My friend Phil Frey (http://philipfrey.com) was teaching workshops in painting & mindfulness last year, and I thought this was a lovely and simple connection between art and health.
Mindfulness means purposefully paying attention to and accepting without judgment ones present feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. In a state of mindfulness, you may not do anything to change these feelings, but you notice them and perhaps let go of them- and then go forth into the world acting upon your fresh observations. Ellen Langer said that mindfulness is “like those optical illusion brain teasers- once you’ve seen another perspective, you can never not see that there’s another point of view.” (harvard mag 9/2010)
Research on mindfulness (apa.org) has identified a number of benefits to practicing mindfulness:
- -Reduced rumination and fewer depressive symptoms
- -Better working memory capacity
- -Better sustained attention and focus
- -Reduced stress and anxiety
- -Decreased emotional reactivity (i.e. disengaging from emotionally upsetting pictures)
- -Increased immune functioning
- -Increase processing speed of information
The nature of one’s mind doesn’t change with the activity itself- you’ll still come up with thoughts about the past, worries about the future, criticism of your work… but in mindful painting, your focus is on where your hand wants to go, the current brush stroke- so those thoughts can float past without action or solution. You can lose track of time and almost become your brush. Art expression can help us reconnect our thoughts to our feelings, our sensory memory to our narrative memory.
Once you’ve completed a painting, take a look at it- your internal feelings and images may have taken physical form. See what’s come out! This is where you may want to begin and end with a breathing exercise, and be ready to either let go of what you see or process it further at a later date. Working with an art therapist can be helpful if you’re finding that difficult feelings are arising through your artwork.
I’ve been wondering whether other arts & crafts could also be used for mindfulness practice. Knitting, scrapbooking, sewing, pencil line drawing… and outside of visual art, what about coding? Dancing? I’ve always been into moving meditation- when I run, I process a lot. But so many friends will argue that meditation has to be still, or that yoga is the only way. I find that it’s important to find your own way to peace. Are you letting your mind race through your to-do list while you paint, or are you focused on the brush stroke? How do you feel after? Just practicing the act of Paying Attention will get you surprisingly far in your quest for peace- investigating how you feel during and after any activity will help. But if you’re new to mindfulness, it’s great to start somewhere- and painting is a great one! I recommend looking into painting courses in your area. While the ‘wine & paint nights’ are fun, it’s generally less mindful to paint while gossiping with a friend- so for these purposes, a solo, quiet paint time is more effective.
Follow the brush stroke!