Coach Teak and I have a minor misunderstanding about self-care. I think he means I need to take better care of myself; what he’s actually suggesting is that I could take even better care.
His suggestion is that I spend half-an-hour each day drawing. That word: my heart clenches. I’m back in the school art room. In front of me is a P is for Pear painting. All my own work; the pinnacle of my artistic achievement; I’m so proud. The pear is pear-shaped, pear-coloured, looks good enough to eat. The P is straight and symmetrical.
I catch sight of the art teacher – a long, thin angular woman – looking down her long, thin angular nose: at me and my painting. I look up expectantly.
Well, dear, I can see that you’ve tried very hard…
The rest of the sentence….but you haven’t achieved very much
remains unsaid, but I hear it loud and clear. I’m crushed.
Annoyed that this 45-year-old memory still has the power to reduce me to artistic hopelessness, I see it in my mind’s eye again, turn the volume right down, drain all the colour out of it, reduce it in size and push it so far away that it becomes a barely discernible speck on the horizon. That’s better.
No sooner have I done than my conscious mind chips in with:
You’re going to get awfully bored with 30 minutes of drawing each day.
I’ve promised Teak though and I’m really good at following instructions, so off I go. Next morning, I assemble a pathetic array of coloured pens and pencils, some paper and the understanding that all I have to do is be mindful. It doesn’t matter what or even if I produce anything.
To my surprise, I find drawing and colouring a completely absorbing activity. The 30 minutes vanish. I’m so into it that I go to the pound shop to buy some proper crayons, felt tips and paints. I want to experiment with different effects, textures, finishes.
By the end of day two, I realize that I’m looking at the things in my drawing room (yes, I know it’s a shortened form of withdrawing room; and yes, the serendipity makes me laugh) in an entirely novel way. There are all sorts of interesting patterns, angles and contrasts that I’ve completely failed to notice.
By the middle of the week, I’m waking up and looking forward to my drawing time, hurrying through dressing and breakfasting if necessary. It’s not that my drawing’s improved; it hasn’t. In fact, these days, I may not even be able to scale the heady heights of P is for Pear. I think what makes the sessions so compelling is that they represent a time each day that I’ve reserved exclusively for myself. This is a rare treat.
On opening a copy of ES Magazine, I discover that I’m in good company. Goldie Hawn has just written a book called 10 Mindful Minutes. Is it possible that I’m on message for once in my life?
The best thing about my drawing habit is that, in ways I don’t even begin to understand, it appears to be stimulating both my creativity and the communication between my conscious and unconscious mind.
As some of you know, I’m currently writing a book about redundancy. It’s been going well, but there was something not quite right. At the behest of my unconscious mind, I took three days off. It wasn’t easy; overcoming the Protestant work ethic never is for me; I felt as though I was playing hooky.
I went with it. When I took up my pen again, it was as though my brain had spent the intervening days in a battery charger. Not only did the words flow, they flowed in different streams simultaneously.
Oh, I don’t have to finish chapter 6 before I move onto chapter 7? I can be in the middle of three chapters at once?
I also saw what had been bugging me: a whole chapter was missing. I wrote it at one sitting.
I look up mindfulness on the internet and come across this:
Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
Those are the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, teacher of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.
Perhaps mindfulness works because it’s about being rather than doing. Let’s not overlook the fact that we’re human beings, not human doings.
Am I still drawing every morning? Of course. You’ll have to excuse me now. I’ve just discovered that Painting by Numbers kits still exist. There’s an opportunity to re-connect with a childhood pleasure that I simply can’t resist.