Personal Practice

How I became an artistic auto ethnographer

Autoethnography – research through the self.

Visual Autoethnography – Art based research through the lens of the self.

For any of you who don’t know – my personal practice is an exploration of my human condition – always has been – but in 2010 when doing my masters I discovered the correct term for what I’d been doing for many years – that term was autoethnography and oh how I fell in love!

When at college I had a glorious tutor (he has featured in my work many times) and he told me that ‘Art is Philosophy with stuff’ and I never ever forgot that – it resonated deeply.

When I was 17 – 18 years old. I, like many others at that tender age had no idea what I wanted to do with my life – but I knew I had to go to University. My mother joked with me but I knew she was deadly serious. University had given her a notion of much-needed independence – much the same as learning to drive and she had instilled into me a definite desperation for independence as I grew up through my life. So when I’d said I was going to ‘just get a job in Kwik Save’ instead of going to university and she had told me in no unquestionable terms that unless I went to university I’d be kicked out of the house – I figured although I wasn’t ready and didn’t know what to do – clearly a full-time job in a supermarket was NOT going to be accepted. So – upon completion of my A levels I promptly enrolled on a free Art Foundation course at Liverpool Community College – and I got EMA payments for an extra year too! Bonus I thought – I can mess about with art for a bit until I figure out what I REALLY want to do…

Yet, once I got there – my life was changed forever. I met Issues Led Art, I felt the power and magnitude of what an art practice can do for a person and I created my first artwork entitled ‘Effigy’. It was an UGLY little thing, but did I LOVE that piece of work for it held my entire life up to the age of 18. At 18 I was for certain reasons filled with self loathing and I desperately wanted to be reborn – through this piece of work, thankfully I was.

It’s skin was made out of patches of the jeans I had worn stitched together with the fake hair I had worn in my own hair when I had it in braids. Any sellotape used had been first stuck onto my own skin – picking up my cells and putting them within. It had my baby teeth – my piercing jewellery was removed and placed into its face and its innards were made from letters, mementos, ‘precious things’ I had saved over the years and its brain was automatic writing I had created about the project, about myself, what I was dealing with and about my life.

I felt a great release with the making of Effigy and I was reborn – I was reborn into an artist – an artist who could finally admit that they questioned the reasons for our existence, an artist who could admit that they struggled sometimes with life, with being a human, an artist who had started to become self-aware and realised that things, their way of thinking, of interacting with the world was starting to change.

When I find a picture of it – I’ll post it here – my hard drive is in storage at the moment due to my imminent house move! YAY!

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Musings, Personal Practice

Mahadevas, Kali’s, Taras and true inner peace!

Mahadevas, Kali’s, Taras and true inner peace!
If you’ve known me for a while – or perhaps even if you haven’t – you may have noticed that my thoughts, beliefs, ideas – about spirituality/ the human condition/ education / art / whatever else I’m interested in tend to be rather fluid…
As in – Once I have gained new knowledge or insights – if they ring true – I assimilate them into my belief system and my entire outlook on life changes – sometimes within a mere moment…

I personally like this about myself – I don’t think being easily influenced is necessarily a bad thing – there’s a difference between easily influenced and easily led and I like being open minded and I like “growing” myself – though I know to others it can seem “wishy washy and frustrating” at times BUT I genuinely don’t care!
My ideas and beliefs in regard to spirituality have chopped and changed quite a lot over the past few weeks while here in India.  I’ve learned so much – and I’ve discovered so many ancient ideas about life are so very similar to my own inner philosophies.
Only a few weeks into my trip I had decided I was definitely a devotee of Shiva – I do believe that there is a bigger “superconciousness” that is within and above everything in creation (I used to name this as Panentheism – which I discovered when doing my BA dissertation on Tracey Emin – she called herself a Pantheist and introduced me to the philosophies of Spinoza.

However – I also completely believe in the power of the mind to be able to tap into this essence IF we are working at the right frequency.

While still in India however – I realised that at that moment – due to current life situations, stresses and what not – I was not working at that right frequency and that was why I had jumped so gung ho to the ‘grasping’ at Lord Shiva – a few days later when the Shiva euphoria had subsided – I realised I would not be becoming a Shiva-ite any time soon. Though I respect and am glad that the concept of “Shiva” had appeared in my life.

I will always love the concept of Shiva but I won’t be putting “Shiva” at the centre of my world…
Many of the people on my yoga course talked at the closing ceremony about how they had never been spiritual before and visiting India had changed that. It had opened their eyes to new world’s, new ways of being, new ways of seeing.
I’ve been “spiritual” thought NOT RELIGIOUS my whole life. I can FEEL that I have a soul and it feels delightful to be touched so deeply by life. And since the age of 15/16 I’ve knew about and wanted to reach Samadhi – it is an incredibly good feeling knowing that I am getting closer to this each and every single day.

So – as again – depending how well you know me – you may have heard me say this several times too:

“A BOOK HAS CHANGED MY LIFE!”.

“A book has changed my thinking!”-  or rather, as happens usually – a book has confirmed my own inherent beliefs. Ones I had always felt inside but didn’t know about any other philosophies or schools of thought that could back them up. That would enable me to fully trust my own judgement – why had I never fully trusted my own judgement before? Why for so long did I not allow myself to listen to my own wisdom?
THAT IS until I read a book about the ten Mahavidyas!!!! 😍 😍 😍 😍 – “Tantric visions of the divine feminine” by David Kinsley.  I encourage ANYONE with an interest in tantra/spirituality/eastern philosophies or even feminism/judgement of self/the other – from a spiritual slant – to have a read!!!
This book not only helped me to realise that I don’t need or actually want to spend my life worshipping Shiva and visiting temples or doing pujas (though I do love a bit of mantra chanting and I’m a big fan of knowing all about and making Yantras – but I can do these Sadhana’s alone and through my practice).

This book – having turned up at the right time also helped me to realise that ME – EXACTLY as I am, EXACTLY how I “be” in the world – with all of my flaws and inconsistencies is 100% absolutely divine.  Just like the whole of life and the whole of the universe and the whole of everything else held within it!

As it is!

And I don’t think that was actually the authors intent upon writing – he was just cataloguing the myths and legends and explaining the meanings behind the ten mahavidyas – ten goddesses that are misunderstood by the West, ten goddesses who don’t fit into the usual framework of ‘Hinduism’.  These goddesses are not married, they are not mothers, they do not “keep peace” in the universe… These 10 goddesses shake things up a bit and Kali is considered and evidenced in the stories to be more powerful than “Shiva”…
So – where I’m going is here – The Buddha was right – self realisation IS the key to happiness.

BUT yoga was right too – for yoga not only means union and excellence in all actions – it also means consistency.

Consistently being TRUE to your own self.
The Buddha was consistently peaceful and compassionate, Shiva was consistently the destroyer and slayer of unconciousness – he was not compassionate like the Buddha by ANY stretch.
And I am consistently inconsistent!
And within that inconsistency is the dichotomy I always used to grapple with…

On one hand I’m a deeply spiritual person who wants the world to live in peace with conpassion and harmony – but also I am a super passionate, hedonistic crazy, childlike hyperactive fool!

And these two opposing parts of my being used to REALLY get on my nerves! I was always frustrated that I couldn’t just choose a side! But now, I am not only at peace with who I am –  I have not only accepted who I am but I have also embraced it. I have realised that it is absolutely GLORIOUS to be both introverted and extraverted. It is absolutely DIVINE being able to connect with children and disappear into imagination land to slay dragons and ride on magic carpets – Yet also be able to be humbled by nature, to be able to sit quietly all day, taking in the majesty of the world.

I’m no longer interested in trying to become someone I am not. I’m childish and I’m deep. I’m passionate and I’m profound. I’m working class and I’m a weird artist who spends her days painting and singing show tunes. I am ME. 🙂

I’m ready to just live my life, pursue my interests, enjoy my bad self as the ever changing divine mess that I am. Because life is too short for worrying, life is too short for sadness and life is too short for judgements and recriminations. Within everything bad there is also good – you just need to know how to find it.
The other day a vegan friend of mine posted something on Facebook about how some people “claim” to be spiritual but then eat animals and animal products like they actually just don’t care.

I found the meme funny and she quizzed me on whether I was ACTUALLY a vegan.  I responded saying that I was not (I do tend to eat only plant based foods when I’m living in my good place), I explained that I used to be and that I do know all about the horrific meat and dairy industry but that my own consumption of all foods/beverages over the past few years – WHEN NOT IN MY PATTERNS – was done consciously and mindfully and I stated that I believed everyone should do as their own hearts tell them to.

But if one is claiming to be spiritual it would be nice to think that they were concious of what they are consuming, where it came from and to genuinely appreciate and give thanks to all involved in its production.
One of her friends who I’ve never met proceeded to tell me that anyone who consumes animals or their products (milk/cheese/yogurt) whether “consciously or unconsciously” is inherently evil.
Several years ago I would have took that statement to heart and I would have had an internal battle over it as I did do frequently when changing from vegan to veggie to “concious consumer” back to vegan/veggie etc etc… In a circle because at the time I just couldn’t for the life of me figure out who I was!
I also have friends who still have those internal battles…
“I want to be a good human being and I want to drink milk and occasionally have a steak… But I KNOW the animal industry is bad… I know veganism is better for the animals… YET I also know deep down inside that I am NOT Satan incarnate and I’m pretty sure that I am not inherently evil even though I knowingly choose to eat the flesh of an animal who is already dead or I knowingly drink a mango lassi or have a pizza with cheese… Seriously? Am I going to hell for choosing this?????”

AAAAAH – QUEUE the over thinking monkey mind of the growing individual.
But then what if another voice pipes up – what if you allow your own inner wisdom to have a word. If you did perhaps it would speak as follows as mine now tends to do:

I know that my karma is not going to be incredibly bad if I have some chicken with my dinner, I thank the animals for giving up their lives and  I don’t eat them very often if I am the one cooking and when I do – these days I do generally have peace in my heart.  I am stupidly grateful for what goes in my mouth and I savour it. Truly. I don’t allow myself to feel bad any more. And is that really wrong? Surely we should all just do what  is right for us and let everyone else do the same?

You worry about your karma and I’ll worry about mine. Life is far to short in my opinion to spend it angry over what someone else puts into their mouth.
So when this person facetiously told me to “enjoy my karma!” after I had sincerely told her that I hoped one day she would find peace in her heart because I know 100% that I  – a person she has NEVER met – am not inherently evil and her vitriol would therefore have no impact whatsoever upon my life.

I stated that I most certainly would enjoy my karma – because I’ve FINALLY realised something fabulous deep inside about “who I am” and my spiritual path/place in the world and this book has just reaffirmed it.
Especially when I read about a concept called “left handed” tantra! It made me smile, it made me beam, it made me feel a great and beautiful peace ripple through my body. It made me realise I have got a great deal of wisdom (for some subjects!! NOT ALL – but – give me time haha) that many others do not have and I raised a brow and chuckled to myself…
“Do not judge what you have no desire to understand.”
This book reaffirmed to me that any action you take – ANY – as long as your intentions are good, as long as you GENUINELY mean to do no harm, as long as you are concious and ACTIVELY in touch with your “higher self” or inner god/goddess – well that action is not a bad action and it does not need to be regretted.
That action – regardless of what it is – is pure because it is done with a good heart and even if society at large thinks it’s polluting or distasteful or overly erotic/indulgent/harmful/whatever – it doesn’t matter.

What matters is how YOU FEEL, whether you are connected to your god/goddess WITHIN YOURSELF – because if you are – “Life” is a spiritual practice – all of life is Tantra. All of life is Bhakti… And ALL of life feels REALLY REALLY GOOD IF YOU ALLOW IT TO.
To thine own self be true.

Thine own HIGHER self. Thine own god conciousness. Thine own Kali, Tara, Shakti, Durga… You name the “God/Goddess/Buddha” that resonates with you and you OWN IT.
Mind you, I also think – anything you do unconsciously also does not need regretting – for if you don’t know what the right action is in any given moment – how can you really take it?

We are meant to make mistakes – We are human and they help us to grow!
For too long I allowed the thoughts of others to influence my own – negatively. I took their judgements and criticisms and internalised them for many years.

I, like many others have been guilty in the past for judging myself by other people’s standards and what a fat load of good that did me eh!

For too long I was afraid to embrace exactly who I am, for too long did I not approve of my actions, my thoughts, my desires – yet I knew I was being silly and I worked upon changing and I got there eventually. Reading this book about the Tantric Mahadevas and the ‘Left Path’ just cemented my ideas and philosophies about life – BE WHO YOU WERE BORN TO BE!

Do not be afraid to be uniquely you and let your divine light shine!
Savour every delicious moment of life, every mouthful of food, every divine scent that flits past your nose, every tender brush of the skin, every single momentary eye contact with another human being or gaze upon something wonderful in nature for THAT is spiritual divotion.

That is Bhakti for the embodied god/goddess within.
My path is not Shiva (though Shiva is amazing) – my path HAS and always will be some sort of wierd hodge podge of everything that resonates with me and that includes this new (to me yet VERY OLD) idea of Tantra. For Tantra is worshipping the gods and goddesses through embodiment – “becoming” them and worshipping the them” inside of your OWN self.
AND I am LEFT HANDED and I always have been – yet sometimes I also use my right.

Therefore the left path of Tantra… The path of Kali, the path of heroes, the path that is deemed polluted – well – that is sometimes my path too and I finally understand it and embrace it and I embrace me in all of my human, worldy, sensuous esoteric mystical divinity!
Today I feel like a “grown up”.
Today a shift has occurred.
Today I actually feel like a wise sage instead of a confused child.
And today I feel like a woman who honours herself in all of her crazy glory. A woman honours her Kali, her Tara and her Shakti.

A woman who feels complete and has stopped judging herself as “less” than anything or anyone else on this fabulous planet of ours! A woman who is ready to put her OWN art practice at the forefront of her life.

I finally understand the notion of the body being a temple – for there is a Goddess dwelling inside – and I shall cherish and honour and indulge her – to give her thanks for finally moving in and filling me with divinity and love.
And I have india, it’s history, it’s philosophies, it’s yoga, it’s cow worship, it’s respect for yet consuming of the animals, it’s Hinduism, it’s Tantra and it’s Buddha to thank for this.
Namascray my dears For we are all truly divine and if people do not understand us –  well – thats their own problem.

 

For if you do not think I am imperfectly perfect exactly as I am then you do not have to sit at my table – and that goes for my old self. I am so glad that I do not allow judgements to “hurt” me any more.
A fitting Annieism for this post – “those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter” and another one is ‘Let it like water off a ducks back”.
For some reason in the past I used to judge myself harshly – I have no idea why and to be honest – I no longer really care – the past is the past and that really is all there is to it.

Yet – perhaps this was just a part of ‘growth’ I needed to in order to truly have compassion. In order to make me wise or just to make me appreciate life when I got older.

My younger self had – at times – a truly negative self image, but with age came wisdom and now thankfully that part of my being has dissolved.  I don’t think I’m gods gift to humanity or that I am better than anyone else – but I do now think we are all perfect in our imperfections – EXACTLY as we are!

Yet I know I will never ever stop learning or evolving – for it is TRULY what makes us grow!

And when I make mistakes and realise afterwards – sure – I still feel bad – I am a human after all – but only momentarily. For then I pick myself up, I try my best to redeem myself and I apologise if I have to and then I get on with enjoying my fabulous life.
For anyone who knows me – will know this past year has been a particularly tumultuous one. I made a lot of decisions and I changed my life completely and – as life is sometimes –  it was incredibly stressful at times. I decided to go to India as I felt I wanted to ‘reconnect’ to myself and I’d been desperate to go there for many many years.

A wise friend told me before I left for India that I was not going to “find myself” that I was going for a break, to have a much needed chill. I did actually hope that I would ‘find myself’ there and I would come home as an entirely different person. Now that I have been here for 6 weeks and am getting ready to head back to the UK I realise that both of us were right in part.

I am coming back EXACTLY how I left. Yet one part of me has finally been completely eradicated – the part that sometimes crept up and didn’t love or accept myself exactly as I am. The part that judged and criticised itself on occassion seems to have finally have been eradicated and in its place is the tender, compassionate and caring part that used to be reserved mainly for others and it is now paying full attention to itself.

If you have never given yourself the gift of ACTUAL self love – self compassion and self embracement – do it! And do it today! Trust me – it feels TRULY amazing!

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Watercolour & pen doodle – the self as a 1000 armed bodhisattva – Avoloketishvara also known as Quan Yin.


NB – Namascray – A similar greeting to Namaste except instead of it meaning ‘the divinity in me greets the divinity in you’ it means ‘the Crazy in me greets the Crazy in you’.

Annieism – Sayings from my Nannie Annie – she was a GREAT influence upon my life and is featured quite a lot in my work!