A Note From Nicole: Art + Meditation
As a mindfulness meditation teacher I often encounter people who truly believe they cannot meditate. Like their mind is too wild to be calmed or that they are just "bad" at it. Most people think meditation means to sit in silence and to not think. I have learned that we can find moments of meditation throughout even our most busy and stressful day. We can meditate while we brush our teeth, prepare meals, commute to work. We can practice mindfulness while we walk our dogs, play with our kids, check out at the grocery store. And, yes, while we make art. Though it’s nice to set aside time in your day specifically for meditation, it is not necessary (especially at the beginning of your meditation journey) to reap some of the benefits of the practice.
About 2 years ago I enrolled in my first painting class. Abstract oil painting. I was nervous to try something new, afraid I’d be “bad” at it, and at the same time eager to dive in. I found a welcoming studio with a fantastic art teacher. (Check out Janet’s work here.) I didn’t know at the time that two worlds were about to collide.
March 2020 brought an abrupt halt to our in-person art classes. Just like us at Unfold, Janet quickly moved classes online and we have been gathering weekly ever since. Taking the time each week to create art has been an act of meditation for me. Sometimes I create art with my kids, and it’s a chance to put away the computer and phone and focus entirely on what we’re doing and connecting with each other. Other times I paint alone, carving out the time and space to do so amid all the work, to-do lists, kid stuff, life, etc.
One thing that has become abundantly clear to me is that my mind is no different than anyone else's, despite my years of practicing traditional meditation. I make a mark on a clean white canvas and my mind immediately judges it as good or bad. I mix a new paint color and I can’t help but think if it’s too muddy or dull. I have become a beginner at a practice, much like most of my meditation students when they’re just starting out. It has been illuminating to watch my “monkey mind” in action.
At the same time, I am enjoying focusing on one thing. My art. I don’t have any technology in front of me as a distraction. I’m not answering to anybody, or worrying about what to make for dinner or how many loads of laundry I have to do. The act of thinking solely about what I’m doing; experiencing the paints and brushes, noticing the scents and textures of my materials. This is all mindfulness meditation. Even though the thoughts aren’t entirely disappearing, I’m still able to practice finding space between the thoughts. And as I practice and practice I’m noticing the negative thoughts slowly lessening and I’m able to be more present as I paint.
I now count myself lucky in gaining two strong online communities as a result of the pandemic. Our Unfold Digital members and my weekly art class. Both groups have been a source of comfort, joy, therapy, growth and reflection for me.
I’m looking forward to sharing some of my art meditation techniques with you. I encourage you to try something new, to become a beginner again. For me, it has been a way to flex my mindfulness muscle and come back to the core of meditation: to see things as they really are, not as you want them to be. To sit with judgment and thought, and slowly watch them fade away, practicing being in the moment. And who knows, maybe you'll create something beautiful and lasting in the process!