Into the Zen Zone: My Big Three Inspirations for 2019

image of book cover ten to zen by Owen O'Kane

ten to zen book by Owen O’Kane

1.  Hot off the press, psychotherapist and workshop facilitator Owen O’Kane’s book ten to zen is a welcome, practical guide to developing a meaningful, do-able meditation and mindfulness practice as part of everyday life.

As the author explains,  this ten minute daily routine is more of a workout for the mind than a rigorous regime. Just like a physical health drive, ten to zen is designed to keep our brain, mind and soul healthy and effective.

By explaining and describing each step of the ten minute workout, ten to zen helps us to lean back from stresses and strains for a brief breathing space each day,  ultimately enabling us to master anxiety or fear and to embrace and transform our experiences into  joyful living.

Still working my way through the book, I will testify that already I sense a shift in my perspectives and a more optimistic and connected relationship with family, life and the world.

Highly recommended, click the mage or in-text title for more details (I claim no affiliation to any sources linked or cited, just keen to spread the word), and here is the full citation: O’Kane, Owen (2018), Ten to Zen: Ten Minutes a Day to a Fuller and Happier You, UK: Bluebird.

 

2. While appreciating the fresh take on mindful living in ten to zen, every once in a while I revert to the Master of Zen for the western world, Jon Kabat-Zinn, for his deep yet accessible, and again highly applicable, works. So now, re-reading Full Catastrophe Living wherein there are so many gems and nuggets of wisdom and insight, I have to say the world is looking rosier by the minute.

My first encounter with Dr Zinn’s wisdom was through his numerous recorded talks on YouTube, as well as a free audio-book of Wherever you go, there you are. Here’s a brilliant starter for ten that enlightens us to the facts that we are not our thoughts, they are self-limiting phenomena and don’t need to be fought, just liberated. Here’s ‘Your Thoughts are Bubbles’:

 

3. I never cease to be amazed at the ways in which each teacher shares these profound truths and joys of mindfulness and meditation in their own unique, inspirational voices. Perhaps it is that they are all coming from different traditions and disciplines, and that in itself is an uplifting and enriching encounter. This is something that struck me in an intense way when I received my most recent new year reading list title, The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haimin Sumin.  The format is quite different, with wise comments and quotes set out almost like a poetry collection, interspersed with beautiful and captivating illustrations by Youngcheol Lee (2012, UK: Penguin Life). This is my night-time book and certainly worth finding. I wish you all a peaceful, inspired year for 2019.

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Picking up on Poetry: My Workshop Experience

Book ID Parade

On Developing My Poetry Journey by Roberta McDonnell

I just spent ten weeks under the online tutelage of celebrated Irish poet Kevin Higgins and I cannot tell you how transformative it was. Not only did we receive tremendous weekly prompts and expert edits from Kevin, but we were able to read each other’s work and the group members were so encouraging and informative that I feel like I have just been through an intensive, high level tutorial.

There are more online courses to come and anyone interested can sign up at the Over The Edge website. Kevin runs face-to-face courses in Galway Arts Centre as well and produces the fantastic monthly Over The Edge poetry reading events. You can sample some of his work in the book Identity Parade (just click on the link below or the image above) and in numerous books, journals and newspapers, including his own published collections.

For anyone interested in poetry writing, particularly if distance and finances are challenging, Kevin’s affordable online course is a brilliant opportunity to push your own envelope, get some expert feedback and some fabulous peer support. All with a bit of a start to perhaps your first collection, who knows? I for one can testify to the value of this kind of tuition and will keep going, spurred on by the great community at Over The Edge.

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Three Poets and All That Jazz: Dylan (the Bob one), Bowie (the David one) and Philip Larkin’s Record Diary.

image of three books on Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Philip Larkin's essays on Jazz

Three books came my way this Christmas, each about a unique artist and all with very different styles and perspectives.

 

Poet #1

Before Bob Dylan became the 2016 Nobel Laureate for literature, one academic in particular had already been teaching his poetry students about Why Dylan Matters. Professor Richard Thomas has now gifted us with these insights in a highly engaging read that is impeccably researched and to be enjoyed by academic and pure listener-reader alike. The Guardian hailed it with Music Book of the Year 2017 and here is one reader in total agreement.

Growing up and attending school during the 1950s in a small Minnesota town, young Robert Zimmerman absorbed a  multitude of cultural influences that included Roman and Latin Classics amid other literary fodder. Later on, as he ventured forth into the wider American scene, Dylan explored modernist poets like Rimbaud and the writings of Beat authors like Jack Kerouac, all of whom helped shape the unique lyrics of the Bob Dylan canon. Yet the attachment of those words to a musical frame of increasingly sophisticated quality takes the singer-songwriter into a further dimension, one of musical virtuosity that draws from deep roots in American folk to begin with, then blues, country, rock and beyond. It is this intensity of musicianship combined with poetic lyricism that create the sheer enjoyment, intrigue and love of the Dylan canon for me personally and no doubt for many other lovers of Dylan’s work.

Throughout Martin Scorcese’s documentary film, No Direction Home, Dylan describes himself as a musical expeditionary and this is reflected in the ever-changing variety of styles and genres he has adopted to form his trailblazing career. Within that career as musician-lyricist, he is also no doubt a poet. His work, like poetry, exists as a multi-layered treasure, to be enjoyed anew with each listen.

 

Poet #2

In David Bowie: A LifeDylan Jones adopts a chronological-biographical frame, populated by personal interviews and anecdotes from many of David Bowie‘s friends and contemporaries. In a clear avant garde tradition, Bowie songs seem to me to come from a symbolistic origin, whereas Dylan’s, at least early on, were more of a social commentary. Bowie’s abstract style is also a commentary of sorts, more focused on the inner life or inner space, as well as, paradoxically, the vast cosmological context of life – outer space – and on how that can be articulated through the media of the body, clothes, words and music. Bowie articulates alienation like no other.

Jones’s book is a ‘warts and all’ description of David Bowie’s life, especially the earlier ‘rock star’ years, yet it is also a fond and adoring one. We encounter the artist, driven by a creative instinct that was compelled to manifest in a continually renewing vortex of personas, music, lyrics, visual art and styles, with bodily appearance acting as a blank canvas and the stage as pure theater. As I have argued before, Bowie is a shapeshifter par excellence, a hurricane of creativity in relation to the forming and transforming self.

I found this book fascinating and an enriching addition to my indulgence in all things Bowie, especially the way in which the author brings us behind the scenes of the world in which he moved. Many individuals were involved in the ever-changing Bowie project, all of whom fed into what we know and love as the Bowie classics. Read the book.

 

Poet #3

My final consideration in this triad of Christmas gift books is the collection of essays and reviews of contemporary Jazz, written for the Telegraph newspaper from 1961-1971 by the Hull based poet Philip Larkin. Reading this book is like a safari into Jazz history, describing artists like Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday as their recordings filtered in from the United States and Europe, as well as some well known band leaders within Britain itself, like Kenny Ball and Chris Barber.

While the merits and demerits of Larkin’s life and work are topics of considerable debate at the moment, there is no doubt that he loved Jazz and the people who created it and that, in his own words, in the final analysis, ‘what will survive of us is love’ (An Arundel Tomb).

Another Hull poet, Andrew Motion, has written extensively on Larkin’s life and work and presented a captivating portrait of him on the Sky Arts ‘Passions’ series. The following snippets are from the program and summarise Larkin’s offering as ‘glittering verse that spoke directly to, and about, post-war Britain’ and the uncertainty of life. It is this directness and connectedness with everyday life that forms Larkin’s appeal, welded to an ability to ‘create beauty from despair’. As Shane Rhodes contends, ‘He was incredibly accessible for an academic poet’.

In All What JazzI find the articles informative and fun. They have sent me off on a new pilgrimage into jazz music and songs, some reminiscent of growing up with my Dad watching Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen on TV, others complete revelations, especially the voice of a lady singing with the Chris Barber Jazz Band. She’s called Ottilie Patterson and she hails from Comber in Northern Ireland, just up the road from my home in Carryduff. Here she is; what a voice?!

 

 

BIRD.org.uk: Helping young people shine their brilliance and grow their resilience.

 

chrome ball sculpture covered in yarn bombed flowers and nets.

Yarn-bombed sculpture at Newcastle, County Down. Photo my own.

Creative Mental Health

As you all know I am passionate about the power of creativity, especially music, to boost mental health and grow self esteem. So I’m doubly delighted today because, via Twitter, BIRD has appeared on my horizon.

The organisation BIRD is the brainchild of Founding Director Neil Phillimore who has brought together a unique group of creative activists who nurture young people struggling with various life issues and stresses. BIRD’s mentors take them through a process of self expression using various media, especially music, song, drama and creative writing.

The power of arts and social support for mental health is well documented, as I have found in my own research and gleaned from many others’ studies. BIRD’s work is active proof that boosts what seems to me to be an emerging sense of self-affirmation, recovery and growth for otherwise vulnerable and at risk youth. Perhaps the word I’m looking for is empowerment though I feel there’s a lot more to it- as they say so much better themselves with their name BIRD, Brilliance, Integrity, Relationship and Delight.

With schools forced to cut arts budgets and society offering little in the way of free community provision for young people to find support and encouragement, this fantastic project deserves recognition for their service to the 16-25 age group, so many of whom are overwhelmed and underserved.

A Beacon of Inspiration

I believe also that BIRD is a beacon of light in terms of what can be done in creative mental health support. They need support for their current crowdfunding appeal so they can upgrade their resources and continue their work. This project could also be a workable model for further and more widespread initiatives and is certainly one I am keeping my eye on for future inspiration.

Good luck to all you folks at BIRD and keep up the great work 🙂

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