I’ve recently got more and more interested in mindfulness. Probably I’m at that stage in life where people often feel that life is mostly struggle and contains little that’s pure pleasure, where people feel constrained by their careers and other life choices. Yup, we’re talking midlife crisis. I’m sure I went through something like that a couple of years back: I’d hit a low point professionally and was unhappy as a result. I needed to make changes. But what to do?
I thought about it long and hard, and made several changes to my professional life, which I won’t go into here. Suffice to say that – with more luck than judgment – I’m in a better place than before. But something else also occurred to me and that is to question the value of ‘happiness’ in itself. This is ‘happiness’ understood as a rush of joy, not the more contemplative happiness that Aristotle talks about (eudaimonia). It struck me that what I’m really looking for in everyday life is contentment and equilibrium. Happiness comes and goes. Yet, I was craving a basic state of feeling good about things and about myself, not emotional highs and lows.
And this is where we come to mindfulness. I’m not going to go all zen on you, but if you try to live in the moment (that old cliché), you spend so much less time fretting about the past or worrying about the future. Or, in my case, having imaginary arguments with people which have never and would never occur exactly like that in real life.
I don’t need to tell anyone that there is a whole mindfulness industry out there precisely for people like me, who have enough disposable income to buy stuff for our ‘spiritual wellbeing’. The phrase makes me nauseous! I admit to having glanced at the occasional book about mindfulness, but they tend to be written in that most ghastly tone of voice, namely that of the spiritual self-help book.
There is a concomitant trend of books that aid mindfulness while not being about mindfulness as such. Those drawing books for adults are part of that category, as the drawings are complicated enough so that you have to concentrate and can forget the world and its cares for a moment. I’m a total sucker for stuff like that. I know full well that I don’t really have the time, I’ve got other stuff on, and I don’t know what to do with the finished drawings, but, like a moth near a flame, I’d hover close to the drawing books in bookshops. Taking the odd peek, but never buying. Oh, no. I was too sensible for that.
And then I cracked. I was going through a bereavement and I needed something to take my mind off things. So suddenly I found myself thinking, sod being sensible, grabbed a book with animal images, some coloured pencils, and marched to the till.
At home I immediately began drawing.
I loved it. This activity is totally absorbing. I found I wasn’t making complicated colour choices. I simply let myself drift and the picture developed as I went along. You do have to pay attention – the pattern is just complicated enough. At the same time you don’t have to worry about making the bird look like a bird, which for someone who can’t draw, like me, is a huge challenge.
Most of the time I was balancing the book on my knees, which did nothing for my posture. I found myself drawn in (sic!) to such an extent, that, when I came to, my back had seized up. But, miraculously, the bird had come to life.
You begin paying attention to each pencil stroke. How the colours change their hue as you press lightly and then strongly. How colours change when you put another one next to it. And then there’s the sense of accomplishment when you finally complete the picture.
Is it great art? Well, no, of course not. But it is an entirely pleasing activity, something that brings calmness and contentment. And it’s easy to do. So, even as my inner hippy rebels against having bought into the currently so very faddish mindfulness craze, I can only say: it works, it *so* works.
For now, I’ve left the books and pencils in my mum’s flat in Germany. But I’m already looking forward to returning to the book and starting on some more pictures.
I still don’t know what to do with them, though…