What are the big take-aways?
In 2009, to fulfill the requirement of undertaking a new mind-body practice when I was a student in Georgetown University’s Leadership Coaching Program, I invented a “fingerpaint meditation” technique. The practice helped me to enhance my capacities for attention, mindfulness and resilience as a leadership coach. I have no doubt that any leader who is open to it would reap the same benefits as I did: increased concentration, self-awareness and creativity from this form of art meditation.
There is an important distinction to be made between art meditation and art therapy. In my view, the purposes of art therapy are to surface issues from the past and to work on healing or resolving them. By contrast, the purposes of art meditation are to promote present-moment awareness and to render internal vision (including leadership vision) into external imagery.
Why do I like it?
I designed fingerpaint meditation to touch on the three leadership domains that were emphasized in my coach training at Georgetown: body (by painting while standing, in addition to using hands and eyes to paint), language (by titling the painting), and emotion (by holding conscious awareness of the feelings that emerge while painting). I like that titling each painting acknowledges the narrative aspect of the creative process, as well as the self-authoring aspect of leadership.
Why did I like it?
I have used fingerpaint meditation in two primary ways. Initially, I used it to sharpen my skills, deepen my “presence,” and draw more clarity and meaning out of my transition to becoming a leadership coach. During that time, I also shared the practice with a few adventuresome coaching clients and friends. Since then, I have given fingerpaint meditation workshops to leadership coaches (some of whom have gone on to incorporate it into their work with clients and groups, as well). The most consistent feedback I get is that it is harder than it sounds to continually fingerpaint for even just five minutes, and that the process is very “freeing” and revealing. My friend and coaching colleague Elle Wasyl recently borrowed this activity for a training she did with yoga instructors. As Elle wrote in her materials, “What happened to our creative spirits? When did we begin to resist ‘messy,’ favoring tidy approaches, thoughts and beliefs? Life is messy! I invite you to explore messy to reveal your inner beliefs, experiences, stories and creative solutions.”
If you’d like to try fingerpaint meditation on your own, here are the steps I use. I buy my fingerpaint and fingerpaint paper at any craft store or online. I paint standing up at a table, having secured a protective layer such as newspaper to the table, and also having secured the fingerpaint paper to the newspaper. I recommend working the paint with both hands, using as much or as little paint – or as many or few colors – as you choose, for a minimum of 5 full minutes on each meditation, making two or more paintings in one session. Notice the mental, emotional and physical sensations of painting. (What do you find yourself “present” to as you paint? What surprises you about the act of painting, or about the painting itself?) Title each painting when you are completely finished with it, and consider taking a photograph of the meditation while it is still fresh, as colors sometimes fade, cake, or flake off. I find that writing about the meditation – within a few hours of painting – is ideal for extracting the most from the experience.
What other resources might “pair” well with it?
If you’re new to all of this stuff and you just want to understand more about mindfulness and meditation in general – and maybe try out a practice – I highly recommend the classic guide to beginning meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are (Hyperion, 1994). If you’re curious the neurobiology of meditation as well as its practice, I really like Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom by Rick Hanson (previously reviewed in the Leadership Library).
For a relatively recent and comprehensive summary of how mindfulness and meditation are being used in private companies, government agencies, the education and health care sectors, etc., I recommend A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit by Congressman Tim Ryan (also previously reviewed in the Leadership Library).