Stillness is an experience that can be elusive for many of us in our busy, doing, rushing world. Mindful practice combined with an appreciation of art can bring stillness to our life. When our mind slows and becomes present our life becomes still. Last week we launched an audio tour in partnership with the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
The museum approached me to create a tour for the gallery, which allows visitors to be more mindful, slow down, and take time to appreciate the works of art on display. I toured the museum with a group of curators, we discussed the tone of the tour and which works of art to include. We concluded with seven, creating a mindful experience that would last approximately thirty minutes.
I am familiar with guiding meditators through a series of mindful practices with their eyes closed either sitting in a live class or online via a mobile or laptop. The mindful art tour is offering something a little different, and as we worked together to create the audio, more and more possibilities, ideas, and inspirations arose. I find museums calming and relaxing environments; the ambience lends itself perfectly to be in the present moment.
The mindful tour that we created uses specific works of art as inspirations to bring the viewer into the present moment. The growth of stress and anxiety in our lives arises from a pre-occupation with the future and past — a tendency to multi-task with a feeling that we need to engage in activities quickly. The tour is looking to address these issues and gently guide the visitor into a relaxing space. The works of art in the gallery acts as a visual stimulus for the cultivation of a mindful practice.
Through engaging with mindful practices with our eyes open, we can appreciate we do not need to depend upon a sitting practice to gain experience. We can establish a dynamic practice which we can enjoy at various times during our daily life.
When I met the visitors after they had completed the tour, one of them said to me the highlight of the visit was the still life by Giorgio Morandi. She was surprised that this was the case, as when she initially looked at the painting, no special feeling arose in her mind. As she was gradually drawn into the still life, the simplicity and calm affected her, and she was able to slow down and feel calm. In front of the Morandi painting, there is a seat, and the listener has the opportunity to quietly reflect on the simplicity in their everyday – the stillness we can find if we engage deeper with the ordinary. If we can learn to look carefully and attentively at our life, we can enjoy slowing down, unwinding, and observing a shedding of stress.
It can seem that we need to take on more information if we are to improve the quality of our life, mindful practice helps us to let go of this view and take notice of the world around us. An artist will spend many hours painting a picture, seeing the scene in thousands of different ways compared to somebody who is rushing by.
Combining mindful awareness with viewing art helps us to take our time, naturally absorbing the world around us, and even starting to see through the eyes of the artist whose work we are admiring. When we go into our life after engaging with this process our senses are heightened, our awareness awakened, our heart softened, and a relaxed appreciation that there is more to our life than increasing its speed.