Cerebella

Cerebella: 20″ x 24″ Acrylic on Canvas

The cerebellum lies in the human hind brain and is most typically involved in motor control, coordination, posture, and balance. This beautiful flower-shaped structure contains over 100 billion densely packed neurons, that is, more than twice the amount of neurons in the entire cerebral cortex. It’s projections to and from the prefrontal cortex are what makes the wonders of moving meditations possible.

I didn’t want to fight

Painting by Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh placed a haunting stock photo of a shocked, dissociated, teary eyed Vietnamese soldier in an article of his about compassion. Every fibre of the soldier’s being emanated an unspeakably tragic pain and worse off—one that was not allowed be expressed. He spoke to me: I didn’t want to fight. My heart dropped and my gut wrenched. He must have been no older than 20 years old. The following thought was: He could have been dad. But he wasn’t. My dad evaded enlistment during the Vietnam war by hiding inside a wall in his home for a long time. Later, him and my mother fled the country on a small boat by bribing the police with gold. We’re now grounded in Eastern Canada.

During the war, Thich Nhat Hanh was exiled from Vietnam for his immense efforts in peace activism. Even after the battle played through to its brutally long end, the government was still threatened by his influence. For these reasons, they attempted to control the practice of Thich Nhat Hanh’s mindfulness meditation techniques within the Vietnamese population. You may be asking why? How could such an innocent practice like attending to the present moment pose such a risk?

I learned the answer after undertaking vigorous mindfulness training myself. It’s because when you practice mindfulness, you grow so content and fulfilled with simplicity, your hunger for power, profit, and prestige slowly tapers down to seed. When you practice mindfulness, you learn how to skillfully heal your own traumas, so you no longer feel the need to perpetuate cycles of harm. When you practice mindfulness, you grow a reserve of compassion for the greater good; losing the capability to stomach the very idea of war. As such, the Vietnamese government did not want a population of peacekeepers.

The image of the soldier is still menacingly burned into my head. Though I can’t help but believe that Thich Nhat Hanh strategically placed that photograph there for me (and of course, others like myself), because it had triggered a deep grief in my ancestral history that cannot be forgotten. This is not acceptable. This cannot happen again. This should still not be happening now. What do I do? The answer arose spontaneously from the very core of Thich Nhat Hanh’s mission itself:

Spread the practice of mindfulness.

Discover the highest contentment within the mere act of drinking tea; watching bees; watering flowers; sitting in silence. Reduce the potency of our wounds; reduce our ability to inflict wounds. Reconnect to the collective good. Teach this to everyone who seeks.

An Ode to Neuroplasticity

Neurogenesis: 10″ x 20″ Ink on Birch Panel
Long-term Potentiation: 12″ x 12″ Ink on Birch Panel
Long-term Depression: 12″ x 12″ Ink on Birch Panel

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change its structure and functionality throughout the entire human lifespan. Before the late 20th century, this concept was completely absurd; it was thought that proceeding development, the brain one had was the brain one would live with for the rest of their life. But how hopeful it was when neuroscientists discovered that this long held statement was false—this meant that even adults with various neurological disorders and mental illnesses could potentially be treated and have their health related quality of life improved.

The following pieces were made to honor neuroplasticity and the wondrous nature of the brain’s ability to grow, learn, unlearn, and adapt. They are creative depictions of three distinct processes involved in neuroplasticity: (1) Neurogenesis—the birth of new brain cells (i.e. neurons), (2) Long-term potentiation—the strengthening of “bonds” (i.e. synapses) between neurons, and (3) Long-term depression—the weakening of synapses between neurons.

The Neurophysiology of cPTSD

The Neurophysiology of cPTSD: Ink and Watercolor on Cold Press
Click images to enlarge

Metta Flow

For Open Streets Waterloo 2015, I created a unique space where metta (maitri in Sanskrit), “loving kindness,” meditation could be practiced. Metta meditation entails the cultivation of loving thoughts. There are five main stages of which consecutively gains more and more physical expansiveness as moved through. The objects that the practitioner is called to send love to are as follows:

1) Yourself
2) A loved one
3) A neutral person
4) A difficult person
5) All sentient beings

Some examples of well wishes one may send to the object of choice include: “May I/ you be safe,” “May I/ you be well,” “May you I/ be happy,” “May you I/ have peace.”

If practiced traditionally, the meditator began on the first block at the bottom, and then moved up to the next whenever they felt ready. However, street passerbyers were free to enter and leave the station as they pleased; they were flexible to practice part or all of the meditation depending on what their needs were at the moment. Yoga mats were also provided alongside in case meditators wished to prep their meditation with mindful movement.

Macrocircles, Microcircles

As I sit at this round table
present
with the socially condemned
the deviant and
divine human souls
not otherwise specified,

I cannot help but ponder the nature and formation of the Universe,
so dreadfully random.
—this unjust genetic lottery
—these cursed phenotypic fates
that we
so-called “unlucky losers”
face.

When it was her turn,
one teenaged girl asked,
“OK so, should I read a poem about hating my body or attempting to kill myself?”
We find nihilistic and
comical moments like these through our suffering and
sure, there is a beauty and artistry and
safety and
release which
runs through circles like these   but.

What happens when it breaks?
We go home and the torture lives on
these conniving neurochemical demons
swim around
like a basin of poisoned water
swishing around in
volatile   circles.

Circles.
If only the compassionate energy of this macrocircle could
completely replace the suffering of these microcircles.

I will never stop praying for us.
I will never stop fighting for us.
I will never stop researching for us.

Off with my head!

NO, I will not have a threesome with you
NO, I do not want to DO everyone
NO, I am not just going through a phase
Nor will I pick a side.

NO, attention is actually the last thing I need when kissing a femme and
NO, I do not have to sleep with a man, woman, trans, and non-binary individual
one by one
on your living room couch
to prove my identity to you.

BURN ME AT THE STAKE why don’t you?
’cause I’m pansexual.

But,
I am also a scientist and
an artist and
I like to swim and dance
I like the show 30 Rock and
I know this is kind of intense and
a little TMI but…
sometimes before really busy work weeks,
I like to make big pots of soup
let them cool
and then pack them in portioned out Tupperwares
so I don’t have to worry so much about cooking later.

…in any case, you best
FEED ME TO THE WOLVES
’cause I’m pansexual!!!
I will seduce your girlfriend, boyfriend, partner, and pet cat to leave you!
I define sacrilegious–
Shaking my hand will give you an STI!

SEND ME TO THE GUILLOTINE
before I infect the town with crabs!
STATION THE GUARDS
at all women’s bathrooms
SAVE THE WOMEN AND CHILDREN!!

Go on
forget equal human rights
Continue killing off my kind with stigma-induced suicide
It’s for the betterment of society after all
and if you want to keep your cat.

The Ebb and Flow of the HPA-Axis

“The Ebb and Flow of the HPA(hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal)-axis,” is a contemporary, long durational art piece I performed at the 2013 Toronto Nuit Blanche portraying two sides of the most prominent physiological responses of the human body in regards to mental unrest in Western culture. The HPA-axis is a communication system starting at the brain, circulating to the kidneys, to then elicit physiological responses which puts the body into a state of stress and vigilance. This response is key for survival when activated in short bouts when necessary, but is however the root of a plethora of illness when switched on chronically. These illnesses include anxiety, stress, epileptic, and depressive disorders.

The right side of my mat represented a hyperactive HPA-axis; as I danced over to that side, my poses would portray pain, suffering, noise, and inner turmoil. To further illustrate this point, I progressively wrote descriptive words with charcoal on the sidewalk. On the right, I wrote phrases such as, “AMYGDALA,” “GLUCOCORTICOIDS,” and “FEAR.” On the other hand, the left side of my mat represented a balanced HPA-axis; as I danced over to that side, my poses would be meditative and peaceful, representing safety processing enamored by yogic practices. Here, I’d write phrases such as; “GAMMA-AMINOBUTRYIC ACID,” “PEACE,” and “VAGUS NERVES.”

The cut up triangular papers in front are copies of a research article by Chris Streeter and colleagues titled “effects of yoga on the autonomic nervous system, gamma-aminobutyric-acid, and allostasis in epilepsy, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder”—the source of inspiration for this piece.