Sunday, March 18, 2007


I think of painting as (among other things) a way to practice mindfulness.

“Mindfulness” is a misleading word in a way, because it doesn’t really refer to your mind. “Mind” can be a verb, as in “Mind your manners,” “Mind the step,” or “Never mind.” It means to pay attention. Not by using your mind, the analytical & critical function of the brain, and not by using the “autopilot” mind that gets us through routine tasks, or by using the fear-based, reactive mechanism that’s a deep part of our survival mode. Pure attention is a very different animal. It lets us see things that our “autopilot” mind usually deletes, and it re-evaluates things that our critical mind usually dismisses or denigrates.

It’s an important function, because our attention is the creative part of our self. It’s the “lead dog” that takes us, our sled and everything we've packed on it along wherever it goes.

Painting or sketching from life puts you in conscious communication with this lead dog, and it helps you decide what you’ll pay attention to. It can overcome our natural “confirmation bias” that lets us see only what we expect to see. Painting or sketching outdoors allows you comprehend a vaster scale of things than you usually think of in everyday life. Or maybe you notice that small things can be significant, even if most people never notice them. It can bring to the fore concepts, connections and connotations that often get trodden underfoot. This can affect your whole life in a major way.

It’s valuable for you and this lead dog to get in touch, to get in the habit of spending time quietly paying attention, sniffing the breeze, noticing relationship & proportion, looking and listening.

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