Friday, November 24, 2006

Topic #29 - Birds

I have been struggling to contribute to Artwords for the past few weeks. I haven't been able to achieve anything creative because my energy levels have been so low. A few days ago I managed to start experimenting in Photoshop and created a couple of images I was fairly happy with for starters (see my photos on Flickr) and then today I started working on my entry for this week's topic "Birds".
I knew I had appropriate photos because when I was living in Melbourne I had this wonderful experience with the geese at Studley Park. My husband and I were just sitting reading at one of the picnic tables and about 20 geese came and mobbed us! I know geese can be aggressive so I was a bit alarmed, but they were just lovely. They came right up close, checking us out and honking, letting me take loads of close-up shots. Then our mobile (cell) phone rang and the person on the other end was quite concerned - the geese were so loud she could hardly hear me speak and she thought we must be getting attacked!
They really were such beautiful healthy creatures, so brave, just looking us in the eye, but with curiosity, not animosity. Wonderful!
I've had the feeling that Photoshop could be a good way for me to express myself creatively when I'm pretty tired because sitting at the computer is something I still tend to do unless I have a headache. It's just that I haven't been able to create anything I was really satisfied with up until now. I discovered a great group on Flickr, the Photoshop Support Group. They put up short tutorials on how to achieve certain effects and you can start discussion threads on how to create a particular look that you are after. Already I've learned a lot from them and it is showing!

Monday, November 20, 2006

How to grieve....

Does anyone else think there is something wrong with a society that hides away from one of the most basic truths of life.... that we will all die.

Seventeen months ago I experienced something completely natural - my father became ill and three months later he died. I had a wonderful, loving father. Oh, he wasn't perfect - no one is, but I loved him with all my heart and I knew he loved me. He fought against his natural instincts which made him long to protect me all my life, and did his best to set me free to be the person I am. Sometimes this was extremely challenging for him I know, but because he loved me, he worked at this, and usually succeeded.

Even though my father was 82 and I had realized many years before that he was nearing the end of his life, I was still totally unprepared for his death. I'm not sure what you can do to prepare for a loss like this but I can't help feeling there must be something.

In particular one thing that disturbed me was that I had no idea my father had enterred his final 24 hours when this happened. I visited him in palliative care and helped him to drink and to go to the bathroom. He communicated with me through notes because he had lost control of his speaking muscles but not his thought processes. And because I had no idea how close he was to death, AND NOBODY TOOK ME ASIDE AND TOLD ME, I went home. I planned to come back the next day. But because I have cfs and I had no idea how long this might go on, it seemed important to ration my energy so that I could keep visiting each day for as long as it took - I envisioned about two weeks.

Instead I was wakened at 6am by a phone call to tell me that he had died. Now I don't know how easy or how difficult it is to tell how close a person is to death. I only know that I couldn't tell. And when I think about it, it seems ridiculous that we are so unfamiliar with one of the most basic occurrences of life that we don't know. And the reason we don't know is because we have medicalised the process and hidden our elderly and dieing people away to avoid the pain and the grief. Imagine if we didn't know how to tell when a baby was about to be born. It's laughable, isn't it? And yet not all babies are born at the same rate - some come quickly, others take days, but at least we know that it is happening. And alright, I know the birth of a baby is a happy occasion, but it's no more or less a part of life than dieing.

For the past month or so my energy levels have been so low that I've spent most days lieing on my bed. Last week I went to see my doctor and we realized the connection - I started to deteriorate on the anniversary of my father's death. I hadn't even realized that I wasn't dealing with the grief. Earlier in the year I tried to help myself through the process by having some sessions of art therapy. The artwork I have included with this post is one of those I made at that time. I plan to return to making artworks about my father and my feelings of loss around his death and I will post some of those here. I have found in the past that making art about deeply emotional issues has allowed me to work my way through them, and this has released a lot of energy that seems to get caught up containing the feelings.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Dealing with Dukkah

Steadfast Buddha by Annie Bissett

It's been a while since I posted anything here. I did compose an entry last week-end but did not end up posting it because I felt that what I wanted to write was too negative.

After my big psychological breakthrough concerning BEING and not having to DO, I have slipped backwards. It's not that I feel that I was wrong about existence being enough - it's just there's still a lot of time to fill, and when you don't have the energy to do anything, it becomes pretty boring quite quickly. And it's also hard not to get engrossed in your own thoughts - which seem inevitably to circle around and become negative if you don't really put in an effort to stop this happening. It seems there are only so many times I can tell myself how lucky I am to have my wonderful husband (absolutely true!), that the weather is gorgeous at the moment and so on. I know it is true - I know how much worse it could be - and believe me, I pray it doesn't get any worse - but there is still this overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction.

This is a key concept in buddhist philosophy - it's the first Noble Truth, in fact - dukkah. This is often translated as "suffering" but my teacher has explained to me that it really is broader than that, and that we don't have a true equivalent in English. The thing about Buddhism is that it does offer us a strategy for dealing with this - and it's not about avoidance or distraction, or even believing that it will all be better in another life. It's not even about understanding why this is happening, and it's certainly not about attributing blame.

It's about conditioning. Which is to say, it's about the filters we apply to our experiences, judging them according to criteria we are barely, if at all, aware of.

To explain: The post I started on the week-end was about the two-day trip I made last week to Noosa to see a wonderful exhibition of artists books. How could this have been a negative post, you ask? Well, just wait and see!

Noosa is two hours north of my home town of Brisbane. This is the 10th year that Noosa Regional Gallery has hosted an artists books event and in that time it has grown to be the largest event of its type in Australia. It included an international exhibition, workshops, a day long seminar and an exhibition by two of Australia's leading book artists, Wim de Vos & Adele Outteridge. When I found out about the event about 2 months ago I had hoped to attend a workshop or the seminar, but my energy just would not stretch that far.

Just to attend the exhibition involved a two night stay, in the hope that it won't impact too badly on me. Without my husband's support I would never have made it and I really appreciate the effort he was prepared to go to so that I could see these wonderful art works. The exhibition was so inspiring - it was definitely worth the trip. It filled the entire gallery and about half the space was dedicated to work by the two Brisbane artists and the other half was more traditional artists books, including a lot of printed books with a wonderful range of bindings. Adele Outteridge and Wim de Vos are more sculptural in their approach and in recent years have done a lot of work in perspex. Here are a couple of the pieces I saw but unfortunately you can't really see the detail.

This bottom one is truly amazing - as a ceramic artist, I was enthralled. It consists of a series of perspex pages, displayed as the spokes of a wheel. The pages are connected by three threads which pass from page to page creating the illusion of the vessel forms you see - so beautiful! It looks like something that has been digitally generated.

So, obviously I was not disappointed by the exhibition, although I was disappointed that I couldn't attend more of the program. The problem was the rest of the experience. Apart from a short walk of about 20-30 minutes by the Noosa River, attending the exhibition was all I was able to do. I had to rest the remainder of the two days we were there. The accommodation was exceedingly average - an oversized motel room positioned near a bridge on the main road, so it was pretty noisy. It wasn't cheap, but it was all we could afford - Noosa has become so expensive. I was not able to go out for dinner or lunch or even a coffee because I was so exhausted from the trip.

Ironically, just before I started to become ill with cfs, we had a weeks holiday at Noosa - back in November 1990. That time we stayed in Hastings Street, the main street, right on the beach front - a very different holiday. I remember at the time that we were talking about how we would probably buy ourselves a unit up there for holidaying, when we payed off our house which we thought we would be able to do in five or six years time. Lucky that we cannot see the future....

So because I had expected a very different future from the one I am living, I managed to cast a pall over what was actually a wonderful experience. I knew I was doing it. I watched the thoughts and I knew they were colouring my mood a nasty shade of grey. I tried to stop them and to replace them with more positive, appreciative ones but it has taken me days to get to a point where I feel I can claim even a little success with this.

Buddhism doesn't instruct us to change our thoughts, that is cognitive therapy. All the Buddha tells us to do is live with full awareness - of our thoughts and the dharma. I can recognise that this is a classic example of dukkah and all I have to do is to be aware of it. With time it will change, as all things do. I can see that now I have given the feelings their due attention they are floating away, like wisps of smoke....