Art and Mindfulness: Left Brain v/s Right Brain
Over centuries, through evolution, those human systems that are essential to physical survival have gotten reinforced.
Since the analytic left brain that helps in planning and strategizing is key to human survival, it has been the centre of our focus. All our education systems are thus mostly focused on developing this faculty of our existence. In the process, the aspect of our brain that works with emotion, creativity and such systems (systems involved with art and mindfulness) has been greatly ignored.
It is not by chance that we have an overqualified and analytically skilled race with little understanding of what to do when there is an emotional overwhelm or when relationships don’t work.
We have regularly ignored the side of ourselves that is not linked to physically surviving and competing, but to living happily and to developing contentment. The latter cannot be done without actually gaining a deeper understanding of ourselves and life.
This is where getting connected with ourselves through art and mindfulness meditation actually comes into the picture.
(Read more about how the right brain and the left brain process information)
What Is Mindfulness Meditation?
Meditation is a practice that focuses on deeply connecting with your mind. It is a way to settle down enough to actually experience the workings of your mind and to gain insights. It is only when we can sit quietly attempting to concentrate on the mind, that we can observe how it actually works.
Mindfulness is the larger umbrella term and Meditation is the practice that helps you be mindful. Mindfulness is being present to life as it comes to you, with acceptance and without judgment. Being mindful is learning to watch things for what they really are without trying to change, solve or fix them. It is a way of approaching life that most of us are not really used to. We are used to solving and fixing problems that occur in our lives and holding on to the joys that come. And while we do all of this with the simple intention of being happier, approaching our joys and sorrows in this manner actually keeps us chronically dissatisfied.
Why Art and Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is all about being in the present. Tuning out the intellectual judgmental left brain to see what we really are about. What we really feel. Art is also all about right brain functioning and therefore deeply connected to our creativity, daydreaming and emotions. Art therefore is a wonderful doorway through which one can mindfully enter the realm of their existence at this moment to feel connected with oneself.
With its beauty of myriad colours and mediums, art becomes a beautiful and amazing companion for deep self-exploration:
How do we relate to things? Do we feel safe or do we feel unsafe? What happens when we stop defining? When we stop interpreting and just let go? When we let our true self flow? We can experience these answers as we blend art and mindfulness.
As a habit, whenever we think of art we often think of creating something that is pleasing. Something we’d like to see ourselves and something we’d like to show others. We start analyzing and judging our art as “good”or “bad”. In this process, we often miss out on how that art is connecting our inner world to our outer world. What most of us also forget is that-
Creating art isn’t just for artists, art is for everyone! Within each of us lies a spark of creativity.
Thus, Art is beautiful way to get in touch with and express all that is symbolically hidden in our subconscious or unconscious minds.
All of you who meditate or have attended mindfulness workshops, would be able to see an overlapping of the benefits in both kinds of work. Being in touch with our inner self while doing an art activity can actually open us to the myriad emotional experiences and insights that art and mindfulness have in store for us. It is like exploring a lesser walked path, realizing new things and assimilating them into our understanding of who we are.
Art Therapy: What are the Benefits?
We are culturally so attuned to doing everything for a benefit or a reason and often art ( all kinds) gets pushed into the hobby area or not taken seriously because it doesn’t seem related to obvious benefits to the intellectual achievement oriented mind. But perhaps we just need to sit back a bit to understand its core benefits. We need to use art without the associated judgment- of good, bad, “not talented enough”. Maybe what we need is a space to just draw, colour, paint, doodle, scribble. Mindful Art provides that therapeutic, creative space:
Helps you Connect to your Emotions:
Art allows for freedom of expression. When we draw, paint, sculpt mindfully, we are more rooted to the present. Being in the present helps you become more aware of what thoughts and emotions are coming up. We know that art evokes emotions; what it also does is that it creates a safe, non judgmental space for exploring these emotions- whether pleasant or unpleasant. Various colours and textures start to mimic the palette of your emotions. Art and mindfulness can thus be combined to be very cathartic in nature. The experience can be very relaxing and rewarding, leading to lower stress levels and overall improvement in your emotional well-being in the long run.
Encourages Creative Thinking:
Do you remember drawing a house as a child? It is one of the first things we are taught to draw; even then, if you really try to recollect all the drawings of houses you have seen, they will be different from each other in some way or the other. Why? Because art stimulates imagination and gives you a wide playing field to do something of your own. You can think out of the box, as there are no rules with intuitive art. So, even our child-like art or a doodle on the back of a notebook tends to be original and spontaneous. This originality and spontaneity is what is essential to the creative process- plus it is fun!
Improves Cognitive Abilities:
The powerful visual appeal of art enhances your memory. In fact, Dr. Arnold Bresky ,physician has created a program he calls the “Brain Tune Up” that utilizes art therapy for patients that have Alzheimer’s and Dementia. He has seen a 70% success rate in improvement of his patients’ memories. He believes that by drawing and painting, they are connecting the right and left hemispheres of the brain and growing new brain cells.
Art activities also help improve our problem-solving skills since it encourages something known as Divergent Thinking. Divergent thinking means that you generate unique, creative solutions by exploring many ideas. Creating art aids your observation skills as you learn to concentrate and be mindful of the way the lines you draw shape up or the way paint fills a space.
Leonardo da Vinci said, “Painting embraces all the ten functions of the eye; that is to say, darkness, light, body and color, shape and location, distance and closeness, motion and rest.”
Our work with Art: Group Art Therapy Sessions:
Knowing all these benefits and having experienced enriching insights from the blend of art and mindfulness- whether in therapy sessions or in our own group activities- we decided to have regular group art therapy sessions, that take place once a month. These sessions blend the concepts of being mindfully present with artistic expression. It allows participants space for expression, introspection and discussion in a group setting.
Know more about Group Art Therapy Sessions
We also conducted a workshop in the same vein recently:
Read more about Mindful Art: An Art and Mindfulness Workshop that we conducted in November, 2014.
DIY- Some Art Activities You Can Do:
Some of you might feel excited about trying out some intuitive art. Some of you might still be feeling apprehensive about how it works. So, we are sharing some simple activities to get you started on this interesting journey of mindful art:
1) Carry a black gel pen with you all the time, you can use any surface at any time to mindfully doodle what comes up in that moment- It could be a tissue paper or maybe even a Styrofoam Cup. Read our counselor, Megha’s article on doodling mindfully.
2) Creative Dual- Handed Drawing Activity: A relaxing exercise that helps you connect to the right and left brain by using both your hands while drawing.
Watch this video for some guidance:
3) Tea/Coffee art: Now your morning fix can also turn into some art! You can use some natural materials or things we generally consider waste to make mindful art. Use teabags to stain certain parts of page, use coffee stains, or just a piece of paper lying around and doodle what you want around it. Click here to see what it look like!
4) Finger Painting: Another relaxing and cathartic exercise is using your fingers to paint on a surface. Feel the coolness of paints on your fingers as you let them glide across the paper. You can use as many colours as you like or maybe take a particular shape or mix it up!
5) Try different things: You can use different mediums; besides using the standard art material, you can use clay to make something or maybe take some fabric and paint on it. You can even do these activities as a couple, with a group of friends or with your child.
Remember to have fun with it and let go. Sometimes, unpleasant emotions might come up, say after you have had a stressful day. Try to be aware of them rather than pushing them away. Art will help you express these emotions in a healthier manner. Moreover, don’t judge your art- create art to express, not to impress. As George Bernard Shaw once suggested that we should use a mirror to see our face and the arts to see our soul 🙂
We hope you begin to reconnect to the artist inside you!
Image Credit: Steve Snodgrass (First Image)
Ravinder M A (Second Image)