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  • Dr Margi Brown Ash

"Nature poets can't walk across the backyard without tripping over an epiphany."- Christian Wiman



These last weeks in isolation have taught me many things. Few of us have had the opportunity to be with our colleagues, our co-creators, our theatre companies, our shared studios...the list-of-absence is long. Even though some of us are still using this time to create work online that will enter the art world in the future (I bow to you), I have chosen an interior exploration, creating for myself an opportunity to refine and rebuild self-as-art through reflection and ongoing conversations with family, colleagues, and friends. I'm endeavoring, albeit in a stumbling and awkward manner, to uncover a tacit understanding of self. I'm asking myself the question "What is self-actualization?" We all know it is one of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (you can find out more about this on the following link) but I have always struggled with what it actually entails. Seemingly a lifetime pursuit. https://positivepsychology.com/self-actualization/



According to Scientific American, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/what-does-it-mean-to-be-self-actualized-in-the-21st-century/

Maslow's interests lay less with his more popular hierarchy of needs concept, and more in the area of self-actualization. He considered that self-actualized people were motivated by growth, health, wholeness, and integration of self with a humanitarian focus (Scott Barry Kaufman,November 7, 2018).


In his article, Kaufman lists a series of Maslow's characteristics which interest me enormously:


10 Characteristics of Self-Actualization

1. Continued Freshness of Appreciation (eg: "I can appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy, however stale these experiences may have become to others.")

Margi's comment: In yoga practice, we do asanas and breathwork that stimulate our ability to embrace awe and see with new eyes. 2. Acceptance (eg: "I accept all of my quirks and desires without shame or apology.")

Margi's comment: This is difficult and requires practice. A great mantra! 3. Authenticity (eg: "I can maintain my dignity and integrity even in environments and situations that are undignified.")

Margi's comment: How hard is this? Yikes, but we practice. and practice. and practice. 4. Equanimity (eg: "I tend to take life's inevitable ups and downs with grace, acceptance, and equanimity.")

Margi: Except when I don't...again, this is practice. practice. practice. 5. Purpose (eg: "I feel a great responsibility and duty to accomplish a particular mission in life.")

Margi: We can meditate on this if we are not clear what our purpose is. I find that having this as an intention for a yoga session or a meditation works well. 6. Efficient Perception of Reality (eg: "I am always trying to get at the real truth about people and nature.")

Margi: Is there such a thing as a real truth? I'm not sure, so I adjust this by accepting multiple realities at the same time. 7. Humanitarianism (eg: "I have a genuine desire to help the human race.")

Margi: I find most of the artists I work with have this genuine desire. 8. Peak Experiences (eg: "I often have experiences in which I feel new horizons and possibilities opening up for myself and others.")

Margi: This is a marvelous thing when it happens, and we can educate ourselves so that this happens by attending to the other 9 offerings. 9. Good Moral Intuition (eg: "I can tell 'deep down' right away when I've done something wrong.")

Margi: This can be a difficult task, particularly at this time of poor leadership in so many areas including at a federal and world level.

10. Creative Spirit (eg: "I have a generally creative spirit that touches everything I do.")


In my efforts to unpack and expand these characteristics I have created four rituals that I participate in each day. I am deliberately not calling them habits. For them to be rituals, they need to be approached as a spiritual practice. I am clear that rituals heal by providing us a framework to expand our consciousness.


RITUAL 1: GARDENING


As a fledgling gardener, I have seeded and planted vegetables of multiple sizes and colours... some have grown and some have not. BBA helped me set the new gardens up, lugging sleepers from down the paddock to ensure that at least the soil would be held together. Every morning I walk around the six new garden patches (quite small and manageable size) checking for new growth and any eaten bits before I fertilize the seedlings and even talk with them (I've heard they like that!). I feel "a continued freshness of appreciation" (Kaufman, 2018).


St. Teresa of Avila had it right:

St. Teresa of Avila uses the garden as a metaphor for our own lives. She writes that we must “cultivate a garden on very barren soil full of weeds” and that we “must take pains to water [the seeds] so they don’t wither but bud and flower.”

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-spiritual-dimension-o_b_10637298





RITUAL 2: 'CHAI 'N' CHAT'

Weekday afternoons find me behind my computer, either on the verandah or couch, engaging in "chai 'n' chat" with my arts community. Several times a day I get to hear your stories and then help reframe them, growing your sense of purpose, authenticity and acceptance (Kaufman, 2018). This process sometimes includes creating a collage and then deconstructing it together over Zoom (Kaufman's creative spirit).




These conversations are delightful because they are an opportunity to connect, to reframe our perception of reality, and realize that we are not so different after all.


RITUAL THREE: YOGA

As the day progresses, I engage with yoga, including asanas (poses) with my colleague and friend Leah Mercer who lives on the other side of Australia. Late morning throughout the week we "bridge in" (check-in), and discuss our purpose-for-today (our intention) before we open the app Yoga Glo and choose a 30-minute segment to engage with, Leah in her seaside studio on the Perth coastline, and me in the Pullenvale hills, just outside of Brisbane.


Other times will find me meditating, either sitting in the garden, on the verandah, engaging in a little pranayama (breathing processes) which focus my attention on how I am really feeling right this minute. I think meditation brings me closer to Kaufman's ten characteristics, in particular equanimity, learning to accept with grace what is happening in the world.

RITUAL FOUR: RESEARCH



One of my final rituals of the day is engaging in research and today's book is an oldie but a goodie: "Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living" by Donna Farhi. She talks about yoga being both formal practice and everyday practice that reconnects us with our inner sense of aliveness (Farhi, 2003).

"There is no comprehending the wily ways of the daimon, who lures us to paint, to sing, to dance, compose music, build sanctuaries, plant gardens, raise children, write poetry, climb mountains, and do all of the other things humans do to discover themselves in life. All such activities, if practiced mindfully and with passionate devotion, can be called a form of Yoga" (Farhi, 2003).

My sense is that we engage in formal yoga practice in order to refine our ability to grow our sense of attentiveness and awareness, learned on our yoga mat, and apply it to our wider life. For our formal practice to be reflected in our everyday lives, we need to wed our ability to be disciplined with a sense of dedication to the greater good.


"Very simply, we set aside time and a quiet place to engage in inquiries that will remind us of who we really are. We do this practice as often as necessary for this understanding to become an implicit part of our being. For most of us this means practicing from the first breath to the last.” (Farhi, 2003)

So these are four of my daily rituals: gardening, 'Chai 'n' Chat', yoga and research, all beautifully supported by my yoga teacher training. Celia Roberts https://celiaroberts.com.au/brisbane-yoga-classes/ has a tremendous yoga school just over the hill in Upper Brookfield: Biomedical Institute of Yoga and Meditation https://biyome.com.au where she guides and teaches those who want to live a more embodied and richer life. The course is thick with information and practices and I have found it both challenging and growth-promoting.


I hope that your long weekend is proving to be a good one. Yesterday was Anzac Day, and it was delightful standing at the top of my driveway watching the sunrise, thinking of family members who went to war, some of them losing their lives either at war or as a consequence of their war years... you probably did something similar. People all over Australia were standing outside their homes, meditating on what has gone before, in the hope that it will never happen again.


Go gently readers, as you continue to redefine not only how you will navigate the next few weeks of isolation, but how you will steer your life, hopefully taking into account the ten characteristics discussed above.




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