"Do not judge!"

"Do not judge!"

Isobel's take on the Drawing on Mindfulness retreat

I’ve been thinking about writing this blog all week, to be honest writing isn’t my thing. I tend to overthink it and end up with a rather clunky interpretation of my thoughts. The retreat I co-taught with Alistair was an amazing experience, a hard to describe mix of meditation and art. How could I possibly put this experience into words, how could I do it justice, I can’t do this, someone might read it….help!
By a spot of luck, my habitual routine of turning on the radio first thing came to my rescue. I heard a short interview on Saturday Live with Rachel Gadsden, an accomplished visual and performance artist. She has suffered with chronic health conditions all her life and in recent years has begun to also lose her sight.
The interview discussed how disability can often be met with the rhetoric of having to do battle or beat it rather than ‘live with’ a condition. Gadsden stated that ‘everybody has complicated lives...if we all started talking more intimately about who we are, we’ve all got complications ’. I had to find out more and on looking at her website I was captivated by the powerful and emotive art she creates, I also read the following quote about her work:
“Gadsden is creating an artwork with frantic speed, fighting her own real-life fight against the dying of the light. In the act of painting, she tells us, she is "living in the second". A profoundly affecting reminder of our shared humanity.” Luke Jennings - Guardian Observer
There it is again the ‘fight’ rhetoric, I might be wrong but what I get from from the short clip I heard of Gadsden and the quotation here is that she is indeed ‘living in the second’ not fighting it. Her expressive and powerful work has continued regardless of the deterioration of her sight, becoming perhaps more potent than ever. Her work rejoices in life, embraces impairment and in-turn this has enabled her to work with and empower others who live with disability.
When it comes to our own creative or meditative practice, or pretty much anything we do we can often do ‘battle’ with ourselves rather than living and working alongside the limitations our bodies, minds or emotions render upon us. By adhering to the internal battle or inner critic we limit our experience, by actively rejecting our ‘complications’ rather than accepting and living with them we deny part of ourselves.
To be honest I've been putting off writing this all week, putting off having to face the critic and do battle. I’ve been ‘too busy’ or ‘too tired’ but really I’ve been too afraid. Too afraid of the self-doubt and the mental anguish that comes with having to do something that I find rather difficult. It took hearing that interview with Gadsden to realise I was in the battle again, without even realising it.
It’s perhaps not surprising that working with the inner critic became an important part of mine and Alistair's teaching on the retreat. That DO NOT JUDGE became our rallying cry! What amazed me was everyone’s acceptance of this. Even when they found a particular meditation difficult or didn’t get on with an art activity, they were honest, in touch with their feelings and came afresh to the next task. It was ok to say “I really hated that” whilst a neighbour was positively glowing from the experience. No one person experienced it the same and that was OK.
Through working with these wonderful people I realised that teaching doesn’t have to be about pleasing everyone all of the time. That some things work for some and for others they don’t. That outcomes don’t always have to be measurable and comparable. That a ‘bad’ result can often lead to greater insight and experience. That living with how things are right now and accepting that can be empowering. It's OK to stop judging how I teach all the time. I allowed myself to feel nervous and anxious and you know what as the days passed I was able to live with that too.
Although I can’t experience what it is like to live with a condition such as Gadsden’s I can still relate to her experience, of our common humanity. Coming to accept my own ‘complicated life’ has led me to lead a fuller and more happy life. By surrendering the battle with my inner critical voice I also feel better equipped to empower myself and others.
So I guess it boils down to this, for those brief days of the retreat we gave ourselves permission. Permission to live fully with ourselves and our experiences. We embraced the pain, the tension, the judgement and in doing this we also started to open up to the beauty, light and life that is all around us. We breathed in all that good stuff, that luminous and exhilarating world which is always there, waiting for us to stop the fight.

I would like to give special thanks to Alistair who believed in me and of course to the wonderfully open-minded lovely people who attended. For more information on Rachel Gadsden please see http://www.rachelgadsden.com/rg-home