There’s a lot of talk about being more mindful these days.
Such as, instead of just going through the motions of a familiar task, we become truly present in that moment, making sure we are doing what we need to, and not misplacing our keys or leaving the refrigerator door open or trying to remember why we entered a room.
Easier said than done it seems, at least for many of us. There’s just so many things to deal with…even as you age. You’d think it might get easier, but at least in my experience, it hasn’t.
Harvard social psychology professor Dr. Ellen Langer has written several books on the subject of mindfulness. Known as the “mother of mindfulness” over her 35+ year career, she has also touched on how tapping into the creative part of ourselves can greatly enhance our ability to be mindful in the moment.
In her wonderful book “On Becoming an Artist,” she explores how anyone—truly anyone—can be an artist. We all have creativity within us, and if we have the courage to get past the fear of someone laughing or being critical of what we create (and often that person is ourselves), we can discover a freedom and joy we’ve never experienced.
Some of her words from “On Becoming An Artist”:
“I believe that our natural, mindful creativity should be the way we experience most, if not all, of our days. By engaging in some new activity—whether it is art, music, sports, gardening, or cooking—on an ongoing basis, we can being to experience what it is like to be more mindful. Most of the time mindlessness comes by default, not by design, and when we are mindless we’re oblivious to being so. We need to find a way to cue us into our mindlessness. We need a bell that will sound for us, signaling that we are acting mindlessly. When we let ourselves fully engage a new task and see how exciting it feels, as soon as we feel otherwise the bell should sound. If we remove the roadblocks, we can begin to engage ourselves, again.”
Now if you are already saying, “I’m no artist”, Dr. Langer is very persuasive in her belief that you really are—you just haven’t let it come out. Fear most likely has blocked you, or at some time many years ago, a misguided teacher or supervisor chided you for your attempts.
It may feel scary, but you must quiet those voices and do it anyway.
As she says in her book, “Can you draw a reasonably straight line? A curved line? A thick bold line or curve? A think line or curve? Can you recognize different colors? If so, all that is left to be able to draw or paint is to learn how to see. To play an instrument, all you need to learn is to hear. It is that simple.”
And I will add, it can be that much fun. I know in the past few years I”ve left myself get past the “I can’t do this” mindset to just playing with pastel painting. Sure, most of it I wouldn’t hang in my house. But I did frame a few of my attempts, not so much because I think they’re exceptional, but because it was fun to do, I surprised myself, and they represent my being okay with my creativity.
Throughout her book, Dr. Langer explores some of the roadblocks that keep us from discovering our creativity, and embracing mindfulness. Things like social comparison, evaluation, making choices, and how we must individualize our experiences. How we stroll through a museum and just assume that the breathtaking works of art we see just “happened”…that because Rembrandt or Michelangelo or Renoir had so much inborn talent, they didn’t really struggle like we would. And that “everyone” agrees their work is awesome while whatever we do is frivolous.
Yet if you study these artists, you learn differently. They worried. They studied. They failed. But most likely, when they achieved their masterpieces, it was due to truly being mindful…putting all else our of their heads for a period of time and just being present.
Imagine the freedom!
Even if you’re not interested in developing your artistic side, mindfulness could be a wonderful exercise for other parts of your life. As Dr. Langer says on her online site:
“The simple process of noticing new things is the key to being there. When we notice new things we come to see the world with the excitement of seeing and experiencing it for the first time, but with the comfort that of our previous life experiences brings to the activity.”
Maybe give it a try….today….take a regular task and really be present in it. Feel yourself relax into it, breathe a bit more evenly, take care of it and then move on.
And maybe later, notice how the sun sparkles on the snow, or the bird that just landed on the windowsill. Pick up pencil and sketch it, just for a minute. Or write a few lines for a poem. Or take a photograph.
You might like it.
“Where we are is where we’ve never been.”
Dr. Ellen Langer