When I put this topic into my list of future blog posts, I intended to write about the meditative virtues of visiting an art museum. After all, it’s a deeply revitalizing thing to do, resplendent with silence, inspiration, and room for contemplation.
However, a couple of things happened in the interim period between idea and drafting, and folks – we’re gonna take a hard left into the world of making art. I hadn’t intended to go there on this platform for a while, but when the muse invites you to go somewhere, you damn well better follow her or risk her not showing up tomorrow.
So today, we’re going to talk about making art as a form of meditation.
Art for Fidgety Skeptics
Last night Ryan had a rehearsal, and I was at home binging television and feeling particularly antsy. I don’t know about you, but I have two speeds: Do All The Things, and Netflix Coma. I’m not a big fan of the latter, but it shows up once in a while, and when it’s needed, I’ve learned to let that Kayleigh be. She’s fine. Whatever.
However, my natural set temperature is ON FIRE. Since I was a little kid, I’ve loved to always be doing something (or multiple things, frequently). For example, Ryan is always amazed that I prefer to do something while I watch TV. He, on the other hand, is an expert at doing one thing at a time – including resting – and it makes him a wildly productive human and exceptional musician. Me, I CANNOT watch TV and do nothing else unless I’m really, truly exhausted. Which is why, when we sit down to watch TV together in the evenings, I am usually on my computer… or, when I am being a better version of myself, I’m making something crafty or artsy.
So. Last night. I had no more brain power to write or research or do any other form of “productive work,” but I was also fidgety and generally unable to just relax. In other words, I was definitely not in the land of the Netflix Coma – I was in the purgatory between actual rest and happily doing stuff. I wish I could tell you that this inspired me to whip out my sketchbook or paints, and that you’ll NEVER BELIEVE how BEAUTIFUL the thing is that I made. But, that’s just not true. Last night I sat, like a sad potato, and binge-watched TV until I grumpily went to bed. The whole time I was thinking “I should get up and make something,” but the truth is that… I didn’t.
I had a generally grouchy day all day, which brought me to said couch (or, perhaps “sad” couch). It was one of those days where I woke up in a bit of a funk and just couldn’t seem to break out of it. No amount of exercise or outings or Starbucks seemed to turn that day around. Looking back on yesterday, I’ve determined what I SHOULD have done, and I want to share that with you so that the next time YOU are having “one of those days,” you can turn it around:
I should have made some art.
You read that right, ART muthafucka
Stay with me. You’re probably thinking, “pfft… one, I don’t have time to make art. And two, I sure as hell am not going to ‘make art’ when I’m having a shitty day. B*tch, you don’t know my life!” Or perhaps, if you are artistically inclined already, you might be thinking, “nooo, I only make things when Beautiful Divine Inspiration alights upon me and I am lifted up by a million angels to make a wonderful masterpiece.”
I hear all of you, and what I’m here to tell you is that, (1) you do have time to make art, (2) a shitty day is exactly when you need to do it the most, and (3) I don’t expect you to make any sort of “masterpiece” – that’s not the point.
Oh – and to those of you thinking “I’ve never made art in my life, I don’t know how,” you stay with me, too. You can do this.
Often when we feel overwhelmed or in a bit of a “bad day spiral,” what we need to do is just STOP for a hot sec. We can do this through exercise or meditation, but we can also do it through art.
The Benefits of Making Stuff
I recently found this marvellous article from The Washington Post about the health benefits of making art. My FAVOURITE part is where the author links making art to the teachings of Eckhart Tolle. If you’ve read Tolle’s The Power of Now (one of my favourite books of all time and one which has had an immeasurable impact on my own life), you know that Tolle’s central message is about detachment from the false self/Ego. Making art – even if it’s just a little doodle, a Post-it sculpture, or some fancy lettering in your day planner – very quickly transports us to a place of “no ego.” It shuts off the chatter in our minds and connects us to our bodies, our inner children, and our truest selves.
This is why making art has similar effects to meditation. It shuts up that voice in your head that narrates your days in a negative way. It lets you (the real you that exists under all the narration) just be a beautiful spirit for a moment; a human being, instead of a human doing. By making something with your hands, you get “back into your body” and out of your damned head for a minute. And, it can act as a pivot point in your day: a reset button if you’re in a circle of negativity, self-criticism, or anxiety.
It can also be a space to process ideas, problems, or feelings. Moving your hands and focussing on a repetitive task like drawing lets your mind wander just below that chattery surface, which is where the good stuff lives. Loud talking in your head: usually not helpful. Those thoughts that feel like they either float to you from “out of thin air,” or “bubble up” from some mysterious depths in your brain? Yeah, that’s the good stuff. Just as those can come to you during a walk or a swim or just as you’re falling asleep, so too can you invite them to come forth by making something.
You CAN do this. Yes, you!
Don’t roll your eyes. I saw that!
So like, how do I do it?
I’m glad you asked. The answer of “how to make art” is… well… you just… do it.
Again, you aren’t trying to make something to display. You aren’t even trying to make something to show other people. You’re making it for the act of making it. Release your expectations of “what you’re trying to make” and “what it’s supposed to look like” and just make a totally rad and nonsense doodle that, say, started as a giraffe but then you realized you don’t really know what a giraffe looks like so now it’s some sort of martian wearing a pair of headphones. And now you’re going to draw some music notes coming out of his headphones, and now you’re thinking about what he might be listening to, and now – what’s that floating into your brain? – ohhh, your colleague isn’t actually mad about that thing you said today, she’s upset that you haven’t asked her to be on that committee with her.
So… I’m not going to guarantee that you will have a personal breakthrough come to you while you make art. In fact, there will be lots of times when you have no thoughts at all. And that’s hella good. Stay in it. Bathe in the feeling of egolessness. When you come out of it, you might be surprised at what comes to you later in the day. Or how rejuvenated you feel. Or the fact that you actually made something kind of okay.
No matter your “outcome,” the point is the process. The point is the pause.
No more couch purgatory!
Now you’ve got a tool for the next time you’re in the situation I found myself in last night. If you’re in some sort of uncomfortable middle, needing to turn a bad day around, or in need of some thinking space, try making something little. For yourself.
You might surprise yourself with how good it feels.
*In case you don’t know it, the title of this post is inspired by Dan Harris’ marvellous book Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, which is a phenomenal introduction to meditation if, well, you’re a little skeptical!