Feline Focus

Feline Focus
My latest puma, July 2016


Beloved companion to Sarah, Nov 2015

Window To The Soul

Window To The Soul
Watercolour Horse, June 2015

Sleeping Beauties

Sleeping Beauties
Watercolour Lionesses, Nov 2012


"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."

"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others."

Groucho Marx

Snow Stalker

Snow Stalker
Another snow leopard - my latest watercolour offering - July 2013

30 November 2013

The Wonder Of It All

"Imagination is more important than knowledge.  Knowledge is limited.  Imagination encircles the world."   Albert Einstein

Do you ever wonder how we got by before someone decided that we needed them to tell us how to do everything?  Or what we should think, feel, believe?  How did we manage before the internet, television, cinema, radio, newspapers?  Or before the advent of the ‘How To...’ books?  Can you imagine Michelangelo being approached to write a book on how to paint ceilings, or sculpt marble?  He could have made a fortune.  ‘How To Paint Like Michelangelo, In Ten Easy Steps – with full colour illustrations’.  Or ‘You Too Can Be A Poymath!’ by Leonardo Da Vinci.

And what on earth did we ever do without teachers, coaches, gurus?  Schools, colleges, universities?  Counsellors, therapists, psychiatrists?  How did the cavemen and women manage without someone to teach them how to speak?  Where did the first person/people to communicate get the idea to try?  Was there a stone instruction tablet lying around that they just happened to stumble upon?  Who told them how to kill animals to eat?  In fact, who told them what they should eat?  How did they manage without a nutritionist to guide their food choices?  How did they manage without Tesco’s?  Or, God forbid, a high-speed blender!!

I’m not saying that all teaching is ‘bad’, or that it’s not useful to know that you can go and find out how to do something that you really don’t have a clue how to do (like car maintenance), from someone for whom it is a natural ability – that’s called sharing information.  But, of course, there’s the down side to all of this ‘sharing’.  For one thing, it can make people (like me, for example) believe that they have to have someone else to tell them how to do stuff, and compound the idea that there is a ‘right’ way to do things, therefore making them dependent on other people, rather than risk the possibility of experimenting.  It also stops people from being individual and innovative, using their own minds, thinking for themselves.  Why would you bother when someone’s already done it for you?

And then there’s the fact that so much of this ‘sharing’ is actually about making money.  It’s not freely given.  Sure, they might give you samples, but it’s designed to hook you in, so that you’ll then want to buy the rest.  It’s like someone has discovered that they have something that other people want, which means they have to then continue to fuel the belief that it’s something necessary that people need, that they can’t get anywhere else, that they can’t provide for themselves.  And I’m a sucker for that crap.

So I wonder if Michelangelo, were he alive today, would have ever got round to painting the Sistine Chapel, or whether he would never have bothered because of the health and safety regulations he’d have read about?  Or ‘cos he’d be too busy surfing the web, reading about how to paint with watercolours/oils/acrylics like a ‘professional’ artist?  And what is a ‘professional’ anything anyway, other than someone who’s figured out how to make money from their gift or interest?  Good thing God wasn’t charging money when S/He decided to give us our gifts in the first place.  Or selling them on offer: 'Buy one, get one free.'        

14 November 2013

Advancing Backwards

“I have not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”   Thomas A Edison

Sometimes you have to go back to the beginning in order to be able to move forwards.

I really hate having to do this.  It feels like a failure, like time wasted, like all that I have done so far has been pointless.  This is the belief that I have acquired but, like all beliefs, it doesn’t mean that it’s true or right, merely that this is how I’ve chosen to view things; this is the message that I have absorbed.  And now it is time to check whether it serves a useful purpose, or whether it needs to be discarded in favour of a new belief.

In this instance the answer is a resounding no, it doesn’t serve any useful purpose to view going back as a failure.  It condemns me to continue on to the bitter end with my present course of action, with my refusal to accept the need to abandon it, thereby allowing me to start over, choose differently, learn from the mistakes that I’ve made.  Doing this allows me freedom – freedom to choose, freedom to grow, freedom to not have to get it ‘right’.  And freedom scares the shit out of me.

I have no idea why this is, but I know that it does because I have the material evidence – why else would I refuse to give up and start over?; why would I continue to punish myself by continuing on with a course of action which causes me pain (whether physical, mental, or emotional)?; why would I keep trying to live my life according to someone else’s rules and beliefs?;  why would I persist in copying other people, looking to them to tell me how to do everything, seeking out the ‘right’ way to do a thing?; why would I avoid thinking for myself?

The fact is that starting over is not a failure at all – it’s a god-given right, and one of the only ways of learning.  How else will I learn except by first experiencing what doesn’t work (the way that Thomas Edison beautifully describes in the above quote)?  But is it any wonder I fear this when I have placed such constraints, attached such harsh judgements to the whole idea?  And, again, I am abetted by a society which places such high expectations on the idea of failure and success, which rewards only those who succeed in ways that have been determined by someone else (failure to pass exams at school, failure to pass tests, failure to get a job, failure to come up to someone else’s definition of what it means to be a successful, healthy, well-balanced, popular, attractive, productive person, etc).

The only ‘failure’ is to refuse to risk changing direction; to decide that, rather than go back, I’d prefer to blunder on, whilst ignoring the continued chaos and damage I’m doing.  Or come to a complete halt, and refuse to do anything at all, but simply give in to the defeatist attitude of “what’s the point?”  And sure, I might need to take some time out, to regroup, take stock, and determine a new course of action based on what I’ve learnt, in order to avoid simply blundering off and retreading old ground.  This is called being sensible, taking in the bigger picture – two things I’m not known for doing.  But hey, I can learn.  I may be autistic, but my human ability to change is not defunct – no matter what some people might misguidedly believe.

Starting again is part of the experience of living, so why would I try to avoid it?  Why would I constantly aim towards this unattainable goal of perfection, the one that demands that I never get anything ‘wrong’; that I have to get it ‘right’ first time, otherwise it proves that I am deficient in some way, and especially if I keep repeatedly making the same mistakes (which is a talent of mine)? 

According to the spiritual truths that I profess to believe in, the world is already perfect as it is, even in its imperfection, because that is how it was created.  God never creates anything without there being a reason for it, without it already being perfect, and S/He/It never makes mistakes.  The problem comes from man having to then make a judgement about everything, having to define what’s perfect and what isn’t, what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s good and bad, etc.  

Perfection, as I understand it from this skewed point of view, is all about everything being flawless – like the air-brushed pictures of models and celebrities you find in magazines.  The fact that this kind of perfection can only be achieved through unnatural means, through force of will, is actually a sign of its imperfection.  Anything which goes against the natural flow, which seeks to distort that, is imperfect – to use a man-made definition.  It has to be – it’s the opposite of how it was designed.

Step Three in Alcoholics Anonymous says, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.”  The relevant part here is ‘turning it over’ – which means looking at the other side, seeing the opposite of what I believe, if what I believe in is not working.  I have believed one definition of perfection; I have believed that making mistakes is a bad thing; I have believed in the concept of failure.  I have believed in a man-made definition of all those things, and more.  I am now choosing to turn that over and see it from the other side – from a spiritually directed perspective, God’s will for me, not mine.

So, in light of what I wrote yesterday about my yoga practice having become more like a punishment rather than a joy due to my approach to it, I have decided to go back to the beginning, and start again – having taken stock of where I have gone ‘wrong’.  It should be an interesting and, hopefully, enlightening journey.  And the journey is what yoga is all about, not the destination – which is why I believe that I was brought to it in the first place, because it has so much to teach me.  I just have to be willing to learn, which requires that I have to let go of the idea that I already know everything.  And, based solely on the evidence of my experience with yoga, this is patently not true.  So, with that in mind, I now happily sound the retreat.         

13 November 2013

A Force Of Nature

Just lately I’ve been thinking, and talking, a lot about the need for me to learn to go with the flow of life, rather than banging into it, like walking into a brick wall.  And I was thinking about the analogy of water, which is so frequently used when describing the best way to approach life - and with good reason.  Water has the incredible ability to get everywhere, and to dramatically shape and transform, but with very little effort.  Just look at the Grand Canyon, an amazing testament to the power of water (and wind), to make astounding transformations over time.

Whilst in the middle of my yoga practice yesterday, it struck me that the reason I still keep hurting myself in yoga (and in life in general) is because I don’t flow like water: I flood.  Not for me the gentle trickle of a babbling brook or a gurgling stream.  Nor the soft, feather-like caress of a light breeze.  Nope.  I don’t flow, I flood.  I am like a dam breaking, or a hurricane sweeping wildly across the plane of my existence, leaving in its wake more damage and destruction.  I approach life like a whirlwind, attempting to flatten all obstacles in my path, ‘cos I’m in too much of a hurry to get to the other side – a force of nature, trying to force nature to bow to my demands.  I should come with an in-built tornado warning device so that I can at least prepare myself for the approaching chaos.

My yoga practice is a perfect example of my impatience in action.  I began doing it ten years ago, for the simple reason that I needed some form of regular exercise because I wasn’t getting any, but it had to be something which didn’t buy into my eating disordered mind’s obsession with weight loss and body image.  So I chose yoga, because it’s gentle, and spiritual – well, at least, that’s what it’s supposed to be.

At that time I had poor posture (from permanently slouching in an attempt to hide myself from the world), and such a weak back that I couldn’t sit upright without needing something to lean against.  I didn’t find this out until I tried sitting cross-legged on the floor to do meditation.  As I practiced yoga, though, both my back and my posture improved dramatically, and I gained other benefits.  But then impatience, and goal-setting, reared their ugly heads.  I wanted to move onto more advanced stuff: I wanted to be a ‘proper’ yogi, someone who could do handstands, and headstands, meditate perfectly, and float serenely through life without a care.

So the steady, gentle stream turned into a fast-flowing river, with regular flooding (the days where I would push myself over the limit because I’d been too impatient to slow down enough to identify what my limits were, and end up hurting myself yet again).  I was constantly driven by the storm of emotion that said I had to keep pushing harder or I’d never get ‘there’, to the goal, to the end result, to the pinnacle.

The result of this whirlwind approach is that I have now acquired a whole new set of exciting injuries, to the same parts of my body – my weak areas, which I have managed to weaken even more.  So, my back now hurts, but in a completely different way – it is stiff and unyielding, and I have back pain on a regular basis, and a delightful feeling as if it’s on fire, burning up on the inside.  And my knees, of which only one was slightly on the dodgy side, giving me the occasional twinge, are now both knackered because I insisted on forcing them into full Lotus position before they had become pliable and strong enough to do so.  Lovely.

To top it all, I now approach my yoga practice with a great deal of trepidation, as if I’m about to go into a lion’s den, wondering what new injury is going to befall me.  It’s a long way from the unbounded enthusiasm and excitement that I used to feel; I no longer leap from my bed in the morning, eager to begin.  If anything, I now find any excuse to avoid it.  This is not good, on a number of levels: one of which is that I am so worried and tense about my back that I find it difficult to relax – and relaxation is central to the art of yoga, it’s part of what stops you getting injured.  Relaxing and going with the flow, not coiling in on oneself, then unleashing it in a spiral of dammed up destructive energy, like a tornado.

So I have decided that I shall try to be more like a stream and less like a flood, and maybe then my life won’t frequently resemble the aftermath of a cyclone.  Just an occasional heavy rainstorm, perhaps.

Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard
An experiment in watercolour and gouache

Quotes Quota

"Do you believe in Magic?" asked Colin.

"That I do, lad," she answered. "I never knowed it by that name, but what does th' name matter? I warrant they call it a different name i' France an' a different one i' Germany. Th' same thing as set th' seeds swellin' an' th' sun shinin' made thee well lad an' it's th' Good Thing. It isn't like us poor fools as think it matters if us is called out of our names. Th' Big Good Thing doesn't stop to worrit, bless thee. It goes on makin' worlds by th' million - worlds like us. Never thee stop believin' in th' Big Good Thing an' knowin' th' world's full of it - an call it what tha' likes. Eh! lad, lad - what's names to th' Joy Maker."

From 'The Secret Garden', by Frances Hodgson Burnett


Copied from photograph of the same name by Roberto Dutesco

Quotes Quota

"There is no way to happiness - happiness is the way."
The Dalai Lama

"If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything."

Malcolm X

On The Prowl

On The Prowl
Watercolour tiger

Quotes Quota

"What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step."

"There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind."

C S Lewis