/ˈmʌɪn(d)f(ʊ)lnəs/ & /ɑːt/
Can we use Art to get out of own head?
Last week I made my way to a lecture in a tranquil corner of the UCL campus in London. Running late along busy corridors, I was immediately struck by the calm that filled the gallery of antique art where the lecture was taking place. It was the perfect antidote to a stressful journey.
Our guide on this mindfulness journey was Matilda; a petite PHD student with eager eyes and chirpy voice. Our first task: What is Mindfulness? And my first mistake: Mindfulness is not task driven. As a warm red (on the Insights Discovery colour wheel) I default to tackling the task first and fast. And that is why I find Mindfulness such a struggle; but let me have a go with the help of the others in the group.
Mindfulness is about being present in the moment, here and now. One lady adds to this quite beautifully; “Mindfulness is about stopping my mind from rushing ahead into the future”. The What if? Another member of the group adds, “Or stuck in the past, churning over why I did that thing I did all that time ago.” The If only. My own colleague summed it all up with the slightly cryptic comment; “It’s about being present in the present”.
So how do we get there? Here’s how:
1. First you need to relax your mind. Practitioners seem to do this by distracting your mind away from the pressures of the day and turning your focus to your body and your breathing. This is easy for a moment but much more difficult to sustain. Evolution puts ‘personal survival’ top of the agenda, and our senses are attuned to the outside world. That is why tuning out is so very difficult. So Matilda made us take away our senses. Drawing without sight. She then asked us how we felt about the exercise. We all looked for meaning in our picture rather than answering the question: How did we feel? We hadn’t arrived yet; back to the drawing board.
2. Then do a task with no outcome in mind. Again this is hard to do because so many of us are task focused and we all like our actions to have meaning; to have a point, a start point and an end point. We humans are not very good at doing nothing for nothing’s sake.
If you manage to get to this point you can really be present, without judgement or criticism; just being.
For me there is one last challenge: You don’t know when you have arrived, how long you are likely to stay and if you will be gaining anything once you are there. But this is exactly the transactional, goal oriented mindset I need to let go. And when I do, it turns out that my brain can be a tranquil place to be, where my mind is open and my heart rate calms down. In the lab, practising mindfulness has been shown to improve memory, attention, concentration and lateral thinking, which in turn helps learning, decision making and conflict resolution.
Wow; I’m in.