Developing happiness, kindness and compassion with creative mindfulness

Leaf Heart by Wendy Ann GreenhalghI’ve been very conscious recently, of the great happiness that my drawing and arting has been giving me. After a long period of working intensively on drafting and redrafting my novel, to the point where I felt creatively dried out, getting back to visual art has felt like drinking from a sweet, spring of cool water. Yesterday evening I sat with a group of friends, talking about the importance of developing positive emotions such as happiness, contentment, love, compassion and kindness in our daily lives and sharing our experiences of how we do this. Of course I mentioned drawing. For someone else it was being out in nature, for another friend digging on their allotment, another – being with grandchildren.

As we develop our practice of mindfulness, we start to notice that much of our emotional landscape is habitual, we take that path towards a certain feeling again and again. So too, thoughts, the same one, over and over. One of the great gifts of mindfulness is the space it offers to notice familiar currents of thinking or feeling and change them. Even the simple four step creative mindfulness practice I teach, Stop Look Breathe Create – is a loving kindness and compassion practice; in stopping, seeing what our experience is, just breathing with it – we create a space for choice and for a different experience. Much of what I practice in the classes I teach is about using this mindful pause to form a different relationship to creativity – by circumventing the habitual – “I can’t do it, I’m no good, I don’t deserve it, everyone is better than me,” flow of thinking and feeling around writing, drawing and making – a different experience is created and people are more free to happily create.

Stop Look Breathe Create – it works in so many different ways. In the Buddhist tradition there’s a practice called Metta Bhavana. Metta means kindness, a warmth, friendliness and well-wishing. Bhavana means development. The Metta Bhavana is basically a formal meditation practice for developing positive emotions. And yet, as my friends and I discussed last night, the formal structure of this traditional meditation made it feel a little inaccessible sometimes – and it seemed that we had all found mindful, creative, instinctive ways to develop emotional warmth and positivity.

Which got me thinking on my walk home about the Stop Look Breath Create practice again. I drifted along looking at the night sky, smelling buddleia in people’s gardens and reflecting on it, thinking I should write about it more, because it’s the perfect blend of mindfulness and loving-kindness, a simple way for generating more positive emotions.

We stop, slow down, pause. We notice, we see, what’s in our experience. We breathe with it. In breathing with it we’re making space for it, allowing it, opening our hearts to it a little – or a lot. And with that warm, accepting feeling growing towards ourselves, we then do something creative to make ourselves feel even better. We sing a song, we scribble a 2 line something about the sound of the wind in the trees outside, we do a little doodle that somehow expresses our contentment – the warm, expansive feeling grows. And then we do some more creating. Offering that kindliness to ourselves, being gentle with our creative efforts.

In my classes I often ask if people have noticed this warm feeling as they mindfully wrote or drew, a greater sense of connection to themselves – and they always say that they have. More than that, they felt a greater sense of warmth and regard for the things they were writing about or drawing too! Which makes sense. When we draw, write, photograph we are forming a new relationship with things and we come to care about them. Which gives us another option for what to do with that warm feeling in our chests. Because it doesn’t have to stop with us. At the end of our practice, we could sit with that warmth and kindliness we’ve developed and offer it out by imagining a friend’s face, or writing their name, or drawing a little stick figure of them with a big grin on their face. We could mentally and emotionally offer the positive emotions that being creative gives us to everyone we know, everyone we’ve never met. Sky’s the limit. Probably even the sky isn’t the limit. And the gods know this sorry, conflicted world needs all the peaceful, warm, loving intentions it can get right now.

So when you Stop Look Breathe and Create next time, why not have the intention of noticing the warm, positivity and sense of connection that creative mindfulness brings and of allowing it to grow. Why not offer a little it to someone you know or to someone you’ve never met – just a thought a way – and see if it grows?

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