“Fully immersing ourselves in a creative project activates a different part of our brain. We lose track of time and our surroundings. Minutes blend into hours, and there are no thoughts apart from what’s happening in the present. It’s very much an exercise in mindfulness. I didn’t know it at the time, but my high school art class was my first taste of meditation, impermanence, and being in the moment.”
“Mindfulness” sounds like just another buzzword, occasionally derided as such almost as often as was the dictum “Live in the now” when it first entered Western culture back in the sixties. But the idea of mindfulness predates Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and those religions all carry seeds of it in their essential teachings.
Simply put, mindfulness is a deliberately sustained attention to what’s happening, within you and without you, in this moment. As dull as this sounds, the repercussions of cultivating mindfulness in our daily lives can open us up to whole new ways of seeing and being.
The news is even better for creative types. During both its creation and consumption art offers remarkable opportunities to exercise mindfulness, and mindfulness inevitably enhances that special, mysterious quality in the works of art we create.
Mindfulness and the art creator
The truly mindful artist isn’t simply rushing through a project to meet the grant deadline or to move on to something bigger and better (although those thoughts do come around later). The mindful artist is not so much concerned about the result of her work as she is in the actual act of creation, an activity that absorbs all her concentration and energy. It’s easy for an artist to become so lost in the moment that, when she comes out, she feels as if eons have passed and that, in that moment of space and stillness, the most amazing sensations have simply arrived unbidden.
Without the participation of mindfulness, artistic creation can devolve into self-indulgence, narcissism, and a striving for technical excellence at the expense of the work’s natural inner light— the light that can only be nurtured through mindfulness.
Mindfulness is also about lovingkindness. Because mindfulness involves an artist’s whole being it can’t be separated from love, and so art creation naturally and effortlessly becomes a loving response to suffering.
Mindfulness and the art consumer
Consuming art—that is, listening to music, viewing paintings and sculpture, watching dancers, reading poetry—also goes better when we’re fully present, attentive to each moment as it arrives. Much has been said already about the value of art consumption as a kind of meditative practice, but today I’m going to talk about what some specific art forms bring to us when we give them our full attention.
One goal of mindfulness is to become more spacious, that is, to make room in one’s consciousness for what is and to experience enlightenment. Visual art, whether manifested as painting, photography, sculpture, or any one of many subgenres and media mixes, are ways of containing, marking off, including, excluding, and dividing up space and delivering reflected light. The lines in a painting, photograph, or sculpture divide up static space, and their colours reflect light.
Visual art is thus a vehicle for delivering space and light.
Poetry is the only form of language that, in some small part, transcends the limitations of language itself. According to the late Reginald Shepherd, poets are capable of seeing glimmers of new events before they arrive and presenting them to readers to experience in the now.
Poetry is a therefore the messenger that brings a hint of the future into the present moment.
Dance, Theatre, and Film
Dance and film, like visual art, carve up space, but they do so in a way that’s not static. Those limbs cutting through the air, those actors crossing the stage, and those moving pictures on the screen all bear witness to the presence and existence of movement in the universe.
Thus it is that dance, theatre, and film deliver space and light as in visual art, but also energy.
Music, like visual art, is a kind of courier, but in music’s case what’s delivered, ironically, is silence. Silence lies between the beats and notes, lending beauty to the sound.
Music is one vehicle by which we can experience the mystery of divine silence.
Go Forth and Contemplate
So get out there. Visit a gallery, take in some art films, ballet, and modern dance, read poetry, listen to music. Enjoying the beauty of these things is not only a pleasure, it can make you a better creator yourself. Besides, they’re among the best means of achieving the state of mindfulness in daily life.