“’I can’t see the way through,’ said the boy. ’Can you see your next step?’ ‘Yes’ ‘Just take that’ said the horse” Charlie Mackesy
I recently had a vivid dream. In it, I was trying to get to a mountain top. I often have dreams in which I am trying to get somewhere, mainly by train or bus. Usually, I am thwarted by the limitations of public transport: the train is delayed, or I board the wrong one, the bus breaks down and I miss my connection. This time, however, I was walking up Goat Fell, a mountain on the Isle of Arran. My sister lives there, and we have often holidayed there. The mountain walk would be a feature of the holiday for everyone but me because of my pain condition. In my dream, not only did I walk there but I got to the top – I actually got where I was going. But I was naked.
I thought about this dream a lot, and it felt significant to me both that I was finally reaching some sort of destination, and that I was naked. Sometimes it takes huge vulnerability to achieve our goals.
Take a look at the first image. It shows a painting by Titian based on the Greek legend of Sisyphus, who was condemned to push or carry a rock up a mountain for eternity, every time to watch it roll back down again. In a recent Grayson Perry’s art club on the theme of work, one submission used this concept. Because of the pandemic, the artist, who is a trained French polisher, had to take a job at a supermarket, stacking shelves. He depicted Sisyphus (or maybe himself) pushing a cage full of goods up the mountain side, dropping cartons of yoghurt on his way. This humorous approach and his cheery demeanour were a delightful counterpoint to the obvious frustration and endless task of stacking shelves when he could be using his finely honed skills elsewhere. But, as he pointed out, at least he has a job.
We have all, I’m sure, experienced various levels of frustration over the last year. And perhaps one of the most frustrating things has not being in control, if we ever were, of our lives and destinies. Maybe we feel like life is an endless round of rolling rocks that have to be re-pushed up a hill. Or maybe, like Sisyphus and me we feel rather naked, exposed in our inability to control our lives.
My second image is one of five which I made as part of a larger project called Wayside Shrine. I placed artworks at every service station along the M62 and encouraged people to take the time to stop amid their speed and journey. I felt that everyone was rushing around trying to get from A to B without making time just to be. The M62 crosses beautiful landscape and yet most drivers were so intent on their destination that they didn’t seem to notice what surrounded them. This picture depicts the top of the moors as the motorway winds uphill. Usually, cars zoom up and down this motorway relentlessly, rather like Sisyphus’ endless cyclical journey. Since lockdown I’m guessing this has eased somewhat, but I’m sure it’s beginning to get busy again now restrictions are beginning to ease. And maybe we need to think about this as things are starting to go back to ‘normal’. We may not want to feel the frustration of Sisyphus, but perhaps we also do not want to return to what for many of us was an endless state of busyness, potentially a hamster wheel of frenetic but distracting activity. Hopefully, through our enforced and often frustrating slowing down over this last year, we have learnt what truly matters; what to give our energy to, where we want to go and maybe how to get there, even if it means being vulnerable.
Take time to look at the pictures and consider these questions:
- What have been your frustrations over the last year?
- What have you learnt by this enforced break from ‘normal life’?
- How have you felt vulnerable?
You will need a stone and some paints or a marker pen
- Put the stone in your pocket and carry it around for a day. How does it feel? Does it weigh you down? Is it awkward? Does it feel unnecessary? Or burdensome?
- At the end of your day, take your stone out of your pocket and spend some time drawing or painting onto it. Perhaps use one side to show your thoughts about what weighs you down and what frustrations you feel. You could use the other side to show your dreams for where you are going or decisions you have made about how to live differently after this year.
- Keep your stone to remind you and revisit it in a year’s time to see where your journey has gone.