by Katja Stiller, Person Centred Creativity Development Worker
There are many similarities between the Creative Arts and Mindfulness. Both practices help us to lose ourselves in the moment increase our awareness and give us an opportunity to find a new perspective. The creative process and Mindfulness meditation are both therapeutic and can help us through difficult times.
“Mindfulness means non-judgemental awareness. A direct knowing of what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment.” (Marc Williams, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre)
Inviting people to express themselves creatively often allows them, maybe for the first time, to express a difficult emotion. We find that the practice of Mindfulness helps grounding and calms participants before and after a creative exercise. We feel that it is empowering for the participants to learn mindfulness and to be able to learn to deal with their experiences and thoughts in a different way. The practice is also a coping mechanism, which they can take with them and continue beyond the duration of the workshops. Mindfulness does not need to be in any religious context, the practice of finding the calm centre in the storm in our busy lives can help with anxiety, depression, reduce stress and help with many medical conditions. Slowing down and becoming aware of our feelings, body and senses improves our emotional, mental and physical well-being. Research has also shown that there is a direct link between having a positive attitude and the response to medical treatment.
Too often we get stuck on our thoughts – “I will never be able to do this! “ – but using mindfulness means we can develop an awareness that we have this thought at this moment, and that does not mean that we will hold this thought forever. This change in perception opens the up the possibility of change and more positive thoughts. It helps us to find a secure centre within us, to step back and to observe our thoughts, feelings and emotions without getting consumed by them: “A thought is not a fact – a thought is just a thought.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, at The University of Massachusetts Medical School).
Focussing on the here and now, and accepting our feelings and thoughts takes the pressure off. Stress produces chemicals and they affect how our brain works; they especially affect areas of our brain we need in order to be creative, to make decisions and to be empathetic. In order to build good relationships it helps us when these areas of the brain are calm. Mindfulness is bringing attention to the present moment on purpose and without judgement. This is where Mindfulness overlaps with Carl Rogers’ Person-Centred Core Conditions of ‘ genuineness, unconditional positive regard and empathy.’ (Carl Rogers, Psychologist). Mindfulness helps us as facilitators to listen, to be attentive, not to judge and to embrace whatever the participants bring. Practicing mindfulness ourselves is a good opportunity to practice how to ‘deep listen’, to reflect and to observe ourselves without judgement.
“When you have enough energy of mindfulness you can look deeply into any emotion and discover the true nature of that emotion. If you can do that, you will be able to transform the emotion.” (Thich Nhat Hanh , Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Monk, Teacher, Author, Poet and Peace Activist)
Through the combination of creativity, the humanistic approach and mindfulness we can offer a safe process to groups and individuals and support them in their growth and healing. We are looking at different ways of teaching mindfulness through creativity; ‘The Brain in the Jar’ for example, where glitter is mixed with wall paper paste and water in a clear jar and shaken up helps to demonstrate how our brain looks when we are stressed and angry, and then calming down like the glitter settling in the jar, can help us to make better decisions. In another exercise we ask participants to make a collage of what keeps them well. Too often we are more aware of what makes us ill and or feel bad than of the activities and places which improve our well-being. Whilst collecting the images and producing the art work participants say they become much more aware of how important these breaks are and how they consciously need to make time for them in the future. Knowing what a safe place looks and feels like, makes it easier to return to in times of stress.