An important concept in mindfulness is decentralization- the basic idea that we are not our thoughts. It is commonplace for human beings to over identify with thought content and make the easy jump from thought content to self identity, but this extrapolation is not well founded. Just by virtue of being capable of thought, we must be greater than and separate from it.
Consider the image of a game of chess with two main components- the board and the pieces. In this comparison we will use the board to represent you and the pieces to represent your thoughts. In a normal game of chess the pieces move about on the board, independent of the board, the board not invested in or concerned with the action of the pieces. It is merely the place where they are moving and the game is taking place. In a similar way, we are the containers where our thoughts occur but are no more our thoughts than this. Understanding and internalizing this principle is an important step to allowing yourself the space to pay attention to self and individual needs versus thoughts and thought content- you must start with a fundamental understanding that they are not the same.
Many of the concepts in mindfulness practices are about getting away from or not over attending to thoughts, and the ability of the mind to know things in many different ways without needing thoughts to give them voice- how that can even be a disservice to you. In fact, one way to learn, internalize and understand something without using thoughts is through art. When we use music, images, movement or other creative art forms, we are able to express and internalize concepts in a different way than through language. Writers are in more of a bind here since language is their main tool- so while its not impossible to use writing apart from thoughts you may try experimenting with a different creative modality as you begin practicing with mindfulness. In fact- it may even be beneficial for all creative artists to try a creative modality not in their wheelhouse to explore concepts while taking some of the product-focused pressure and accompanying thoughts out of the way in the beginning.
In the spirit of mindfulness, creativity and the concept of decentralization, I suggest to you a 2D art activity. As always, take this exercise and make it yours- make it abstract, use a different media and so on. The prompt:
Start with a self portrait. Some sort of representation of yourself. Consider as you work- what might this version of you be feeling? Physically experiencing? Thinking? How do you as an artist feel about the portrayal of yourself in your work? What are your physical, emotional and thought experiences as you work?
Once you are satisfied with your self portrait and feel you have taken a moment to be present with it (in your “nowscape” not your “thoughtscape”- if these mindfulness concepts are new to you sit tight- more mindfulness blog posts are on their way), add a second “self” to the portrait that is “observing” the first “self.” What does this second “self” think of the original portrait? How is their perspective on the original portrait different or similar? How does this second self feel, emotionally and physically, to be in the painting with the first self? What are their thoughts?
When your piece is done, sit back and consider your work. Feel your feelings and sensations identifying yourself as each person in the portrait. What insights can you glean? What if you label the original “self” as “thinking self” and the second portrait as “whole self”? How does this change your feeling about the piece? You don’t have to name or articulate your thoughts. Focus on your own emotions and sensations as you consider these concepts and try to stay present with them.
As always, be sure to book-end your exercise in some way, with some sort of ritual to signify to emotional and thinking self that the activity is over and you are closing doors that you opened to return to level of functioning you were at before you began. The goal is to grow in understanding, not leave yourself open and raw in an unhealthy way.
If you find you spend a lot of time in your thoughts, if you have ever noticed or been told you “intellectualize” or “avoid” as a coping skill, mindfulness might be for you. It is for a lot creative people. Come sit on my couch and let’s talk about how these tools can work for you!
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is a Creativity Coach, Creativity Counselor and Professional Artist in Sykesville, Maryland. She provides Online Creativity Counseling in Maryland and Virginia, and Online Creativity Coaching throughout the USA, Canada and the UK.
The information provided in this blog is from my own clinical experiences and training. It is intended to supplement your clinical care. Never make major life changes before consulting with your treatment team. If you are unsure of your safety or wellbeing, do not hesitate to get help immediately.