Some turn to meditation, yoga or tai chito enter into a meditative or flow state. However, creative practice can be equally beneficial and help those who find it hard to connect to a flow state in other ways.  There are certainly benefits from a regular mindfulness practice so finding new and alternative ways for those who find it hard to sit and meditate can open doorways to experience its many benefits.

Studies have proven that mindfulness practice can have many positive benefits. Being in the zone can create feelings of euphoria, intense concentration and clarity, but it also can be accompanied by positive physiological changes such as deepened breathing and slowed heart rates. Creativity can never be used up; in fact, the more that it is used, the more it flows. For those who love engaging in artistic pursuits, they may enjoy using a creative approach as an alternate way of tapping into a mindfulness practice.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist Wayhas said, “creativity occurs in the moment, and in the moment, we are timeless.” To start, creating art as a mindful practice is not about making masterpieces.  It is more about letting go of the end result, immersion into the process and materials, and rather thinking about the act of creating as play and experimentation.

In a recent painting class with a focus on mindful creativity, the class is seated around the art room tables with colorful watercolor paints and watercolor crayons and pencils. Soft music plays and the scent of an essential oil is pleasantly defused through the studio.  Instructions are given but students are also asked to follow their intuition and allow the materials and their instincts to guide them through the project.  The process of artmaking becomes the focus of the session rather than the final product.  Color, play, alchemy and experimentation is where the magic of mindfulness can occur.

Accept that being in the moment, and playing, experimenting and practicing is enough. Begin with no expectation. Going with the flow of ideas can be extremely liberating. Being able to connect with colors and materials as a child is a new experience even to some experienced artists. We are all born creative beings. No one has to teach children to paint; they are given crayons and paint, and they make art.  To give adults the same permission to experiment and play in the same way is a gift.  It can be a big deal to say to them that they are expected to paint for no reason but to play and enjoy the process, that no one ever needs to see it and no one will ever judge them on their work. It can be liberating in a world where people are judged on almost everything they do.

A group of adult art students are gathered in a studio and are surrounded with piles of colorful paper and ephemera, scissors, paint, glue seem to be piled haphazardly on every surface. Some bits and pieces fall to the floor as they snip tear and arrange pictures, words and paint onto their surfaces in the process of creating collage art. Colored shapes are merged with printed papers. Human forms, fauna, animals all collide on brightly painted backgrounds. Imagination flow. Surreal and imagined worlds immerge onto canvases.

Collage is a process that can truly lead to the flow state as there is little to no pressure to create by traditional methods but rather by artfully arranging. Truly artistic works can be created by snipping colored and printed papers, shapes and images from magazines, old books and other sources. These are arranged on heavy cardstock, art paper or canvas that can be drawn upon and which also may contain painted elements. Many of the great master artists experimented with collage, such as Braque, Matisse and Picasso. It is a highly respected art form.

Georgia O’Keeffe, one of the great master painters and early abstractionists, once said, “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.”  In these few words, she describes how art gives us the gift of non-verbal language and also sums up what the field of art therapy does for so many. Art can be a way to relieve stress, increase self-awareness, experience pleasure and increase self-esteem. Artmaking in the therapeutic setting becomes a way to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of many individuals.

Those who love art but don’t feel creative can still use creativity to break into a mindful practice by taking a camera or cell phone along on walks, by starting collections from nature such as shells, pressed leaves or other natural objects, or by simply reflecting on works of art or nature that move them. They can pose questions to themselves about where their thoughts lead while looking at a particular piece of art, how it makes them feel, or why arranging a collection of nature objects on a shelf or table gives them a feeling of joy or peace. Even a simple practice can create space, stillness and calm.

For so many people who are seeking to find calm in today’s hectic world, non-traditional ways to mindfulness such as art, music, dance, drumming or movement may be good options for starting a new mindfulness practice. Finding the practice that works for each individual is key and opening to creativity is just another doorway that can unlock wonderous mysteries far beyond the benefits of lower blood pressure and a slowed heart rate.

Marcy LaBella, who co-owns Durham-based Earthly Goddess – Art to Nurture Your Soul, is a Connecticut teaching artist who works in painting and sculptural ceramics. She shows her work regionally and nationally. LaBella serves on the Council of Connecticut Women Artists and writes for the American Craft Council Blog.

Painting done by: Marcy LaBella