Burning Desire, Telling Truth
by Dr Jo Gosling
Whilst working as a Clinical Psychologist, I trained as a teacher of Mindfulness Meditation (MBCT) and then Mindful Self-Compassion. This journey shook up my life and set me on a path where I am, to quote Joseph Campbell, the famous researcher on mythology, ‘following my bliss!’ The catalyst came on a Mindful Self-Compassion retreat on Holy Isle, near Arran, Scotland. I recall my visceral response to Chris Germer’s question: ‘What burns most in your heart that has to be done in this lifetime?’ Having just been through serious surgery and the loss of my oldest friend through breast cancer, that question revealed the silver lining – returning to my love of textiles! Textiles were in my blood: my grandparents, and women ancestors before that, worked in the linen industry in Ireland and, as a teenager, my refuge from struggle and pain had been in textiles.
I used to be inclined towards struggle (understandable given my life experiences). Recovering from major surgery, I knew the importance of creativity and self-compassion in the healing process so I learned the basics of weaving. I later attended courses by outstanding artists and, after many decades in the NHS, I left the organisation in order to weave. Through the practise of MSC I came to understand the importance of joy and how our own joy impacts on the world around us.
I summarise the theme of my work as ‘Threads catching light’. It symbolizes the gold that emerges from those wounded places in ourselves when they are ‘broken open’, the beauty that can blossom from within us when we can tenderly embrace those wounds. I love how the Japanese art of Kintsugi uses gold and precious metals to repair broken ceramics: the gold shines out from the very place where the piece was broken. Embracing our human frailty also means finding a way of being with our imperfections, even celebrating them, and so I make space for honouring of impermanence and imperfection, known in Japan as Wabi Sabi.
The focus required in the making of a piece has a devotional feel for me. It is an embodiment of Mindfulness. I linger with the breath, and what arises is a much-treasured place of peace, a softening, a homecoming… an adventure.
I aim to work from the heart – that place of softness and ease. Much of my work (using copper and brass wire or metallic threads) depicts the healing effects of Mindfulness and Self-Compassion, as understood through neuroscience.
The piece called Soothing the Traumatised Amygdala expresses how the practice of self-compassion, releases oxytocin (the ‘love chemical’) and soothes agitation of the amygdala (our reptilian brain) where there has been trauma. The silver wires depict the agitation of the amygdala.
A piece called Hard-Wired for Survival (depicting a single neuron firing) speaks to how neuropsychologist, Rick Hanson, describes that our brains are hard-wired for survival and not happiness, which gives us a natural ‘negativity bias’. Thus, it can be helpful to actively cultivate our happiness: when I notice my own negativity bias in action in the form of unhelpful thought patterns (‘Am I entitled to be in the art world? I don’t have a Fine Art degree…I’m an imposter!….this piece is not good enough!’) I can step back and see what’s going on, rather than get drawn into habitual tendencies.
Mirror Neurons: the Empathic Brain (which I was thrilled to have selected for the Cordis Showcase last year) depicts mirror neurons, which give us the capacity for empathy. Without these we would not be able to feel compassion for another or share their joys and sorrows on a feeling level.
In my first exhibition, an exhibit (in a series of five) called Blessée II (Blessée is French for ‘wounded’), was placed behind a Japanese screen with an invitation to spend a short time alone with it listening to a brief recorded Mindfulness practice; many people found it deeply moving and recorded their experiences. (The piece has mosaic gold glass woven into the piece with steel wire.) When my work touches people in this way, and helps them to feel a connection with our common humanity, instead of feeling alone with the challenges that life inevitably brings, I am deeply moved and satisfied.
I am currently working with two deeply gifted colleagues, and friends, to develop retreats ‘Exploring the Threads of Creativity and Mindfulness’ . It is my deep wish that others can experience and cultivate feelings of joy – vital to balance the suffering in life – through creativity.
Dr Jo Gosling