If contemplation is the practice of deep reflective pondering, then what exactly is Artful Contemplation? And does it, as implied by its name, have anything to do with being cunning or deceitful?
Art is your gateway to self-knowledge which is the only form of wisdom that has lasting value. All other knowledge is a product of your own time, perceived according to the prevailing paradigm.
Mindfulness as knowledge
Artful has come to mean crafty or devious in modern terms. But research into the etymological root of the word reveals a deeper meaning, and one more suited to the true purpose of Artful Contemplation. An article on the etymological origins of art/artifice suggests that artful emerged in the late 16th century with the meaning ‘to display technical skill’ or literally to be ‘full of art’. It was thus associated with ingenuity, or the skillful creation of something through practice. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, if you were referred to as artful in the early 17th century, you were considered “well-versed in the liberal arts”.
It was later on that artful was employed in a more figurative sense of being crafty or devious, as in the Artful Dodger, the young pickpocket in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. It has since become strongly associated with being skilled or practiced specifically in acts of manipulation or artifice. This connection of the arts to artifice is unfortunate. If has led many people today to hold the belief that Art is nothing more than a clever imitation of nature, a skillful fabrication or crafty reproduction meant to trick the eye and entertain the mind.
This is to miss out on an appreciation of Art as a revelatory experience that could offer significant benefits for contemporary societies.
It is towards this revelatory experience that Artful Contemplation is focused. If we reflect on kunst, the German word for art, the significance of Artful Contemplation as a unique contemporary approach that uses the beauty of Art to inspire the presence of Mindfulness becomes apparent. Independent art historian Simon Abrahams observes that kunst originally meant “knowledge” from its root kennen, “to know”. This relates back to the idea of practice, or skill, but certainly not towards creating illusions. As an Artist, the practice is towards revealing aspects of human experience that are veiled or unspeakable. As someone in the presence of Art, the practice is towards translating and receiving the metaphors offered by the Artist. True knowledge then, which transcends intellectual knowledge and daily reasoning, is the ultimate purpose and meaning of the arts. This is a knowledge that may be likened to inner wisdom, divine wisdom, Platonic or essential knowing.
Mindfulness as making sense
For us, mindfulness is an intentional practice embedded in every waking moment. Mindfulness is not only about what we perceive as mental, but is Mind as a fully embodied and holistic state of being. Becoming mindful reveals the rich and complex strategies and pathways by which each one of us makes sense of reality. A daily practice expands our perceptual velocity allowing us to hold, integrate and work with a greater range of feelings, sensations, emotions and thoughts. Through engaging a deep appreciation of Art, Artful Contemplation offers participants the potential to ‘read between the lines’ of daily life, bringer previously hidden or unrecognized aspects into the light.
Actress Goldie Hawn, founder of MindUp, acknowledges self-reflection as key to our fulfillment and sense of flourishing in the world. She affirms that “imagination is pivotal to this journey”.
Without the capacity for imagination, we would not be able to visualise, we would not be able empathise, we would not be able to reflect on ourselves.
The senses engaged by Artful Contemplation include both the ordinary – sight, sound, touch, smell and taste – and the extra-sensory or non-ordinary – intuition, insight, feeling, perception, resonance and memory. The full range of sensory organs is brought into play primarily through the imagination – through aesthetic appreciation, creative visualization and prompts that inspire the magic “what if…?”. Activating the imagination in this way through Artful Contemplation is viewed not as a flight of fantasy, but as a serious practice of harnessing attention, making it possible to see, and bring into being, previously untapped personal and communal resources.
Mindfulness as changeability
Mindfulness is really a contemporary term for an ancient understanding that acknowledges our environment as ever-changing and our response-ability to change in accordance with it. As a practice, it supports the integration of our diversifying and expanding personal capacities as we move through different contexts and interactions in our life.
Mindfulness involves the ability to anchor one’s attention on what is occurring…and the ability to intentionally switch attention from one aspect of experience to another.
Your need for response-ability – integrating anchoring with fluidity – increases in proportion to the speed, intensity and complexity of your life. If you live in a populated area, engage in public events, are active on social media platforms, read, watch or listen to multiple forms of media – then your senses are exposed to more information than you can easily and quickly digest. Unless this information can be internally processed and translated into direct and meaningful action, it will remain contradictory and competitive, inciting feelings of dis-ease and disillusionment.
Imagination builds the image of the self, and thought then functions within its shadows. From this self-concept grows the conflict between what is and what should be, the conflict in duality.
Mindfulness practices offer methods for:
- slowing down the flood of information to and from our over-exposed senses,
- distilling the data we accumulate and hold into feelings, images and symbols that are personally relevant,
- reorganizing our energetic fields.
How does Artful Contemplation work as a mindfulness approach?
Artful Contemplation is the practice of daily mindfulness through the contemplation of art. The sustained contemplation of a still image is similar to the meditative practice of candle gazing. Rather than offering a moving image or object to gaze upon, Artful Contemplation offers a still image – which allows the senses and the imagination of the viewer to move.
Artful Contemplation is designed to integrate with the rhythms and requirements of a contemporary lifestyle. It offers a practice of embodied awareness through the technologies and digital devices that have become integral and indispensable to our daily activities. In this, it functions like a Sadhana.
Sadhanas are practices that help us to live more mindfully by integrating our spiritual life and our “normal every day experiences” thus creating a lifestyle filled with meaning, connection and well-being.
Sacred Arts Research
Artful Contemplation integrates open-monitoring meditation and focused-attention meditation. It allows the dual processes of curiosity (expansion) and contemplation (introspection), which are fundamental to the healthy functioning of any sense-making system, to complement and support each other. Opportunities to slow down and settle in are provided, as well as catalysts for reverie, awe and expansive thought.
The artworks used for contemplation in our approach to mindfulness are non-linear and non-representational. We refer to them as LightCatchers, as they speak in the language of colored light and capture the elemental, fractal patterns of energetic vibration underlying visible reality.
Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop. Driven by recursion, fractals are images of dynamic systems.
Each LightCatcher is created through a mindful practice of digital artistry by Lanon Prigge and is powerful energy therapy on its own. To create a Daily Sadhana, the mindfulness tool that lies at the heart of Artful Contemplation as an ongoing daily practice, a LightCatcher is combined with a mindfully originated affirmation or evocative phrase. Each Daily Sadhana encourages curiosity, an expansive state of awe and wonder, and simultaneously invites contemplation, a depth and expansion of attention.
With time, the complementary processes of wondering and wandering, continuously brought to attention on a single still artwork, allow arising thoughts, feelings, sensations and ideas to cohere into personally meaningful images and symbols. This is a potent tool for minimizing the relentless chatter of the intellectual mind and integrating an overtaxed nervous system. The intentional dialogue between what you pay attention to and how you feel in the moment offers self-reflection, personal healing and awakened illumination.
Artful Contemplation is ‘mindfulness at work’. It makes use of the accessibility afforded by digital devices to create a daily sanctuary close at hand, an easily accessible restore point. As such it can be practiced at any time and in the midst of your busy-ness.
As a daily mindfulness practice, Artful Contemplation enhances:
- Non-judgmental perception.
- Intuitive responses.
- Personal insights.
- Non-linear knowing.
- Stillness and serenity.
How do I get started with Artful Contemplation?
There are several ways to start your practice of Artful Contemplation. Read through the list below before deciding on an option that best suits your current needs.
1. FREE PRACTICE - Daily Sadhana Archive
Our existing archive of Daily Sadhana prompts is freely available to all visitors to the Artful Contemplation website. In the right hand column on most pages (including this one) and blog posts, you will find a SEARCH bar. Type in a term – mindfulness, direct experience, immersion, intuition or improvisation – and a selection of posts related to that topic will be displayed. Click on one to be taken to a Daily Sadhana where you have an immediate opportunity to practice harnessing your attention through the dual processes of curiosity and contemplation. If you need some guidance on how to get the most out of your practice, read this blog post.
2. JOIN US ON PATREON - Receive additional benefits & resources
Visit our Patreon page where you can choose from these options to pledge a monthly amount and receive additional benefits to grow your daily mindfulness practice. You’ll receive a Daily Sadhana – that’s a mindfulness prompt for 5 days of the week, a downloadable 5-day practice e-book as well as other unique resources.
3. READ & CONTEMPLATE
Learn more about mindfulness, attention, Art and the practice of presence by reading some of our blog posts.