) I was lamenting a serious case of art block that I was suffering from. So many of you then came to my aid and gave me words of comfort, thank you all of you who shared your words of wisdom :').
It was time for me to do my fair share of work too. Ultimately, the only person who was going to be able to pull myself together was myself. Those fears and doubts weren't going to take care of themselves. The only question was how.
The Heck is Mindfulness?
Most of you have probably heard of the word "mindfulness" somewhere, though exactly what it is can sometimes be obscured by all the excitement around it. More importantly, what does it have to do with art?
To put it simply, mindfulness is about "being present". If you are mindfully eating, you are focused only on the food you are eating, if you are mindfully walking, you are focused on each step, if you are mindfully drawing, you are focused on the pen as it makes each stroke up and down the paper. Does it sound too simple? Try sitting where you are now (no, you don't need to cross your legs, just get comfortable~), close your eyes if you want and try to feel your breath coming in and out, in and out of your nostrils.
Assuming you have never done this before, you may have noticed a few seconds of relief and relaxation, but then quickly followed by a torrential downpour of thoughts and restlessness. "What am I doing here?"; "Am I doing this right?", "Do I look silly?", "Is anyone watching", "I've got laundry to do", "Wow I really need to go pee", "I wonder what we're having for dinner", "OH, right! There's a new episode for..."
So on and so forth. According to Jack Kornfield, apparently most beginners are shocked by the amount of thoughts that come in and out of their mind at every minute. Many of them will then try and control those thoughts, like warding off a bunch of flies from a piece of dung, but like the flies, they always come back.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on whatever you are doing at any moment. Solely on that thing. It isn't about controlling your thoughts, but about seeing them as they are, just thoughts. With enough practice you learn to calm down and simply let all the thoughts come and go as they please, without being attached to them. It's like watching yourself from the outside. Eventually, you learn that a lot of your thoughts are unnecessary, your anxieties are unfounded, and your regrets not useful.
I wish I could describe more about how it feels, but I've also learned it's something that has to be experienced, rather than known. It's not something that the mind can comprehend or understand. It just is, go see for yourself if you're curious!
And if none of what I said is incentive enough, from the words of Invitation to Meditation
by Howard Cohn: "Imagine feeling calm and content wherever you are." That's right, wherever
you are. In a job interview, on a date with your beloved, in a school exam. Is that incentive enough?
Mindfulness and Art
Which brings me to the practical applications of mindfulness, specifically how it helped me with my art block.
To get straight to the point, with meditation, I eavesdropped on my thoughts and feelings when drawing. There I noticed, what I hadn't noticed before. When I sat down for a "relaxing" drawing session, I was terrified. My stomach practically turns each time I see an empty page or fresh file on manga studio. Breathe in, breathe out.
My thoughts verged on panic, I was constantly judging each stroke, worried about whether it would turn out okay, what would happen if it didn't, worried about how long it was going to take, wanting to finish quickly already. Breathe in, breathe out
. To be brief, I wasn't being present for drawing at all
. My hand was drawing, but my mind was busy spinning stories. Why hadn't I noticed this before? I mean something that
serious can't go unnoticed... As it turns out, it wasn't as if I hadn't noticed, but I was in the grip of my mind so I couldn't deal with it objectively. I was reluctant to.
Reluctance is a big red flag that something fishy is going on, so I should have investigated, but the mind is very good at covering up problems. By calling drawing a "burning passion" to explain away the pain, and making up stories to make me believe I will tragically be wasting all my efforts and drop drawing forever. So I kept drawing, sometimes for hours and hours at a time. Even when I wasn't drawing, I was thinking about it, while eating, while working, while sleeping. And who was making this all up? My mind.
At some point, an "a-ha" moment was realized. The culprit the entire time was not drawing itself. It was my mind and all the stories it was spinning to try to trap me in fear (this is just what the untrained mind does, though, so let's not pretend your mind is an evil, sinister, monster.). And the underlying desires for recognition and self-worth. Slowly, I saw the interconnected problems. Not only were they spoiling my cherished moments with art, they also spoiled my fun with my job as a teacher (Am I good enough? What do the kids think of me?)
, even my role as a daughter when I compared myself to my sister (Am I like my sister? Am I better or worse?
). When that realization set in, my head felt a thousand times lighter.
It would be too perfect if it had ended there. Nevertheless, I catch myself whenever I start feeling panicky about my art. I remind myself that I am on a journey, the drawing is not a be-all-end-all even if it feels like it, that how this drawing is going to turn out does not decide whether I was "successful" or not. But most relieving of all, I no longer think about it (as much) when I am not drawing, allowing me to find the joy in all things in my life, not just one.
Mindfulness Across Your Life
I heard that there are two kinds of suffering in this world. There is the kind that we run away from, and the kind we turn around and fight. Only one of these will lead to the problem being eliminated.
A lack of mindfulness means a life of running away from problems, leading to all sorts of pain. When we work, we think about the weekend longingly to try to escape the stress. When we are sitting on the bus, we take out our phones and scroll through instagram, to try and escape our boredom. When we are stressed, we eat or starve our bodies to distract ourselves from the pain.
When we see someone we don't like, we turn our backs or snap at them.
When we see people we think are different from us, we imagine all sorts of fearsome qualities they have that separates them, when we are really more alike than we'd like to believe.
When we see countries that threaten us, we try to eliminate them first to quench our own fears.
When faced with our mortality, we act as if we will live forever.
Who is the enemy? Not the work life, not social media, not some country far far away or the people who run from them. Is there an enemy? Or is it the untrained minds and the stories it makes?
You can be the richest, most successful, most powerful person on the planet, and none of it will make any difference if your mind remains untrained. The fear, anxieties and invisible ghosts it creates will still chase you to the ends of the earth. Yet, you can also be the poorest, most decrepit person on the planet, and nothing can take the greatest treasure you already have. The present moment and all it has to offer. Use it, relish in it, take refuge in it. It is your true home. AUTHOR'S NOTE:
This article was meant to be more about art, but it turned into more about life. Then again, they are one and the same aren't they