A Bit of Backstory
Over the years I have dabbled in various self care techniques, attended mindfulness sessions and tried a handful of therapeutic styles. It has only been recently however, that I have engaged in the practice of mindful art. After finishing my masters course in September, I began to feel the old familiar demons of anxiety creeping back, as I found myself submerged into the realm of post university blues and uncertainty. Finishing university can sometimes feel like the rug has been pulled out from underneath you, plunged into the big scary world, removed from the cosy bubble of your academic studies, as the fears and apprehensions come flooding in. I began questioning and criticising myself, bundling on heaps of pressure to feel an instant sense of clarity, to know what I wanted to do next and where I felt that I should be. To expect people to know what they want from life is an enormous pressure but in our modern day society this question is repeatedly demanded of young people. After being in education since the age of four or five, for many it can feel incredibly daunting, disheartening and just plain confusing to begin taking the next steps.
So, while beginning to struggle with my own sense of wellbeing, paired with a desire to find an area of work which would enable me to incorporate my creativity, love of writing and dedication to helping improve the lives of others, I discovered The Owl and The Coconut. After meeting with one of the directors for a chat, I started volunteering with them. As I am relatively new to the practice of mindful art, I have been making my way through The Owl and The Coconut’s 30 Days of Free Mindful Art, on their YouTube channel. Being someone who is a huge lover of arts and crafts, it has been fantastic to discover creativity blended with mindfulness and the benefits such techniques can bring to people’s sense of mental wellbeing. I thought I would take some time to share some of the insights I have gained and reflect on my own experience of the mindful art practices, explored throughout the program.
In day one, Gemma discusses the difference between intentions and goals. I’ve always been a very goal orientated person, setting myself things that I can push myself to achieve, to reach the various expectations that I feel I should be meeting. I found that creating intentions enabled me to alleviate some of the pressures I associate with goals, focusing instead on various qualities and ways of thinking, that I would like to incorporate into my life as part of an ongoing process. I found a ‘Sew Your Own Owl’ in my sewing box, which I thought would make a perfect mascot for the start of my mindfulness journey with The Owl and The Coconut and I have used it to stick my intentions to. The process of making my owl, helped me to ground my intentions, crafting something and taking the time to be in the moment of creativity. I have hung it on the back of my wardrobe door, where I can see it everyday, to remind myself of the steps that I want to take to improve my mental wellbeing and self care.
I am someone who is constantly on the go, always looking for something to do or a new project to undertake. I have noticed that particularly after the intensity of my studies, I struggle to chill out and allow myself the time to just be and to check in with my body. I frequently feel as though my brain is a constant buzz of thoughts, questioning this and fretting about that, which can often become quite exhausting! I find that I often put a lot of pressure on myself to feel in control, so I want to focus instead on learning how to relinquish some of that control, to relax, to let things go and to be able to just go with the flow. My intentions were centred around learning how to be more spontaneous and flexible. I would like to focus on ways in which I can become better able to relax and allow myself time for self care and compassion. Instead of being critical of myself, I want to learn how to appreciate the positives in my life and the things that I already have. Rather than worrying about where I feel I need to be in the future and always planning ahead, I want to try to become more in-tuned with the present and take each moment as it comes. In our modern day society, I think that so many of us have become habituated to viewing our lives as one straight line, one goal after the next but I have found that looking at life in such a linear way can sometimes be incredibly debilitating. Wouldn’t it be better if we were more invested in the here and now, the ebb and flow of the world and our day to day surroundings? This for me, is exactly where the practice of mindfulness can help. I watched these videos whilst ill in bed, stressed out that I couldn’t do all of the things that I usually do and struggling to be able to take the time out, even when my body needed it. These videos really helped me to allow myself that time for self care, to take a step back and listen to my body, recognising when I needed to relax and give myself a break.
While setting intentions has helped me to focus on some of the things that I would like for myself, it has also allowed me to reflect on the impact that I would like to have on the people around me. I firmly believe that making the world a better place can be achieved through acts of kindness and compassion to others. As Gemma puts it beautifully, when you care for yourself, you become better able to care for others. I work with elderly clients as a caregiver and I have noticed that I am able to deliver much better care and generate far greater positivity, when I am content and at peace in myself.
The Benefit of MindfulArt
I have previously practised mindfulness in the form of meditation, breathing practices, and guided CDs but have often found it quite difficult to be able to slow myself down and reach a state of calm in these ways. In the past I have found that yoga has worked for me, as I find it helpful to combine movement with meditation, to focus on the movements of my body in line with my breathing, tuning in to how my body feels in various positions, allowing myself to take a break from busy, distracting thoughts and acknowledging them calmly if they do come. I really connected with what Sherelle says in the video on day 2, about how art provides a similar means for her. I found that having a creative activity to engage in, allowed me to zone in with what my hands were doing, slowing myself down and taking the time to just be in the moment.
I loved drawing out my breath, as demonstrated by Gemma on day 8. I found that this really helped me to visualise my body’s movements and check in with myself. I noticed how it slowed and became steadily more relaxed as I continued to draw it onto the page. In the video from day 3, Gemma uses water to paint onto paper, to feel the water and see its affects, how it changes and fades. As the videos from the program emphasise, mindfulness can be practiced anywhere and everywhere, with the tools that you have available. I used the nearest liquid I had at the time, which turned out to be half a mug of cold coffee! I found the coffee to be a really interesting liquid to use, as whilst I am a big lover of coffee, it certainly holds associations for me with the business of life and I often view it as a source of fuel for a chaotic, action packed day, pushing me to do things that are perhaps beyond what my body and mind sometimes feel like doing. I found that using the coffee in such a calm scenario, away from the external pressures of life, was a fantastic experience. The smell, sight and meaning of the coffee began to change, soaking into the paper, becoming just a brown stain , fading across the page. I drew my golden breaths over the top of my coffee stained paper and it felt great to see the shape of my breathing traced out over this background. This process helped me to create a visual reminder of the importance of finding the time to slow down and breath, even through the hussle and bussle of daily life.
Letting Go of Perfectionism
Being someone who loves art, I was keen to get stuck in with the various activities demonstrated in the videos. As I found with the doodling practice on day one however, it was initially a big struggle for me to to let go of planning and perfectionism and to just let go and draw! I found Gemma’s comment about art not needing to be perfect, really useful. Having studied A level art, I have experienced the pressures placed on creativity within the educational system. I found that working on projects for the assessment and grading of others, was highly demorilising and I often became incredibly disheartened when my work did’t live up to my expectations. After countless failed attempts at sketching the perfect fruit bowls, struggling to draw people that didn’t have wonky features and finding that my colours didn’t quite match, I was put off drawing for a long time. The pressures of perfectionism often seep into my daily life and these videos really helped me to take the time to just go with it and stop worrying about the outcome.
I have always loved sewing and knitting and find knitting to be a really useful way of relaxing and unwinding (no pun intended!) after a long day. By paying attention to each stitch, the movement of your hands, the sound of the needles and the feel of the wool on you fingers, knitting can be a really great way of creating focus and practising mindful techniques. I love using wool that changes colour and texture as you knit, as you can never quite predict the final outcome. I knitted myself a scarf last winter, which was brilliant as it didn’t involve too much technicality and I could pick it up and leave it to come back to whenever I felt like it. When I finished my scarf, I remember initially feeling a little disappointed, as I had ended up with one end significantly wider than the other. Looking at it now, after watching the mindful art videos, I have been taking the time to notice the changes in size, thinking about how the tighter stitches may have reflected the times when I was knitting with more concentration and vigilance, while the loser stitches were perhaps created when I was more laid back, watching TV with my friends. Reflecting on these differences and accepting and embracing them, not as imperfections but as part of life, has been a really valuable experience for me. Now, when I step outside in my scarf each morning, I feel happy in the knowledge that whilst it may not have wound up perfect, consistent and predictable, neither does life and that’s something that I’m learning more and more to be OK with!
We would really love to hear your comments about this blog post and your experiences of working through the mindful art on our 30 Days of Free Mindful Art YouTube project!
You can also join us at our weekly mindful art sessions in Manchester, Tuesdays 5-6pm at Nexus Art Cafe click here to book.