Ko Hung: The contented can be happy with what appears to be useless…leaving the jade in the mountain and the pearls in the sea. The contented can be happy, knowing when to stop; not picking the brief- blossoming flower, not travelling the dangerous road. The ten thousand things are dust in the wind….through simplicity one has Dao, and from Dao, everything, seeing the light in the ‘darkness’, the clear in the ‘cloudy’, the speed in the ‘slowness’, the full in the ’empty’.

this piece of wisdom has helped me immensely over the years and inspired my first series of oil paintings…’knowing when to stop’ became a joke in the shared house i lived in, as i painted over several good paintings to get to the absolute rightness of the final version. only one person agreed with me that this was the best, and one dear friend keened for the loss of her favourite below another 5 layers of paint! ‘the pearls in the sea’ was bought by a  musician who wanted the painting in the studio when he recorded his next improvisational jazz album…than which no greater compliment!

as an agoraphobic, it can be deeply frustrating to miss travelling – i’m one of very few people who has been to North Korea in the late 1980s, and i was invited to go on a speaking tour round India, which i would have loved. but it has made me think, it has made me value the local as well as the global. i am lucky enough to have found a safe person with whom i could travel round britain, andy loved stone circles and i loved anywhere by the sea so we had some stressful times changing trains (birmingham railway station is the definition of agoraphobic hell), but some wonderful times in lovely places. living in an age of fantastic documentaries like the Down Under series (we bought a colour tv for that, yes children, some people still had black and white tvs in 2003!) and the amazing Planet Earth series, Wild China… i feel very happy knowing these places exist and NOT visiting them, instead walking to the woods nearby, biking to collect chestnuts or feathers by the lake when the geese have their annual moult, lime flowers to dry for tea, blackberries and damsons for jam.

in the age of peak oil, i hope more people can put aside the need to have plastic gift wrapped and ultimately disappointing package tours to ‘exotic’ places that then have McDeaths and English pubs on every corner to cater to people who didn’t want it to be quite so different! if we all learned to love our own surroundings, to see them as just as special and unique as anything the tour operators are hard selling to us…then they would be. no litter, no vandalism, no motorways through the middle of nature reserves, no runways through sites of outstanding beauty and special scientific interest…you get my drift. save the long distance flights for visiting far flung dear ones, that is something you need to be there in person for…however good skype is 😉

and seeing that escapism is so sought after should be the biggest red light to our horrible consumerist culture. working really long hours at a brain numbing or super stressful job to pay for two weeks somewhere where the local people have very little of our trappings and enjoy their DAILY lives…what a wake up call! Stephen Mitchell has a wonderful translation of the Lao Tzu, the Dao Deh Jing (1856263967) and has this to say on the over extension so common to first world stupidity:

‘Fill your bowl to the brim and it will spill.

Keep sharpening your knife and it will blunt.

Chase money and security and your heart will never unclench.

Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner.’

– be alive to the world and the amazingness around us, make what you can from what is readily renewable, seek experiences not objects and pay your carbon debts as you would any other, visit places for what they are and avoid changing them into what you came to escape…make your daily life rewarding, and you will miss out on nothing.

Dao Deh Jing: Do your work and step back. The only path to serenity.

Agnes Martin: Success is contentment with no discontentment about anything, anything in the work or anything outside the work…do not stop short of real contentment. You may as well never have been born if you remain discontented. Perfection is not necessary. Perfection you cannot have. If you do what you want to do and what you can do and if you can then recognize it, you will be contented. You cannot possibly know what it will be, but looking back you will not be surprised at what you have done.

Jules Olitski: Expect Nothing.

Do Your Work.


Buddha: sit, work,rest

alone with yourself, never weary.

at the edge of the forest,

live joyfully,without seeking.