It may be writing, drawing or even mathematical problem-solving but we all have our own sacred, solitary activities that give us a sense of feeling fully present. We are more connected, focussed and more ourselves when engaged in these pastimes.
For author, TV presenter and political commentator Andrew Marr it’s drawing. Opening up his personal scrapbook, Marr spoke to a full lecture theatre at Charing Cross Hospital, London at the end of October this year. Careful to avoid using the word ‘art’, he guided the audience through his series of observational drawings and paintings which are featured in his new book, “A Short Book On Drawing”.
There were quick sketches in amongst carefully considered creations. Some worked and, on the presenter’s own admission, some didn’t. Together Marr’s refreshing words and honest scribbles highlighted the leading point: regular drawing can lift you out of your busy life, if only for a short while, and connect you to the here and now; an energising meditative activity that will improve your health and happiness.
The importance of creative expression
The lecture theatre was full of medics and students waiting to hear how art therapy helped Andrew Marr recover from the stroke he suffered in January 2013. This is true and his art therapy was discussed as a triumph in the restoration of his health. Further to its success as a form of treatment, it is important for us to know that the regular practice of any creative expression – be it music, writing, maths, drawing or dance – can reward our long-term mental health.
CREATIVE FOCUS & A SENSE OF CALM
For many creative-minded people, maintaining focus and a sense of being calm and collected can be a difficult daily challenge. It can manifest as distractibility and forgetfulness, which in turn lead to poor organisation, sloppy work, not properly taking in what’s being said, overlooking important details and so on. This is contrasted with a locked, unshakeable attention when creative people are doing something they enjoy – often to their own detriment.
Quality of life has everything to do with how well you pay attention. And there are few things more frustrating than wanting to pay attention but not having any control over losing it. We creatives must master the control of our focus, using it to unlock our potential rather than hamper our progress. There are obviously many ways of doing this. One method commonly discussed is focussing on the breath in which you can use techniques taught through martial arts, yoga or meditation.
However, focus is a skill that we must learn and maintain with regular practice and so it helps if we exercise in a way that is pleasurable. Drawing and painting is a bonafide meditative experience when you take time to be absorbed by the process. It may be a thoughtful sketch of your bedside table – taking into account the size of the book next to the lamp or the texture of the watch strap. It might be an abstract expression of the changing seasons with swathes of colour or an interpretation of a photo you took on holiday years ago. It doesn’t have to be art – it doesn’t even have to be good.
This is your quiet time. It’s a sacred ritual for your health and happiness. Or as Andrew Marr says, “A little gateway to a better sense of being alive.”
Or as my good friend calls it, meditation for fidgets.
What activities do you engage in where you are mindful and feel at peace and connected? I look forward to hearing your ideas.