“In eternity there is indeed something true and sublime. But all these times and places and occasions are now and here. ” ~Thoreau
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of present-moment reality.” ~Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness has been the “go-to” lately, and for good reason! Plenty of studies have shown mindfulness to be helpful for the immune system, stress reduction, improving memory and attention, reducing ruminating thoughts and more. Greater Good, out of UC Berkeley does a nice job outlining some of the research.
We believe that art and the creative process go hand in hand with mindfulness, so we developed an Expressive Arts Therapy workshop that brings it all together.
If you’re like me, mindfulness sounds like something I’d really love to do…when I have the time. You know what though? There’s nothing super-duper special about being mindful. There are no pre-requisites to practice. One way to get started is to practice mindfulness by taking each moment as it comes—pleasant, unpleasant, good, bad, ugly… Ok, you’re right—easier said than done. It can be a challenge, when the mind is racing, or you’re feeling stuck in some way. But it’s worth the practice. Here’s why:
Imagine two people sitting by a river, one is watching the river flow, wishing that it would stop flowing. The other just notices the flow of the water and experiences the river as it is. Which one is having a bummer day? The river flows whether we like it or not, our internal resistance doesn’t change anything.
I’m going to give you a suggestion for a creative way to engage in mindfulness that I think you’ll enjoy. And remember, this is not meant to be another task that you are doing because ”it’s good for you”, or to achieve a particular goal or outcome…and it’s not something you have to be perfect at! Not what we’re going for here.
First, pay attention to your BREATHING:
Sit upright and comfy, imagine your awareness sinking down into your abdomen, then notice the gentle rising and falling of diaphragm…with each breath letting the body breathe as it needs to…your awareness resting on the breath without struggling or forcing…feeling the breath come into the body and feeling it leave…and when mind wanders, gently bringing your attention back to the breath.
You can do this for as long as you want, and that can be your whole practice! It’s always a good idea to start with your breathing. Now, you can add some creative arts!
Art and the creative process support a mindfulness practice, and a mindfulness practice supports the creative process. Isn’t that awesome?
A great way to start experimenting with using art and the creative process with your mindfulness practice is to reacquaint yourself with your child-like sensibility.
Tap into your Inner Kid!!
Have you ever watched a child in discovery-mode? They are delighted by their senses, engaged in the world around them, and ready to create! The beauty of a child seeing the world in this way is so close to practicing creative mindfulness. We can get this sensibility back!
3 Ways to Cultivate Your Child-like Awareness:
1.) ACTIVATE all your senses! What sounds do you hear right now? What is in your immediate sight? How about smells or tastes? Notice how your body feels right now, and how you are standing, sitting, what you are touching, etc. We tend to move through life without noticing the moment. Children are acutely aware of the wonder of their senses. Write down your observations in your journal for 5 minutes, without stopping. You can do this while you’re following your breath. “Breathing in, I feel the cool air going into my nostrils, breathing out, I notice a bird flying away…”
2.) ALLOW yourself to experience the wonder and awe of color, line, and texture just for the sake of creating. Let go of the judgment and the inner critic that allows you to believe such oldies and goodies as “I can’t draw…”
WHO said THAT to you?? Not true!
Get out your camera (yes, your phone is fine) and start to see the world through the eyes of a child. Get down on the floor for a different perspective. Choose one color to focus on and take photos of everything you see that is that is that color family for the day.
3.) PLAY! Use the art materials to create a drawing of your “here and now experience”. Try using your non-dominant hand or drawing with your eyes closed! This can really help you to let go! Drawing with the non-dominant hand or with your eyes closed can feel vulnerable but ultimately, it’s freeing! We tend to put a lot of limitations on ourselves when pursuing art and creativity. This experience is meant to challenge some of those limitations!
Are you a therapist interested in helping your clients develop a mindfulness practice using creativity and the arts? Check out our workshop here. We offer 6 CEUs!
The Vietnamese Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh said “Usually we think that if we let go, we will lose the things that make us happy. But the more we let go, the happier we become.”
Sibel Golden, PhD, LMHC, REAT