Just art

“We forget that we are history. We have kept the left hand from knowing the right.”

“Perhaps we are like stones; our own history and the history of the world embedded in us, we hold a sorrow deep within and cannot weep until that history is sung.”

From A Chorus of Stones: The Private Life of War by Susan Griffin

September in Greece and art

“THE WALL There is such cruelty in exclusivity, and such exclusivity in the entitled. And there are many walls.”  From Am I Pretty When I Fly? An Album of Upside Down Drawings by Joan Baez

“It’s incredible how fear is built into you, by your parents and others surrounding you. You’re so innocent in the beginning you don’t know.”  From Walk Through Walls: A Memoir by Marina Abramovic, performance artist

An artist has to understand silence. An artist has to create a space for silence to enter his / her work. Silence is like an island in the middle of a turbulent ocean.”  Marina Abramovic, performance artist

“Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.” Native American Proverb

“We must protect the forests for our children, grandchildren and children yet to be born. We must protect the forests for those who can’t speak for themselves such as the birds, animals, fish and trees.” Qwatsinas, Nuxalk Nation

Susan David, whose work focuses on emotions and values, refers to a beautiful greeting used in South Africa, where she comes from, “sawubona”, an African word for “hello”. She says: “There’s a beautiful and powerful intention behind the word because “sawubona,” literally translated, means, “I see you, and by seeing you, I bring you into being.” In Greek our most common greeting when meeting and saying goodbye is “Γειa σου” [Yiassou], which derives from the Greek word for health [υγεία] and more or less translates into “May you have health”.  So, today I would like to open this September post with these two greetings.











At a personal level September has so far been a more or less uneventful month, with jobs and repair work around the house and in the garden in preparation for winter. We’re also still visiting the beach when the weather is not too windy, but at another level this month has brought disaster as the much anticipated autumn rains have wreaked havoc in Greece [and elsewhere]. This September has brought collective concern, grief and worry in my part of the world. It has brought environmental destruction of “biblical” proportions.  Mostly central Greece has experienced floods that have left a trail of devastation with roads, bridges, buildings, dams and vital infrastructure uprooted and washed away. Entire villages have literally been erased, “wiped off the map” as I read somewhere.

From my home I have felt some of this pain. It has impacted me viscerally while watching the News and thinking about it as I’ve gone through my days, waking up during the night worrying about people I know. Greece, being small, makes it more likely for us to know people from all over the country, which brings the whole thing home in a different kind of way. I’ve been anxiously anticipating what might happen in particular villages or communities. I’ve felt strong surges of empathy and compassion. I’ve thought of the things that should have been in place to work as buffers in at least some situations, I worry about the future and how all this will unfold for the people who are going through this. What will become of the thousands of dead farm animals and the vehicles that are floating in the water? I think of the people who have lost their lives. I worry about how people will survive financially. I think about what the future holds for us at a planetary level.  As I watched people on rooftops waiting for days to be rescued and others refusing to leave their homes, the drinking water shortages and the destruction of infrastructures I could not but also feel anger at how economic and political decisions going far back both in Greece, but also in other much bigger contexts of concentrated power, have led to the broader ecological crisis.

People have died and many have watched their houses go under water losing everything they owned, while others have lost farmland, crops, farm animals and small businesses, their livelihood. Areas that depended heavily on tourism resemble war zones. I don’t think the country has ever been through such extreme flooding. Storm Daniel dropped a year’s worth of rain on central Greece in one day. It will probably change the morphology of the affected areas and it definitely brought the destructive face of Nature to the foreground of our awareness. And all this has taken place after a summer of unprecedented forest fires.

The economic catastrophe is massive since the productive heart of the country is in central Greece. Flood-stricken Thessaly region is one of Greece’s richest agricultural areas, generating more than a quarter of the country’s agricultural produce. These swamp like areas now are also ripe for the spread of diseases. There is no electricity, no clean tap water and there are shortages in bottled water. Three years ago the same area was hit by a rare for the Mediterranean cyclone, Ianos, and funding was allocated for the construction and reinforcement of anti-flood structures. It is obvious that any anti-flooding measures that were in place failed to shield the flood stricken areas from these extreme weather phenomena. For reasons that will, as time unfolds, become clear, it seems that the quantity and / or quality of the existing infrastructure were not sufficient.

Some voices support that “we are all in this together”. Well, honestly, it will not be the same for everyone. It never is. This cliché phrase can sometimes be unhelpful, because it does not reflect the whole truth. We could say it is both true and not true.  If not clarified it can obscure hard facts about circumstances and people’s different realities and can often lead to the silencing of anger that can motive action, and indignation or truth telling, often named blaming. Yes, we are interconnected, what happens in one part of the country or the world and to our fellow human beings impacts us in many significant visible and invisible ways. The effects of this interdependence are seen in ecological, economic, social, emotional, psychological and biological levels, But it is also true, in this current situation for instance, that those who have jobs that can allow them to work elsewhere or those that have the means to buy a new house or farmland or rebuild a life, will be more able to start over in the midst of their grief and losses. Others will be in a far more tragic situation. And for those winessing from afar, no matter how deeply they feel the pain and provide support or are impacted by the side effects of this disaster, it will be a whole different matter.

At this point we cannot but hope that the State will deliver and that it will provide adequate financial support, and that there will be compensations and rebuilding of communities. We hope that the elderly and those with no means will be taken care of. We hope that this new environmental tragedy will finally result in more responsible policies and actions concerning the environmental crisis, and also, the need for the right infrastructures to be put in place. We also hope that what is known as Greek hospitality, as well as, solidarity, community and compassion will be extended to those in need.

There a piece in Stephen Batchelor’s book, Buddhism without Beliefs, on belonging and compassion. He explains how our compassion usually extends to those on one side of the invisible barrier that segregates us from the rest of the world. It is easier for us to feel compassion for all that belongs to the domain of “me” and “mine” like ourselves, our friends and families, our communities and sports teams. He writes: “The bonds that unite us, be they common parents or an arbitrary preference for the same football team, are exaggerated by desire for belonging and fear of rejection. This in turn leads to a hardening perception of “us” and “them.”

However, he continues it  is not always like this because there are times when the barrier is lifted and we feel for other people’s pains, people we don’t know and people who don’t belong to our groups. He writes: “I find myself moved by the plight of those I do not know and probably never will: the hungry child, the abandoned dog, the streams of refugees….. And when I finally run into S and he tells me how scared he’s been of telling anyone he’s HIV positive, all the resentment vanishes and his grief and terror become mine too. For as long as these fragile moments last, I inhabit a world where all living things are united by their yearning to survive and be unharmed. I recognize the anguish of others not as theirs but as ours. It is as though the whole of life has been revealed as a single organism: reaching out to someone in pain is as natural and unself-conscious as my hand’s reaching out to my injured knee.”

This month I’ve also felt tired, but still I’ve done some reading and looked at some art, and I’ve made some drawings, while considering painting again as the weather becomes cooler. I’ve also been listening to some Joan Baez interviews after buying her new short memoir with upside down and non-dominant hand sketches and drawings she has made. I’m glad Baez published these sketches and drawings. Her experimentations reminded me of my own left hand drawings at one point. I had used my non-dominant hand to lightly complement my right hand drawings, which I found enhanced the symbolic and emotive nature of these drawings.

I think some of her cartoon captions, being culturally and era specific, eluded my full understanding, but art once it has moved from the creator to the audience is there for the viewers or the participants to engage with and make their own sense of it. Performance artist, from ex Yugoslavia, as she likes to say, Marina Abramovic, has among other things claimed in her manifesto: An artist creates his own symbols. Symbols are an artist’s language. The language must then be translated. Sometimes it is difficult to find the key.”

In the introduction of the book with the title, How I Got Turned Upside Down, Baez describes her earliest experiences with art making: “When I was very young, I drew a little girl with her hair flying in the wind. She was holding a kite, which was flying in the opposite direction, but all in all, it was a pretty good depiction for a child. Soon afterwards, I graduated to drawing cows with enormous udders, then tepees. At school, with lots of crayons, I filled an entire sheet of construction paper with a picture of the earth, then took a paper towel and rubbed the whole thing until it shone….. In third grade, I drew pictures of Bambi and Thumper on plain paper from an art pad. I cut them to size and sold them to my classmates for three cents apiece.” For some of us who loved drawing and making art as children some of her stories will ring familiar.

In the following chapters we get to see the evolution of her art activities at different points in time. For instance, when she was eleven she was given a book with a sketch of a woman’s profile on the cover, titled Draw Me, and a wooden human figure with moving parts. In another chapter she describes her return to art through painting portraits when she was seventy. She writes:  “One day, I decided to paint a portrait…….  I went on to paint portraits of people who had made social change through non-violence.” Through her humorous sketches and short chapters she also touches upon topics like exclusivity, bullying, cruelty, patriarchy, the extinction of species and the damage we are causing the environment, and more.

In the previous post on belonging,  I referred to another book with illustrations The Arrival by Shaun Tan about migration and immigrants’ spirit and stories of trauma and resilience. I’m returning to this today, as I’ve been relooking at the book.

On the last page of the Greek edition, the publisher [I think] writes; “What’s it like to travel, to an unknown country, without knowing what awaits you? To hope for a better life, with no guarantee of finding it? What’s it like to feel foreign and alone, overlooking a  – perhaps – inhospitable place where you will build your future? You seek better opportunities for your life without having confronted your fears. The great fear of every immigrant that is uprooted from their homeland. Will they remember what has been left behind? Will they find something that will be worth the trauma of separation?”

In his website Shaun Tan writes:

“Beyond any personal issues, though, I think that the ‘problem’ of belonging is perhaps more of a basic existential question that everybody deals with from time to time, if not on a regular basis. It especially rises to the surface when things go wrong with our usual lives, when something challenges our comfortable reality or defies our expectations – which is typically the moment when a good story begins too. We often find ourselves in new realities – a new school, job, relationship or country, any of which demand some reinvention of ‘belonging.”

You can read more about the book and the topic of belonging at his website: https://www.shauntan.net/arrival-book

Finally, I’ve also been reducing my inbox. As I’ve been sifting through e-mails, I found one that included a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, which I thought I’d share here today as a way to end this post:

Quiet friend who has come so far,  /   feel how your breathing makes more space around you.

Let this darkness be a bell tower   /   and you the bell. As you ring,

What batters you becomes your strength.   /   Move back and forth into the change.

What is it like, such intensity of pain?  /   If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,   /   be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,  /  the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,   /   say to the silent earth: I flow.

To the rushing water, speak: I am.

Some more on belonging…

In The Myth of Normal, Dr Mate Gabor writes: “A society that fails to value communality—our need to belong, to care for one another, and to feel caring energy flowing toward us—is a society facing away from the essence of what it means to be human. Pathology cannot but ensue. To say so is not a moral assertion but an objective assessment. “When people start to lose a sense of meaning and get disconnected, that’s where disease comes from, that’s where breakdown in our health—mental, physical, social health—occurs,” [Dr Bruce Perry]….. “A sane culture, Bruce and I agree, would have psychosocial integration as both an aim and a norm. Authenticity and attachment [belonging] would cease to be in conflict: there would be no fundamental tension between belonging and being oneself. Dislocation, in Bruce’s formulation, describes a loss of connection to self, to others, and to a sense of meaning and purpose…”

“…. an integrated notion of how a self could combine me and we in the plural verb sense of a whole, integrative self, a MWe. Who we are is both me and we, a plurality. And who we are is continually emerging…….” From Aware by Dr Daniel J Siegel

“Troubled places often look to writers in the hope that imagination can see beyond the divisions that ideologies enforce; the writer’s job, after all, is to dismantle the very notion of an Other by showing how your hurts belong to me, as my hopes do to you.”   From The Half Known Life by Pico Iyer

“Sensory awareness enhances our feeling of ‘being among’, of belonging to a place (Reeve, 2011). When our minds are ‘elsewhere’, we are more remote, non-local and confused. We become more likely to lose track of context and, crucially, of what is most important. ‘With webs of relationships dissolving in our society, we see more and more people living and struggling alone; and now the very web of life is unravelling’ (Totton, 2011, p. 36). Our best ideas come when we are in flow – washing up or walking – mobilising, metabolising, sensing and linking. In nature, non-flowing water becomes stagnant; it’s the same with our bodies when we don’t move (Dale and Peyton, 2019.) From What is Normal? Confer Books

Τoday’s post also includes extracts related to belonging from my more personal writing, which I mostly did, as I mentioned, from 2016 to 2018, 2019 maybe. I’ve also chosen ideas / quotes from things I’ve read or been reading currently that are in some way related to the topic of belonging, and might be worth pondering on or further exploring.

The literature related to belonging is broad and theoretically diverse, with people examining the topic from many different perspectives. There are various factors that promote belonging, such as, the environment, the sense of safety and the quality and nature of contact with others, levels of participation, accommodation and housing possibilities, place, emotional attachment, being respected and regarded as worthy or equal, and so on. Skimming through the literature there seems to be an agreement that belonging is a fundamental human need that all people seek to satisfy. It is supported that a sense of belonging, which is the feeling of connection with social groups, physical places, and individual and collective experiences, is a fundamental human need that predicts many mental, physical, behavioural and socioeconomic outcomes.

Some articles focus on the four levels of belonging, the intimate, personal, social, and the public, and others explore the basic pillars of belonging, which are to feel welcomed, to be known, included, supported, and connected.  Also, a strong positive correlation has been found between the sense of belonging and meaningfulness. There is perhaps less agreement about the belonging construct itself, how belonging should be researched or measured, and how to satisfy the need for belonging. Some qualitative research has been carried out that summarizes existing perspectives on belonging in an attempt to define a more integrative framework for understanding and studying belonging.

My more personal writing:

“The salvation of the soul /psyche / is a very big thing  / like a leisure trip / with a hidden trauma” song lyrics by Lina Nikolakopoulou

 “Η σωτηρία της ψυχής  / είναι πολύ μεγάλο πράγμα  / σαν ταξιδάκι αναψυχής  / μ’ ένα κρυμμένο τραύμα”  Λίνα Νικολακοπούλου

“…….This subtle restlessness in relation to contexts might have originated from not having nested securely in childhood, from non alignment with my truest longings, the many socioeconomic and cultural threads that impact our lives, a suppressed adventurous spirit or simply a desire to see more of the world. To use psychological jargon, it might have also reflected exiled aspects of the self externalised through the desire to move or leave. Some have suggested that the gift of restlessness is that it sheds light on our experience or circumstances, ways and habits, and whatever might not be optimal or missing in the environment. In some sense, restlessness has the potential to undermine the places where we might be struggling or falling into false belonging. Restlessness if we know how to decipher it can reveal to us that those places that seemed like belonging may have actually forced us to chip away pieces of ourselves so that we may be accepted, to sculpt ourselves in shapes that made it easier to fit in. Restlessness may force us to take a closer look at contexts and places. These processes are not necessarily conscious, for then it would be easier to discern and disrupt.

In the past I used to indulge in my restlessness even if only for a week or two, whenever time and money allowed. Living on a small island made the need imperative at times for despite its scenic beauty and peace, the need to take a break and see new places, even briefly made the returning more desirable, but old patterns and dynamics and certain very familiar narratives often played out in new contexts, but they did not stand out so much in my field of perception because in these new places I got lost in the new and the beauty of small details, like the paint peeling off an old door in Malta, the old patina on a wall in Budapest, the white washed houses of human proportions on the Cycladic islands, the intense sweetness of Turkish delight that scratches the throat in Istanbul, the illusion of stillness in the Mediterranean olive groves on summer afternoons that stir a vague knowing of my Mediterranean origins, a big collection of cacti plants on a wooden Cypriot porch that reminded me of a scene in Freda Kahlo’s’ film, scrumptious cake and tea in old china cups in quaint garden cafes in England ….

Like many I had forgotten that I, like every other living creature, intrinsically belonged to the world, irrespectively of others’ idea of inclusivity simply because I was a living fibre of the Universe. I skipped over information, brushed it aside like a fly, I settled my attention on the positive. I kept moving. I got immersed in all the new experiences and all the beauty of the world, natural and manmade: the old hits playing on the juke box in a small tavern at a school friend’s village in adolescence, the delicate cyclamen coming to life through the cracks of a stone wall on one of the Byzantine churches in Monemvasia, the plateau above sea level linked to the tip of the Peloponnese peninsula by a 200 metre causeway, the crossing of the Samaria Gorge that splits the topography in two, our ending up in the middle of nowhere and unknowingly sleeping in the midst of a gypsy settlement. On another Cretan southern beach our tent covers and stuff would have been blown away from the gusting wind that was carrying dust and heat from Africa, if it weren’t for my being awake listening to the restless sounds of nature. I had not told friends where I was that summer, but a school friend and her boyfriend had found us in the middle of nowhere. On that particular night the hot wind felt stifling, so I had got out of the tent to look at the wide sky, to inhale the sense of infinite space……

On a nearby island I purchased a slab of carved marble. The dealer claimed it was an authentic piece from St Nicolas, the majestic church of the island I live on. On the fair sand beaches of Naxos I reread the myth of Ariadne and Theseus. In this version of the myth Ariadne had been abandoned on the island by Theseus, who had initially been the incentive for her to exit patriarchy and leave the old ways of the Minoan King behind and shedding the obedient daughter and princess role. The labyrinth is also a metaphor for the womb, and thus, it could also signify the process of birth and rebirth as we travel back to our own particular essence…….

We parked our car at the picturesque medieval port and ran for shelter in one of the renovated water front cafes. Once the rain had stopped we walked around the freshly washed town for a while …… The town was like an old summer dress that I had outgrown.  It felt familiar and strange, attractive and indifferent – a letting go had taken place facilitated by the passing of time. I wondered whether it contained traces of a homeland, if homeland is a mere fact rather than something to negotiate. I wondered how rootedness and belonging could feel and about the necessity or not of a specific homeland and whether it was simply an overrated discursive construction. Virginia Woolf writes ‘I am rooted, but I flow’. Yes, I would like to feel rooted within flow and movement………

I used journaling to explore how old conditioning and relational experiences had impacted my world view and sense of belonging and connection, but the deeper all connecting thread was eluding me. I was cognitively aware that all our experience is tightly interwoven and is in a dynamic interaction, but I could not hold the whole big picture in my conscious mind for it would have required my being able to construct in my imagination a clear image of a mighty complex grid of the politics and workings of the world, my position in it, old traumas and conditioning, disposition and circumstances,  narratives and experiences,  recent losses and un-metabolized old grief, relational dynamics and so much more. I was not there yet, and in any case, the whole is never fully visible to anyone…..”


I’m also suggesting a hauntingly beautiful illustrated book The Arrival by Shaun Tan. a multi awarded artist from Australia. It is the kind of book that one can return to over and over. It has no text and it is about a subject dear to my heart, migration and multiculturalism, overcoming and living together, the immigrants’ spirit and stories of trauma and resilience. In the short video: Migration and Multiculturalism at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uad6G06yvpo, Tan talks about the book and at some points says: “Everybody’s that’s in the city [in the book] has some degree of injury…” The book has been uploaded on YouTube.


And something a little different

Finally, I have also included a link to a recent Being Well podcast [https://www.rickhanson.net/being-well-podcast-metabolism-brain-energy-and-mental-health-with-dr-chris-palmer/] during which Forrest Hanson and Dr. Chris Palmer, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, discuss how Dr. Palmer’s personal experiences and early circumstances have influenced his work, his interesting brain energy theory as a response to treating resistant conditions, the difference between mental states vs. mental disorders, and the problems with the current diagnostic criteria. Palmer defines metabolism and the role of mitochondria and their connection to mental and physical health, talks about how medications, diet, adversity, stress and emotions can affect metabolism. They explore ketogenic diets, mycophogy, mitochondrial biogenesis and the importance of education and support around ketosis for medical conditions, and how meditation, sleep and light exposure, love, connection, a sense of purpose and a sense of safety are prerequisites for healing or recovery. Their analysis takes a more holistic view that looks at the bigger puzzle and reveals the connection between stress responses, trauma, hormones, neurotransmitters, inflammation, mitochondria, metabolism, genetics, circumstances and diet.