Hello, it's been exactly five months since my last post, which is far too long. This blog is primarily about my illustration work, but I hope you'll allow me to take this opportunity to discuss some issues that aren't directly related to my work, but do have a real impact on it, my life, and wider societal concerns. After this, I'll be back to the usual illustration-related posts. I've recently felt that things were at a kind of tipping point, both personally and in a wider sense. The last few months, I've been reassessing what I want out of life, what's important, and properly analysing what kind of values and causes I want to align myself with. I can't say that I've been particularly happy of late, and I suspect this is the case for quite a few people. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that my unhappiness peaked in May. On a personal level, I turned 27 and felt a sense of disappointment that I hadn't met the expectations I had for myself. One of the few things I felt positively about was my illustration work, and that had fallen by the wayside. In a wider sense, there seemed little hope in the U.K. or in the world as a whole. A sense of unity and compassion seemed to be lacking in far too many spheres. I'm not ashamed to say that I've struggled with depression and anxiety since my teens and May saw a return these feelings. I wanted to write something on here for Mental Health Awareness Day, and I let myself down by not saying it then. It may seem counter-intuitive, but one of the most helpful things was my best friend telling me that, yes, this would be something I will probably struggle with all my life to varying degrees. Anxiety has stopped me being able to create, connect with people, appreciate myself, my work, and those close to me, and speak out for the issues I believe in. I've tried varying things to help, but ultimately, I have to accept that this personal struggle is always going to be circular, rather than linear. I've always been wary of self-help books, but because I work in libraries, I looked to books as my main source for help. I started reading books by the Dalai Lama and various proponents of the Slow Movement. I've always been drawn to Buddhism as the belief system that made the most sense to me. I don't know if organised religion is particularly for me, I think it's something quite personal and each individual will have a unique take on what beliefs are helpful to them. It was refreshing to read that the Dalai Lama feels the same way about religion, and doesn't recommend that everyone who is interested in Buddhist beliefs needs to convert. However, I think the Buddhist principles like having unconditional love for all living things and conducting relationships in a responsible way are something that all humans can understand the importance of. The Slow Movement wasn't something I actually knew much about before I started doing research for a children's book about sloths (or 'slowths', if you don't want to unfavourably compare these lovely animals to a cardinal sin). The core message of the slow movement is that our modern obsession with speed has meant a lot of important things fall by the wayside. A constant quest to do things faster means that we don't enjoy life as much, we don't feel fulfilled by what we have, we treat people as commodities rather than humans, and the perception of status means more to us than genuine happiness. On a personal level, people are changing how they eat, work, play, and relax. On a societal level, cities and governments are changing their policies to support people and the environment. One of the things that both Buddhism and the Slow Movement have in common is the concept of practicing mindfulness. I came across first while in therapy and I can't say that I've ever been particularly good at it. My mind is always going a mile a minute, agonising over the past, worrying about the future, but never in the actual moment. One of the Slow Movement books I read quoted Kafka on the subject (translation from German amended with help from Alexej): 'You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be still and solitary. The world will offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy in front of you,' (Aphorism 109, Unpublished manuscripts: Fall 1916-Spring 1918).
I think I probably have had transcendent moments like this, when I'm drawing, listening to music, or just staring out the window. I have to say, the simple change of moving from a basement flat to a fifth floor one has meant that I feel much more connected to the natural rhythms of life. I can get up at 6 am, stare out at the tree tops, the sunrise, and the radio tower on the hill. Today I was looking at the treetops rolling in the wind and thought at what a marvel it was that they are able to withstand such strain. Nature is remarkably resilient, but I think it might be a dying skill amongst a lot of us humans.
One of the things that has become clear to me is that modern, Western society could do with a lot more compassion. I mean this on the micro level, from something as seemingly inconsequential as asking someone else how they're doing; to the macro level, such as the recent outpouring of support for those affected by the crisis in Syria. I don't think I live up to these values all the time, and I know that everyone is struggling to live better too. I'm trying to be more compassionate in lots of little ways. I don't think this would necessarily have been the case if I wasn't able to lift the shroud of depression and anxiety just enough to start noticing the little compassionate things people did for me. Today felt like a particular turning point. Tens of thousands of people march the streets of Central London to urge the British government to take in more people seeking refuge. It also marked the start of an interesting and exciting turn in British politics with Jeremy Corbyn winning the Labour party nomination. I can't claim that I've been particularly attuned to politics in this country, mainly because I can't vote. However, during my belated political awakening it's dawned on me that, yes, of course, everything is political. No one knows what will happen in the next five years, but I hope Corbyn maintains his integrity throughout it all. I like that there is a National Health Service in this country, and I like that we're part of the European community. I don't think economic austerity or military intervention are helpful to anyone in the long-term. I think people's wellbeing is more important than making a profit. I hope that by sticking together and showing solidarity for each other, we can make a change. Above all, I believe that we should be compassionate towards ourselves, all other human being, and every living thing we share this planet with. Of course, these aren't new sentiments in any respect, but I hope the pendulum is finally swinging back, and more people are realising that these things make life better for everyone.
Thanks for reading.
Some books on Buddhism
Bstan-ʼdzin-rgya-mtsho, Dalai Lama XIV and Howard C. Cutler (1998) The art of happiness: a handbook for living
Bstan-ʼdzin-rgya-mtsho, Dalai Lama XIV and Rajiv Mehrotra (2005) Essential Dalai Lama
Some books on the Slow Movement
Andews, Cecile (2006) Slow is beautiful : new visions of community, leisure and joie de vivre
Honoré, Carl. (2004) In praise of slowness : how a worldwide movement is challenging the cult of speed