Mindfulness, also referred to as a..." /> Mindfulness, also referred to as a..." />

How the Expressive Arts Enhance Mindfulness

Minimalist illustration of plantsMindfulness, also referred to as awareness, is the simple act of noticing thoughts, sensations, and feelings. Use of the expressive arts can broaden our capacity to be mindful by adding insight to our inquiry, which then results in the surfacing of additional wisdom. When this happens it’s as if we have exercised our unconscious.

“Art, as a way of knowing, offers a path back to direct participation in life.” – Pat Allen

The Soul’s Voice
Pat was right! Our ability to use artistic expression to conjure up the imagination leads to the fruit of our knowing, awakening mindfulness and our engagement in life. It is with this ability that we are able to play like school children in the park. It’s as natural to us as fetching a stick is to a dog, and must be exercised in order for us to grow and manifest our greater being. Using art as a way of knowing awakens our senses to design flower gardens, clean out garages, purge closets, and become the next cupcake champion. The process can be light and fresh, filling our consciousness with new inspirations, or it can support our drop into shadowy places, helping us examine what feeds our addictions, procrastinations, and stuck-in-the-mud places.

Creative expression informs our feelings, actions, and insights. I’ve noticed this effect as I work with clients. In one example, my client was asked to create a mask of her subpersonality. She noticed how bland it was and how that represented the feeling she was repressing. Another example was when a client drew the complexity of his three-headed face and wrestled with which one to display to the world. A great example of insight was when my client entered the session not knowing what to talk about. I handed her an array of image cards. Organically, she chose cards that led to her having one of the most insightful sessions to date. These are just a few examples of how our imagination is awakened and our mindfulness enhanced via creative expression.

Heeding the Call
The call (unconscious yearning) arises in what I refer to as inklings. Inklings are subtle clues to threads of our greater knowing. Springing from our bellies like bubbly from champagne flutes, these little gurglings of consciousness seek attention. I advise you to give them space. I’ve seen time and time again how important it is to listen to these subtle cues. With practice we can notice these inklings more and more, supporting a voice for our yearnings. With time and a bit of patience we can improve the skill of noticing what is bubbling to the surface.

One way in which we can pay attention more cleverly is by using the expressive arts. The arts support getting out of our heads and into the subtle sensations of the body where images, colors, and fantasies lie. By veering away from our usual way of linear processing, we tap new information. For instance, you may notice body sensations as you feel anxious. When this happens, you have the opportunity to check in with yourself and decide what that is about. You can grab your journal and scribe your thoughts onto paper. You can move with the energy and see how it shifts and changes. You might even give voice to it by letting out a primal scream. Perhaps you feel more inclined to draw its color or shape and give it a title. Whatever your chosen vehicle, you bring attention to it and allow it to breathe by giving it more space.

So I ask you, is the soul’s voice calling you? If your imagination hasn’t been exercised since the last full moon, it may be time to give it a nudge, dust it off, and let it breathe. Gather your pen, paintbrush, a scrap of paper, a glue stick, and a handful of magazines, and throw caution out the window. Listen to your daydreams, create a collage, and let your mind relish in discovery. Attend and feed to your garden and see what sprouts. Doing so will breathe new life into your self-disciplined ways of living, releasing vast new adventures in growth.

Related articles:
Healing Through Expressive Arts Therapy
Art and Trauma: Creativity as a Resiliency Factor
Creating Shrines and Altars for Healing from Grief

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Douglas Mitchell, LMFT

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Laken

    May 18th, 2012 at 3:02 PM

    I have never really taken a shot at expressing myself through art, mainly because I think I am one of those sad people who does not possess that gift.
    I think that I am far better suited to express myself via music and writing than I ever could be through painting or drawing.
    I don’t mean to sound like I am intentionally limiting myself because I truly am willing to give pretty much anything a try.
    But this one I may just have to let be enjoyed by others.

  • raspberrymoon

    May 18th, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    like throwing caution to the wind, invigorating exhilarating, freeing

  • Janet

    May 19th, 2012 at 7:36 AM

    Hey laken- don’t discount your talent. Everyone was given some sort of talkent, the key is being able to discover just what your true gifts are. The point of this sort of expression is not about creating a masterpiece; but instead it is about letting out your feelings in a way that feels safe and meaningful to you. Sometimes you may not even know everything that is going on inside until you really just sit down and start with that proverbial clean slate. And it does not have to only be art, it can be achieved with music and writing too, but mainly it is about taking time for you and processing your thoughts in an artistic and creative way.

  • lucas

    May 20th, 2012 at 5:54 AM

    The best I ever felt was when I had to take some art studio classes in college. It was even for a grade but it still felt good to realize that I did have another outlet that I could use to try to express myself that I did not recognize that I had been given up until then. Now that was some money that was well spent!

  • Sherae adams

    May 21st, 2012 at 4:36 PM

    I became an “artist” at the encouragement of a counselor I was seeing at a time in my life when I was absolutley at my lowest.
    It gave me a way to express myself in a way that I did not feel would harm someone else or would lead me to be judged by others.
    It was not something that I had ever even considered trying, but it helped e to find a side of myself that I honestly had never gotten in touch with before.
    There are definitely times when I use art more than others; if I feel expecially in turmoil that’s usually the time when I embrace it the most. It helps me get things off my chest that otherwise I feel certain I would keep in and would do a lot of harm.

  • Douglas

    May 22nd, 2012 at 7:46 AM

    Beautiful and insightful comments everyone!

  • Kimyona

    January 17th, 2019 at 4:28 PM

    Love this article! I love reading about how our imaginations and artistic creations can be used to help us within our daily lives. I was sent here through my trauma-informed practice program and I have to say that I am grateful for being referred here. This article validates every thought and feeling that I have had about using the arts to enhance someone’s mindfulness, to gain equianimity, and to channel their intuitive nature onto a “blank slate” per say. I am a transformational life coach as well as an Emergency Room RN and I enjoy knowing that my future clients will have a means to express themselves using ART, a source that we have the ability to tap into. And thank you for giving me a vocabulary term such as “inklings” to help me with describing in another way what that “gut feeling” or “greater insight” or “subtle clues” exist within us to move us towards a better understanding of our experiences.

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