Learning to Look: Art and Mindfulness
Claude Monet's painting, "The Magpie," is one that exudes the very essence of peace and quietude. He has captured a moment of absolute stillness in the wintry French countryside. A solitary magpie sits atop the ramshackle gate, surrounded by a stone wall which is, like the trees, covered in a blanket of snow.
Looking at the blue-grey shadows that stretch upon the almost undisturbed ground, you can feel the chill of this winter morning. As I look I expect to see my breath, cloudlike, as I pull my coat snug around my body. I can almost hear the soft thud of a clump of snow dropping from the branches above. I stand transfixed. If I just pass over such a sight too quickly, I have missed the gift that it is.
We can glance at a painting like this Monet masterpiece, and then just move on. Or we can learn to look. We can stop and pay attention, notice the small details, and let the painting do its work upon us. Learning to look at a piece of art can teach us how to look at all the beauty and wonder that surrounds us every day. It can teach us to notice the aura that often surrounds even the most ordinary object, an aura for which words are often too weak to describe. It can teach us to be "in" the present moment.
We spend so much of our time thinking about the past and the future that we can lose touch with the present. Art can help us learn to be immersively present in the moment. This moment, right now. When we awaken from the sleep of our senses we will experience the world like we've never experienced it before. Some refer to this state as "mindfulness."
As we come awake to the world around us, we can find God at work in the ordinary and the mundane, we can discover His revelation in the simplest things. In his classic book, The Sacrament of the Present Moment, Jean-Pierre de Caussade reminds us that God is speaking to us every moment through the things we see and hear, and through the experiences of our lives. But we are often not listening.
Art demands patience and paying attention. And so do our lives, if we are to learn from them. As C.S. Lewis wrote, "We can ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labor is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake."
May we learn to embrace the sacrament of the present moment, and experience the rest and revelation that come from mindfulness.