By Catriona Mitchell
At one point during his 2-day workshop at Cinema Paradiso this week, Jamie Catto put on a song by The Happening. It was called These Are My Diamonds.
The song title encapsulated what his workshop was all about.
A founding member of the band Faithless, and perhaps best known as the creative force (with Duncan Bridgeman) behind the Grammy-award-nominated album and music documentary 1 Giant Leap (2002), Jamie Catto has spent much of his life travelling the globe in a spirit of humanitarian as well as musical enquiry.
1 Giant Leap and its sequel What About Me? had him conducting interviews with some of the world’s visionaries, and playing with the best contemporary world music artists, exploring ways we humans can better understand ourselves and inspire one another. These experiences – in countries as diverse as Nepal, Senegal, Uganda, India, Australia, Thailand, South Africa and Ghana – have made Catto into the ‘creative catalyst, musician and mischief maker’ he is today.
This is the spirit he brings into his workshops. He shares the best of what he has learned and integrated along the way: the ‘diamonds’.
Affable and irreverent, with a presence that was markedly gentle, Jamie conducted his Ubud workshop by drawing from the content of his recently published book, Insanely Gifted: Turn Your Demons into Creative Rocket Fuel (Canongate, 2017).
The book begins with a description of how, in adolescence, he was plagued with anxiety and panic attacks, to the point where life was unendurable. This fearlessness in the face of sharing darker emotions, is indicative of his “no holds barred” approach to workshop facilitation: Jamie has made it a sacred duty, almost, to ‘befriend’ the psychological and emotional shadows that most people prefer to turn away from. This is his point, and his process: he believes in a kind of alchemy that involves taking life’s ugliness and turning it into gold by consciously meeting, feeling into, and even learning to love the pains, disturbances, betrayals, humiliations and other discomforts that plague us.
“Being rejected or exiled, or looking stupid, all the things we try to protect ourselves from… We’re all still reeling from the PTSD of our childhoods,” he said, leading us through guided meditations and exercises to help loosen up some of those deeply held negativities. By “listening to ourselves, so all those parts can be heard, this cuts away resisted pain. Pain plus resistance creates suffering. Pain with investigation leads to liberation.”
All this sounds potentially grim, but in fact the opposite was true: Jamie’s approach was light-hearted and humorous. He chatted informally with us from the stage, with quips thrown in at regular intervals (“Any questions? It’s OK to be stupid”), and he interspersed it all with music pulled off a playlist – sometimes energising, sometimes soothing, sometimes comical, always delicious.
There was meditation and there was movement. But the bulk of the workshop was made up of written and spoken exercises, sometimes performed alone, sometimes with a partner or in small groups, all involving deep self-enquiry.
What were my takeaways?
Firstly, that core idea that as children, we learn to self-censor to a dangerous degree: “We train kids into approval addiction”. We tend to shut off or suppress all manner of tendencies that aren’t pleasing to the adults around us; the trouble being that we then enter adulthood with much of our creative ability and energy having been, in some way, disabled. All this needs to be readdressed and realigned if we’re to live up to our potential.
Secondly, Jamie made the point that it’s important to sift between ideas, and take action based on one’s level of excitement around a project rather than our idea of how ‘worthy’ it might be. “Always choose what’s the most fun, not what you think you should do for your spiritual growth,” he told us. “You don’t know what you need for your spiritual growth – no one does.”
I loved his emphasis on ‘feeling into’ the body; or a process he referred to as “walking around the inside of the body,” to experience where we hold onto tension inside, how we react to things that upset us, where we might be numb or constricted. All of these signs of pain, tension or discomfort are clues to ways we aren’t taking care of ourselves. The body meditation he guided us through, learning to smile inwardly into our organs, was a highlight: it felt incredibly nurturing. (It is included in the book).
But most important for me was Jamie’s talk about ‘Yin’ energy: the passive, feminine energy in the universe as opposed to the masculine Yang, according to Chinese philosophy. Jamie’s thinking has been influenced by Daoism and martial arts, and his message about creativity is that true inspiration comes in the act of being soft, being still, and receiving.
I spoke further to Jamie about this concept of ‘Yin’ and its relationship to creativity, once the workshop had concluded:
“When you’re in an artistic space, making music or creating, you are naturally in your Yin because you’re listening for the inspiration or hearing melodies in your head,” he told me. “Musicians and artists know very well that whenever they’re doing their work, when they’re in their flow state, they very much feel that they’re a channel for something coming through. They’re not thinking stuff up, they know they’re not. They know this doesn’t come out of ‘my’ thinking mind, it just flowed in.”
On hearing this, it occurred to me, not for the first time, that Ubud is an excellent place to try out this approach to life – a place many of us are able to take a breather from the harried, time-poor, ‘masculine mode’ we mostly inhabit in the West. (The fact that 32 people were able to take a Monday and Tuesday out for the workshop, was testament to this.)
Although Jamie’s workshop didn’t focus on the business of creativity – I was hoping for some nuggets about documentary film-making; a friend was hoping for a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes of the music business – what he did cover was perhaps, ultimately, more enduring advice for those of us on a creative journey.
All the exercises were designed to help us dissolve the harming beliefs and tendencies we carry around, that get in the way of our having a ‘clear creative channel.’ Without these obstructions to block our path, we have easier, more open access to the inspired ideas that can come visiting in our imaginations – in the form of songs, stories, paintings and so on – that we must then get down into tangible form.
And when this information comes at you from someone who has done the things you yourself yearn to accomplish, it becomes all the easier to imagine that what he’s saying might actually be true; that we might just live in the kind of world that wants to see us give full birth to our artistic dreaming.
You can visit Jamie Catto’s website here.