Modern Meditation outside: Drawing what you see… not what you think you see
3 May 2019 | beando_admin
“People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills. There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.” Marcus Aurelius
We know there is a great deal of research into something we all intuitively know: that being outside, in nature, in wider landscapes inspires and engages. We seem to be wired for a deeper connection with the natural world which in turn links to improved wellbeing, optimism and increased energy.
There is a lot to be said about getting away and finding some perspective. It might be why so many yoga and meditation retreats hit the wilderness or the coast. But just as Marcus Aurelius pointed out, it’s not so much location, it’s also mindset… but can the same be said for the urban realm – our towns and cities?
As an architect and a meditation teacher, I would say YES!
The world has officially turned urban
According to the UN, 2014 saw the tipping point where 54 percent of the global population moved into urban areas. That proportion is expected to increase to 66 percent by 2050. That of course brings all sorts of challenges to our wellbeing, but also perhaps more opportunity.
At beanddo, we say you can meditate anywhere, doing anything. That’s exactly what we teach – how to extend and expand meditation practice into the very fabric of our surroundings and actions. So even our most uneventful man-made places can be discovered to be spaces full of wonder, magic and deep connection if we first learn to look and then look in the right way.
Modern meditation is simply a change of perspective, a shift of your vantage point which nurtures a different sort of cognition. It provides an inner space of opportunity for reflection and perspective, regardless of where you are. To really get behind your senses, your actions and intentions, so that you can ‘observe yourself into life’ and begin to engage with things differently. This aspect is of meditation practice is described in the first three parts of our modern meditation map, Noticing, Looking and Seeing featured in our recently-released book, ‘Making Happy Work: A beginner’s guide to navigating the modern world with meditation’.
Learning how to look and see
We underestimate the two human skills of looking and seeing, but they are central to our modern meditation technique – either with eyes open or closed. Meditation with eyes open is when you apply your learnt techniques to observe what you’re doing and where you are. That’s when meditation really takes off.
Urban walking is a great pleasure of mine. When you apply our modern meditation technique as you move through streets and squares, the places you are in flow around you in high definition. Everything seems immediate, bright and visceral but at the same time, transient and fluid.
Sometimes the distinction of separateness between you and the place you are in collapses into a singular experience. That’s when you begin to see things as they really are. There’s a drama in the most everyday thing and when I can, I like to try and catch that moment through drawing.
It’s often said you can always tell an architect walking in the street because their eyes are lifted upwards. It’s a cliché but I’m afraid it’s true. If there’s one thing architects are taught to do, it is to look and then see, skillfully and curiously.
When not teaching or writing about modern meditation, I draw modern meditation. I love to observe and draw the upper building levels of Manchester, the city beanddo in which is based. Here are some examples:
Look first, then see
When you are open and really use your senses meditatively there is so much to discover, know and capture. There are so many stories around you. The tops of buildings, their colours and materials, the way light and shadow throw things into sharp relief. Looking and seeing in this way is, for me, a meditation.
You don’t need to draw it. Do you own thing and let your creativity flow. Just make sure you look, see and acknowledge openly your immediate experience. You will be amazed what you see on the outside and discover what you feel on the inside.
When I’m not teaching meditation, I have the privilege of teaching drawing and creative thinking at the Manchester School of Art. For me, drawing has always been a meditation technique. The links between flow, creativity, happiness and performance is known but little understood by those people who don’t know how to apply it. That’s mostly my job; to help people apply this shift with awareness.
Our design students have just returned from a short study trip to Barcelona and Liverpool. Each student has to return with a ‘travel sketchbook’, which was a key assignment. I had the happy task, along with the well-known urban sketcher Simone Ridyard, to select and present prizes to the most accomplished.
Above: Simone and Mick at Manchester School of Art
Simone knows a thing or two about drawing too. Take a look at her amazing work, which (for me) is creative flow in action linked beautifully to the moment and the place.
Above: Manchester Skyline by Simone Ridyard
You don’t need to be an artist or a designer to feel this deeper connection; that’s the whole point. We all have senses. We all have bodies. Get them to work together with modern meditation and see how the town or city you live and work in changes into something intriguing, inspiring and rewarding.
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