Our Minds On Art: Striving for wellness

Colorful art supplies

You know that nagging feeling you get when you see an artist working – almost like jealousy or awe but with a hint of feeling left out? That’s your mind begging you to let it out to play with art materials and pouting because you told it “no”. Perhaps you’re not an artist and you’ve come to believe that only people born with artistic talent should make art.  Maybe you remember being a kid, trying to make art and finding yourself disappointed or on the receiving end of hurtful criticism. We hear you, and I hear that with my whole heart. I want to tell you something you may not believe; every artist has the same self-doubt and has walked through those same moments. 

Any tools can be used in mindfulness through art. Pens, crayons, pencils, paint…the process is more important than the gadget.

Road To Awareness

As an artist myself, I have always had to navigate my own inner landscape of critical thoughts in order to make art. Why do they do it? Because experience has taught them that there’s a reward at the end of that road: awareness. That sense of awareness, of self or of some larger truth, is what we cultivate in my classes. Our goal is to bring our minds back into our bodies and fully experience what is it to be our unique selves. When we do that, we can think clearer, plan better and build healthier relationships.  This is true at home, with our friends or in our virtual offices.

Mindfulness And Art

Mindfulness can be approached in many ways but playing with art is my favorite. Through art we’ll use all of our senses to help guide the mind back to the present moment. The textures of the paint, the vibration running up the wood of the pencil as it grinds against the paper, and the smells of the mediums we use bring awareness to the present moment. So often we walk through life as if our minds are balloons held loosely by the body and they drift into the past or the future while the body ambulates to and from work, breathing and pumping the heart. But that separation between the body and the mind is what leads to feeling of stress, which makes us tired and drains us of the capacity to be creative and compassionate. 

Eyes closed smiling aware
Mindfulness is simply quiet awareness of self

I Put The Art In “Start”

I’m an excellent example of this dynamic, actually. I get really nervous before a class, when all the doubts and the critical thoughts meander into the room. They say things like “you’re not good enough for this, you know.” “And people are going to be bored” or “why do you continue to waste your time on this?!?!” I gently brush those thoughts aside as I gather my materials, get ready to start and breathe. I remind myself that I have done this a hundred times and the reason I have done this a hundred times is because it helps people. It helps me, too. I can tell you that almost every group I have led follows the same arc of behavior and engagement: 

  • It starts with feeling a little nervous and vulnerable, which leads to gingerly stepping in and starting to use the materials. 
  • Through conversation we find out each of us is feeling a little nervous and BOOM we’ve got a sense of community and belonging. 
  • Then, feeling like we are “in the right place,” we start to try and enjoy what happens with the materials, we observe the work with all of our senses and we share those ideas with the group. 
  • There’s lots of quiet time to focus on what you feel, see, hear and smell. 
  • At the end, we reflect, as a group, on what that felt like and how our thoughts and feelings from the beginning of the class have changed by the end of the class. 
Painting with watercolors
Total immersion in the present is a way to free yourself from a distractive state.

A Creative Space Within

Whomever is in my class (and I’ve led groups with artists, non-artists, children, adults, neurotypical individuals, neurodivergent folks as well), I make a point to create a space of acceptance and patience. Because even though I have done this before and it might be your first time, it’s like the first time every time I do these activities. I’m both guiding you on the tour and enjoying the tour right along with you. As Chogyam Trungpa Ripanoche says in The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation:

Right mindfulness does not simply mean being aware; it is like creating a work of art. If you are drinking a cup of tea with right mindfulness, you are aware of the whole environment as well as the cup of tea. You can therefore trust what you are doing; you are not threatened by anything. You have room to dance in the space, and this makes it a creative situation. The space is open to you.” 

This sense of openness is what we are after, for it is the food of a healthy mind and a resilient body. When we let the mind play, we learn through joy. When we play with making art, we remember that our unique expression of our unique experience has value. This teaches us compassion and I am convinced it makes the world a better place. So, join me, won’t you, and help make the world a better place by first spending a little time honoring yourself so you can give more generously to those around you. 

Abacus is a platform for finding creative activities for work groups and individuals. I came to Abacus to reach more people and help them find themselves in the constant noise that is our world. There IS a peaceful spot within and everyone can find it with a little help.

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