On the kindness of strangers, meditation and art

Joe McConnel describes how painting and meditation has been more help than “traditional” mental health therapies.

Tambour of Light, watercolour painting by Joe McConnell

Tambour of Light (Watercolour) by Joe McConnell

By Joe McConnell

For some time now I can’t stop making art. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been into drawing — pretentiously daydreaming that I was turning 14 years of schoolbooks into latter day illuminated manuscripts. But never taking it any further. It was a total closet indulgence for reasons I wouldn’t mind exploring at a later date.

2009 was a terrible year for me from start to finish. I hit so many walls I lost count. But in the murky depths of unspeakable waking nightmares, a little flame sparked to life.

At the end of last year, I was referred to Jules Thorn Recovery Centre. This is effectively a day hospital and I was dreading being institutionalised yet again. The reality, however, came as a lovely surprise.

Jules Thorn is a sparkling oasis strangely blooming amidst the red brick labyrinths of St Pancras Hospital. There is very little psychiatric intervention and the focus is on group work with visual art, pottery, music, dance and movement at the heart of it all.

This is also supported by several taught sessions where service users can explore how meditation can enhance their journey to recovery. This was sheer joy. It was taught at a very introductory level, but now I try to attend the London Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green when I can.

Now that I have left Jules Thorn, I thank it for opening up some wonderful new pathways. Never, ever, did I think I would feel that way about any part of the NHS. Twelve years ago I was offered electro convulsive therapy by Camden and Islington Authority and barely escaped from that terrifying encounter.

Jules Thorn has fought hard to retain the input of a professional artist (Carolyne Kardia — painter and sculptor) as opposed to exclusively relying upon occupational therapists. For as long as I can remember, I have loved drawing. Most of this was confined to the margins of my schoolbooks and, in adult life, to oceans of doodling.

I now realise how scared I was of taking it seriously. Life seemed so painful at times that the heights and depths of self-discovery I always knew would spring from taking art seriously seemed too frightening to embrace. Until Carolyne provided a generous helping of encouragement, which inspired me to paint for the first time ever.

The first paintings were postcards depicting musicians playing the music I associate with healing and kindness. I think, in these, I’m trying to depict something of the loving kindness of meditation in that the musicians are absorbed in their music but are neither gloomy nor ecstatic — they are somehow detached while being fully in the moment. They emerged as “postcards from a kinder planet”.

Originally published 13 July 2010 http://www.disabilityarts.org/joe-mcconnell

2 Comments on On the kindness of strangers, meditation and art

  1. I read this on Disability Arts. Is Joe doing any more stuff for Fitzrovia? I am very interested in Arts and Mental Health and live in central London.

    • Joe, and Disability Arts, very kindly allowed us to re-publish this article and painting. Hopefully Joe will write again for us.

      Fitzrovia News would like to cover more of this important issue. We welcome contributions from others on this subject from people who live in Fitzrovia or elsewhere in central London.

      See our editorial policy https://news.fitzrovia.org.uk/about/

      Linus
      assistant editor

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