This week while sketching in the park with a friend, the subject of meditation came up. We talked about the voices in our heads that play out while we’re trying to sketch or create something…how we seem to always be fighting with “ourselves.” How our thoughts seem to run rampant, making us doubt our artistic abilities and we spiral downward with them, following these rambling ideas into deeper, non-productive patterns of thinking.
When I find my creative confidence in the toilet after following these thoughts, I have found that simply sitting quietly has given me profound clarity and unexpected breakthroughs.
Whether I am struggling to find motivation, am stumped on a challenging problem or feel boringly stagnate with a lack of inspiration, this simple act of pause has made all the difference.
In fact, as my illustration career has advanced, I have found the single, most helpful tool to be meditation.
However, meditation can also be one of the most frustrating things to “practice.”
Most of the time when I began in the past, I felt like I was doing it wrong, was too restless, and didn’t see how it could connect in a practical way to the goals I had in life (like becoming a better illustrator). But what I found was quite simple, just acquainting myself with…myself, was like greeting a long lost inner child.
I had a great teacher in 5th and 6th grade. I guess she left an impression on me because I had her two years in a row (they did that at my school where the teacher can keep her whole class into the next year…is that unusual?) Anyway, I remember when a new kid came to class who nobody really liked. He looked really similar to the kid on a Christmas Story now that I think about it…but with a crusty runny nose, hyperactive outbursts, and a blunt, offensive honesty.
(There is a reason for this story, it all connects, just stay with me)…
I remember our teacher preparing us for Earl’s classroom appearance before his first day. She informed us that he was special somehow, and needed to talk a lot, and that we should all be patient with him. My teacher brilliantly arranged his desk next to hers so that he could aim all of his pent-up banter at her understanding presence while she looked up with an occasional smiling nod before returning to her homework corrections.
This is precisely what we need to do when we meditate. Your thoughts will chatter at you, begging for attention and acknowledgement. Don’t abandon them and send them to the back of the classroom. Just stay with them and lovingly let the chatter pass on through, but you don’t need to encourage it.
Don’t abandon your mind when it wants to chat with you. It’s like a small child with divorced parents who was left alone a lot and never had friends to socialize with.
So when you first sit down to meditate, your mind will want to chat with you. This doesn’t mean you failed. Let it talk.
You don’t have to talk back or hang on every word (or any for that matter); it just wants someone to sit with it for a change. You may even learn a thing or two, like what’s been rambling on beneath the surface as you do your day-to-day activities. You may see some baggage you’ve been unknowingly carrying with you, bringing up anxiety. But remember, it’s a child. Don’t analyze it, its just being silly, there’s no need to find meaning in what it says. Just observe with compassion. If you’re just a little patient with “yourself,” you will find that it no longer seeks your attention; the voice will quiet down.
I invite you to give it a try and be patient with yourself.
There’s really no right way, but here’s a suggestion based on what’s worked for me:
1. Start with just 10 minutes sitting quietly in a comfortable position.
2. Breathe deeply at first to start relaxing, putting focus on your breath, perhaps counting to 4 on the inhale, and 4 on the exhale. Then breathe normally as you relax more, and just watch what happens.
3. Just be the observer of your thoughts and don’t run away from them, even if they are uncomfortable. Maybe some thoughts correspond to parts of your body. If you’re me, then you might feel anxiety in your stomach. Just watch it. Don’t try to get rid of it or change it.
Don’t get mad at little Earl.
After all, if you are frustrated with yourself when you sit down to meditate, chances are you’re frustrated with yourself when you sit down to illustrate (or do whatever it is you do that rhymes with “ate” at the end…kidding). Meditation only magnifies what is already present in you. What would happen if you stopped running away from that annoying aspect of yourself? Instead of forcing yourself to get used to trying to work with a chattering child in the background, why not let him get it all out so he doesn’t bother you while you’re trying to accomplish something? Be nice to him, and you’ll find you’re being nice to yourself.
And then interesting things will start to happen…
I’d love to hear your experiences with meditation. Have you tried it before? Have you used it to help you with illustration or something else? Has it helped?
Email me, it would be cool to hear from you!
For more information on how people are using meditation to increase their creativity and productivity, check out these great articles!