Tag Archives: curiosity

What is art?

I’ve been reading the biography of Marion Milner, and I have been fascinated by some of her observations about art and writing and awareness.

So I was very excited to do a little experiment of my own on my family trip to Paris this weekend.

We hadn’t especially planned to visit the Louvre, I favoured the Musee d’Orsay instead, but when my son expressed an interest in going to see the Mona Lisa, that’s where we decided to head. And I with my resolution to widen my awareness, to allow my attention to be drawn rather than thinking hard about what should be drawing it. For I had learned, whether from Milner or elsewhere, that true art has the power to move us, to make something happen to our inner reality, to make us stop and take notice.

However our first stop was the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre – a perfect place to begin to get a feel for the city – with accordion music in green leafy squares and locals sipping on cool glasses of pale pink wine or tiny cups of treacly espresso.

And there, just beyond La Place du Tertre, sits La Biscuiterie de Montmartre, with the most astonishing of window displays.

Macaroons

Macaroons. With their pastel glossiness, eye-catching arrangement and tempting packages. Heart-stoppingly pretty, and telling of a craft and a dedication generations old.

So there it happened. My attention was drawn, quite accidentally, quite delightfully. By a plate of macaroons. Was this art?

Perhaps. The dusty works of the Louvre had to work doubly hard after this.

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Filed under Perception

The feel good formula familiar to journal writers

In a new book entitled “Curious? Discover the missing ingredient to a fulfilling life”, positive psychologist Dr Todd Kashdan has defined a formula for happiness – and identified that heightening our levels of curiosity and open-mindedness about our experience is helpful to our well-being.

Who knew?

Well, if you’ve kept a journal for any length of time you will know that nurturing our curiosity is not only vital to garnering enough material to write about, but it also enhances our lives in other ways too. Curiosity makes us slow down; it makes us question things more keenly; it makes us look closer; it makes us appreciate more, and gives us greater opportunity for understanding and empathy. Think about Alice in Wonderland. “Curiouser and curiouser” were her watchwords. And she breezed through some pretty bizarre experiences without a single shred of angst or stress.

And what of the happiness formula itself?

Check this out:

(Mx16 + Cx1 +Lx2) + (Tx5 + Nx2 + Bx33)

The key is:

M – live in the moment; C – be curious; L – do something you love; T – think of others; N – nurture relationships; B – take care of your body.

Reflective writing is a positive step in the direction of all these factors, helping us be more mindful. Here’s a reminder of a few exercises to tune in to each of them:

  • Live in the moment

Spend five minutes becoming aware of your environment, the sounds, smells, air temperature, the things you can see around you. Make a note of them. Turn your attention to your body. Write about how it feels, where you sense any tension. Every time your mind is tempted to stray off into other thoughts and imaginings, bring your focus back to the page, to the feeling of the pen between your fingers. Keep writing. What’s important about this moment?

  • Be curious

Take a fresh view of an object that is familiar to you. It could be a trinket, an appliance or a piece of furniture. Get curious about it. Write it down.

  • Do something you love

What’s the thing that brings you the most joy and satisfaction? How often do you experience it? What promise will you make about the thing you love to do? Write it down.

  • Think of others

Bring to mind the first person you saw when you left the house today. Write a brief pen portrait of them. Allow ourself to step into their shoes and see the day through their eyes, maybe write a short paragraph in their voice. How have your perceptions shifted?

  • Nurture relationships

Write a letter to someone special to you whom you haven’t seen for a while. What do you want them to know? As you write, what feels like the best, most nurturing  way to reach out to them? Make a plan of action to do that thing and write it down.

  • Take care of your body

Initiate a ‘conversation’ with a part of your body that is causing you any concern or discomfort. What message does it have for you? What steps is it asking you to take to look after it better?  Make a commitment to do the thing your body is ‘asking’ for and write it down.

Our journals can become our handbooks for happiness. Between our minds and the page, the physical act of writing helps us integrate the feel good formula into our own lives. Get curious!

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Filed under Journal Writing

Journaling for inspiration – or just to find out what we know

It’s happened again. One of my readers has mentioned how astonishing it is to find out what comes from the end of their pen when they are journaling.

When we allow ourselves to write, when we just allow the words to flow from the end of our pen without censoring, it is invariably true that whate emerges does so without our control. The words seem to appear undirected. Certainly our conscious minds don’t play a part in dictating what we write. The words come from nowhere that we know about – and astonish us.

Many writers often bemoan the fact that they don’t feel inspired enough to write. We sit with writers’ block, willing it away, trying to ignore it, grasping for that small but perfectly formed idea we need to get us started. (Just as many writers also know that you’ve got to write anyway, even though your conscious mind may not be offering you anything by way of a well-presented thought or argument.)

So here’s the thing. Journaling enables us to write when inspiration is lacking. Instead of being inspired to write, journal writing inspires us. We can start anywhere. As long as we start. Something will pop up. And it will invariably be exactly the thing we need.

Similarly if ever I’m asked what I think about certain things I would have to say in many cases that I have no idea, until I’ve got the time to write about them. I find it very difficult to form an original opinion about complex issues without asking myself the direct question “what do I think about…?” in my journal. Sure I can tell you what others think I ought to think about things. I can tell you what it says I should think on the TV or in the newspapers or on the radio. But I can’t tell what I really think until I’ve turned it over in my journal.

Given this state of affairs I have to get comfortable with the thought that I don’t know a heap of stuff. Every question is a new one. I may have thought one thing about it a while ago, but I may have changed my view. Life, experience and intuition need to be consulted afresh and my journal is the perfect tool for this ever-changing kaleidoscope.

And it’s good to lose control every once in a while. Control is illusory anyway. Far better to be frequently surprised by what we didn’t know we knew than desensitised by what we know we know.

Inspired yet?

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Filed under Journal Writing

How our journals help calm our moods

A lifetime ago (so it seems) I used to be an IT Project Manager, and one of the favourite axioms of the role was “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”.  Whatever you had to measure was by necessity a very specific thing, contained within particular boundaries, with very clear objectives and commonly recognised references. Managing such a thing then involved figuring out whether the boundaries needed to be changed, whether the objectives were correct, and whether the references were clear enough.

When it comes to moodiness, a similar process applies. We need to have a clear idea of what our mood is, how it’s making us feel, how it’s triggered and what impact it has in order to manage it. Of course, managing it might not always be curtailing it; it might also be prolonging it – so we need to be sure what mood we’re dealing with to know which tack to take.

Often we dismiss our good moods, or fail to notice that we’re in a bad one. We might be so used to being in a particular mood that we and everyone around us assumes that it’s part of our true nature.

But the fact is our moods are like our weather system – they blow hot and cold across us, are ever changing and, crucially, are not us. So we can allow ourselves some objectivity when it comes to our moodiness; in fact objectivity is vital if we’re not to be completely consumed by our mood.

This is where reflective writing comes in. Our journals give us the space to get curious and explore our mood. We can achieve some perspective by removing ourselves from our mood far enough to be able to ask it a question and find out what it has to tell us. We can also engage any physical symptoms we might have in a journaling dialogue, to deepen our awareness and clarify our understanding.

The keys are curiosity and objectivity, and our journals are perfect places to give these free rein.

Eventually, given practice in measuring our mood, it’ll be much easier to manage!

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Filed under Journal Writing, Self-Awareness