Guest Post: Practicing mindfulness

With foreword by Helmsley Walled Garden:
Our resident artist Clare, can be spotted most days, situated amongst the plant life. Studying the way the light hits certain petals, and the depth of colour found in the garden, Clare’s work shows us that there is beauty to be found in all seasons. She has been painting in our garden since around 2016, and her cards are available to buy in the Garden Shop. Clare will also exhibit her latest body of work here at Helmsley Walled Garden, which opens on the 27th July for one week.
Over time, Clare has seen a correlation develop between her practice of drawing and painting, and a practice in mindfulness. In today’s blog post, she writes about both of her practices, providing practical tips that any one of us can use to help centre ourselves in the present moment. Over to Clare.

After spending many years in an intentional community, I found myself with the opportunity to enjoy days painting in Helmsley Walled Garden. As I spent more time in the garden, I gradually found myself welcomed into the Garden’s community which felt profoundly warming, uplifting and comforting. I have been following the teachings of the Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, the father of western mindfulness, since 2000. I have a daily formal sitting meditation practice, and my practice of painting at the Garden is a wonderful compliment to this.

Here, I share a little of the teachings I follow in my practice of mindfulness meditation:

  • Firstly, I bring my awareness to my body, aware of the touch points, where my body is touches the ground and my chair. I bring my awareness to where I am, in the beautiful garden. Aware that I have arrived exactly where I have chosen to be, and where I need to be.
  • I try as best I can not to engage with my worries, my planning for the future, or revisiting the past while I am painting. I leave my daily concerns behind so I can be fully present with the beauty of what is in front of and around me.
  • I become aware of my breathing, following my breath in and out, aware of the in-breath and out-breath as it comes into my body and out again. Being aware of the in and the out of the breath, helps to keep my focus. Our breath is like an anchor throughout our day – it is always there for me and helps me to connect to the present moment. When I am breathing in, I know I am breathing in. When I am breathing out, I know that I am breathing out. It helps me to feel calm and at ease.
  • Gradually this practice of not-doing, of stopping, lets worries and daily concerns settle within my mind and body. Helping me to reconnect to myself in the here and now, and not getting lost in my projects, plans, worries, regrets and anxieties.

    By being quiet and patient, the agitation of thoughts gradually reduces and my mind settles, increasing the likelihood of producing a good painting. So, the awareness of my body, and then, the awareness of the ebb and flow of my breath, helps me to be completely aware of the captivating beauty of the subject I am painting. The control of my brushstrokes, my use of the paint, the flow of the watercolour, the layering of the many colours and tones relate to my breath.

    “There are more than enough ingredients for happiness in the present moment.” Thich Nhat Hanh

    When we practice mindfulness, we begin to get in touch with the many opportunities for happiness that already exist in this present moment.

    Another teaching of Thich Nhat Hanh is about the impermanence of nature. Painting puts me in touch with this on a regular basis. As a painter, it is very helpful to reflect on impermanence. One of my favourite subjects to draw and paint are buds – the unfurling leaves, the shoots, and the blossom are a particular delight. I study blossom daily, for its white, and its ability to reflect the sky, leaves, stamens and the earth around its margins, the petals both pristine and crumpled. I note how the buds open to full bloom, and become fragile stamens in the wind and rain. I watch the buds as they open and the petals as they fall.

    An interest for me is how cherry blossoms is one of the symbols of Japanese culture, it represents a specific attitude toward impermanence, life and death, the special pleasure of impermanence. That impermanence is a necessary element in beauty. Japanese traditions are filled with a sense of acceptance, and even celebration of impermanence; with a fondness for the brevity of life symbolised by cherry blossoms, and the beauty in death symbolised by the fading away of the red autumn leaves.

    “Just as when the plum blossom falls it does not mean the end of the plum tree.” Thich Nhat Hanh

    When I have the opportunity I also practice mindful walking. That is, when I am not running inside with my paints and papers to escape the rain! I walk mindfully down a path in the Walled Garden, bringing my attention to the sensation of my footsteps on the firm earth, aiming to synchronise my steps with my breath.

    Another component of my mindfulness practice is being part of a community. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to be part of the community at Helmsley Walled Garden. Practicing mindfulness and this sense of community are key aspects to my well being.

    I also attend a weekly meditation group (sangha) and I facilitate the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh in online courses. You can find details about mindfulness courses:
    Be Calm: Be Happy
    Looking Deeply

    Clare will also be running a series of painting and drawing workshops at Helmsley Walled Garden in the summer months. Keep an eye on our website and social media to find out more and how to book.

    You can see some of Clare’s work and visit her online shop, via her website.

    Filed under: Blog

    Tags: ,