The Art of Mindfulness

Painting a picture and writing a poem can be a gateway to experiencing the present moment. Rachel Rose on how to practice mindful creativity.

Rachel Rose2 January 2024
Photo courtesy of the author.

My eyes are closed, my breath warm and sufficient. I feel connected and ready for the next moment. I softly open my eyes, reach for my paintbrush, and slosh blue paint across my page. And there it is—fear. My teeth clench, and I think how silly I was to even think I could paint. 

I often tell myself that, but today is different. Today, because of my mindfulness practice, I notice this pernicious story as it begins to take shape. So instead of giving in to fear and self-doubt, I pause, place my hand on my heart, and choose a compassionate approach. 

I tell myself that I am courageous—that making a mark on the page is the way I practice making my mark in this world. With this act of love, my creative process unfolds, a dance of marks, awareness, and compassion. This is the practice of creative mindfulness. It’s both a gateway to the present moment and a chance to choose a new perspective on life.

In my work, I help people practice mindful creativity. We use art making, writing, movement, and music to enter the present moment and cultivate a new perspective on our experiences. Like yoga, mindful walking, or following the breath in traditional meditation, mindful creativity is another pathway to awareness in which we observe the present moment with intention and without judgment. 

The best way to understand creative mindfulness is to experience it. In that spirit, I invite you to create a small abstract painting and poem as a mindfulness practice. This invitation doesn’t require skill or previous experience. You just need a willingness to meet the process with curiosity and intention. 

In this exercise, you will intentionally engage in a creative act as a place to witness your thoughts, feelings, ideas, judgments, and stories. Your attention will be on your deepest impulses, which will guide you toward specific colors, marks, shapes, and lines you will make. By trusting these impulses and being a curious observer of your process, you can discover new awareness about yourself and your inner world. Here is how to practice mindful creativity:

1. Prepare Your Supplies

Simple supplies are best. All you need is a piece of paper, painter’s tape or masking tape, a journal or paper for writing, and two different color media, such as crayons and pastels or paint and markers. Tape your paper down, making a thick border along the edges of your page. This will keep your paper from moving and create a white space around the perimeter of your piece. 

2. Arrive in the Moment

Spend a few moments centering and arriving in the moment. You can do this with some practice at the end of your regular meditation session. Or you can simply spend a few minutes with your breath and body, observing your thoughts, feelings, and perceptions in whatever way feels comfortable for you.

3. Set Your Intention 

Once you feel present and relaxed, begin by setting an intention or asking a question. For example, you may intend to pay particular attention to your body while you create, or explore the feelings that come up for you. Or you may want to ask a specific question, such as “What can I learn about my stress today?” or “What’s preventing me from being more curious in my life?” Your intention or question will act as an anchor for your process. You can formalize it by writing it out in your journal or writing paper.

4. Make Marks 

Looking at your color media, check in with your impulses and select the colors you want to use with each medium. When the feeling to move arises from within you, select your first color medium, and with impulse as your guide, make a few marks, shapes, and/or lines on the page. Repeat this process with the remaining colors. If you choose a wet medium like paint, you may want to observe it drying naturally, or you can speed up the process with a hairdryer or by putting it in the sun.

5. Notice and Notate 

As you make your marks, notice the thoughts, feelings, ideas, judgments, and stories that come up for you. Are you feeling uncomfortable as you try something new? Are you tempted to judge this creation as good, bad, ugly, or pretty? Are there any emotions, memories, or thoughts that have come up? 

Each time you notice something, pause and take note of it or write it out on your paper. Pay attention to these experiences with gentle curiosity for as long as you need, and then return to your creation when you are ready.

6. Write a Poem

When your art is dry, carefully peel off the masking tape. Notice how revealing the white space on the edges changes your experience of the piece. Take a few moments to observe your creation with fresh eyes and from various perspectives. 

Return to your intention or question, and when you’re ready, move to writing. With a trusting and open approach, write a quick three-line poem about your piece. Let this be an opportunity to write without skill or craft. The point is to express through words the sentiment and feelings that are coming up for you. 

Look at your art and poem together. Give them a title and write it down.

7. Close

Then, with your art and poem nearby, place your hand on your heart, close your eyes, and return to a place of stillness. Offer gratitude to the process and to yourself for showing up. In the hours and days that follow your experience of mindful creativity, ponder the following questions to help deepen your practice:

When you consider the image and the poem, what thoughts, feelings, or emotions come up for you? What’s the bigger meaning or purpose of this process for you, your life, and your mindfulness process in general? How might you continue to build upon this creative mindfulness exercise and welcome creative expression into other areas of your life?