Creativity

  • Enjoy Some Mindful Gardening This Spring!

    gardeningAlthough it’s still a little chilly outside, the daffodils and crocus’ are blooming which can only mean one thing: spring is just around the corner! So now’s the time to find those gardening gloves, buy some seeds or bulbs, and roll up our sleeves for some mindful time in the garden. Even if you don’t have a lot of garden space, or any at all, there’s still plenty of things that we can do to go outdoors and get our hands dirty with some lovely soil.

    In our fast-paced, technology-driven lives, gardening offers some much needed reconnection with nature, and ourselves. In the garden, nothing is instant. We can’t force plants to grow overnight. Instead, we must practice patience, awareness and some tenderness so that we can turn seeds into shoots, and shoots into full-grown plants. This makes gardening an ideal way to practice mindfulness: we can’t jump ahead to the end result, therefore we’re naturally steered toward being present in the process.

    Whether we’re cutting back an overgrown garden to create a vegetable patch, or simply potting flowers on our windowsill, there are many sensory ‘anchors’ that we can use to enrich our mindfulness practice and our gardening at the same time. For example, we can pay attention to the rich smell of the earth, the silky strands of young roots, or marvel at the potential held within a tiny seed. If we’re working outside, we can take some time to fully appreciate the fresh air entering our lungs, the water in our watering can, or if you want to get really deep, the natural cycle of life as we clear away the old, dead overgrowth to make way for fresh, new life. Being outdoors can also help us find a sense of being part of something bigger than ourselves; like the plants around us, we’re also part of nature.

    As well as being a great way to ground ourselves in the present moment, gardening can double-up as an act of self-care too; by nurturing plants we also nurture ourselves. Taking time out to do something we enjoy is important for our well-being, and helps us reconnect with ourselves. Regularly giving ourselves time to do things which help us feel balanced and centred makes it easier to navigate life’s ups and downs.

    Being practical with our hands can help us step out of our busy thinking for a while, and we can easily turn gardening activities into meditation. Whenever we notice that our minds are wandering, we can use our sensory experiences to guide us back to the present.

    .....

    MEDITATION:

    Candlelight Meditation

    Body Scan

    TIPS:

    Why Meditate?

    The Present Moment

    RETREATS:

    3-Day Mindfulness and Nature Connection Retreat

    COURSES/WORKSHOPS

    Introduction to Mindfulness

  • The Poetry of Mindfulness

    Stocksy_txpb21892f142S000_Small_630049Mindfulness can have such a profound impact on our lives, so it makes sense that we would want to express those experiences in the form of art, writing, music or poetry. When we become more present and connected to life it makes us notice things more, and this active noticing enriches our creativity.

    In poetry we can capture moments or feelings, condensing them into words so that we can share them with others, and often also clarifying them for ourselves in the process. To be able to do this, we must first really pay attention. In order to describe something as formless as an inner experience, one must first fully feel into that experience, exploring its edges and depths with mindful awareness. This makes writing poetry a great mindfulness practice!

    Not only is creating our own poetry useful, but also reading the poetry of others.  Comfort can be found in the words of poets when they reflect back to us a feeling that we recognise, or when those words act as a prompt for us to reconnect with something deeper within ourselves.

    The poem below is a great example of how poetry can describe the feeling of ‘returning home’ to ourselves that many mindfulness practitioners experience:

     ‘Love After Love’
    Derek Walcott

    The time will come

    when, with elation

    you will greet yourself arriving

    at your own door, in your own mirror

    and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

     

    and say, sit here. Eat.

    You will love again the stranger who was your self.

    Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart

    to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

     

    all your life, whom you ignored

    for another, who knows you by heart.

    Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

     

    the photographs, the desperate notes,

    peel your own image from the mirror.

    Sit. Feast on your life.

     

    In poetry we can find descriptions of universal human experiences. Although our personal circumstances may vary from person to person, and we all go through unique challenges, there are some feelings we all recognise, and that can be reassuring.

    Here’s another great poem, which seems to describe the bittersweet feeling of accepting life as it is, and finding our place in the world:

    ‘Wild Geese’
    Mary Oliver

    You do not have to be good.

    You do not have to walk on your knees

    for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

    You only have to let the soft animal of your body

    love what it loves.

    Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

    Meanwhile the world goes on.

    Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

    are moving across the landscapes,

    over the prairies and the deep trees,

    the mountains and the rivers.

    Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

    are heading home again.

    Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

    the world offers itself to your imagination,

    calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting

    over and over announcing your place

    in the family of things.

    If you’ve never written creatively before, the thought of writing poetry may seem a bit daunting! Yet we might be surprised by what we come up with when we allow ourselves the time and space to experiment with words. We could start out by noting down some key words or imagery, things that speak to us and of our experiences in the world. Then we can try sewing them together, creating sentences, and eventually telling our own stories. We don’t have to show anyone else if we don’t want to, but it might be fun or useful to add poetry to our set of private mindfulness practices. Why not have a go and see what comes to you!

  • Putting Down Our Cameras to Make Mindful Memories

    CameraMobile technology makes it easier than ever before to document special moments in photographs or videos. However, how many of these moments are we actually experiencing mindfully, rather than simply viewing through a screen? Whilst it’s wonderful to be able to capture these sights or occasions so that we can remember them later on, we may sometimes find ourselves simply pointing and clicking in lieu of really looking and letting the moment sink into our minds.

    Mindfulness encourages us to slow down, and even to completely stop sometimes in order to notice or savour what we are currently experiencing. Rather than rushing from moment to moment, trying to see or do as much as possible, we can instead start taking the time to use our senses as a kind of camera, capturing the moment in a deeper way. By mindfully looking, listening, feeling, tasting or smelling, we can create a full sensory memory of the moment, so that in the future when we look back we’ll have more than just a snapshot on our phone. Although of course we can still take a photo or video as well!

    Next time you’re at a party or get-together with friends or family, or next time you see something beautiful or interesting, pause and take a moment to let the scene sink into your mind first. Really feel into the emotions it brings, whether it’s happiness, gratitude, love, awe or fascination, let it permeate your whole being. It may be helpful to think of it as a way of honouring the moment with your full presence. Take a mental snapshot before you take one on your camera, and then notice how it changes the quality of the memory when you look back on it later on.

  • Hygge: Cultivated Cosiness

    mug
    There are many words from other languages that we don’t have an equivalent word for in English. Like the German word ‘schadenfreude’, which means to take pleasure from the misfortune of others, or the Spanish word ‘sombremésa’ which is used to describe the time spent after a meal, talking to the people you shared the meal with. Although we are familiar with these emotions or situations, somehow having a singular word for them can make them more tangible; naming such things can help us become more mindful of them.

    The Danish and Norwegians have a concept known as ‘hygge’ (heurgha). It’s used to describe things or situations which give us a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. ‘Hygge’ is an integral part of Danish life, and so it may come as no surprise that Denmark is considered to be one of the happiest countries in the world.

    My Danish friend, Daniel says: “You can make something hyggelig; you tidy your home, you bring cake for your class, you light candles, etc. And something can be hyggelig too; an old house, or a bench in a park, or a campfire... It's very ingrained in the language and social interaction/tradition but we're also very relaxed about it in the everyday. It can range from the very small to the big things.”

    So how can we use mindfulness to help us bring more hygge into our lives?

    One way is to bring awareness to what makes us feel nice and cosy, and then to consciously incorporate more of those things into our lives. For example, if fairy lights make us feel happy, we can hang some in our bedroom, or if we haven’t seen our friends for a while we could invite them to our home for a candlelit meal. Or we can just set aside some time to snuggle up under our duvet and read a good book.

    Another way is to be more mindful of the hyggelig things that are already around us! We can, for example, slow down and savour a lovely cup of tea, take time to enjoy a beautiful scene, or delight in the warmth of a knitted jumper or blanket.

    How do you cultivate cosiness in your life? Leave a comment sharing your best hygge moments!

    MEDITATION:

    Candlelight Meditation

  • Unleash Your Creativity with Mindful Photography

    photographyMindfulness is about more than just sitting down to meditate. The wonderful thing about mindfulness is that it can be used to enrich all aspects of life, including our hobbies and creative pursuits. With smartphones and compact digital camera’s now being common place, it’s never been easier to get into photography. By adding some mindfulness into the process, we can not only start taking more interesting pictures, but can also start to see the world around us from a fresh perspective.

    Be Present with What You See

    In our daily routines, we may spend little time really noticing what’s around us. When we’re walking, we tend to have a destination in mind (work, the bus stop, a shop, etc.), rather than contemplating the many sights along the way. However, by setting aside some time to go out and take photographs, we can give ourselves an opportunity to be more present with our surroundings. By not having anywhere that we have to get to, we become free to explore our world.

    Before we start taking photos, we first need to look around and seek out interesting things. Many of us don’t do this often, so we may be pleasantly surprised by what we find! It could be some unusual architecture, a street view, the sky, a tree, or something more abstract like the play between light and shadow on a pavement. We can experiment with different angles, discovering how common sights look from new perspectives. Trying to look at something as if we’ve never seen it before can help us to truly see it, rather than seeing our pre-conceived idea of it.

    Things To Look Out For:

    Colour – This could be single blocks of colour or contrasting shades. They could be beautiful hues that remind us of some happy memory, or ugly colours that make us wonder what people were thinking! Notice how different colours affect your mood. What thoughts arise as you look at them? Can you get across some of those emotions through your photography?

    Texture – In a city or town you’re bound to find some interesting textures on buildings or concrete. Chipped paint, cracks in a pavement or even a pile of litter could make a great photograph if captured at the right angle.  Nature can offer other types of textures, such as the bark of weather-beaten tree, a feather or lush green mosh on a stone. Get up close! Notice every little detail.

    Shape – Traffic signs, curbs, fencing, and corners of structures can all create fascinating shapes for us to photograph. Try looking down from a window or balcony to discover shapes that we can’t see from the ground, or kneel down and look up for another fresh perspective.

    Movement – Movement will be trickier to capture, but is worth experimenting with. A bird mid-flight, a twirling dancer, a flowing waterfall or your best friend laughing. Look for the life around you, and capture those precious, fleeting moments to remember forever.

    Let Yourself Play

    Taking a mindful photography trip can also be a good opportunity to notice how we may limit ourselves when it comes to being creative. We may find that we hesitate about being too experimental, or notice that we have some thoughts about only wanting to take ‘good’ pictures. These things can block our natural curiosity and creativity from flowing freely, but when we notice them we can start to consciously let them go.

    Digital cameras make it super easy to take lots of photographs, so if we later don’t think they’re good enough to keep, we can just delete them. But whilst we’re out and about we can feel free to try out new things, and just take photographs of anything and everything that grabs our attention. Whether we show them to anyone else is entirely up to us. Mindful photography isn’t about being good at it or not, it’s all about the process of seeing, exploring and experimenting.

    Happy snapping!

    Want to learn more about Mindful Photography? Check out our fun one-day workshop: http://www.londonmindful.com/mindful-photography.html

  • The Joy of Mindful Learning

    Drawing

    Can you remember how you learnt to write your name or how to walk? Probably not! When we’re children, we learn many skills with ease. However as adults, learning new things becomes a little trickier, partly because our brains are not developing at the same lightning speed as they used to, but also because we’ve got more fears and thoughts in the way.

    To begin learning a new skill, and to stick with the learning process until we become confident and proficient, requires a certain set of qualities, such as patience, presence, determination and self-compassion. These are all qualities which flourish when we practice mindfulness!

    Being a Patient Student

    We tend to become inspired to learn a new skill – such as creative writing, knitting or a new language – when we see the products of people who have already learnt those skills. For example, we might read an amazing book and think to ourselves, ‘Wow, I’d love to be able to write like that!’ So from the very start, our aims are high.

    Being ambitious is not a problem in itself; however it can sometimes make us impatient. We want to be a good writer/fluent in Spanish/an expert in crochet right now. But when we’re solely focussed on outcomes, we miss the opportunity to find joy in the learning.

    Learning takes time, and requires many small steps. We’re bound to make mistakes and produce things that we’re not happy with. Our ‘failures’ may make us feel that we are no good at what we’re doing. But if we can practice mindful learning, we can start to enjoy the process itself, and can maybe even let go of needing our results to be of a certain quality in order for us to feel happy. We can do this by becoming more centred in the present moment.

    Learning Starts Here

    By pausing and taking a few conscious breaths, we discover that this moment right here is where all future things begin. The past is gone, and the future hasn’t happened yet – all we have is this moment. So what small steps can we take right now that will help us progress towards our goals?

    If we take the creative writing example, what we could do right now might be to read an article on how to begin writing, we could sign up for a workshop or a course, or we could simply start writing and explore what comes to us. Whatever it is that we do, we can try and be present in doing this first simple step. We can do our best to be content with where we are at this moment in our learning journey, and trust that our combination of intention and action will eventually take us to where we want go. If we find our minds wandering onto ideas or fantasies about how we want the future to be, we can simply pause again, take a few more breaths, and settle back into where we are right now.

    Staying Determined

    Speak to any expert in any field and they will (if they’re honest!) tell you that they faced many hurdles on their journey to where they are now. For every bestselling novel, there will be thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of words of text which were thrown away out of frustration or rejected by publishers. For every invention there will be many unusable prototypes which came before. For every beautiful cardigan, there will be many tangles of wool! Success is built on past failures. So how can mindfulness help us deal with these set-backs, and help keep us on track with our learning?

    First of all, practicing mindfulness can help us take ourselves out of the equation a little. When we are mindful, we can more easily reframe our experiences, so that rather than constantly being in emotional reaction to life, we can detach a little and see things more clearly. Rather than seeing our failures as being indicative of our personal worth, we can create some space to see that our failures are simply steps towards becoming good at what we’re doing.

    Of course we will inevitably feel disheartened, frustrated, or doubtful of ourselves at times. These are experiences that we share with the whole human race. Yet, we can always return to this moment and start again.

    A Nurturing Attitude

    Anyone who can remember being criticised by a parent, teacher or peers will know how important encouragement is, and how painful it can be when we don’t receive it. Overly critical people can really put a dent in our self-confidence, and can affect our belief in ourselves for many years. Generally we tend to be encouraging to others in their creative or academic pursuits, yet how often do we afford ourselves the same amount of support?

    Self-compassion is really important when we’re learning a new skill, not only so that we can be kind to ourselves when we make mistakes, but also so that we can see when we have achieved something. Self-compassion is all about nurturing and caring for ourselves. By developing a nurturing mindset, we’re more likely to progress, and enjoy the process of learning.

    Next time you achieve something, why not congratulate yourself as you would a good friend who had achieved the same thing? Maybe you could even treat yourself in some way, to acknowledge that what you’ve done has value.

    Have you ever wanted to learn creative writing? Our Mindful Creativity: Writing workshop is the perfect starting point, where you’ll be guided through getting in touch with your present experience and expressing that through words. Even if you’re an experienced writer, this workshop can help you move through creative blocks caused by over-thinking and self-criticism. Book your place here.

  • How Art Galleries Can Help Us Practice

    61H

    Studies in art galleries have found that people generally don’t spend much time looking at artwork. The average viewing times vary from study to study, ranging from a glance of less than two seconds to up to 32.5 seconds, yet even the upper end of that scale doesn’t seem that long when we consider the amount of time and effort it takes to visit an art gallery in the first place. The Louvre in Paris estimates that people spend just 15 seconds admiring the Mona Lisa. This could be because the crowds of people make it hard to stop and look for longer, yet sometimes it might possibly be because we think we know what the Mona Lisa looks like and so we don’t take the time to admire her with fresh eyes.

    Practicing mindfulness enables us to really appreciate our senses. Whether it’s listening to music, tasting or smelling food, enjoying how things feel on our skin or how colours and shapes look, we can use mindfulness to savour these moments; moments that, without mindfulness, are so easy to miss or take for granted. With mindfulness, these sensory experiences can be enjoyed as if they are new to us.

    So when we visit somewhere like an art gallery, we can use our knowledge of mindfulness to heighten our sensory experience of the place. By remembering to slow down and really see what we are looking at, our visits can become enriching rather than routine.

    The Gift of Sight

    If we have the ability to see art then we have something precious to feel grateful for: our sight. It’s easy to take for granted something that has always been with us, and that we use every day without having to think about it. However, if we can take a pause from running on auto-pilot we have the opportunity to let gratitude into our hearts for this amazing ability.

    We may realise that we have spent most of our lives never really seeing the colours around us. It might not be until we focus our attention on what our eyes are taking in that we start to notice subtle differences in tone or hue, the varying textures of paint on canvas, or the captured marks of brush strokes. Even statues that we walk past on the street every day could offer us something new and interesting, if we offer them our full attention. Feeling gratitude for our sight can help prevent us from skimming over life’s rich details.

    Curiosity Creates Fresh Vision

    In a fascinating talk, Dr. Ellen Langer demonstrates how what we see in an image is determined by what we already know about that image. She starts off by showing what looks like an abstract black and white image and asks the audience what they see. Some members of the audience say they can see a cow, and Langer responds by pointing out that the only reason they can see a cow is because they’ve already seen the image before and have had the cow pointed out to them. Sure enough, once the cow image is highlighted, it’s impossible to not see it any more, showing us just how much our senses are influenced by pre-existing knowledge or ideas.

    Langer then goes on to describe the attributes of mindlessness:

    “Mindlessness: an inactive state of mind characterised by reliance on distinctions, categories drawn in the past:

    1) The past over-determines the present.
    2) Trapped in a single perspective.
    3) Insensitive to context.
    4) Rule and routine governed.
    5) Typically in error, but rarely in doubt.”

    Dr. Langer’s approach is light-hearted; she uses examples of her own mindlessness to demonstrate her points, and makes it clear that just because we’re often mindless doesn’t mean that we’re stupid. Mindlessness is not something we ought to feel embarrassed or guilty about; it’s just human.

    However, once we become aware that we are detached from the moment, and that our sensory experiences are being heavily influenced by the past or by a fixed perspective, we can remember to breathe, and re-focus on what’s right in front us.

    In this context, a little doubt can come in handy! What would things look like to us if we weren’t so sure of what we knew or thought about them? This sense of curiosity acts as an antidote to our habitual ways of thinking and seeing. We can actively look for novelty, whereas before we might assume familiarity.

    Never Underestimate the Power of a Painting

    Art has the power to transform our lives, to give us new ideas, to prompt us to think differently about ourselves or the world. The way in which art does this is often subtle, requiring mindfulness on our part so that we may ‘hear’ its lessons or insights. This process of inspiration is entirely personal: the artworks themselves don’t contain any wisdom; these qualities exist in our relationship with them. We must be open, to allow space for it, in order for it to arise for us. That’s not to say that we go searching for deep meaning in every work of art we look at, just that if we gently and consciously cultivate a more open, mindful mind, what our eyes are seeing has more chance to inspire us.

  • Getting the Most Out of the Summer

    Flower Box

    Summer is here! And so it’s time for picnics, walks on the beach, BBQ’s with family and friends, and chilled out summer evenings. For those of us in England, it can also mean super changeable weather!  But whether we’re having a typically unpredictable English summer, or the sun and sand of exotic holiday destinations, there’s many things around us at this time of year that we can take time to appreciate and feel grateful for. We can use the signs of summer as reminders to practice being mindful.

    The Gift of Sunshine

    There’s something about a clear blue sky and warm summer sunshine that makes life seem that little bit easier. Of course, just because the clouds have gone doesn’t mean our worries have too. Yet by taking a moment to appreciate the nicer weather we can at least soften our troubles for a while. Actively noticing and feeling grateful for the positive things in life, like the sunshine, can help make us healthier and more resilient. You can read more about this in our blog post, 8 Wellbeing Benefits Of Practicing Gratitude.

    So next time we notice that the sun is shining, we can take a few deep breathes and spend a moment or two to focus on our experience. We can let our eyes drink in the beautiful blue of the sky, and notice the warmth of the sun on our skin or in our hair. Try sending a smile or a heart-felt ‘thank you’ up to the sky, and notice how it might change your day.

    Switching Off

    Maybe we’re on the beach or lounging in the garden, and we want to take pictures of our cocktails or our ‘hot dog legs’ to put on social media. This isn’t a bad thing, but maybe we don’t always need to show the world that we’re having a nice time; maybe sometimes we can appreciate the lovely day and keep the experience as a private gift to ourselves, or something we only share with those who are there with us.

    Mindfulness is all about getting in touch with the moment to moment nature of life. By pausing and settling in to the moment, we may find that it’s simply enough to enjoy what we’re doing without immediately reaching for our phone to share it. Experiment with appreciating some moments just for yourself, and see how it changes your experience.

    Connecting with Nature

    Summer offers a great opportunity to spend some time in nature, away from the hustle and bustle of town or city life. Although a lot can be said for winter walks, sometimes it’s easier and more pleasant to be outdoors when it’s warm and dry! If we’re not mindful, the summer can pass us by before we know it, so if we have busy schedules we may need to consciously set aside some time to appreciate it while it’s here.

    No matter where we choose to go, there will be plenty of things around us to help us become more mindful. If we go to the beach, we can take time to notice how the warm sand feels between our toes, or how the gentle sound of waves can soothe our worries away. If we’re in the countryside, we can notice how the sun shines through the leaves on the trees, creating brilliant greens and dappled shade on the ground. Or we can watch how the bees and butterflies flit from flower to flower.

    The great thing about nature is that it’s never in a rush. It takes its time, and yet everything gets done: the flowers bloom, the grass grows and the bees collect their pollen. This provides us with a gentle reminder that we too are part of nature, and that we are all growing and blooming in our own time.

    Ice Creams, Berries and BBQ’s!

    When it comes to food and drink, there are lots of things we can enjoy in the summer that just don’t taste the same at any other time of the year. If we practice mindful eating and drinking, we can really enjoy and savour these things.

    We can notice how our ice cream tastes, and how it melts in the heat. As we try to lick the edges of our ice creams before they melt, we may be reminded of carefree childhood summers, or simply just enjoy getting a little messy! If we’re eating strawberries, we can slow right down and really experience eating them; noticing how they look, smell and how they taste as we bite into them. Maybe they’re still warm from the sun, and so we can feel grateful for being able to eat fresh locally grown fruit. And if we’re at a BBQ with friends or family, we can take the time to notice the smell of the coals and smoke, or even how it’s kind of satisfying to watch how the food slowly cooks on the grill.

    There are so many unique sights, sounds, textures and tastes to be enjoyed in the summer, and noticing them with more attention, and intention, can make our moments so rich and memorable!

    Changing from one season to another can be difficult. The following meditation helps you let go and be grateful for the season that lies behind you, and lets you welcome and look forward to the new one - so that you can gracefully flow through life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3nFcLtGWuU&t=13s

    Would you like to learn more about how mindfulness can enrich our lives? Check out our calendar for upcoming workshops and courses!

  • The Art of Mindful Drawing

    DrawingWhen we were children, we’d be so captivated by the process of exploring our imagination on paper that self-critical thoughts probably never entered our minds. Yet as we grew older, and faced the sometimes harsh opinions of others, this creative confidence might have been chipped away. We became fearful of making mistakes, of being laughed at or criticised, or of not being ‘good enough’ at what we were doing.

    However, with a little mindfulness and self-compassion, we can regain the creative freedom of our childhood and once again experience the joy of exploring our artistic side! Whether doodling freely, or drawing from real life, we can use these different methods of drawing as a way to reconnect with ourselves and the world around us.

    Creativity Hasn’t Left Us

    “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” - Pablo Picasso

    The reason it becomes more difficult to remain artistic as we grow up is not because we lose creativity; it’s because we lose our confidence in it. Beneath all of the internalised criticism and limiting beliefs, our creativity is still there.

    In a fascinating study conducted by Darya Zabelina and Michael Robinson of North Dakota State University, it was found that undergraduates showed higher levels of creative thinking when prompted to imagine that they were 7 years old. In the study, the undergraduates were split into two groups. One group was instructed: “You are 7 years old. School is cancelled, and you have the entire day to yourself. What would you do? Where would you go? Who would you see?” The second group were given the same instruction, all but for the first sentence.  After taking a variety of tests to measure creative thinking, the first group showed increased creative originality when compared to the second group.

    So we still have access to our creativity; we just need to be reminded that we never lost it.

    Doodling (or Going With the Flow!)

    Our society is a little obsessed with outcomes. We like to know the results of what we’re going to do before we start doing it. Yet, as children, we probably just put coloured pencil to paper and started drawing, maybe with a rough idea of what we were trying to create, but perfectly willing to draw whatever we felt moved to draw at the time. Nothing seemed too fanciful, nothing too abstract or weird. It was just fun!

    Doodling without a plan or purpose can feel very therapeutic, and is a great way of practicing being in the moment. Through drawing, shading or colouring, in whatever ways feel pleasant or interesting, we can get to know ourselves better. Which colours make us feel happy? Or sad? What kind of shapes are we drawn to? Do these things change depending on our mood? What kind of movement of the pen or pencil feels good to us? Can we allow ourselves to draw without form, and if not, why might that be? Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to doodle, just like there’s no right or wrong way to dance! It’s all about drawing what we feel to draw, just exploring what comes through us with openness and curiosity.

    Attention to Detail

    Unlike doodling, drawing from real life requires more conscious concentration. This makes it the perfect tool for training our eyes and minds to really see what we’re looking at. Forget all ideas of what you think a face, a flower or a piece of fruit looks like, and really pay attention to it before making a mark on the paper. Have you ever seen this particular object, from this particular angle, in this particular light before this moment? It’s unlikely, so notice every detail about it: shape, texture, colour, light and shade, any perception or depth or distance.

    By letting go of pre-conceived ideas, we can start to see things as they truly are. Draw what you see, not what you think you see.  Some artists say that you never really see a person until you draw them. It’s certainly true that drawing from real life can open our eyes to a whole world of detail that we never noticed before.

    Self-Criticism and Self-Compassion

    There is of course room for healthy, constructive self-criticism. In fact, learning how to do things better can be part of the joy of drawing. Over time, it’s natural to want to see some sort of progress in our creative endeavours; objectively analysing our artistic work and trying to improve can help us find this. However, if this self-critique becomes excessive, unkind, or if we become trapped in restrictive perfectionism, we are more likely to give up trying, rather than advance as artists. This is where self-compassion becomes really important.

    Whether we just want to draw something every now and then for the fun of it, or whether we want to become skilful artists, self-compassion is equally important. Rather than always finding fault in our creations, we can try to focus on what we have achieved. Being mindful of our self-talk can help us determine which criticism is worth taking note of, and which is coming from a self-diminishing place.  If we adopt an encouraging attitude towards ourselves, we can give ourselves back that creative confidence we lost as we were growing up.

    Would you like to explore mindful drawing in a supportive, encouraging environment? Check out our Mindful Drawing workshop!

  • Taking Time to Play

    Have you ever sat and watched a group of children play, and sighed to yourself, thinking, “Man, I’d love to be a kid again!”? How nice it would be to feel so care-free again!

    Yet just because we’re grown up doesn’t mean that we can’t still play. In fact, taking time to play is very beneficial for our well-being, relationships and even productivity.

     

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    A Waste of Time?

    Author and psychiatrist, Dr. Stuart Brown, MD has studied the life histories of over 6,000 people and found a compelling link between a person’s success in life and their childhood, and current, playing habits. “An adult who has “lost” what was a playful youth and doesn’t play,” he says, “will demonstrate social, emotional and cognitive narrowing, be less able to handle stress, and often experience a smoldering depression. From an evolutionary point of view, research suggests that play is a biological necessity.” And yet so many of us don’t allow ourselves to be playful.

    We certainly live in a results-driven society. When it comes to work, education, and sometimes even how we spend our free time, our focus is usually on what we will achieve by the end of a particular activity. We spend our time in the same way we would spend money; we feel we must put it to ‘good use’, and not fritter it away on frivolous things. If we do spend time on something that was fun but not ‘useful’ (i.e. we don’t have anything to show for it afterwards), we may feel guilty for having wasted that time. For example, we may avoid investing time in learning new things unless it will benefit our career, or if we exercise it may because we have particular fitness goals that we want to achieve, rather than because we enjoy moving our bodies. This is probably why we envy children’s ability to play: they don’t play to achieve something; they play because it is a joyful way to spend time.

    Yet if we really watch children play, we can see that they are not wasting time at all. Firstly, enjoying our lives is never wasteful. And secondly, children learn many skills from playing. They learn how to interact with the world, with other people, and in the process of playing they explore their dreams, emotions, and who they are. Studies, such as Brown’s, show that this beneficial process doesn’t stop justbecause we’ve grown up.

    Enjoying This Moment

    One of the main benefits of practicing mindfulness is that it helps us become more present. Being present in the moment doesn’t mean that we forget about our responsibilities, or that we don’t make plans for the future. However, if we are spending the majority of our time preparing for the next day, week, months or years, then we are perpetually missing the gift of the present moment.

    While we of course can’t become completely like children again, we are able to become more conscious about how we spend our time, and can actively choose to spend some of that time simply enjoying life. Giving ourselves permission to play is an excellent way to do this.

    How to Play

    Dr. Stuart Brown, MD compares play to oxygen: “…it’s all around us, yet goes mostly unnoticed or unappreciated until it is missing.” The opportunity to play is all around us because all it really means is to engage with our present surroundings with curiosity and imagination. Cultivating a sense of curiosity helps us stay mindful, because it means we are really taking notice of things. We can do this anywhere, and in many different ways.

    We could buy a pack of paints and start adding them to a canvas, with no idea of what we’ll end up creating, just exploring how the colours look, how they blend together or contrast with each other. We could take a walk with no destination in mind, just because we want to explore where we live, or an area of countryside. On our walk, we can stop to notice trees, plants, streams, touching them and engaging with them as if the world is our playground. We could take some time to look out of the window at the clouds and daydream. We could have funny conversations with our pets, and notice the cute and amusing ways they react to us. We could dance like no one was watching, or sing like no one could hear us. We could try on clothes that we wouldn’t normally wear, or experiment with make-up and accessories, not because we’ve got to get dressed up to go somewhere, but because it’s fun to play dress-up sometimes, just as we did as children.

    Regaining our sense of play can help us in many areas of our lives. It can help us become more creative in work or at home, it can help us connect with loved ones, friends and even strangers, and perhaps most importantly, it can help reconnect us with ourselves!

    When was the last time you played? What did you do? Or what play ideas would you like to do? We love hearing your experiences, so share them in the comments below!

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