Art without an easel
I went downstairs to gather up the laundry that I’d hung to dry and found myself smiling at how beautiful the colors looked together. Cool colors interspersed with a pop of a bright pajama top. Neutrals separating groupings. I stood there looking and realized that a subconscious part of my mind had created a little work of art as I did the most basic (and endless) of household chores.
I came upstairs, arms and heart full, and my daughter asked me if I’d come help her in her room. For the past few weeks, she has been re-settling old territory – making a childhood space comfortable for a brief stay as an adult. “You’re so good at shelves,” she said. “Could you make these look nice?”
I stood there for a second and then began to fiddle. Moving things from shelf to shelf, and then just repositioning them on their current shelf. I didn’t have a plan. I wasn’t even really thinking. “How do you do that?” she said. “I don’t really know,” I replied. “I just play around until it looks right.”
As we stood looking at the end result (which, if I do say so myself, looked pretty great), I realized I create little works of art in many ways all day long. Not the art of years past when I spent hours painting, drawing, and sewing, but art nonetheless. My creativity is spilling out in my garden. In my closet. As I set the table or plate arrange a meal, wrap gifts, and arrange flowers from the market.
Creativity feels good and is good for you
What I learned the other day is that noticing the results of my creativity feels good. Just looking at the colors of my laundry hanging there made me smile – not an expression I would have expected to find on my face while involved in any stage of my least favorite chore. More surprising was my realization that being creative feels even better. When I was arranging my daughter’s shelves, my state of mind shifted and softened. It became almost a state of heart.
The yogi in me is always on the lookout for ways to transform mental states. After all the practice is designed not only to create focus, but to develop a pervading sense of contentment with reality as it is moment to moment. Therefore, I couldn’t help wondering why these little expressions of creativity were creating some of the same effects as time spent on a yoga mat.
According to Ashley Stahl in her article How Creativity Actually Improves Your Health, little bursts of creativity like mine can help focus the mind and the end result provides a little burst of dopamine, one of the body’s feel-good neurotransmitters. That explains the surprising smile on my face while gathering up my laundry.
Additionally, according to a blog on memorialcare.org, creative projects activate the parts of the brain that process emotions. It turns out that getting artsy, even in really small ways, helps calm brain activity, leaving one feeling less anxious and more centered, stable, and grounded. This explains the softened “state of heart” I felt while helping in my daughter’s room.
Once you develop a mindful practice, you will find yourself practicing it in the most surprising ways
I love discovering other ways to create and support the mental states that I first discovered and developed on my yoga mat. I love discovering how something in me – even subconsciously – seizes little opportunities to use creativity to recreate the stillness, silence, and spaciousness that I know how to create in my practice. Mindfulness, it turns out, is habit forming!
I encourage you to pay attention as you move through your days. Be on the lookout for moments when you feel your mind settle, when you sense an unexpected smile on your face, and when you feel yourself soften a little bit. These are signs that you’ve slipped into a mindful state. Notice what you’re doing that helped you get there.
I have no doubt that, like me, you will realize it doesn’t require an easel and paint to be creative or a yoga mat to be mindfully engaged with life!
Are you interested in developing, deepening a mindfulness practice? I will be teaching a new hybrid course this fall called Growing in Grace: A Practice. Reach out if you’d like to learn more.