Lately, as a way of engaging in this life, I’ve been shifting my attention as I wander around San Francisco, with the intention to creatively engage by paying attention to my surroundings. I’ve been trying to pay less attention to my phone and actually look up at the sky, clouds, at more trees, noticing their differences in shape and form and how differently they all dance when it’s windy. I’ve noticed short vignettes on my commute that make my heart swell up and remind me that I’m alive: catching a glimpse of a surly, tattooed, and mustachioed delivery driver head-banging to and blasting Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro at 8am, or a small child’s innocent glee at the sight of his classmate, subsequent embrace and exchange of excitement for the day ahead of them. My intention is to write down ten new things I notice each day as a way to creatively engage in the world. It usually ends up being more like two, but a work in practice. Mindful creative engagement with the world could be play or it could be serious. It could be an afternoon adventure, sitting in a forest, chopping vegetables for a meal, or painting- all are our own response to the natural world.
Creative expression and art can be utilized as a modality to explore feelings, ease emotional conflicts, and foster self-awareness.
Art making and creativity has a potential to fulfill psychological and spiritual needs through personalizing spaces, expressing or reframing a narrative of one’s identity, drawing attention to the immediacy of the present moment in one’s body, or practicing as a concrete tool of grounding and self-soothing. Creative expression, when shared or cultivated in a community, can foster a sense of belonging and witnessing. Through exposing your vulnerable self, and opening to the fear or possibility of criticism, there is immense healing power through communion with others in understanding how completely brave it is to share parts of yourself in service of the hope of receiving acceptance and love, as well as understanding how completely we all feel and desire the same thing- to belong. The therapeutic application of mindfulness, or focusing one’s attention and opening up awareness, can reduce anxiety and stress, and increase our ability to open to oneself and the world by shifting one’s perspective of the world. Psychologist Ellen Langer states that mindfulness, or the noticing of new things, leads to more awareness of how things change depending on the context and perspective from which they are viewed- mindfulness then requires that we give up the fixed ways in which we’ve learned to look at the world.
Naturally then, the marriage of art making and mindfulness would be assumed to increase the possibility of healing parts of your wounded self, communicating thoughts and feelings, and noticing the ways you are or are not paying attention to yourself or the world. Creativity is not something that some people have and others don’t- anyone can be creative. Our creative nature is a part of our daily lives, Langer says, from the way we speak to how we express our culture, and even in the seemingly mundane activities. However, often people’s self-imposed judgments show up as obstacles to expressing their creativity, such as what the end product “should” be, how things “should” look, or playing a script of fixed ways of looking at the world. In art therapy, we often address this- it’s not about the end product it’s about the process. Langer said we distinguish the product from the experience of creating it, and for most of us it is a terrifying prospect to imagine being judged in this way. If only we could put aside our concern for others’ judgment, creative engagement could transform our lives through whatever creative endeavors we choose. We often do things we know with certainty we will be good at. We often avoid things we know, usually without certainty, that we will not be good at. Who put that criteria there? Where did the good and bad come from and how could you challenge dichotomous thinking?
Ellen Langer says the more mindful, the less self-conscious we are; the more we know what we’re going to do before we do it, the more opportunity there is to be self-conscious and to process mindlessly- art can make us more mindful, and being more mindful may increase our ability to do and appreciate art.
How can you let your creativity and expression play, explore and be open to the world around you?
How do you want to expand?
About the author: Chelsea Owens is a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified art therapist committed to restoring balance between the mind, body, and spirit. Based in San Francisco, CA, Chelsea uses creativity, reflection, and expression with her clients to help illuminate communication from the inside out. Through joyful, light energy and her passion to empower retreat participants to access their true potential, Chelsea looks forward to help creativity flow at the Wise and Wild Women’s retreat. For more information, please visit Chelsea at www.chelseaowenstherapy.com
Join Chelsea & Meredith Holt to explore the divine feminine through meditation, movement, and mindful creative expression during a 7-day inclusive retreat at the Haramara Retreat Center in Sayulita, Mexico this Fall. Book by June 1st to save $208!