Non conclusive notes and questions from my home residency (December 2022 – February 2023) by Clay AD
Image descriptions from left to right:
A close up of a tree trunk with a hole in the middle filled with water. The forest floor is filled with dead leaves.
A wooden tray with flowers colour pencils and a colouring book over a bath with candles.
By a series of happenstance emotional and physical breakdowns in my life during the first week of December the topic of the residency rises to the top: Rest.
I had lots of questions. What is rest? What is rest in the context of neo-liberal capitalist hustle culture? What is it under the wellness industrial complex’s economic exploitation of the concept of “self care”? What are restful activities for the busy mind? For the exhausted body? Who in society is encouraged to rest and relax? How do marginalized people reclaim rest? How does demanding rest relate to workers rights movements, strikes and unions?
I realized I personally had no idea how to rest restfully, feeling clumsy and scared of mindfully slowing down. Reflecting I only legitimized stopping in my past when ill, in a burnout or collapse. Through the residency I began to understand the correlation between rest and recovery. Between an inability to rest and childhood trauma. Rest and a fear of being “lazy”. Grind culture and ableism. Activist spaces and burnout. I began to take informal interviews of those around me. Asking how they rested. How they knew when they needed rest. How rest was conceived of within their family, identity and culture.
I made a few things during the residency, some music, some drawings, a poem, did a boring and long application. Laid some foundational bricks and thoughts towards some collaborations. But the production, the “work”, didn’t feel like the most important aspect. It was the time spent resting or trying to allow and conceive the mind, body and spirit at rest that felt the most exciting, the most precious. It was the stuff I am still with.
Image descriptions left to right:
A close up of a hand with blue painted nails holding a brown rock with a hole in the middle
A hand with painted nails holding a very big DIY brush taped to a wooden spoon.
A hand with painted nails holding an Irish St Bridgets Cross weaved with grass.
Researched ancient European pagan advent practices, which coincidentally were thought of as twelve days of rest. See attached podcast on the 12 days 1 and documentary about Wassailing 2. From this thread got obsessed with a German spirit who would punish anyone she found working during the twelve days. Who is this domme? How do I find her?
Picked an animal of the year on New Year’s Eve: Pig. My friend Holly told me about the practice she had invented for herself, the task is simple: pick an animal to inspire the year.
Short digression: fuck the pig/cop metaphore. Poor pigs. Humans are the only animals that can act like cops towards each other. The only animals that oppress and hate and bully based on prejudice.
Anyway, back to pigs. Some pig qualities I’d like to cultivate this year: dirty, foraging, clever, sleep, eat, nest building, keen sense of smell.
Went on a ten day Vipassana 3 silent meditation retreat. They are donation based and are taught around the world. I thought I knew what to expect because I had attended one three years prior. However, it’s not really an experience you can predict, so it felt familiar yet totally new.
In certain ways the time was restful. You can’t read, write or listen to anything. The mind’s attention is fully on itself and its immediate surroundings. Because the mind is the mind, it also was completely unrestful and difficult. But between and beside the challenging moments there were other surprising and peaceful moments shining through. My body and spirit: unwinding.
We could take walks during the day between mediations and I would always go to the edge of the woods to the fence to watch what I called in my head “Sheep TV”. Sheep TV was a field of sheep and lambs were grazing. I could watch the lambs for an hour at a time, skipping and jumping into the air. Their parents dutifully munching grass like machines until a lamb would run over and begin suckling like a wiggly worm. I loved to watch the freedom and play the little ones embodied. I’d also listen to the trees in the woodland moving in the wind, the branches at the top of the canopy hitting one another to make a wooden wind chime effect. The sound was soothing, but subtle. Something I’d probably miss if I had other input to distract me.
About four days into the retreat I began to outline in my head a novel I want to write. I had been thinking about it for a few years in vague and general details. But in this place with so little input the narrative unfolded before me without any effort. It didn’t feel like I was willing the thoughts, more like they were being channeled from outside of me. Characters emerged, settings detailed to the point of being able to see them clearly, complex plot points and questions to clarify after the retreat once I could begin writing. My mind has been so busy the last few years I’ve found it difficult to concentrate on longer writing projects because my attention span has dramatically decreased. Like most people I blame this on Covid, my smart phone and the ways in which we communicate and expect communication. However in this place, in this strange situation that felt like a place out of time I could find space. In that space the mind could rest and allow the story to be channeled. It felt like a meaningful ending to the residency time.
Image descriptions from left to right:
A fire pit in the dark
A close up of a bayber candle on a tall glass container with text written on it.
References and reading/listening/viewing:
- 12 days podcast
- Here We Come A Wassailing. BBC Bristol. 1977. Albion Band
- Vipassana Meditation UK website
- Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto, Tricia Hersey
- How to do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, Jenny Odell
- Overcoming Burnout, Nicole Rose
- Warp and weft: Psycho-emotional health, politics, and experiences, Lisa Fannen