In ancient Japan it was believed that God lived in the evergreens. That is why they used it as the tallest and the main component of their flower arrangements. God was the invisible line that passes vertically through the centre of the arrangements. So said a senior faculty of Ikebana, Prof. Kurata at his lecture/demonstration this morning.
Three hours of his talk equalled a year’s worth of learning. He went on to show how nature outdoors is depicted through flowers, leaves and stems indoors. This bamboo vase represents a cliff side and the alcove within it denotes a cave from where plants are emerging towards light, the spectator. Pictures don’t do any justice to the space and the movement created by the study.
He spoke of beauty. When hidden, it carries intrigue. When hidden, it allows for imagination to flow. When hidden, it can be the most beautiful thing in the world. This is an example.
The shape of the container and the simplicity of the materials combine to create elegance.
Rikka is a form that captures a landscape. Each part of it signifies something, like receiving, flowing, supporting and carrying. It has mountains and rivers within it. Find them if you can.
Clever use of angular shapes and bright contrasting colours to create an uplifting happy slanting mood.
I swear diagonally, Bro.
The world is sort of round and so is this. Rounds within rounds. Wheels within wheels. Keeping to the theme. Cheerful asymmetry.
Must be Spring
This last one was for the youngest member of the audience, a 3 year old girl. Playful bobbles and wires hanging out happily with an orchid in a blue bottle of gel balls.
Wonderful to see a true genius at work! It’s calming working with flowers, stems, branches, leaves, berries and grasses. Being with nature. Breathing. Learning. Smelling in the subtleness. Letting the imagination flow. Allowing the Self to heal. Letting go. Dissolving.
‘Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.’ – Cesar A. Cruz
Yesterday’s play on ‘Shifting perspectives’ through theatre and today’s trip to the Dragon café brought this truth home.
The work done by the patrons of the Dragon café was compiled into a big black book called ‘Artspace’. Looking through it was an immersive experience. Some brought me comfort and some disturbed me, making me a mixture of ‘comfortable’ and ‘disturbed’.
I shall let you find out how they make you feel.
Certain events or times of day are more difficult – like being alone late at night, or having arguments. During these times it can often be more difficult for us to feel a sense of hope, to feel connected to the idea of safety, to feel our own resilience. This is the times when ‘self-care’ is essential – taking time out to be kind to ourself, to find activities that feel good, or allow us to connect with ourself again. Self-care is about caring for ourself, inside and out.
Focusing on the present moment, the present activity, whilst allowing thoughts and feelings to just be – has a long history of helping people with their mental wellbeing. By allowing ourself to become absorbed in the moment it’s possible to feel a sense of calm and focus that can distract from painful thoughts and feelings. No wonder colouring books for adults and kids alike are taking a special place on book store shelves.
One of the actors at the above workshop, who is also a mentally ill patient in recovery spoke about his insights, “I realised that as long as I depend on the State to look after me, I will be met with the lowest common denominator. This brought me to the conclusion that I may not have control but I have agency.”
After I got home, I looked up the meaning of ‘agency’ to figure out exactly what he meant. Agency is an ‘action or intervention producing a particular effect’. For example, many infectious diseases are caused by the agency of insects. Synonyms to this effect are: influence, power, effect, force, means, channels, routes, mechanisms and techniques.
In effect, he was referring to ‘self-help’. He was saying, “I have the power to change my situation.” It was inspiring for me to hear him say that. That statement reinforced the message of the workshop – there is a very thin line between the well and the ill. Role reversals are common. Sometimes visible. Often not.
I came away from there with a mixed bag of feelings. On the one hand, I could clearly see the daily struggles of mentally ill patients and on the other, their brilliance shone through. I wonder how Saagar would have been, had he got through that big dip.
Cycling again, I feel happy. Alive.
Every few hundred yards, hordes of pristine white conical lilies smile at me. The first time I saw a black and white picture of one such lily was 18 years ago. For the next 5 years it was the largest picture in our house. It filled our space and me with a sense of peace and beauty. I remember being mesmerised by it the first time I saw it. The fact that one single petal could shape itself into this exotic flower, stupefied me. The contrast with that particularly deep shade of green never fails to capture my eyes. Its elegance leaves me speechless.
It has many names – trumpet-lily, arum-lily and calla-lily. Botanically speaking, it’s not a lily at all. It derives its name from ‘calla’, the Greek word for beauty. In the 19th century, there was a flower-language boom that meant certain flowers were associated with expressing particular feelings. There was no need for words. No surprise that it was the theme of many artistic works.
The calla-lily came to play a role in the Christian Easter service as a symbol of Jesus’ resurrection. In art throughout history, the calla-lily has been depicted with the Virgin Mary or Angel of Annunciation. It is associated with purity. As it blossoms in spring, it is also a symbol of youth and rebirth. It’s appropriate for weddings and funerals. It symbolises love, devotion and grief.
While mostly white, they are also found in other colours, each one carrying a different meaning. Pink has a connotation of admiration, purple denotes passion and yellow is typically associated with gratitude. Black ones are truly enigmatic and carry a certain mystery.
“The modest Rose puts forth a thorn,
The humble sheep a threat’ning horn:
While the Lily white shall in love delight,
Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright.” – By William Blake
Georgia O Keeffe’s most famous painting – Keeffe Calla Lily
At 26, she finally sought help. She is bright, has received fabulous education, is brought up in a stable, happy household and has travelled extensively. After graduation she got a great job in the city of London but came to realise it was not right for her.
After a tempestuous patch, she has landed on her feet. Great wisdom has come to her in abundance. She has discovered that her family is her strength. She can trust them. Her mother walks right beside her, growing with her, every step of the way. She now appreciates her dog more than ever before. A drive to the coast and a stroll by the sea with a loved one is not something she takes for granted anymore. Yoga is now a part of her daily routine. Gardening brings her peace. She spends her time colouring picture books and drawing sketches.
Her creativity is finding expression. Zaynah lives with Borderline Personality Disorder and writes a blog – Not a simple mind. Her life is not easy but it is a hundred percent authentic. She shares it generously. She is determined to help others. While Facebook constantly incites her to compare her life with that of others, she knows better. She can tell real from fake. She understands she is in recovery. It’s a zig-zag road but it’s good. Yes. All this learning at 26!
“Recovery isn’t about getting back to how you were before, it’s about building something new.” – Anonymous.
In the recording below, Zaynah talks to me about her diagnosis, her recovery and the changes in her life:
Leicester Square Tube station is a short stimulating walk from there. Chinatown is mouth-wateringly aromatic. Soho is teaming with restaurants and bars of all kinds. Music of various genres flies on to the street from doors and windows. The streets are buzzing with tourists and locals of all kinds, colours and inclinations. Outlandish garbs and hairdos are normal. It is Entertainment Central.
Ronnie Scott’s is black. A legendary jazz bar that has hosted every big name. The entrance is an unassuming black and red double door. It leads into an atmospheric, intimate space. The shapely waitresses manoeuvre their way delicately around tables in black dresses with broad red belts. The walls are awash with black and white pictures that capture jazz artists in an ecstatic moment. The cocktails are elegant and the menu fit for a Queen.
A drum-kit usually sits at the back of a stage. At best, to one side. But last night, it held centre-stage in all its glory – 5 drums and 8 cymbals at various angles. It was a celebration of Buddy Rich’s 100th birthday. He’s been called the greatest drummer ever to have drawn breath. Gregg Potter and Dave Weckl played the drums as a tribute to Buddy. They led a beautiful-big-band made up of 11 wind instrumentalists, a pianist and a base guitarist. They added layers upon layers of intricacy and magic to their music. Notes slithered up and down the octaves like snakes up and down a staircase. The sound was smooth, the timing impeccable and the speed, unbelievable. It was soothing and explosive at the same time. The beats bound time in a tight grid. The drums became an extension of the drummer. They were one.
I wonder if Saagar had heard Buddy. I wonder what he thought of him. I am sure he would have found his drumming to be ‘ridiculous’. Saagar often went straight to his drums on getting back from school. Drumming was his passion and respite. I suggested he do his official music grades. He said he had nothing to prove to anyone. He just wanted to enjoy it. He was a natural. Pity we never went to Ronnie Scott’s together.
Another Thursday. Another musician. Another suicide.
This Facebook post brought up the same old questions. I am not the only one asking them. They are a big problem for many families, individuals and communities. But sadly, the easiest thing to do for a medic at a consultation is to write a prescription rather than invest time and resources in the individual.
“Just reading about Chris Cornell and how according to his wife he took too much of his prescribed medication, out of it, because he was on his medication. Whether it was a suicide or “accidental death” I am outraged at the system. I didn’t really know Chris Cornell’s music until recently, but I lost my dear friend, another talented musician, to a similar situation recently. And before that I lost my mom, who became psychotic when given anti-depressants and took the whole bottle a few days after she had started taking them. I am so frustrated by a medical establishment that refuses to treat the whole disease and the whole person, and so tired of people I love dying from the very medication that is supposed to prevent it. If you work in (mental) health, please consider the risk when prescribing medications. Years ago, I myself was prescribed ativan and other medications and became addicted and had to take myself off everything completely without the support of a doctor because they thought I needed medication, while in reality the medication was making me suicidal.
Medication without therapy from my perspective is no different than drinking or smoking or taking drugs. I see the system changing as the trauma-informed approach enters the mainstream but in Nova Scotia, so many mental health problems that need deep spiritual healing are treated with drugs. Drugs that sometimes exacerbate the problem, or create a whole new problem, without leaving the person spiritually and emotionally sober enough to make sound decisions that could save lives.
I look forward to the day when the mental hospitals and outpatient aftercare support radical healing on a whole-person level-the kind of work that the International Association for Human Values and Body Talkers are doing-treating the whole person and providing them with actual physical stress and trauma relief tools.
Just a rant. I’m done. Love to all. Please no more state/big pharma-sponsored suicides…”
Eleven years ago, purely by chance, I learnt a breathing-based meditation technique called ‘Sudarshan Kriya’. It has kept me strong through deeply traumatic life-events. Our breath is a subtle but powerful bridge to knowing the ‘self’. It has precious secrets hidden in it. It energises and detoxifies. It keeps us alive. If we are willing to learn, it teaches us the art of living.
The custom of placing flowers on an alter is an ancient one. In the sixth century, Ikebana was founded in Kyoto as an offering to the Goddess of Mercy. Flower arranging contests were held at the imperial court where aristocrats and monks competed with each other at festivals.
In the early 16th century people tried to give a deeper meaning to the thoughts accompanying flower arranging. They wished to arrange rather than casually placing them in a vase. An earlier attitude of passive appreciation developed into a more deeply considered approach.
Rikka is the oldest style of Ikebana. Trees symbolise mountains while grasses and flowers suggest water. A natural landscape is expressed in a single vase. Indeed, all things in nature are reflected. In Rikka it is important to know the laws of nature through harmony of trees and plants.
It is my good fortune that I have the opportunity to be very intimate with Mother Nature in this concrete jungle of London. I have a teacher who is dedicated to passing this ancient tradition on to future generations. Her school has generated a number of teachers who inspire many people like me. Arranging flowers is like meditation in motion. The right brain can express itself to the fullest. The intuitive decision making, the textures, smells and colours of materials, the elegant shapes, the spatial organisation and the movement within bring peace and satisfaction. It is creative within a set of rules. It is aesthetically appealing to the subtle sensibilities. It is a gentle experience of being one with nature.
“Ut amem et foveam” (To love and cherish) reads one of the tattoos on David Beckham. “Quod me nutris, me destruit” (What nourishes me destroys me) reads one of Angelina Jolie’s. Dragons, spiderwebs, birds, butterflies and many other forms and words cover many a body, silently relaying many stories. Mine simply reads ‘Saagar’ – an uncompromising statement, ink sealed beneath the skin as a permanent marker of what matters most. I got it in this very town on the 3rd of October 2016 (Day 718). Yes. It was painful but well worth it.
Tattoos once signified tribal affiliations and hard line expressions of devotion to a particular gang or cult. They serve as potent conversation starters and quiet sources of strength and hope. Some people with depression pick themes such as ‘Amour’, ‘Stay strong’, the picture of an anchor, “Grace’, a butterfly signifying if I could get through this I could become something beautiful on the other side, a dream catcher and ‘Sometimes you’ve got to fall before you fly’ and many such quotes and song lyrics.
They are a form of self-expression but when all over, I wonder if they are also a form of self-harm as they do hurt, especially when combined with multiple piercings. They certainly are an effective way of covering up scars from self-harm and may inspire people to invest in treatment and recovery.
A 2015 survey of tattoo owners in Britain showed that 40% of them regretted at least one of their’s. It is no surprise that tattoo removal parlours are the largest growth sector in the cosmetic industry.
I suppose it means different things to different people. Some say you can never stop at one but I am happy with one and I know that I will never regret it.
“Hi. My name is Joe
And I work in a button factory
I’ve got a wife
And one day my boss said to me
He said, “Joe?
…Got a minute?”
He said “Push the button
With your left hand”
It was like being a kid again. The Theatre workshop at the Dragon Café let loose my imagination and opened up a whole new world of possibilities. I was part of a community full of great ideas, all of which were real in that room. Colourful currents of creative juices were flowing, intersecting and mingling within that sacred space. Every suggestion was validated, every feeling acknowledged. I felt safe and uplifted. For that one hour I could be anyone, anywhere with any story.
If I was an object, I would be one of a pair of 5 and a half inch long ear-rings with turquoise beads and feathers.
If I could change the world, I would say to you, please listen.
The interaction induced empathy. For a few minutes, each of our characters felt what it must be like to be in the other one’s shoes. We formed strong connections and had great fun.
I can see why Drama therapy works in schools, prisons, mental health centres, businesses and hospitals. It is an instrument for change, individual and social. It can help us work our way through a problem, discover some truths about ourselves, understand the meaning of images that resonate with us and explore and transcend unhealthy personal patterns of behaviour.
Saagar was a natural mimic and actor. Every time he auditioned, he bagged a good role. Predictably, he played one of the 3 wise men in his primary school nativity play. Then, he was Badger in Wind in the Willows. His last school play was Of Men and Mice in which he played the character of The Boss. He loved the team aspect of putting a production together. The last play he watched was ‘Book of Mormons’.