For as long as I can remember, creating “Art” of any kind has been been more about the process than the end product. Even as a child, I didn’t draw to replicate what I was seeing, but to respond to things emotionally. I was acutely aware of how what I saw affected me, and how what I was feeling affected the way I saw. For example, a donut will look very different depending on whether I’m hungry or not. When not distracted by hunger, I’m more inclined to notice all the different colours, shapes, textures, smells, and imagine how they might taste. I’m more aware of details, such as how the light reflects off the individual specs of sugar; the contoured edges of the glossy frosting; the spongy, rounded surface of the golden pastry…
When I’m starving, I see a singular thing: a donut.
Whenever I produce a physical, tangible, visual response to my own internal chatter, things become clearer. My muddled thoughts start sorting themselves into orderly queues instead of simultaneously clamouring for attention.
To put it another way: imagine hundreds of oddly shaped, different coloured Lego bricks scattered on the floor around you, making it difficult to step in any direction without hurting your feet. Each brick simply one part of the unsightly, stress-inducing, insurmountable MESS.
It is easy to become so focused on “The Mess” and planning how to be rid of it or how to get around it that you fail to see The Bigger Picture. But what if you were to stop, crouch down for a closer look, give each and every brick your full attention, sort through them, start piecing them together to build a single, solid something? You might see how each seemingly insignificant piece, while not much use on its own, transforms into something entirely different when connected to the others. Each little piece plays a vital role in constructing The Whole. By the end of the process, you’ll still have the same number of oddly shaped, different coloured bricks as you had before, but now there is cohesion and clarity, and more space in which to manoeuvre (For the techies: like defragmenting the hard drive on your computer)
That’s how I see the arts process; picking through the chaos in my head, examining and fitting together seemingly random thoughts and feelings until I find a common thread. Because everything is related. Nothing is random. no thought meaningless. Everything matters. The answers are, more often than not, hidden in plain sight.
And then there’s The Flow! Have you ever tried catching a feather or leaf that’s fluttering on the breeze? The more you wave your arms or move your hand, the further away it gets. When I get into that creative zone, aka “the flow”, my mind becomes very still. I’m no longer chasing or running or flailing about desperately trying to make sense of things. I’m quietly opening myself up, letting those fluttering objects drift down and settle upon me.
Externalising my thoughts, feelings and imaginings in this way also makes them accessible to others. This exposure to scrutiny and criticism terrifies me, and I do feel extremely vulnerable. So why do it?? because I feel more connected to “The World” when I am open and honest about my reactions to it.
It’s something I find very difficult to write about without feeling a tad wanky. But there you have it.
Counsellor or courtesan? The sex therapist who sleeps with her patients
By MANDY APPLEYARD
When Padma Deva meets a new client for work she does so not in an office or coffee bar but in the privacy of a hotel room. The meeting typically lasts for two hours during which time the two of them are likely to undress, massage and caress one another. Sometimes they will have full sexual intercourse.
At the end of the encounter, the satisfied client will pay Padma for the service she has provided and the two will go their separate ways â€” until their next appointment. You may conclude that Padma works in â€˜the oldest professionâ€™ of all. But you would be wrong.
Padma is not a prostitute but a trained psychotherapist who acts as a â€˜sexual surrogateâ€™ for men suffering from a variety of sexual problems which are hampering their ability to have a normal physical relationship.
Sexual healing: Padma Deva helps men overcome their relationship fears over nine two-hour sessions for which she charges Â£4,000
Her clients include lawyers and doctors as well as students and builders. Some are married, others not. But all are suffering from issues such as erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation or crippling shyness.
Her oldest client is aged 65 while the youngest is 25 â€” both men consulted Padma because they were virgins and felt unable to have any sort of sex life. Padma helps them overcome their fears over nine two-hour sessions for which she charges Â£4,000.
Yet despite the veneer of clinical respectability, sexual surrogacy is a deeply controversial practice. Critics, perhaps understandably, dismiss it as morally reprehensible, degrading and, at the very least, of dubious therapeutic benefit. Some have even questioned its legality, although there are no laws specifically prohibiting it.
Padma was inspired by the film Sweet November and says that she saw herself in the Keanu Reeves character
Padma â€” a slender and strikingly attractive 31-year-old brunette â€” is used to hearing such accusations, which is why she has agreed to speak openly for the first time about her work in a bid to dispel some of the misunderstandings that surround it, though she would not consent to be photographed for fear of attracting unwelcome attention in public.
She argues that although we may live in a liberal age, those with sexual problems seldom have the confidence to discuss their issues openly, even with partners. That is where sexual surrogates like her come in.
Trained by the International Professional Surrogate Association, Padma says her role is to be a form of mentor, guiding people who are struggling with intimacy issues.
She and the client meet in a hotel room or rented accommodation for the sessions. Through a mixture of talking and physical exercises, she will teach them how to communicate their desires, and how to manage anxiety so they can connect intimately with a â€˜normalâ€™ partner.
Yet some critics, particularly those practising traditional psychology or psychosexual therapy, worry that sexual surrogacy is laden with potential problems of its own. Clinical psychologist Dr Michael Mantell says: â€˜The services of a surrogate do not resolve underlying emotional and relationship difficulties. Surrogacy may teach about sexuality, but it does not teach about love or how to maintain a loving relationship.â€™
So what sort of woman volunteers to become a surrogate in the first place? Padma is a former management consultant who decided to transform her life after watching the film Sweet November, in which Keanu Reeves plays an emotionally-inert workaholic.
One in ten men suffer from erectile dysfunction
Padma had been an over-worked twenty-something, worrying about where her frenetic lifestyle might take her, but the film inspired her to seek an alternative career.
She says: â€˜I saw myself in the Keanu Reeves character, then I thought, wouldnâ€™t it be fantastic to be able to free someone? Some time later I saw an advert in a spiritual magazine for people to train as sexual surrogates, and thatâ€™s how I started out.â€™
Her family were initially shocked by her radical career change, though they are now supportive of her. Equally, she says that while she is currently single, previous boyfriends have been understanding about her line of work. â€˜It takes confidence, intelligence and maturity in a man to be OK with what I do,â€™ she says.
It may all sound more than slightly suspect, but sexual surrogacy is based on clinical work carried out in the Fifties by sex researchers William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson, who embarked on an 11-year study involving 510 married couples, 54 single men, and three single women.
The researchers recruited 54 carefully-screened women volunteers to work as surrogate partners with the single men.
Previously, sexual problems were treated by psychotherapy or psychoanalysis, with low success rates. But Masters and Johnson developed a two-week treatment programme they claimed was 80 per cent effective. The success rate for the single men who worked with surrogates was 75 per cent.
Padma, too, claims significant results for her work. She says almost all of the clients she has seen for premature ejaculation issues have been able to improve the duration of their love-making from a typical 30-60 seconds initially, up to and beyond the male average of five to ten minutes.
Similarly, she says 90 per cent of her erectile dysfunction clients have learned how to gain an erection without relying on medication such as Viagra.â€˜Every client Iâ€™ve worked with has left the programme with new-found confidence,â€™ she says.
Alan (not his real name), a 28-year-old clerical worker, decided to see Padma because he was a virgin with no confidence around women. Alan says his life was miserable because of his lack of sexual experience, which he thinks results from shyness.
â€˜It also made me think of myself as worthless. I once dated and fell in love with a lovely girl who seemed to be attracted to me. I remember her waiting for me to make the first move sexually, but I didnâ€™t have a clue what to do, so I made up some weak excuse and went home.
â€˜I read about the Mughal era in India, where they would send young boys to specialised prostitutes who would educate them in the art of love-making. I remember wishing something like that had been available to me.â€™
Alan has had three sessions with Padma so far. She has talked to him about relationships and the female anatomy, and introduced sensual touching into their meetings. â€˜Usually a session will start with Padma explaining the theory behind the exercises, then we move on to the physical acts,â€™ he says.
â€˜In one session we covered the naked body, hugs and sensual touching of the back. I had a breakthrough moment during the massage exercise, when at first I went into panic mode, worried about my performance. We stopped and did some grounding breathing exercises then tried again, and I enjoyed it.â€™
Alan says his confidence has grown immeasurably and he is now so optimistic about the future that he has signed up to a dating website â€” something he would previously have been too nervous to do.
But psychologist Dr Mantell questions whether such cases wouldnâ€™t be better treated by more conventional forms of therapy. â€˜Turning to sexual surrogacy can be an emotionally messy experience. Clients become attached to their surrogates, the objects of their sexual fantasies, and this can lead to difficulties in transferring feelings to oneâ€™s spouse or partner.â€™
As for the impact on her own wellbeing, Padma says she has never had a negative experience with a client, and far from feeling in any way degraded by her work, she finds it emotionally fulfilling. â€˜It is wonderful to witness the transformation my clients undergo, and knowing I have played a part in that is very rewarding,â€™ she explains.
During an initial consultation with a new client, Padma â€” who has bases in London and Somerset â€” recommends a client sees their GP to rule out physical causes for their sexual problems, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. If surrogacy is deemed appropriate, she asks clients to take a sexually transmitted disease test beforehand. Only then can then the surrogacy work begin.
To start with, both client and surrogate may remain fully clothed, focusing on exercises such as touching each otherâ€™s hands, arms, shoulders and face. As the therapy advances, the client and the surrogate may build up to removing their clothes, engaging in genital contact and, if necessary and appropriate, full sexual intercourse.
It is those final stages that many find perilously close to prostitution. But Alan is adamant that whatever name you choose to give it, his therapy has had a hugely positive impact on his life.
â€˜To the sceptics, I would say that it is giving me a chance to have a life I could only dream of â€” and whatâ€™s wrong with that?â€™