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art as a path to mindfulness
I moved frequently growing-up—constantly bouncing from one city to another, switching schools, and having very few friends was my normal. Being a child of divorce meant I was constantly shuttled between my parents' diverging worlds. Like any resilient kid, I adapted to these changes with ease, embracing each new environment that came my way. However, as the years passed, managing this nomadic lifestyle became increasingly harder. Amid the constant changes, I found refuge in the art of drawing—a loyal companion that has stood by me through thick and thin, a sanctuary offering solace even in the midst of a crowded room.
You see, little me faced a plethora of challenges related to focus that went beyond just typical distractions. Unbeknownst to everyone, including myself, I was silently grappling with ADHD, a condition that remained unnoticed and undiagnosed until much later in life. It wasn't until my senior year of high school that things got especially tough. After spending a couple of years studying abroad in College Station, Texas, I returned to Venezuela feeling like a complete fish out of water. Adjusting to a new school with its unique teaching styles, unfamiliar rules, and impenetrable cafeteria cliques proved to be a daunting uphill battle.
An Origin Story
The following anecdote is what my husband affectionately calls my rebel origin story. It all unfolded on one of those habitual Venezuelan hot days. During an algebra test, of all things. Now, I've always had a knack for grasping math concepts and abstractions without much effort, but on this particular quiz, the struggle was real. Remembering the precise steps to solve the exercises proved to be quite the challenge. My mind’s habit of daydreaming, and the looming shadow of my ADHD didn't help when it came to staying focused on less-than-thrilling topics. But you know me, I've never been one to back down from a problem. So, armed with my logical and intuitive mindset, I decided to take a the-end-justifies-the-means approach to tackle the quiz.
Lo and behold, my answers were correct when I received the test back, much to my delight. But that F staring back at me was a real blow.
Confused and disheartened, I sought answers from the teacher, hoping for some clarity. She acknowledged that my answers were, indeed, correct, but she criticized my departure from the approved methods taught in class. Fortunately, things took a turn for the better. My step-dad, a PhD in Mathematics (I know, right?), came to the rescue during a parent-teacher conference, and my grade was rightfully changed to a B-. Score one for unconventional problem-solving? Sure.
Yet, that incident planted a seed—an essential question that has since shaped my perspective on life: Do adults want me to learn or to quietly follow? My tendency to diverge from accepted norms when problem-solving often encountered resistance from authority figures, prompting me to push back—sometimes unfairly, I admit. It's as if the grown-ups in my life felt compelled to suppress my inner spark, just as they were taught to dim their own glimmers of light.
The Only Path Out is In
Just like my unique approach to the math test, my journey towards mindfulness has taken me on a winding and unpredictable path. The idea of meditation used to feel like an unreachable summit—anxiety-inducing and impossible to attain. After many unsuccessful attempts and a firm belief that this wasn't the thing for me, I unexpectedly discovered visualization meditation, which turned out to be the ideal fit for my unruly mind. Conjuring imagery with my eyes closed felt like an instinctive, guided reverie—a little miracle that sparked a significant breakthrough, empowering me to revisit the path to mindfulness once again.
Ever since that transformative moment, visualization meditation has become a non-negotiable part of my creative process. It's the key to preparing myself with an open mind, unwavering confidence, and a clear sense of purpose. By integrating this simple step into my routine, I've created a deliberate space that fosters playfulness and freedom, unleashing my creativity without inhibition. My journey of learning has been greatly influenced by Culadasa’s work (aka John Yates Ph.D.), a neuroscientist and Buddhist meditator, which has had a profound impact on me. His teachings delve into the two aspects of the conscious mind: attention and awareness.
Attention is such a powerful tool that once it developed we started overusing it. We basically are a species that suffers from awareness deficit disorder.
In his book "The Mind Illuminated," he sheds light on the incredible benefits of integrating mindfulness into the creative process. By meditating before engaging in creative work, I tap into a heightened state of attention and awareness. Through this approach, I've learned to honor and reflect on my authentic self—untethered by societal norms or expectations. At last, I've made space for that little girl who doodled through her loneliness, found unique ways to conquer math, and daydreamed a life full of connection.
The integration of mindfulness and creativity has truly been transformative for me. It's reignited the joy of creation within and bolstered my confidence to share more of myself with the world. So much so that I now feel ready to step out of the proverbial ADHD closet—a diagnosis that once burdened me with shame but has become something I accept, and perhaps even appreciate? For too long, I sought answers outside myself, trying to fit in while ignoring my own inner wisdom. However, stumbling upon this gratifying creative practice has shifted my perspective, reinforcing my belief that we're meant to carve our unique paths by living the question rather than internalizing someone else’s ready-made answer. I've learned to create space and tune into the whispers of my intuition—a part of me I felt forced to quiet down.
This long journey has led me to assign a name to this process, for naming things grants them power. So, I now call it Drawing Deeper. Catchy, yes? This practice not only enriches my days with a calmer mind but also brings a profound sense of fulfillment by making room for all aspects of myself—especially those parts that might not always make perfect sense but are eager to teach and grow.
The Ritual of Drawing Deeper:
Drawing Deeper is a meditative ritual that harmonizes art and mindfulness, unlocking the treasures of our subconscious mind and guiding our intuition to slice through the layers of our inner world. Here's a simplified exercise of how this ritual could look like:
Creating Sacred Space: Find a quiet and comfortable space where you can tap into your creative self without distractions. Allocate at least 30 minutes on your calendar for your practice. Set up your art supplies, journal, or anything that sparks your creativity. Light a candle, burn some incense, or play soothing music—choose whatever helps you create an atmosphere that feels sacred and conducive to introspection.
Grounding and Centering: Start by taking a few deep breaths, allowing your body and mind to relax. Focus your attention on the present moment, letting go of any external concerns or distractions. You can try a visualization meditation like this one. If you find it challenging at first, be gentle with yourself; showing up and trying is what matters most. Remember, the only bad meditation is the one we don't do.
Setting an Intention: Before starting to draw, set a clear intention for your practice. This could involve exploring a specific emotion, seeking clarity on a particular issue, or simply connecting with your inner self. Let this intention guide your creative process. Here are 3 prompts I have used in the past to ignite my imagination:
Imagine your inner child stepping into a vibrant world of colors and creativity. What does this world look like, and what does your inner child want to paint? Let them roam free.
Visualize a door that leads to your subconscious. Open it, let your intuition guide your exploration, and then draw what you saw.
In your mind's eye, see a blank canvas representing a new chapter in your life. What do you want to paint on it to symbolize this fresh beginning? Dare to dream big.
Embracing Flow: As you pick up your tools, enter a state of flow, surrendering to the creative process without inhibitions or self-criticism. Allow your intuition to guide your hand, creating a connection between your thoughts, emotions, and the art taking shape. Embrace the present moment fully, letting ideas, lines, shapes, and words flow freely and organically without trying to control the outcome.
Exploring the Inner World: As you draw, pay keen attention to the symbols, imagery, thoughts, memories, and emotions that naturally arise. Engage with these elements without judgment or evaluation. Explore the deeper layers of your inner self to gain insights and discover aspects of yourself that may have been overlooked or forgotten.
Reflection and Activation: Once you feel ready, take a moment to reflect on your creation. How does the final piece relate to the prompt, inquiry, or intention you set at the beginning? If you feel called to, write down any thoughts, emotions, or realizations that surface during this time. Alternatively, sit with your work and contemplate it for a little while. You may choose to share it with a friend or even burn it if you'd like to release something that arose during your practice and is no longer serving you. Honor your intuition and do what feels right at this time.
Integration and Gratitude: Conclude your drawing session by expressing gratitude for the experience and the insights gained. Ground yourself and acknowledge the wisdom and creativity within you. Be proud that you've made time to nurture your inner magic and honor your creative spirit—you deserve it.
Art serves as a direct path towards our most authentic selves—a powerful means of expression, vulnerability, and exploration. As my preferred mentor, art often reminds me that the only true path out is diving deeper within ourselves.
Did you read all the way to the bottom? Thank you for allowing me to share my journey so far.