I started cultivating a meditation habit many years ago. I have always found it difficult to do regularly and I've started and stopped many times. But since Covid-19 hit, I realized that it is something that has not only kept me in a fairly good emotional state, but has also helped me continue to make art and enjoy creating. Because of this, I now often make the effort to meditate, I integrate meditation into my art practice (and even into one of the art classes I teach), and consider it part of my process.
Below are the ways I found that meditation can be used as a tool to enjoy art activities even more, to generate new ideas, to be playful and explore, and carry on moving forward even when it’s difficult to see the path ahead.
1. Meditation is a warm up exercise
During those days when I’m not feeling great, I know that even a short time in my studio making art will lift my spirits. But even then, it’s sometimes hard to begin. This is when I discovered that if I do a short 5-10 minute meditation, it makes it easier to start pulling out my art materials and get going.
Much like how a ballet dancer stretches before a performance, how an athlete warms up before practice, or how musicians do scales, I use meditation to gear up for an art session. It helps me set aside what might have happened before the session, like feelings of annoyance with a brutal commute earlier that day or a heated discourse with a co-worker, for example. It also helps me set aside that constant to do list that is running through my busy mind. I find that meditation allows me to let go of those things for a little while so I can feel lighter and thus better focus on art.
2. Meditation helps dissipate fear
When I sit in meditation, I sit alone with myself. I get to know myself more and get comfortable with who I really am. When I am more aware of myself I am better able to trust myself and follow my intuition to make decisions in my art. That way I am less scared to try different techniques, new colour combinations, or to use my art supplies in a novel way, etc. In listening to my true self, I am better able to deal with fears that might be holding me back, and better able quiet the inner critic (or at least keep it muffled) for a bit.
3. Meditation can open the mind to new ideas and helps generate ideas
If I add an element of visualization to my meditation it can be especially useful when starting a new piece of art or staring at a blank canvas. It allows me to open myself up to find creative solutions to problems. When I meditate there is a relaxing both of the body and of the mind. I release some things that I have been paying attention to for a little while. I am able to put away that constant chatter and stream of thoughts that continue to play in my subconscious during the session. With the letting go I am able to free up some space in my mind that often allows new designs, plans or schemes to come in.
4. Meditation encourages kindness to oneself
Meditation reminds me that I am human and that sometimes I need to be kinder to myself. It allows me to remember the need to take care of the artist within me, to nurture it and to be understanding that I am not perfect and therefore cannot do things perfectly, or even well, in the first few tries. I find that with art and creating, I do better with benign encouragement rather than the drill sergeant berating voice that is often the dominant communication style that is in my head. Meditation for me is more like a persuasive nudge, that reminds me about my goals and guides me along the way. I respond better to the gentle direction versus the drill sergeant voice which I tend to rebel against.
5. Meditation breeds hope
Frustration can sometimes (often) occur when making art. As an emerging artist, I admit that many times feel that I am doomed to be poor, go crazy then cut off my ear, and be unsuccessful and only be recognized after I am dead. Meditation helps ground me and puts things into perspective. It reminds me of the successes I do have and helps me to stay calm enough to figure out how to work through missteps I take. It urges me towards developing a growth mindset, moves me forward and helps to focus me on my goals despite challenges.
Perhaps meditation will work for you as it has for me, I think it's at least worth a try!
If you’ve never meditated before and don’t know where or how to start, there are many free videos online that can get you on your way. Or you may choose to download an app instead. Two of the more popular ones out there are called Calm and Headspace. I have not tried Calm but I have used Headspace and find it is excellent in explaining what meditation is and what it does to your brain. It reminds you to meditate with alerts (if you want them), has a section to help you sleep better at night, and even has a moving meditation with exercises if you wish.
Do you remember the first time you picked up a pencil or crayon and made your first few marks? I don’t. I was very young and so I don’t recall the exact moment. But I do recall my first few tries at creation. I was clumsy, my work was kind of crazy, but I loved it! I thought it was the best thing ever and I couldn’t wait to show it off. I enjoyed making art regularly, so I improved, honed my talent and became quite good. Then life threw me curve ball and I gave up painting and art when I was 11 years old (Why? That’s another story. You can read about it here).
As an adult, many years later, I picked up my pencils and paints again with the help of some art and creativity classes at the local rec centre. Like when I was a kid, my first few attempts at art were clumsy. But unlike when I was young, there was judgement and expectation. There was fear. Instead of putting down confident, bold strokes like I did as a child, my hand was tentative and unsure. But because I was in class, I had the instructor to encourage and guide me to move on and continue despite the mess I put down on the paper or canvas. There was a safe space for me to make, and there was a set time each week to create.
With the help of positive instructors, after some time my anxiety and fear settled down a bit. The inner critic was not as dominant and I was able to ignore it longer. But mostly the expectation that I should be making good art right off the bat dissipated. And with that guidance and gentle persuasion, I was able to let go and concentrate on only what my hands were doing. And then there came a peace and joy.
Because of negative events I experienced as a kid, it was many years before I was able to practice art outside of that safe classroom space. It took many workshops via the rec centre, adult continuing education and other creative spaces to give me the courage to once more draw and paint on my own time, outside the classroom and without the instructor at my side. It took a long while, but to me, it was worth it because it helped me inject happiness into my daily life where for many years there was none. That effort allowed me to finally make art on my own and be confident despite what others might think of me and my work. But most importantly, I was able to stand up to the inner voice that told me bad things would happen if I put myself and my efforts out there for the world to see.
Most of us know that keeping a journal can be greatly beneficial to our mental health. I have kept a journal off and on for my entire adult life. It has been wonderful habit to have and has helped me through hardships, especially way back when I was a young adult. Journalling was a tool I often used to get to know myself more and figure out what I wanted for myself and my future. During times of confusion and turmoil, I’d whip out my journal and would take much time and care to write down any unpleasant incidents that occurred. And I jotted down my feelings in order to help me process these events.
However, I found that when things were going OK and I was not feeling down or in extreme anxiety, my journal transformed into a to-do list where I simply scribbled down items to shop for and other mundane tasks that needed accomplishing. Or, if it was not being used as a to-do list, it stayed closed and hidden away in my desk drawer. In short, my journal was really only a repository for my negative thoughts and feelings. Writing was only something I used in times of trouble. Again, I am extremely grateful that I had this aid to help me in times of need. But I felt it would be beneficial for me to have something more, another way to note my daily life the rest of the time. I wanted this something to help me avoid getting to that dark emotional situation where I even needed my journal to keep me out of negativity in the first place.
Do you have a practice that gives you comfort, a chance to connect with yourself, process feelings, or even bring joy despite less-than-ideal circumstances? If not, I invite you to find one, or simply do what I did and start doodling. Who knows where it might lead?
Author: MTM Hobbes
I am an artist and art instructor. Creating art and working on creative projects is my way making sense of life experiences and my environment. I believe that the practice of art helps a person become more of who they are meant to be.