Updated: Sep 1
If you want to plunge yourself into an immersive experience of creativity and mindful awareness, then an Art and Mindfulness retreat is exactly what you need.
Not only do you get to relax in a beautiful location, but you also get the opportunity to develop your artistic abilities or learn a new creative skill.
Combine that with a mindfulness practice and you’ll find yourself much more deeply engaged with your art and much more in a state of flow and certainly more creative. Art can be an amazing bridge between your inner and outer worlds.
Art is for everyone. It’s not just for artists. There is a creative spark in each one of us and we can all benefit from picking up a paintbrush or a pencil and letting our imaginations run riot across a canvas or paper.
Although there are many psychological benefits to art, art isn’t a therapy. Just as there are many psychological benefits to mindfulness meditation, it also is not a therapy. There is significantly more to be gained from both practices at their higher levels, but let’s take a look at how a combined art and mindfulness practice might benefit you from a therapeutic standpoint.
The practice of art forces the mind to slow down and to focus on the details, blocking out the mind’s distractions which can result in profound feelings of calm and a reduction in stress and anxiety; in much the same way that committing to a mindfulness practice does.
A key element within the practice of mindfulness is called samatha. Samatha is the process of becoming deeply absorbed in whatever is the focus of your attention. That could be a mantra, a candle flame, a dot on the wall, your breath, or a piece of art. The function of a samatha practice is to train your mind to become deeply focused on one thing to the exclusion of everything else. A state of bliss can naturally arise from a samatha practice. Cortisol levels decrease and endorphins increase. That’s the chemicals that make us feel bad (cortisol – the stress hormone) and good (endorphins – the pain-relieving, stress-reducing hormone).
The same thing happens when we engage in art. Engaging in art also increases the blood flow to the brain’s prefrontal cortex which controls our emotions and motivations. It’s also where the brain’s reward system lies. Dopamine (the ‘cuddle hormone’) is released, improving our stress response as well as improving blood flow, heart rate, and lung function.
The difference between a mindfulness-based samatha experience and an art-based single-pointed focused attention is that in mindfulness, the act of being deeply focused is deliberate and conscious. Most of the time artists use this level of focus simply because they have no choice in the execution of their art; it’s an unconscious response to the requirements of their work. It’s not focus for focusing’s sake, as it is in mindfulness. This means that there is a quantum leap in the different outcomes from the two practices at their deepest levels, although on the surface they result in the same or similar outcomes.
The spiritual dimensions of a committed mindfulness practice or a committed art practice are also there to be realized, and these dimensions within both disciplines go well beyond the more commonly referenced therapeutic benefits of the disciplines.
Apart from the psychological benefits of engaging in art and mindfulness, why else would you want to go on an art and mindfulness retreat?
A primary teaching in both mindfulness and art, as it should be in life, is that there is no ‘right or wrong’ outcome or ‘right or wrong’ way of doing things. When we’re confronted with a blank piece of paper or canvas and when we apply a mindful approach to the task ahead, it’s much easier to find ourselves in a state of acceptance and flow with the work as it unfolds. Not being constrained by our limited understanding of ‘the right way to do things’, this mindfully creative process, leads us to learn new and resourceful ways of solving problems in our art and in life. Consciously using art as a mindfulness technique helps us to embrace our inner critic.
When we tap into our creativity, bringing a deep focus onto the sensations in the body and being present in the moment without judgement, gives us a much-needed break from the busyness of our minds. It also frees up our creative-thinking process, resulting in a much more dynamic and free-flowing engagement with whatever we're working on at that moment. We become less self-critical and more accepting of the journey of discovery and the mistakes, failures, and pitfalls that we might encounter. When judgement is removed, whatever is, is seen as an opportunity to grow and learn.
Having these qualities of resourcefulness and creative problem-solving flowing naturally into our daily lives when we’re away from the cushion or the easel is a profound benefit.
In all my years of being engaged in artistic and meditative practices, I would say that it’s one of the primary benefits.
Art and mindfulness retreats are unique forms of personal development and growth that combine the development of artistic potential, and the investigation of the inner dimensions of the self with the exploration of new surroundings and experiences.
Being in a new environment is enough to foster creativity. The change of pace from your normal routine, and exposure to new stimuli will help to break down creative blocks and provide opportunities for fresh and innovative perspectives.
Those surroundings and experiences are wonderful raw materials to work with on any art and mindfulness retreat, providing a fresh palette of new ideas and opportunities, and encouraging you to take risks that spark new insights into the nature of yourself and your artistic output. You will also find yourself in a space that allows you to escape from your daily routine and focus fully on your creative passions and psychological or spiritual development.
An art and mindfulness retreat might include a variety of activities, from sitting and engaging with a mindfulness practice, to mindful walking with the intention of focusing on the surrounding environment with a creative eye, focused drawing, and painting activities to develop your artistic skills and ways of seeing, workshops, discussions, outdoor excursions and individual projects. All these activities are designed to help participants develop their creative skills within the framework of a developing mindful awareness. The whole experience will be designed to allow participants to immerse themselves in a new environment and develop new ways of seeing, both inward and outward.
Of course, you’ll make many new connections and forge new friendships! Connecting with others, exchanging ideas, and forming new relationships, both creative (inspirational and collaborative) and through mindfulness, serves to enhance the experience for everyone. Exchanging ideas and experiences both on the cushion and at the drawing pad are the lifeblood of new perspectives, and help to build a greater understanding of the processes and provide a great deal of motivation to push creative boundaries, explore new avenues, and get out of the comfort zone. This can have a profound impact on personal growth and development.
Taking time out of the normal humdrum of life for your own personal growth and development is critical for your well-being. You’ll return refreshed, reinvigorated, and with a new sense of purpose.
If you feel that you’re stuck in a rut, your creativity is blocked or that it’s not happening at all, then an art and mindfulness retreat could be the perfect answer. In a supportive community of like-minded people, with a focus on self-expression and personal growth, attending an art and mindfulness retreat could be not only deeply therapeutic but a life-changing experience.