Reasons to be grateful: A sense of peace watching the bees

Like a lot of people I’ve been alarmed by the reports of the steep decline in biodiversity. When we moved into our current house there were some roses in pots, and a few wild flowers in the garden, but the majority of the space was taken up with lawn, and even the grass all looked like it was all the same variety. While we couldn’t fix the global biodiversity crisis, we could try to help in our little corner of London.

Over the last couple of years my partner and I have put quite a lot of work into increasing the diversity of plant and animal life in the garden, by planting new flowering plants, growing fruit and vegetables, and letting those wild flowers that were there before roam a little more freely.

We’ve managed to establish a couple of sage plants which put on an explosive display of purple flowers in late spring, and we also now have some chunky clusters of chives, that produce clumps of violet pompoms. Both of these plants are really attractive to the bees. Now we can sit and watch the local honey bees roam across these flowers collecting nectar, their little legs heavy with pollen.

As I write this we’ve had a stressful couple of weeks, with both my son and my lovely little cat being poorly, along with the day to day stresses that come with work and the rising cost of living. I’ve struggled with anxiety in the past, and it is these times where it is more important to do little things for our mental health. Most days I find a moment to go out into the garden to watch the busy activity of the bees. These are moments that I can really sink into and feel a little contentment in the present.

The flowers on both plants are dying back now, but there are others just geering up to take their place. My son loves to go outside and look for the ants and the ‘bumble bees’ too. It makes me grateful that we put the effort into trying to turn some patches of a tired looking lawn into an attractive place for the local insects.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. You can read my short fantasy stories here on Simily. If you are interested in the process of creativity and want to get a copy of my free short book of creative prompts, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon page here.

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Ideas from science to boost your art: The restorative impact of nature

Before I started writing this blog post I took a walk in a nature park that is close to my home. I had spent the morning trying to upload my film to a website in order to submit it to some festivals (more news on that to come), and was in need of a creative reset before I started working on a different project. I frequently find that a walk in a wild place will help me think through what I want to say or do next on any number of my creative works in progress, and it has significant positive impact on my mental and physical health too. I’m not the only one who finds this, and the positive impact of being in green or blue spaces on humans has been established for some time.

This is why I wanted to discuss some of the ideas of Rachel and Stephen Kaplan in this next ‘ideas from science to boost your art’ post. I came across their book, The experience of nature: a Psychological perspective while working up a proposal for a project at work. It’s an old book, published in 1989 and doesn’t appear to be in print any more, but I was able to access it for free here.

The book outlines a theoretical perspective on how natural environments are beneficial to us, and then brings together a lot of evidence to support different parts of the theory from psychological studies that the authors and their students conducted around that time. I really liked how they described an inclusive understanding of natural environments on page 2 as “places near and far, common and unusual, managed and unkempt, big, small and in-between, where plants grow by design, or even despite it.”

I’m not actually going to write about the evidence here. This is partly because the evidence is likely to have been built upon in the thirty years since it’s publication, and should I try to update that here this would turn into a very long blog post. It’s also partly because I think the basic ideas are something that may be helpful and thought provoking to creatives and non creatives alike. Given the book is 368 pages it’s unlikely that I’ll fit everything into a thousand words or so of a blog post, and I have also simplified things because of this. If you like what you see, try giving it a read.

Humans and information

They begin by describing how human beings are highly dependent on information to function, which they hoover up from their environments through all the senses available to them. The brain is in a constant state of sorting through which information is important and requires some sort of action, and which is not. In order to do this hoovering and sorting the brain can engage in two different types of attentional processes:

  1. ‘Involuntary attention’ – the kind of focus you may have when engaging with something you already find interesting. This kind of attention is relatively low effort, and enjoyable
  2. ‘Directed attention’ – the kind of attention you have to work at. If we think about this as writers, it’s the kind of attention you may need to sustain your concentration through a difficult scene or a series of picky revisions or edits. Sustaining this kind of attention for extended periods of time can result in mental fatigue, even if this has been in the pursuit of a project that is enjoyable.

They then make the argument, which feels intuitively right to me, that in modern society we have constructed urban environments and social structures that constantly provide us with lots of interesting and distracting information, and thus there is lots of ‘sorting’ to do between the information that is just interesting, and the information that requires action. As a result we frequently engage in directed attention, which can result in mental fatigue.

Mental fatigue

For most writers and creatives, especially ones like myself who are trying to fit creative stuff in around other bits of life, I think that mental fatigue may be a familiar feeling. It is the state where someone may feel ‘worn out’ without necessarily having engaged in any physical activity. They even note that people who experience this may complain that they have not engaged in enough activity.

The consequences of mental fatigue may be familiar too. People who are mentally fatigued are more likely to commit human errors and to be aggressive, less tolerant, and less sensitive to socially important cues. So here is the explanation for that gaping plot hole that you didn’t notice first time round in that bit of the book you wrote while really tired and highly caffeinated.

Restorative environments

The bulk of the book is dedicated to building a case around why natural environments may be ‘restorative environments’, by which they mean environments that facilitate rest and recovery from mental fatigue. They cite four different characteristics that environments they consider to be ‘restorative’ have:

  1. The sense of ‘being away’ both from one’s every day concerns and responsibilities, and from noise and cluttered urban spaces
  2. The sense of being in ‘a whole other world’ in which things may look and feel quite different
  3. They are inherently fascinating, and easily engage those processes of ‘involuntary attention’ we met earlier
  4. They are compatible with the things that people like to do

The descriptions of these four types of characteristics are quite long and detailed. I’m not going to paraphrase them here as this blog will never end, and I feel like these characteristics will intuitively make sense to a lot of people. If you do want to read about the detail, the relevant sections start from page 184.

I think many of us can see how being in a natural space may fit the bill for all of the above. Being out in a green or blue space means we are away from our desks, our work places, perhaps even our caring responsibilities, and things feel quite different there. Allowing ourselves the time to pay attention to the plants and insect and other animals can feel like being in a whole other world, and is, for many people, inherently fascinating. Being in calm green places allows many of us to do things that we enjoy, like hiking, cycling or sitting near bodies of water.

Recovery from mental fatigue

The final aspect of this theory that I think is really helpful for creatives is their discussion of how being in a natural environment can help us recover from mental fatigue. They suggest this can happen at four levels:

  1. Clearing the head and allowing your mind to pack away the ‘cognitive leftovers’ from a recent task or project
  2. Recovering our abilities to engage in the processes of directed attention, i.e. our ability to concentrate
  3. The ‘soft fascination’ that is induced by exploring the plants and creatures of a place allows for a kind of cognitive quiet which may give space to think about things that are ignored, or not felt to be important on a day to day level
  4. The space for deeper reflections on one’s life , priorities, actions and goals

For me I think the most important take away from these ideas is that as a creative, the key to being productive and having good ideas is not to work on this or that project in every spare moment as western culture may sometimes suggest. Rather, those moments when we step away from our desks and out, into the garden, or away to the park are really important for our brains to be able to function when we do next sit down to work on something. Personally I found this insight really helpful as I often feel a bit guilty when I take an hour out of my ‘art day’ to walk in the park, and perhapse I don’t need to feel like that at all.

I hope you have found this blog interesting or thought provoking. If you have thoughts or comments, I would love to hear from you.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. You can read my short fantasy stories here on Simily. If you are interested in the process of creativity and want to get a copy of my free short book of creative prompts, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon page here.

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The Heroine’s Journey is the narrative template we all need right now.

I’ve been sitting on this post for quite a while now, having first drafted it when I was listening to the audiobook of The Heroine’s Journey by Gail Carriger (affiliate link) back in the summer on Audible (affiliate link). I’m not really sure why I’ve held on to it for so long, other than I wasn’t quite clear on what I wanted to say. But a few weeks before the holiday season begins feels like an appropriate time to put this put there, so I’ve tried to pull those thoughts together a bit more coherently.

Anyone who has tried to write long form fiction will have heard about The Hero’s Journey, which was described by Joseph Cambell in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces (affiliate link), which is a kind of narrative template that forms the backbone of many, many books and films and describes the archetypal ‘journey’ which will take a hero from the start, to the end of the story.

I had come across this template when I was completing my PhD in the psychology of stories and how they influence us, and found it an interesting and useful tool in helping to shape a story in progress. However, over time I have become increasingly troubled. I’m not going to go into the specifics of the template, as this has been done many, many times before, but the main point of the journey is that while a hero may pick up many comrades along the way, to eventually save the day he must face the major challenges alone. When he returns home, he is so deeply changed by his journey that he may not be able to find his place there again.

My main beef with this, apart from being such a poor representation of so many of the real life major human triumphs, is that is sends such a troubling message. The kind of individualism glorified by the Hero’s Journey implies that anyone who needs help, who can’t defeat their deamons on their own, is essentially weak. I’m thinking specifically through a mental health lense when I say this (I have worked in mental health research for almost ten years). This is not the first time that I have said that we need better stories about mental health, and I really think that the focus on doing it alone, or failing alone, is part of the problem here. But my thinking hasn’t got very far on how we do that. As we all know, it is easy to point out a problem, but not nearly as easy to point to a solution.

Luckily for me, Gail Carriger has written a really great book about the alternative narrative framework, The Heroine’s Journey. If you have not read it, and you are interested in telling stories that offer an alternative to the ‘going it alone’ narrative, I strongly suggest that you read (or listen to) this book.

I’m not going to do a thorough summary this complex and rich book here, as that wasn’t my intention when I wrote this post. The headline is that Carriger carefully unpicks the Hero’s Journey, and explains exactly how the Heroine’s Journey is different. The main point that I am attracted to, both for my own work and for the more general message it sends, is that strength comes from building and working with a community of like minded people. The heroine will collect together a group of trusted co-travellers, seek collaboration, compromise and peace rather than revenge, and will prioritise protecting the people she loves over the glory of a victory. Through this process the heroine will get to know each one of her co-travellers, undertand their talents, and when the time comes, give them their moment to shine.

As Carriger states, to the heroine, ‘Asking for help is not seen as a weakness, it is the very definition of her strength,’ (I’m really sorry, I don’t know the page number for this) which for me is an essentially positive message with particular relevance to mental health.

In these difficult, and isolating times, we need to move past narratives that further promote the kind of individualism that can be toxic to mental health and look to something that helps us reclaim the value that can be found in connection and in community.

The Heroine’s Journey is the narrative template we all need right now.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. If you creative prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

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Reasons to be grateful: an overgrown garden lawn

It’s now November in the UK, and Autumn has really settled in. I really love this time of year, as the leaves turn red and fall to the ground, and we begin to experience some of the more atmospheric weather that I find inspiring. The other morning we were treated to a dense mist as I walked my son to his nursery. He had not really seen mist before, and spent a good portion of the journey pointing into the air and squeaking. It was a nice reminder that for him, many of life’s more normal experiences are completely new.

I planned to write this post several months ago, but somehow couldn’t get it together to write it. I had the idea for it when I was really struggling with some work related anxiety, but hadn’t yet felt ill enough to take any time off work. Since that time I did take a few days off work, before rushing back in again to do something that felt important at the time. A week later my son came home with a fairly common childhood disease, and not long after that I was really ill with it for a couple of weeks. I think my immune system was left struggling after I rushed back to work too soon, a mistake that I will try not to make again.

It is too cold to stand out on the grass in my bare feet now. But this summer I was enormously grateful that when I was feeling stressed I could walk down the stairs and out to my garden, where we are lucky enough to keep a rather untidy lawn. I like to feel the cool grass under my feet when I am feeling anxious. For me there is something about putting my feet in direct contact with the earth that is grounding. Things to not feel quite so bad after a few minutes standing quietly and looking at the flowers.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

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Mental health and silver linings

Last week I wrote about my recent brush with anxiety and how at times like this I find that creativity can form a kind of refuge for me. During that time I made a picture of a cat that I rather liked. It’s inspired by my two cats. Both of them are black and a little eccentric, but one of them has displayed some almost saint like qualities in his tolerance of the overly enthusiastic affections of my toddler son.

Over the weekend I had a go at doing some finishing touches in photoshop, and was relatively pleased with the result. So even though I wasn’t feeling near my best in that time, I have come out with a little silver lining in the form of a piece of art.

This is the finished piece above. If you like it, and fancy treating yourself to something with this image on, it’s now available in my shop at Redbubble here.

Thank you for reading. I also write, make art and films. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Anxiety and creativity as a refuge

Last week I was off work with stress and anxiety. I’m back in now, but it was a bit of a shock to crash out with a panic attack on a not particularly difficult Monday morning, and find myself unable to return for a few days after that. While I’ve struggled anxiety for quite a long, I don’t normally find myself needing to take time off work with it, but that’s how things go sometimes, isn’t it?

During my time off I was feeling really tired and had that kind of brain fog that makes it a bit difficult to think things through properly. From a creative point of view, I wasn’t been able to write much either, which is my normal creative weapon of choice. When my mental health slips this way my instinct is to retreat into making pictures. I find something therapeutic in the physical activity involved in drawing, cutting paper and working out which other materials may work for that particular design.

There are a few theories about around why creative activities are helpful to mental health, including (not an exhaustive list);
1. That it provides a nice distraction from difficult feelings or circumstances
2. That it may provide a route into a state of ‘Flow’. This is a psychological term coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and which describes a positive state of mind where a person is fully involved in and focused on a particular activity (for more information you can read his book on the subject here (affiliate link)).
3. A route for self expression or catharsis, allowing people to express, and more clearly understand their own feelings or thoughts on a difficult situation.

Over time I have probably found all three of these aspects of creativity helpful to my own mental health, and am grateful that it is something I feel able to do. One of the benefits of building some form of creative practice into my everyday life is that when things feel a bit difficult, I have something productive to withdraw into, like this last week.

And I made a picture of a cat that I’m pleased with too.

Thank you you for reading. I also write, make art and films. If you like these prompts and want to get a copy of a free short book of them I wrote, and to hear more about my writing projects please join my mailing list here. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

More thoughts on writing characters with mental health challenges: my approach so far

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the challenges involved in writing characters facing mental health challenges. I have been thinking about this quite a lot because one of the protagonists in my novel (working title Feeding Jasmine Valentine) has challenges with her mental health. It’s a fantasy novel and it’s perhaps a little bit unusual for one of the hero’s of the story to be struggling with their mental health, but that’s why it’s important to me that to do a decent job. While I can’t claim to have an encyclopaedic understanding of the genre, I’ve not seen many fantasy books in which the person with mental health challenges gets to be the hero (although that being said there are quite a lot of characters out there who are clearly struggling with trauma), while I have seen plenty of poor or stereotyped bit characters, and I wanted to do something different.

From a personal perspective I’ve had my own challenges and have many friends who have had mental health experiences. Poor representation does none of us any favours.

I’d like to think that I have an advantage here, in that in my day job as a mental health researcher should give me a bit of additional insight, and that have been working alongside people with their own mental health experience for a number of years. 

I thought it may be helpful to try to describe the approach I have been taking here, which really boils down to a very simple set of things:

1. Characters with mental health challenges are not just walking chapters from a psychiatry textbook, and can’t be reduced down to a list of symptoms to tick off through a creative project. I’ve seen this done before, and it’s just really offensive.

2. I started with the character first. What kind of person was she (and it is a she in this case)? What did she like, or not like? What did she do?

3. I identified the significant symptoms that were causing her problems (I didn’t start with a diagnosis, and actually am still a bit unsure what that would be), and then tried to understand how those symptoms my interfere with her wanting to do the things she wants to do. 

So the approach I’ve taken, which I think is OK, is to start with the character, and then think about how her mental health influences her experiences and what she does. It was not to start with a set of symptoms and then build a character around those, as my hunch was that this would result in a really reductive simplistic character who was defined by her mental health, rather than it being part of a much bigger picture.

I hope these thoughts are helpful to anyone who is trying to write about mental health, let me know in the comments below.

Thank you for reading. I also make art and films. You can see my films at my YouTube channel here. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here. 

Thoughts on Radical Kindness: Why writers and artists should practice it (Part 3)

img_0390

[This is part 3 of a series of blogs about kindness. Please see parts 1 and 2 here]

When I began writing these posts I kind of thought this would have been one of my ‘here are my random thoughts on this’ kind of posts and that would be it. However life rarely turns out as you expect. I have been thinking a bit about my own journey as a person, and as an artist and writer, and what I’m about really through these posts.

I actually wanted to write and make art when I was a teenager, but I also wanted to ‘help people’ and somehow got it into my head that being an artist/writer would mean that I wouldn’t be doing that (I have seriously revised my view on this now!). Instead I went off to university to study medicine, thinking that doctors ‘helped’ people so that was what I should do. While I really loved learning about the science, and believe that having the opportunity to study human anatomy through full body dissection was one of the great privileges of my life, it turned out that the practice of medicine was not for me. I left after four years to do a PhD in psychology, during which I studied things like advertising, persuasion and the impact that stories can have on us. I still wanted to write and make art, but some how I wasn’t ready, because I hadn’t really found my subject.

Later I did research into mental health and genetics, and I left a long term relationship because my then partner would not even talk about having children (hence I am quite late to the baby party). After this I had a bit of a break down really, although I would not have called it that at the time. I was depressed, very anxious, and drinking lots. I was in a bad way, and (cliche alert) I became attached to a number of men who were not attached to me.

I continued to work in mental health but the kind of work I did changed so that I was doing research with colleagues who also had mental health issues. We talked a lot, and I listened a lot, and in the middle of all of that, I found I was ready to make things and write things. I am now writing a novel in which people have experienced trauma and who live with those things. It’s also a fantasy novel, so I am trying to weave in strands of myth and magic, which makes things a bit complicated, but and I think I finally found my subject. I think this is the many splendid forms of being human and all the emotional consequences of that. 

So why do I think that artists and writers in particular should practice radical kindness? I think that, beyond just being a good person, there are a number of reasons. I think to create art, or convincing characters that really speak to people, it can really help to understand people. It can really help to understand the rich and varied emotional lives many people live. To understand people, you need to connect with people on an honest level. To connect with people, it really, really helps if you are kind. People will tell you things about themselves, and help you, incrementally, to better understand all the different ways of being human, if you are kind.

I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Thoughts on Radical Kindness as a Daily Practice: Part 2

img_0390[This blog is Part 2 of a series blogs – see Part 1 here.]

When I started writing this blog series I just wanted to express a general thought about kindness; that posting nice quotes or stories is not enough. We need to think about it like yoga, as a kind of daily or weekly practice to actually make a difference. I see this a potential political movement, not just a personal practice, although perhaps more developed thoughts on that can wait for later.

In writing that post I realised that I had learned a few specific things in the last few years working in mental health that were helpful to me. You may or may not find them helpful to you, so I’ve made a little list:

  1. Listening to, rather than talking to, people. I think this has been my major learning in the last few years and it’s also something I keep banging on about. I have even blogged about this in the past here. Learning to listen carefully to people, and to be able to show that I am listening to them has, I think, been the thing that has made the biggest difference in being able to really connect with people. I have learned a whole set skills that relate to listening over time. I will write a separate post about them at some point.
  2. Resisting the urge to ‘fix it’, and understanding that is often not what people need anyway. I think that ignoring or avoiding the urge to immediately jump up and try to fix something for someone when they are having a difficult time is really important. I am not sure if this is a British thing or more broadly applicable, but in the UK we are socially accustomed to avoiding difficult conversations. This often leads to the impulse to jump up and ‘do something’ when one arises, rather than giving someone the full extent of space and time they need to explain themselves. While practical is often help is very much appreciated, if offered too early it is often inappropriate and may just demonstrate that you weren’t listening in the first place.
  3. Resisting the urge to interrupt, or finish people’s sentences. Actually I have a really hard time with this one, because I find myself doing this quite a bit and then being cross with myself. But it’s also the biggest indicator for me that someone is not listening, or has lost patience with me when they do this. So this is an area I am working on.
  4. Don’t dismiss someone’s feelings, or suggest someone may be overreacting or making it up. Just don’t. It’s not nice. It’s not kind.
  5. Understanding that kindness may look different to different people. You can’t always get it right. I have often said things or done things that have landed badly, often when I was too tired, or took too little time to understand. It’s ok to get things wrong. It’s not ok to stop trying, or to avoid understanding why things went wrong. Try, try again. 
  6. Try not to give advice. Lots of people with mental health problems have heard all the advice before. I have found asking people what they have tried, and not tried out is a much better way to get into a conversation about what to do next. For example don’t tell people with anxiety to try a puzzle book, or a colouring book. They very probably have six of each sitting at home, half finished. Please don’t tell people to ‘go for a nice walk’. It’s not that simple. I always come back to listening. A lot of people feel a little bit better when they feel heard, and that they can trust you to keep a confidence.
  7. Don’t assume you know what someone is feeling. Even if you have been through the exact same thing, which you probably haven’t, you don’t. Let them tell you instead.
  8. Understanding my own boundaries, trying to protect them. Again this is something I have really struggled with in the past because I thought being kind meant being there for everyone else all the time, at the expense of what ever may be going on for me. Then I got really ill for a while with anxiety, drank waaay too much, and realised that this approach, amongst other issues in my life at the time, were not working. Now I try really hard to limit the time spent in social situations as I find these very tiring, and to basically give my self a sensible amount of time to do things like replying to emails and texts rather than being ‘on tap’. I think some people may have felt that I have become very anti social because of this, but I’m happy with the focus on quality over quantity. 
  9. Don’t consume things that are cruel. As a rule I don’t buy gossip magazine or tabloid newspapers, I try to avoid clickbait type articles online (with partial success). I don’t follow people like Katie Hopkins or Piers Morgan on Twitter. Most of these media forms have, in part or in full, cruelty built into their business model. Let’s think about that. They make money by spreading things like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, disability hate, rape myths and assorted forms of ignorance, and untrue stories about people’s private lives. These things make the lives of ordinary people harder, and those people are often people who had a difficult run in the first place. It that what you want your hard earned money, or your precious time, to be doing? We can make things better, collectively, by refusing to reward anyone who makes money from this kind of content. Don’t pay for it. Don’t click on it. Don’t follow it. It’s like adding poison to your own well. As a happy side effect, you’ll feel a lot better without that kind of influence in your life. I have not bought a single ‘woman’s magazine’ for ten years, and I have not missed them at all.

I will have missed loads of things so please add your thoughts in the comments below.

I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Thoughts on Radical Kindness as a Daily Practice: Part 1.

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It’s almost ten years since Amy Winehouse died. I really liked her music and was lucky enough to see her perform twice during her first album. She was a wonderful, funny, forceful presence on stage. In later years I saw filmed footage of her at concerts and performances, and could see that things were going wrong for her, although niavely, I did not understand the extent of her distress. The world was not kind to the beautiful, talented, Amy Winehouse.

I do remember a point in time where I had bought myself a magazine and they had printed paparazzi photos of her out in the street, seemingly after having a fight, with only one shoe. At that point the penny dropped for me that I had bought a magazine that had effectively paid someone to stalk women. I have not bought ‘woman’s magazine’ since.

Not long after this Amy died. I was at a wedding with friends and we found out over breakfast with the morning papers. One of the people there said something to the effect of ‘well we all saw that coming.’ I remember thinking at the time how unkind this was, and how I didn’t really know my friend so well after all.

Over the last week or so press intrusion has been sited as a causal factor in the death of another woman, Caroline Flack. I didn’t really want to write about her, because before this happened I confess that I didn’t know who she was. I can’t comment on her work, or what kind of person she was, although the coverage suggests that she was very human, struggling along like the rest of us. One of the things I noticed in the last week that prompted me to write this post was a quote attributed to her circulating on social media. The quote went something along the lines of:

In a world where you can be anything, be kind.

It’s a really nice quote, and it’s nice to see it circulating. I’ve also seen a lot of those ‘inspirational, pay-it forwards’ stories recently, like some one paying for someone else groceries in the checkout when they are short, and they are really nice to see too. However, sometimes I despair at quotes and stories like this, because it feels a bit like posting the quote is enough, and then we can go back to ‘business as usual’, which is not always particularly kind. Here’s my problem:

Posting the quote, or the story is not enough.

I have been working along side people with sometimes significant mental health problems for the last four and a half years, and I also spent a good amount of time talking to people who were thinking of suicide as a volunteer. This certainly doesn’t make me an expert on kindness, but it has given me a crash course in what practicing kindness can mean. In my experience genunine kindness is rarely about paying for a stranger’s shopping at the supermarket (although it can be about that). It is often about small gestures, and is as much about what you don’t do, as what you do do.

It means not interupting someone when they are trying to tell you something, even if you think you know what they are going to say. It means not giving advice, even if you are sure you are right, before you have taken the time to really try to understand the other person’s experiences. It means actively showing you are listening, that you care. It means putting down your phone. It means acknowledging you don’t know the answers, or that you don’t understand something. It means avoiding sentences that begin with ‘At least…’ It means not consuming click bait on the internet. And it means doing these things every single day, even when you are tired, or stressed, or distracted.

In a world where our politics and our media are becoming increasingly macho and frequently cruel, we, on mass, have a role to play in changing the direction of things. It means practicing radical kindness with each other, everyday, and it means refusing to support or consume things that are cruel.

This has turned into a rather lengthy blog post and I still have more to say – I will publish part two to this blog next week, so look out for that.

I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.