When I was in college (odd that it’s been so long, but it still seems like yesterday), I had an art professor who was…well, I’d just call him an artist now, but young as I was then, I considered him rather odd. He had (has? I have no idea if he’s still there or not…) a very low, almost hypnotic voice (which I’m amused to admit scared me a little back then) and an odd sort of speech cadence that forced you to pay attention (those of us who weren’t being lulled to sleep, that is…and yes, I paid attention).
In any case, he was very philosophical, and always very much into “mindfulness” and being “mindful” while working. The fact that “mindfulness” is a buzz word again and I’m hearing it often all over the place reminded me of him. It was a freshman level course with fairly simple assignments, or so I thought. I’ve never been much of an artist in terms of sketching/drawing, but I was proud of one assignment I turned in – I can’t remember what the fancy name for the technique is, but basically it was a copy-trace of a picture we liked onto a canvas in pen or pencil. I got the lines fairly straight, copied the detail, and I really liked how it turned out.
I can’t remember what grade I got for it, or even for the class, to be honest (I passed), but I remember watching his face as he looked at my piece, and the fact that while he didn’t say much, I could tell he found it wanting. And in that gentle way of his, he reminded me that I needed to be “mindful”…and then he walked off without saying anything else.
I truly had no idea what he meant back then. I thought he was referring to focus, and I was confused because I’d been focused while working on the assignment, in the sense that I was concentrating on getting it right.
That wasn’t what he meant, of course. And that’s probably why he found my piece lacking too. He’d wanted us to get lost in the work, basically. To focus beyond the superficial task, and focus on the feel of the pen on paper, how the subject made us feel as we brought it to life. You can tell when that happens in a piece of art, I think. When the artist is truly engaged with his subject, it shows in the execution.
Basically, he wanted me to get into the “zone” that I reach when I’m writing – that place where the story takes on a life of it’s own, and I feel everything the characters are feeling, see what they see, know what they know. That place that can alter my own moods just by what the characters are doing or seeing at the time. It’s…well, weird. And pretty amazing too.
I thought of that again while I was baking this weekend. I enjoy baking – I always have. And I had several things I wanted to make, so I knew I had to be very organized and I read each recipe first and decided on an order and made sure I had all my ingredients and a clean kitchen to start in. The logical, non-artsy part of my brain was fully engaged, in other words.
Then I started mixing up batters. I paid attention to taste and appearance, of course, but the more I worked, the more I started…not so much “paying attention” as just really engaging with the different types of dough, and marveling at things like how the peanut butter cookie dough felt different, more satiny in my hands than the silky, bread-like softness of the Snickerdoodle dough. Mindfulness at it’s tastiest, you could say.
I don’t think being mindful is something anyone can tell or teach you how to do. It’s more something you have to feel your way into, and for a lot of us, that’s the scary part. Being open to it means being vulnerable and dealing with whatever emotions or realizations happen to come out, in a non-judgmental way (preferably).
Now my mind is falling asleep (it’s nearly 1:30am and it’s been a very busy day), so I’m going to schedule this and go let my brain rest for a few hours. If you feel like chatting, leave me a comment and tell me what being mindful means to you (yes, even if it’s something different – just keep it civil/polite, please).