Sunday, 23 May 2010

Art practice as meditation?

I’ve developed an interest in meditation recently. This had nothing to do with my art making initially; it was in response to the emotional and physical strain of over two years of caring for elderly parents with dementia whilst trying to juggle the day job as a children’s social care data analyst, make art, run a home and have a social life. Throw in the countless other things that have to be dealt with and it leaves my brain feeling a little fried at times, something that a lot of people can sympathise with I’m sure. Life for most people these days is hectic at best.

I’m not sure what lead me to meditation but having read up a bit, there’s a lot of research which seems to suggest it’s a good thing for emotional, mental and physical health. My main aim is to find space to calm my mind and therefore help it to function better in day-to-day life. I’m not by nature a patient person, so this is going to be a test of my discipline and perseverance; there won’t be a miraculous overnight improvement.

I’ve been reading about brain activity in relation to meditation. There are four kinds of brainwaves apparently; alpha, beta, delta and theta. As I understand it, the mind is in a beta brainwave state most of the day when we are awake and active; thinking, talking, dealing with a huge range of stimuli and abstract thoughts about the past and future. These are the fastest brainwaves. Alpha brainwaves are slower; the mind is in this state when relaxed but still alert. We are receptive; not thinking but sensing, feeling and very much in the moment. Meditation induces this brainwave state apparently. Delta and theta brainwaves relate to sleep.

Where does this fit in with art practice? Over the years, I’ve had a number of conversations with people about what’s going through my mind when I’m working on a plate or a drawing. It sounds rather esoteric and a bit tree-hugging but the only way I’ve been able to describe it is as an almost zen-like state where I’m not really thinking about anything, just focusing on the artwork. I don’t think I even really think about what I’m working on; it’s almost as if my hands are working automatically. Thoughts come and go but I’m not really aware of them. As I said above, I’m not a patient person and the thought of starting a new piece of work can be daunting; and yet, when I’m working on a plate, I find I can work on a small area for hours without any kind of fatigue or irritation. It takes as long as it takes. In fact, I find it peaceful and restful. So I’m assuming that my mind must be in an alpha brainwave state and therefore in the same state as it would be during meditation. This is a very good thing and I obviously need to find time (somehow) to do more of it!

3 comments:

  1. You might be interested in the Wikipedia article about flow - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology). There have been some MF discussions about flow too. http://www.metafilter.com/87145/Optimizing-Your-Brain-At-Work - link to YouTube. Two discussions of a book on flow - http://www.metafilter.com/50290/Mihaly-Csikszentmihalyi and http://www.metafilter.com/28878/Flow-The-Psychology-of-Optimal-Experience. And question re flow in mundane tasks - http://ask.metafilter.com/33811/Finding-flow-in-everyday-life.

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  2. I can really relate to what you have shared. Like many I am busy with work, home, family and find myself struggling to find balance. Lately I have tried to be sure to carve some time in my week for creative activities.

    I think making art, even for us non-artists, is a great way to achieve that zen-like state you mention. When I am making art I find that I am completely in the moment, focused yet relaxed.

    This is a lovely post, thanks for sharing.

    Sally

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  3. Thanks for your comments Sally - always good to share experiences as making art can be an insular experience. I hope you are able to keep up your creative time and find it fulfilling and relaxing!

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