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Can You Draw Your Way to Zen?
Always wanted the Zen, but without the meditation? Maybe drawing is your path to mindfulness.
Everyone wants some peace of mind. In these chaotic times, carving out some Zen for yourself seems not just a luxury, but also a vital necessity. Alas, the idea of meditation for most people — sitting still, focusing on breathing, shutting out the world — seems too difficult, too eccentric, too boring, or too all of the above. Wendy Ann Greenhalgh’s Mindfulness & the Art of Drawing: A Creative Path to Awareness offers picking up a pencil and drawing as an alternative that everyone can do. If doodling through a meeting’s ever brought you a fleeting moment of Zen, then mindfulness drawing might bring you closer to not just an understanding of yourself, but also an understanding of the power of art.
“Everyone can draw,” Greenhalgh (shown above) writes in her introduction. “Far from being a rare gift, only possessed by the ‘artists’ among us, drawing can be as natural and instinctive to us as breathing — if we let it.” Greenhalgh’s mindfulness drawing program, if followed faithfully, “has the power to effortlessly lead us into a deeper relationship with ourselves and the world around us.” Drawing in this way eliminates the distance and disconnect we can feel with the world and ourselves. Drawing compels us to see deeply, which leads us to (perhaps for the first time) build a real relationship with parts of ourselves and parts of our world we’ve been too busy (or fearful) to look deeply and directly at.
If that sounds too New Age-y for you, do not fear. Greenhalgh’s writing style is as simple, clear, and honestly direct as the simple line drawings (such as the cover image at the top of this post) that accompany the text. One drawback of previous books on the subject, such as Frederick Franck’s Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing as Meditation, was the artist’s own work, which hoped to inspire, but had the unintentional effect of discouraging the reader by setting an impossible standard for the amateur. Greenhalgh, herself a professional artist, resists the urge to show off and leaves the image-making all up to you. Also, if you’ve never done anything more than doodle or consider buying a yoga mat to meditate on, Greenhalgh provides step-by-step instructions to get you simultaneously drawing and focusing on mindfulness.
“All children are artists,” Greenhalgh quotes Pablo Picasso (shown above) saying. “The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Most people pick up a crayon, pencil, etc., as a child and start drawing naturally, making marks just for the pleasure of it. When we grow up and develop our “inner critic,” however, most of us literally talk ourselves out of being creative. Greenhalgh coaches you to reclaim that innocent, child-like “beginner’s mind” to combat the critical mind that cripples creativity and self-esteem.
Keeping the jargon to a minimum, Greenhalgh calls this liberating transition a move from “thinking-mind” to “being-mind.” Once we agree with her that “thoughts are simply habits” and that we can draw our way to new, more positive habits of mind and being, we can tap into our “inner Picasso” not to make million-dollar masterpieces, but rather to make connections with our creative selves. As Greenhalgh puns, we are “drawn into” drawing by the time-defying effects of flow, the feeling of being “in the zone” where the most joyful moments of life await us.
Part of connecting with your self is connecting with the world around you. Once Greenhalgh gets you drawing again, she guides you through the different genres of drawing, making distinctions with how each genre adds a new dimension to your mindfulness. Drawing a still life, for example, “we draw closer” (that pun, again) “and come into relationship with the thing we are drawing. The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s recent exhibition Audubon to Warhol: The Art of American Still Life [which I wrote about here] emphasized this idea of still life as dialogue between the animate and inanimate.
Just as Matthew B. Crawford proposes the spiritual benefits of reclaiming a hands-on relationship with the physical world in Shop Class as Soulcraft, Greenhalgh proposes walking, seeing, and drawing as the sketchbook for the searching soul. Drawing landscapes (such as Van Gogh’s shown above) literally helps us make sense of the world. “You discover how confounding the world is when you try to draw it,” Greenhalgh quotes artist Shaun Tan. “You don’t have to travel to encounter weirdness. You wake up to it.” When the world gets too weird, mindfulness drawing compels us to slow down, reorient ourselves, and literally “see the big picture” without drowning in the details. Rather than drown in detail, we appreciate the details anew. Perhaps Van Gogh’s compulsive drive to draw thousands and thousands of drawings in his distinctive style reflects this ability of mindfulness drawing to give solace to even the most troubled psyche.
Like landscape, the human innerscape offers possibilities for mindfulness drawing. Portraits of self and others, Greenhalgh believes, “offer the opportunity to develop our capacity for loving-kindness.” Drawing thus draws upon the natural empathy within us, both for others and ourselves. “I would wish my portraits to be of the people,” she quotes Lucian Freud saying, “not like them.” Certainly Freud (grandson of Sigmund Freud) drew a more psychologically than photographically accurate portrait of his father (shown above) to be “of” him more than “like” him. Perhaps most importantly, Greenhalgh argues, “When we draw portraits of others mindfully, barriers between the self and the other are broken down.” The image of the whole world sitting down and sketching their way to world peace sounds a little crazy, but it might be just crazy enough to work.
In the same spirit of openness and discovery, Wendy Ann Greenhalgh’s Mindfulness & the Art of Drawing: A Creative Path to Awareness might not just be the key to appreciating world and self, but also art itself. If you look at a work such as Egon Schiele’s 1910 Self-Portrait (shown above) and find it impenetrable, then mindfulness drawing might help you scratch the surface by putting yourself in the shoes of a creative artist. Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum recently began a #Startdrawing program that asks visitors to sketch rather than photograph the art in this spirit of mindfulness drawing. True art appreciation takes time and effort. Greenhalgh’s mindfulness drawing turns all of life into an art museum for us to see and appreciate through time and effort. If you’re looking for peace of mind, it might just be a doodle — albeit a focused, mindful doodle — away.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Credit: NAOJ<p><em>Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.</em></p>
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.