile, ‘Do good, be good and think good’ and spread positive energy ourselves.

I don’t remember where I got this from but this sums it up-

An important feature of conviction is that it’s for something, e.g., the wellbeing of loved ones, justice, fair treatment, or equality, while resentment (derived from feelings of certainty) is against something – mistreatment of loved ones, injustice, or unfairness. The distinction may seem subtle, but it’s crucial. Those who hate injustice want retribution and triumph, not fairness. They fantasize about punishment of their unjust opponents, who stir “justifiable” contempt.  Being for something creates positive feelings of interest, passion, or joy, which tend to improve health and relationships. 

Living lightly- part III

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Now I come to the second book I bought from the library sale (please read the last two posts if you are new to this).  This was the ‘Healing power of the mind’ by Tulku Thondup (a Tibetan Buddhist monk).  I would like to share from this book, the most powerful visualisation and relaxation exercise I have done.

This is about nothingness and imagining that you are slowly dissolving into air and your surroundings- expanding to become part of it.  Most mindfulness exercises ask you to become mindful of your body, thoughts and actions.- you are asked to ‘look’ at your body, feelings or actions and consider them lightly, letting them go.  With this ‘nothingness’ exercise you let go of everything.  It is very difficult to achieve at first but becomes easier and easier, achieving this state easily.  Perhaps this is what drugs to you I thought but without the harmful effects.  The first time I did it, it was not easy.  However, with time, melting into my surroundings has become easier for me.  I felt relaxed with the heaviness of life gone- I felt like air and light.

Thondup also talks about not ‘grasping’ state of mind.  A lot of worry and stress come from grasping- people, power, position, fame etc.  By doing this exercise of dissolving, it is the opposite of grasping.  I have this photo of snow drops and other spring flowers which disappear after the spring, only to arrive beautiful and rejuvenated with life next spring.  We also do a similar thing during sleep, perhaps even during death.  So doing this while alive can also have a rejuvenating effect.

Try it and let me know if it works for you!

Finding our purpose

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(photo credit: Sumita Sinha)

I have been listening to many inspirational speakers as the grey skies of winter, tiredness and a series of strange incidents try to put a depressing shade to my life.  I have been calm, reflective and quietly bemused.  Listening to the these speakers helped to put things in perspective, find a balance and be inspired.  One of the things I heard from Marianne Williamson (she, whose quote about not hiding yourself is of often attributed to Nelson Mandela) was about life purpose.

I heard this sentence, “If you have life, you have a purpose.”  True and so profound. How often do we think about our failings and compare ourselves to others?  Yet our own unique life is waiting within- all full of purpose.  We don’t have to be young, beautiful or thin or rich to be of purpose.  The Universe does not create without purpose.  Even if we are old, disabled, ill, or whatever- as long we are alive, we have a purpose.  What is that purpose?  That is something we have to find ourselves.  And if we are willing to look, we can surely find it.  To waste our valuable life hours, comparing ourselves to others or envying others, is a slander of our own beautiful and unique selves.  But remember purpose is NOT one’s career.  Purpose is about our calling, our passion and our special talents whatever those may be- baking a cake, putting up a beautiful Christmas tree, writing a research thesis, singing, dancing, making others smile- and being ourselves.  No one can give us our purpose.  We have to find it ourselves.  Thanks to the person who wrote, “we are here to create a purpose for life” on that window of a boarded up building which I can see from where I work.

How not to worry

I used to be a big worrier but now I think I have only 10% of that amount left in me.  My beloved late uncle used to say, “Hurry and worry are the biggest threat to someone’s life”.  If I look back at something that had troubled me in the past and then analysed what had actually happened, I could see that all the horrible things I had thought that might have happened, never did.  So why did I worry?  There might have been childhood insecurities as sometimes I did not have enough to eat or wear.  My dad worked long hours and I was worried I would not see him.  But anyway, I have met others who had exactly the same circumstances but not as huge worriers as me.  So perhaps it was genes.  Whatever it was, it was not good that I used to grind my teeth at night (I still wear a teeth protector at night), bite my finger and fidget endlessly.  So I am pleased that it has all but gone now.  What do I do now?

Apparently this method for not worrying was discovered by Willis H Carrier- the inventor of modern air conditioning.  According to him there are three steps-

1. Work out what is the worst that could happen in a situation (usually never happens)

2. Acceptance of the ‘worst position’- what a relief this step is!

3. Work out how to remedy the situation in step 2 (most of the time we never get to step 2 or 3)

A few weeks ago, I had a letter from the tax office who were querying some figures I had given.  I was about to go away so I asked for some time to respond.  Instead of worrying, I calmly went about collecting the information they had asked for before I left so that I could enjoy my holiday in peace.  I also thought about what the worst situation I could face- perhaps a fine.  So I looked at my bank balance and realised that I could pay a small fine off.  Eventually I sent off the letter and today I got a reply which said the tax office had accepted the figures and evidence I had given them.  A few years ago, I would have probably bitten my entire hand with worry even before sending anything off.  That hurry and worry go together as my Uncle said is so true- a calm acceptance and analysis of a situation can help us through worry.

So what about that 10% of worry that is still left in me?  I actually think it is good- it keeps me on my toes and urges me to take action.  If I was so indolent, then I would be careless too.  Excessive worry does not keep us in the moment- it takes us into the unknown future or the unchangeable past. Worry is not empowering- let it go!  As Kalidasa, the ancient Indian poet says below so eloquently, we need to live in the present moment-

Exhortation of the Dawn!

Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn!
Look to this Day!
For it is Life, the very Life of Life.
In its brief course lie all the
Verities and Realities of your Existence.
The Bliss of Growth,
The Glory of Action,
The Splendor of Beauty;
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
And To-morrow is only a Vision;
But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!
Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!

Lesson of mindfulness from my watch

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This is my watch- about 12 years old- an unusual design and so, many people ask me where I got it.  It has a sentimental value for me because it was bought so that I could hold my children when they were small as it has no spiky bits.  But since last week, this watch has become even more valuable to me.  All because it taught me mindfulness.

I was at a celebration last week because an affable colleague of mine received knighthood.  The venue was the beautiful Goldsmith’s hall in the City of London, shining in the resplendent glory of golden chandeliers, skilfully crafted tableware and oil paintings. Wine, conversation and food flowed; and time passed until, it was time for speeches.  I looked at my watch.  It was not there!

I recalled where I had been all day.  Perhaps I had lost in the crowded tube, perhaps in the ladies toilet, perhaps when I was at the drinks reception (I have a habit of fiddling with it), perhaps a pickpocket had skilfully taken it off- my mind raced around London, looking for clues about the missing watch.  The sound of clapping disturbed my thoughts.

It was time for my colleague to speak.  And it was time for me to give him my full attention.  I spent two minutes rationalising about the situation while he ascended the podium.  It was time to let go of this watch.  After all, I had another watch to replace it.  Okay, the other watch was not an unusual design but still, a good make.  Perhaps I would find it in the hall somewhere (I sent a message to the Senior Houseman).  But at the moment, I realised that I was sitting right in front of my colleague and I needed to listen to what he was saying.  I needed to respect his evening.  I also needed to enjoy the moment and be in the present, not in the past or future.  So after this small battle, I stayed focussed and really enjoyed his speech, being genuinely happy for him and his family.

Surprisingly for me, I even managed not to talk about my watch when the speeches were finished- there were things that were of greater importance than the loss of a 12 year old watch.  I tried to broaden my world and enjoy the last of the evening.

And when I returned to the cloakroom to get my coat on the way out, there was my watch waiting for me!  The cloakroom manager had found it- I had no idea when I had dropped it.  I was of course, very happy to get it back.  But I was happier to have learnt the big lessons of mindfulness and that of respecting people, rather than worrying about material things.  Of broadening my heart and learning to live with a loss (even though this turned out to be not true).  One day, this watch will breakdown and I will have to part with it.  But having already lost it once, I know it won’t be a big deal then.