How can we be more mindful of our thoughts when we meditate? Perhaps one of our most common preconceptions about mindfulness meditation, is that somehow our heads will become an oasis of stillness, calm and tranquility, rather than the over active, preoccupied or even anxious things they often are. What we soon realise is that mindfulness practice doesn't stop us from thinking, but instead offers us a new way of relating to our thoughts.
"Neither from nor towards, at the still point, there the dance is." T.S. Eliot And there the art is... Neither grasping after it - it's gotta happen, gimme gimme inspiration. Chasing chasing. Nor expecting inspiration to come strike miraculously out of an empty sky. Instead we hold steady, hold still. We show up.
Mindfully connecting with ourselves and with life. What does it mean to you to be intimate? Not just intimate with your partner, or with close friends or family - but intimate with life? When do you feel that tenderness and closeness that comes from real intimacy? That's something I've been reflecting on a good deal this month, as I've begun work on a new series of drawings I'm calling 'Breath Diary', which require long periods of mindful drawing with the breath.
We can mindfully choose our reality. I've been very aware once again this week of how art sustains me and how beauty sustains me. For me this isn't about escaping from reality though, but rather reminding myself that there are other realities right here and right now, and that how we use our minds, look at and think about the world, our life, our relationships is the reality we perceive.
Intimacy is the offering of our life in trust to life... And how hard is this to do at times?! This idea that we could just surrender to the great glorious messy painful joyful impermanence of it all - it flies in the face of fear, of holding on, of controlling. And yet when we make the offering, when we let go in trust - when we soften our resistance even a little, then inevitably we suffer less and are more happy.
What are the most important attitudes we need to bring to creative mindfulness practice?High time I finally wrote down these core attitudes which inform all the creative mindfulness practices I teach - including Stop Look Breathe Create. These have always been implicit in my books, but for some reason I've not ever stated them explicitly - or at least not all together in this way. So here they are - and I've created a simple poster that you can download and put up in your creative space to remind you too. (It's at the bottom of this post - just right click and save.)
A listening meditation Ask yourself, quietly, gently, patiently... Am I listening? Drop these words into the silence. Wait for the responsive stillness of the body. Am I listening? Wait quietly. Without straining. Hang there in the space between the words. Suspend everything but this. Listening is always a waiting. Am I listening?
This month features Wendy Ann Greenhalgh. Wendy Ann is a writer, artist and creative mindfulness teacher. She has been practising mindfulness meditation for twenty years and has worked with hundreds of people, helping them to rediscover their natural capacity for creativity and mindfulness. Wendy Ann is the author of Mindfulness and the Art of Drawing (Published by Leaping Hare Press) and teaches with the Mindfulness Project in London. She blogs on creativity and mindfulness here and shares her own creative mindfulness practice on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
For more information about Wendy Ann, visit here.
Mindfulness is one of the most radical things we can do in our lives because in practicing it we open to all the guilty, fearful, hidden places within ourselves and gently allow ourselves to experience them, letting whatever it *is* just be as it is – in the moment. It’s radical, because in the open space of mindfulness nothing need be hidden, ashamed, belittled or judged. It is radical because it transcends boundaries and barriers of gender, race, religion, age and sexuality. It is radical because it isn’t done to gain approval, assert power or pretend wisdom. It is radical because it’s done for no other reason than to know ourselves better, accept ourselves better, to become intimate and friendly with every experience we can possibly experience. And in doing so, we are so much more able to do that for those around us too.
Creative minds are amazing, they’re always assessing, viewing, processing and problem solving. Creative and imaginative, they have an extraordinary capacity for lateral thinking too, for wild intuitive leaps that defy logic. But those same creative minds also have a tendency to go into overdrive. Fueled by creative inspiration, their neural networks and synaptic relays keep on firing even when they haven’t got a painting, poem or film to work on. Often the hard thing isn’t getting them going, but getting them to stop.
So how good are you at letting-go? In my last blog I wrote about my own experience with this, and explored in particular the idea that trying to solve the problem of holding-on with our minds, by willing ourselves to let go mentally or physically – come on you must, do it, relax! – was actually counterproductive. After all, it’s our minds that do all the holding on; controlling, pushing away certain experiences and chasing after others, sorting and sifting life, judging and fearing, trying to make things run the way we want them to.
As we develop our practice of mindfulness, we start to notice that much of our emotional landscape is habitual, we take that path towards a certain feeling again and again. So too, thoughts, the same one, over and over. One of the great gifts of mindfulness is the space it offers to notice familiar currents of thinking or feeling and change them
The first thing we need to do when we begin to get to grips with our distractions, is to start to become aware of our communication habits. We need to apply a little mindfulness through our day, and start to notice one very simple thing – are our communications necessary or unneccessary? Are they deliberate, mindful and useful – or are they compulsive, unfocused or distracting? This can be achieved very simply
Our minds are natural story-makers, they’re constantly creating; not just fiction, poetry, Facebook posts and blogs, but also tales about our pasts and about our futures; fables about why we’re not good enough, smart enough, could have done better; myths about our relationships, our talent (or lack of it), our fortune or misfortune. We have world-class imaginations, fantasising and daydreaming we excel at. But here’s the important thing to remember… it’s ALL fiction! Nothing that goes on in our heads is real. It’s just thoughts. Mindfulness helps us to wake up to this fact and it’s a liberation. Why? Because then you get to choose the stories, you get to select which tape you play.
I’ve just been visiting my family in Cornwall. A few days away made a little space in my head for writing other than the all consuming final draft of my novel. And as I sat in meditation each morning – and also sometimes in the afternoon too – short poems formed around my very vivid, direct experiences of the places I was in, the people I was with.
The aim of mindfulness is to wake up, to come into the present moment, to see the thoughts in the mind as concepts or stories or holograms rather than realities. In this sense, mindfulness is the opposite of the mind-set we associate with most of the time. Of course, when we are completely focused on our creating, in the flow, we are totally present, but this kind of presence is still quite different from the clear awake presence that allows us to just directly experience reality without thinking, imagining, or conceptualising – instead encountering life through simply being.
Sometimes, by the end of a writing day, I can feel like I’m nothing more than a brain that thinks, a pair of eyes (overly large) that stare at a screen, and two sets of fingers – glued to a keyboard. I get the image of some lamp-eyed creature, a writing lemur, perhaps, with prehensile fingers splayed over keys. If it’s been a particularly intensive session, then those fingers can be quite sore and achy too. Yes, like many writers, I suffer from RSI. And yes, like many writers, I can get so caught up in my writing that I forget that I have a body and not just a mind that writes. So how can mindfulness help writing bodies?