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Toipoto Sessions: Putting Your Mental Health & Wellbeing First

Ramon Narayan. Photo: Supplied.
Get some timely advice from creative mentoring service Toipoto's guest speaker Ramon Narayan on how to lighten your load in these heavy times.


The Big Idea is proud to be part of the Creative Careers Service - with our Toipoto crew offering mentoring support for creatives in Tāmaki Makaurau, at a time where it’s been needed most. 

As part of Toipoto’s ongoing series of artist-led workshops, we recently hosted a Mental Health and Wellbeing session facilitated by the talented and super generous Ramon Narayan.

A poet, DJ, facilitator and educator who has worked within the community sector for the last 20 years. Narayan is one of the co-founders of the South Auckland Poets Collective and has been honoured with a Local Hero award for his mahi. 

He is the manager of Action Education, a community organisation that believes creativity and the ability to express who we are is fundamental to our wellbeing. They provide platforms and opportunities for people to connect, reflect and express who they are and strengthen community and identity through creative self-expression.

We want to share some of his insights on how to feel a little bit lighter during these heavy times and how to empower your arts practice. 

Stretch (don’t smash through) your comfort zone

To grow as artists (and as people) we need to stretch our comfort zones - whether that’s by sharing our work with the world, connecting with new people or embracing new experiences. 

But it’s also important to acknowledge our comfort zones are special places - they’re where we recharge, feel safe and take care of ourselves and so we need to protect them. 

If we’re smashing through our comfort zones by doing too much too quickly or stretching ourselves too thin we risk losing our grounding and can end up in very vulnerable and unsustainable places.  Remember to take your time, check yourself and be conscious of the difference between stretching and smashing. 

There is nothing romantic about the tortured artist 

There is an outdated ideal that the more pain we feel or put ourselves through as artists, the more powerful our craft becomes. 

This is a dangerous myth and one that needs urgent debunking as drawing solely from a dark and difficult place is unsustainable and unhealthy. 

Our creativity comes from many wells so don’t buy into this particular romanticism, despite how much the world likes to sell the idea or celebrate the stereotype.

Five ways of wellbeing 

There are a number of amazing resources and concepts available to help ground and guide us, especially during lockdown. 

We’re huge fans of the ‘Five Ways Of Wellbeing’ from the Mental Health Foundation which focuses on 5 key elements, which if integrated into our daily lives, helps elevate and strengthen our mental health and wellbeing:

  • Connect: Talk and listen, be there, feel connected

  • Take Notice: Remember the simple things that can give you joy

  • Keep learning: Embrace new experiences, see opportunities, surprise yourself

  • Give: Your time, your words, your presence

  • Be Active: Do what you can, enjoy what you do, move your mood

You can read more about The Five Ways of Wellbeing here via the Mental Health Foundation. 

Work SMART-er not harder 

Our will is like a muscle that we build by doing small, achievable things every day - as opposed to large audacious goals we struggle to pull off and then, in turn, feel bad about.

If you’re struggling to find your rhythm or get started - set yourself SMART goals to foster your willpower and resilience. Start by telling yourself you’ll just do 15 minutes of mahi, focusing on one thing and one thing only - put the timer on and see where it takes you.

  • Specific: Simple, sensible, significant

  • Measurable: Meaningful, motivating

  • Achievable: Agreed, attainable

  • Relevant: Reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based

  • Time Bound: Time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive 

Te Whare Tapa Whā (four sides of the wall) 

This awesome model, developed by Māori health advocate Sir Mason Durie, outlines how four walls come together to form our wharenui/meeting house. By working on each of these four pillars, we build a stronger and more robust whare. That every day via simple, achievable actions we can take better care of our hauora (wellbeing).

  • Te Taha Hinengaro: mental and emotional wellbeing

  • Te Taha Wairua: spiritual wellbeing

  • Te Taha Tinana: physical wellbeing

  • Te Taha Whānau: family and social connection

You can read more about Te Whare Tapa Whā here

Routines are important 

Regardless of the hours you keep and the type of life you lead - doing the same positive things at the same time each day has an underappreciated impact on elevating your mental health and wellbeing. 

If you’re struggling to keep up with a routine, being accountable to yourself and others is a great way to develop better habits so if you need help, have a buddy to check in with every day. 

Daily reminders

Sometimes it’s important to remind ourselves that we’re special, unique and powerful people. A daily reminder (whether it’s a poem, quote or mantra) can help set us on the right trajectory, here are two of Ramon’s favourites:

Artists Are Not Like Athletes (Source Unknown)

Artists are not like athletes. We cannot win gold. We cannot ‘beat’ other creatives. Sports is objective, our craft is subjective. Creating to ‘be the best’ is a waste of energy.

Instead, create to connect to the people who need you. Because they’re out there. Create in your way, because there is no right way. Take the pressure off and focus on your unique brand of magic.

The Warrior’s Reminder by Erykah Badu

I am awake

My mind is free

I am creative

I love myself

My willpower is strong

I am brave

I practice patience

I don't judge folks

I give, not just to receive

I don't expect

I accept

I listen more than I talk

I know I'll change

I know you'll change

I'll hold on one more day

I start over when necessary

I create my own situations

I am cosmic

I do not have the answers

I desire to learn

I am the plan

I am strong

I am weak

I want to grow

I know I will

I take on responsibility

I hide myself from no one

I'm on my path

Warriors walk alone

I won't let my focus change

Taking out the demons in my range

That's mama's gun



If you ever need someone to talk to, you can always reach out to the amazing organisations listed below:

Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand

Le Va - supporting Pasifika families and communities