The Coping Kete

Monthly Archives: February 2015

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No. 159: Mindful Drawing

This week, to attain, maintain or regain your sense of wellbeing…

… practice being mindful by taking a few moments a day to sit and draw something you can see.

Drawing can teach us to notice properly rather than gaze absentmindedly (The Book of Life), it doesn’t have to be about artistic ability at all. The aim can be simply to notice properly the parts of things and how they fit together. This makes it a good way to strengthen our mindfulness muscles.

Your drawings could be simple scribbles in pencil or ballpoint pen. If you notice that you get too caught up with trying to draw a ‘good’ or accurate picture, do the exercise without looking at the paper at all – it really matters that little what you actually put down on the paper.

It’s never easy to start a new practice, so as usual you might need to schedule in some time to do this each day and organise yourself some basic materials to have on hand. Snatch a moment at lunchtime or plan a little trip to somewhere you might enjoy noticing in more detail.

Sitting down to draw, take a moment to settle into stillness and allow your breath to fall into its natural rhythm. Sometimes concentrating on drawing can lead us to hold our breath – this isn’t a breathing exercise, but it’s still important to breathe. Allow your eyes to wander until they settle on a scene or object to draw. For the next few moments, simply draw what you see in front of you on the page, however it comes out. As your mind wanders, notice the thoughts and bring yourself back to what you are drawing. As you notice your thinking mind judge the ‘goodness’ of what you are drawing, use the watching part of your mind to observe the thoughts and bring your attention back to what you see and continue to participate in the task of drawing it, no matter what shows up for you in the present. Start with just a few minutes and add another minute each day.

As you move through the week, experiment with drawing in different locations and drawing different things and observe how focusing on these different things effects your thoughts and feelings.  What is beautiful and soothing to you? What is energising and awe-inspiring for you to see? What sights and scenes weigh you down? How does your body respond to different things?

Practicing mindful drawing could help you get grounded in the present moment during times of stress and distress. It can be a useful way to learn mindfulness when it is hard to do breathing or visualisation-based exercises, or if mindfulness is an unfamiliar practice. Really, mindfulness just means paying attention to the present moment, this involves using the part of our mind that is aware of our experiences (our ‘watching mind’) instead of being totally caught up in the part of our mind that is doing the thinking (our ‘thinking mind’). Other names for our watching mind are our ‘Observing Self’ (in ACT) or ‘Wise Mind’ (in DBT). In DBT our ‘thinking mind’ is broken down into our ‘feeling mind’ and our ‘rational mind’, because we really do have lots of different kinds of thoughts running through our brains at any point in time.

Once you are comfortable doing mindful drawing in ordinary moments, add Mindful Drawing to your Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with stress and distress. Mindful drawing could take you out of your thoughts for a moment, allow your body a chance to calm down, and give you something neutral or positive to focus on for a while, which could give you a tiny injection of positive vibes when things are feeling chaotic or overwhelming. You could also use the exercise as an excuse to take yourself somewhere you might enjoy. Giving yourself pleasurable experiences is an important part of engaging with a life you feel is worth living.