The Art of Mindfulness

I realize that I have been practicing Mindfulness a lot longer than I thought through my art. I was first drawn to art during high school. In high school I had problems with social anxiety and was bullied. Some days I feared so much for my safety, I would leave school at lunch and not come back. I would take my time making the 45 minute walk back home and then draw in my bedroom for the rest of the afternoon. There I felt safe from negative judgment. I didn’t graduate from high school my first attempt but I do remember fondly Mrs. Adams, my Art teacher from high school. She was different from the rest of the teachers. She was outspoken, creative, and eccentric. In her class I felt safe, engaged and was able to express myself in a way that my social anxiety didn’t hold me back.

Jump ahead 40 years later and I am still using art as a strategy for maintaining my mental health. I have discovered that creating art gives me an opportunity to practice Mindfulness too. I credit my daily commitment to Mindfulness for helping me to reduce stress and keep anxiety in check. I never thought of the time I spent creating art as also another opportunity to practice Mindfulness but it really is. Here’s how.

When I’m creating art, I am focused in the present moment. I am free of the past and not worrying about the future. Instead, I am focused on the connection between the tool I’m holding in my hands and the art surface it’s in connection with. We work together in the moment to create. For me, this is the epitome of creating art.

Creating art is an exercise in being non-judgmental. Being non-judgmental is a core value of Mindfulness; accepting and being with what is present and experienced in the moment without judgement. This hasn’t been easy for me and why I have taken on the challenge to continue developing this skill in myself. It’s very challenging for me to accept without judgement the result of my creative process especially when I have my initial vision for a piece to compare it to. If my mind is left unchecked, I instinctively want to judge the result as good or bad or somewhere in between on the spectrum.  Mindfulness has taught me to notice my disdain or affection for finished pieces and to work towards accepting the finished product always first and foremost as a miracle of the creative process.

This has fostered in me another core value of Mindfulness, the beginner’s mind. Why did that application technique produce results I like? What made the paint pool like that or produce that combination of colors? How does different environmental lighting affect how the piece is experienced after? What is it specifically that makes me feel more or less attracted to a finished piece? Curiosity is healthy exercise for the mind and helps to give us back control over our thoughts.

Currently I’m working on a series of canvases that conceptually started out as one single piece.  The series is inspired by “Namwayut” with the background being the “we are all one” unifying element. There will be 12 stand-alone pieces by the time I finish. I am a bit curious to see how they come together to form the single larger piece. For now though, it’s about being in the moment and accepting each individual piece with open arms and affection from conception to finish. I love that the challenge before me is to put my trust in the creative process and letting go to what will be will be. Somehow, this makes the entire creative process very calming and restorative for me.

Occasionally, I do notice myself becoming a little impatient with myself for not spending more time trying to finish the series sooner than later but then I remind myself again what Mindfulness is all about. It’s about patience, non-striving and just being content to linger in the present moment. I am learning to savor the time a concept for a piece spends percolating in my head. This often inspires me to go out and really study the subject matter for a piece out in its natural environment like standing under the cherry blossoms and studying every detail of them. Taking those precious extra moments, I’m able to notice things I never would have noticed before which translates into a deeper insight for the creative process later. And that’s the Art of Mindfulness. Here are 3 pieces from the series so far.

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