Writing Words to Calm the Mind by Sanjay Lago
Hello! My name is Sanjay, and I am an actor and theatre maker based in Scotland. This is a blog reflecting on my workshop “Autobiography & Self Care” held in May 2020 for Scottish BAME Writers Network, and how my processes as an artist help my mental health.
I am a dyslexic artist and writing isn’t my strongest point, so apologies for any misspellings or things that make no sense. But I hope you enjoy this piece.
When the lockdown started, I lost four and a half months of work in ten days. I was in a really bad place with my mental health. I saw the arts industry deplete overnight because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was seeing many friends lose work and move back home.
One thing that I thought of a lot during the start of the lockdown was:
“What can I do to support and look after myself?”
I spent time thinking that I wouldn’t be able to do anything. Then, I found old notebooks from my 3rd year of my degree when I was writing poetry. I found a space to reflect, breathe and create, thanks to the art of writing.
As an artist, the area I enjoy writing about in performance is autobiography, and sharing a space for stories that are not usually heard or seen on our stages or screens. I enjoy writing about themes of race, belonging, home, identity, sexuality, and dyslexia. I started to pick up on my mental health because through writing, I was able to reflect on the times we were in and reflect on myself.
Then, in May, I was selected to run the workshop for SBWN.
“There is a multiplicity of ways in which the auto/bio self is represented in performance” (Dee Heddon)
I wanted to write a workshop about how important it was to have stories of BAME individuals in writing, on stage and screen. I wanted the workshop to encompass the times we were in and how we should look after ourselves. I wanted to create a space and build exercises that share our stories and voices, but I also wanted to create structures for looking after ourselves as we adjust to the new times we were venturing into.
I started the workshop with a quote from “Autobiography and Performance” by Dee Heddon, which resonated with me on what autobiographical performance is:
“There is a multiplicity of ways in which the auto/bio self is represented in performance”
I relate to this because there are so many ways we can tell out stories and there are many ways we can share them with each other. I wanted to focus on sharing our stories through writing.
“Just when you feel you have no time to relax, know that this is the moment you most need to make time to relax” (Matt Haig)
One thing I do in my practice and in my daily life is meditation or visualisations to keep calm. It helps me to stay on track if I am undertaking any tasks, so I decided to start the workshop like this. I think of a quote by Matt Haig’s book Reasons to stay Alive, when I’m doing my meditations or visualisations:
“Just when you feel you have no time to relax, know that this is the moment you most need to make time to relax”
Here is a wee visualisation I give to you to try, if you’d like. You can listen to it by clicking the play button. You can also read it below.
Take 3 deep breaths in and out
Imagine yourself lying on the sand on the beach. Your skin is connecting with the warmth of the sand.
You feel the heat of the sun on your face, the breeze of the waves on your feet.
On your left-hand side, you see a hot air balloon. It is grey and dark. It is empty. Walk up to it and empty all your worries, concerns, and stresses out. Empty into this hot air balloon all the negatives.
On the ground next to you is a hook that the hot air balloon is tied to. Untie it and watch all your stress and negative energy fly away. Wave at it if you like.
As you turn around, you see another hot air balloon. It is bright, colourful, and might even have an image of something you love on it. Walk-up to it with the warmth of the sand going between your toes. Feel the breeze of the sea.
Inside this hot air balloon is all the things and people you love. Happy memories and mementos.
Take all those loving and warm feelings with you, as you watch and wave at that hot air balloon fly away.
Walk back then to your spot on the beach, lie down and feel the warmth of the sand.
Take 3 deep breaths and then slowly open your eyes.
I feel that through this visualisation, whenever I do it, and whatever group I do it with, each person takes away something different.
The workshop proceeded with tasks to share stories and memories of ourselves. We shared childhood memories. This was all done by writing poetry or short scenes. Being a theatre maker, I enjoy making art in different ways and forms.
For me, writing brings a sense of escape. A place to go to other worlds and be imaginative.
To speak about being a POC, I shared a poem that really struck me by Jackie Kay and kicked off the next section:
I found this poem really powerful as it was something myself and many friends from Black and Asian backgrounds could relate to. I wanted to show that the power of autobiography can be shared in many creative ways, from poetry to full-blown plays.
For me, writing brings a sense of escape. A place to go to other worlds and be imaginative. Writing also gives me a break from the world — a space to put my feelings into a new way of expression. Writing helps with my mental health, but I also find writing has helped me physically: through walking, I am able to connect my writing.
I wanted to create the workshop to share my experiences and how writing has helped me to develop topics of discussion I found too difficult to talk to loved ones about. My mental health was supported, because I was able to write my feelings honestly and not have to feel I need to be succinct.
The second half of the workshop was about self care. In my final year of drama school, I had a class with guest lecturer and artist Tashi Gore. In this class she taught us about “A Structured Process”. This is a process we used for our degree shows, where we created a timeline and a list of things to do that were important to the show. I took this process and shaped it into a list of things that would help me to look after myself. A process that would help me to take time away for my own mental health.
I gave this to the group, and as the parting gift of this blog I leave this with you. Take time to look at how busy you may be, look at the affects COVID-19 has had on you. Are you working from home and constantly looking at a screen? Are you remembering to do the things you enjoy?
Sit and take a moment, and a pen, to write down all the fun things you can do in your free time. This list by no means asks that you do them all everyday.
On my own structured process, I have:
- One hour of reading a day
- Daily Meditation
- Visit a new city each month to get a break
- Write a poem
- Take a walk / do a form of exercise
This is just a snapshot of what I have on mine. I don’t do all of them everyday. When work is getting to be too much or I am struggling being indoors, or if my mental health isn’t great, I know there are things I can do to calm my mind.
We live in a time where we are consumed by technology and social media is very real in our lives. There are positives and negatives. We have to look after our mental health, and a way for me to do that is through writing. That may not be the way for you, but take the time to look after yourself and to give yourself space. Take breaks, take moments and remember you are never alone.
This workshop came at a time when I thought I wasn’t going anywhere and I was in an industry that was crumbling. But it gave me hope for a better place and the space to look after myself and share my ways of looking after myself.
This blog is my connection to my mental health and how I look after myself and in the words of Matt Haig:
‘Mental health problems don’t define who you are. They are something you experience. You walk in the rain and you feel the rain, but, importantly, YOU ARE NOT THE RAIN.’
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Sanjay Lago is a multidisciplinary artist and theatre-maker of Indian Heritage based in Glasgow. He’s 3rd-generation born in Glasgow. His work mainly involves text and dance and autobiography, and looks at themes such as race, sexuality, masculinity, and mental health, to name a few. He enjoys not only writing and performing, but also directing. He is a big reader and enjoys collaboration in the work he makes.