Mindfulness and Art: A Weekend Experience

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

What happens when we extend this love and wisdom to ourselves and the activities we engage in? My discovery over the weekend proved that it’s true on both counts.

Introduction to Mindfulness through Art

My first brush with mindfulness happened a few years ago. During a Cisco leadership program, we were privileged to host Dr. Shauna Shapiro who spoke on The Art and Science of Mindfulness. She defined Mindfulness as: “The awareness that arises out of intentionally paying attention in an open, kind, and discerning way” (Shapiro & Carlson, 2006). When I attended a workshop on Introduction to Meditative Art,  I truly saw this at play. This event was organized by Bloom and Grow and conducted by a self-taught artist, Pooja Shah.

I’m no painter. I’ve never used acrylic paint, my whole life. And I have never seen, let alone worked, on canvas. Drawing? I can’t even remember the last time I drew anything. And here I was in class trying to express my art through mindfulness! But the instructor taught us 4, simple steps of art through the A-B-C framework.

Draw Circles [Adjust]

At first, this seemed ridiculously simple. Even silly. I had learned this in kindergarten. Except that I probably gave myself time and permission then to be slow and deliberate. As an adult, however, it was a different ball game. But I didn’t wish to judge and over analyze. The instructor asked us to draw as many circles as we wanted to. Big, small, sequenced, patterned, concentric, and off-centric. We then progressed to drawing spirals. Throughout the practice, the instructions were the same: Take time. Adjust your body to get closer to the paper. Hold the pencil upright. And draw slowly. Not surprisingly, my last circle definitely looked better than the twenty I had drawn before.

Draw Triangles [Breathe]

Several people I know draw triangles at one go, without picking up the pencil or pen. And my style was no different. However, I learned a new method during this workshop. The instructor asked us to draw a line and pick up the pencil before we drew the next. 3 breaths and 3 lines led to better-looking triangles. Every time I drew, I had to remember to be present and take a breath before I acted on my intention. This was everyday mindfulness, right here. What a pleasant change from the normal state of rushed, distractedness we live in!

Straight lines, Curved Lines [Connect]

Before we ventured into creating something out of nothing (the blank canvas), our final practice of the day included drawing straight lines and curved lines. After which, we drew patterns where circles and triangles met to form shapes and images. Again, it was no surprise that my lines got better with intention, kind attention, and attitude. I didn’t judge my work. I simply enjoyed the process and found myself in a timeless zone as I continued to draw.

The Moment of Truth – Painting on Canvas!

A blank WordPress page can be a source of extreme stress for bloggers and writers. Similarly, a blank canvas in front of an inexperienced painter like me was terrifying. Everybody selected their brushes, colors, and filled their palettes with their chosen combination of colors. And I sat there thinking: What on earth was I supposed to paint?! I’m a photographer, a student of music, and a writer. I’m not a painter. But wait, this was a workshop on meditative art. An experiment in self-expression through art.   I didn’t have to be a Pablo Picasso or an MF Hussain. I simply had to let go of my fear and enjoy the process.

It took me nearly 10 minutes to start. I imagined the 8″ x 8″ canvas depicting 4 different stories. And went on to paint the stories to convey our universal oneness through water, music, aviation technology (but of course!), and meditation. I looked around to see incredibly beautiful works of art. Deliberate. Reflective. And soulful. Mine looked hopelessly juvenile in comparison. And it was okay. I had spent 4 hours of my weekend learning something new. I had learned to reconnect and embrace mindfulness in every brush stroke. The outcome was my canvas but what I treasured was the journey.

Participant Samples

Talented participants from our workshop generously allowed me to share their paintings here:

Atul, a Professor and Teacher painted this image of beautiful, textured green and striking blue eyes.
Ashwita Vashisth, a Child Psychologist and Counselor created a spiral in bold colors with dramatic effect.
Asha, a craft teacher, demonstrated infinite possibilities with circles, triangles, and lines!
Neeta created this lovely tapestry of colors which reminded me of all things, Rajasthani.
Clearly, my photography skills are better than my painting abilities 🙂
Gauraw Singh is a Sr. Systems Engineer by profession and a budding entrepreneur. The next time you think engineers aren’t artistic, think again! He set the mood for his painting with this beautiful, tonal background and created the scene of a tropical sunset.

What is your daily, mindfulness practice? How has that helped you break down barriers? Post a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

Anitha Aswath is an HR Consultant and Strengths Coach of Leader Success in the Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area at Cisco. She has the unique privilege of meeting Cisco clients from all over the world to serve, teach, and enable the success of their teams.


4 thoughts on “Mindfulness and Art: A Weekend Experience”

  1. Anitha, expression of views through art is best form of expression. But a person who sees it must have the capacity to understand what you are conveying through your art. Your art is a good beginning.

    1. Thank you for commenting Bindu! I agree. Art is a beautiful form of expression. And the beauty of art (especially fine arts) is that it can move people in so many ways. The world needs art and especially now. To help us come together again so we can see how we are more similar than we are different.

  2. Anitha, thanks for such a wonderful article. I am so happy you have shared your invaluable experience on your blog. This only encourages me to continue on my journey. Love and light!

  3. Thank you for commenting. And thank you for facilitating this workshop, Pooja. I’m so glad I took a leap of faith and joined the group, even though I can’t really draw or paint 🙂 It was less about the art I produced and much more about what the process did for me. I wish you all success in your continued journey of encouraging people to relax and rejuvenate through art and mindfulness. Love and light to you and yours!

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