How do you handle stress? Most of us face stress and anxiety daily, especially when negative thoughts run riot. People associate mindfulness with meditation, a practice that centres one’s thoughts, but to be mindful every moment of every day is an art that can’t be achieved just by meditation. For artists, focus and single-mindedness is key to creative thinking. Each of them has their own way to safeguard their creativity, remain mindful and keep working, and very often they weave this mindfulness into their art practice. For artists, writers and other creative minds, the creative process is a means to counter and combat stress and anxiety, but how do they channel it into art?
For Bengaluru-based artist, Aishwaryan K, it is his art practice that keeps his thoughts centred. For his solo show last year, Archive of Memory, the artist created a 10-metre-long installation, stringing together the names of all the people who had made an impact in his life. The work took almost four months to complete. While stringing the names, Aishwaryan would think deeply about the positive impact every single person had on his life.
“I was going through a tough time professionally back then, so this work helped centre my thoughts with positivity,” he says. “I mainly worked nights because I hold a day job. The immense stress I felt during that period was mitigated when I strung together the names of the people I was thankful to have in my life, however briefly.”
The repetitiveness of the work, he says, made him calmly reflect on the feelings he’d had when he had met the people, from trauma and insecurity to love and gratitude. As I relived the past, I was mindful of my journey, its continuity, and how one’s perspective changes with the distance of time,” he says. “If I could go back, I would tell my younger self, who felt the shame and pressure of flunking Class 10 exams that everything will be fine and ‘You can make it!’”
His suggestion for fostering the art of mindfulness is all about action. “Find ways to inculcate positivity in your life through creative activities or interactions with people who fill you with positivity,” he says.
An activity that poet Mani Rao vouches for is creative writing. Rao has penned the lyrical-verse translations from Sanskrit to English of Soundarya Lahari (2022) and Bhagavad Gita (2023), apart from other books of poetry. She describes the art of mindfulness with the “two birds on-a-tree story” from the Upanishads—while one eats the fruit, the other merely watches. Apply this analogy to real life, Rao says, explaining that there are two facets to every person. One is a participant in the world, and the other is an observer. “This means you could be in the thick of an experience, and there would be another part of you observing the experience,” Rao explains. “When you are that mindful, you can tap into the experience, take it on board your imagination and write a poem or a scene.”
Creative writing, according to Rao, especially lyrical poetry, draws upon experience. “Good poetry is not just a venting of emotions; it is also about using those emotions in a mindful manner. The best poetry comes from being attentive, or mindful,” Rao says.
Rao’s suggestion to inculcate mindfulness is to observe each moment while experiencing it, and journalling or writing about the ones that matter. “The objectivity (of writing helps) process the subjective experience or you could say the subjective experience is transmuted into objective art,” Rao says.
Artist Ganapati Hegde is well-known for his flora and fauna paintings rendered in a visually-pleasing distinctive style. He describes his process as a spontaneous one. “I start drawing and sub-consciously the work gets completed, the flora and fauna almost demanding their presence on the canvas,” he explains. When he is drawing or painting, Hegde says he is fully absorbed in the task—“obsessed, if you wish”—and is constantly in a dialogue with whatever he is drawing or painting.
The Artist's Eye
“My mind’s eye visualises the way the forms should be drawn and the colours to use. I may not have seen a hummingbird drinking nectar from a flower but I will draw it spontaneously. It could be an insightful observation from my mind’s eye,” says Hegde.
His art practice, he shares, enables him to come to terms with matters outside his control. “My friend had met with an accident and I visited him in the hospital,” he recalls. “When I got back and was doing my work, I realised that nature, which I draw so intensely in all my works, held all the answers. The laws of nature can be unforgiving yet nature has the capacity to infuse us with positivity.”
According to Hegde, being mindful is about knowing and accepting what can’t be changed and finding joy in immersing oneself in one’s work. “When I am working, I listen to Hindustani classical music and get drawn into my painting. I resolve my emotions on a different level when I work. This probably happens because I observe nature closely,” he says
In the book, The Art of Mindfulness, the late Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh explains that focus can be life changing. By devoting all our attention to what we are doing in the moment, we can alleviate suffering, fear and anxiety, he says. By looking within deeply and with mindfulness, we can find the insights to transform any situation. The important lesson, he advises, is to let go of preoccupations and multi-tasking and focus solely on the task at hand. The answer is simple yet the art of mindfulness is a complex lesson to learn.
Pay close attention to what’s happening in the moment, noticing what’s happening in your mind and body.
Be aware of what’s happening around you. For instance, look up from your phone and see the flowers blooming on your way to work.
Understand that your feelings are not good or bad. They are just feelings minus labels. And remember, they will pass.
Focus on single tasks instead of trying to juggle multiple tasks at the same time.
Instead of reacting emotionally, respond to the situation from a distance. Walk away and tackle it later.
Practice meditation. Be intent on your breath. If the mind wanders, return to your breath.
Jayanthi Madhukar is a Bengaluru-based writer.