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Attention and Intention

Making with mindfulness at Hooters Hall

Last week on my mindfulness course we were thinking about the word that underpins mindfulness — attention. When we practice mindfulness we are practising bringing our attention to the here and now, overcoming all the tendencies of our mind to use our autopilot and be distracted by other thoughts and the emotions we attach to them.
It’s easy to see how we can apply this to our making. We need to create time to make, time when we are not distracted by other external demands and time when we direct our focus and work towards not being distracted by our internal thoughts and emotions.
Even if the task we are doing is something we have practised so often it is a habit and does not require our full attention, something we can do with our eyes closed, we need to find a way to switch off our autopilot to achieve mindful making and all the benefits for wellbeing, creativity and our craft that come with mindfulness.
Using all of our senses can be a way to achieve this. Take the time to touch, smell, listen to, look at maybe even taste the tools and supplies that you use in your making. Before you start and as you make bring your attention to the moment using your senses to immerse yourself in the experience of making.
If you find your thoughts drifting to other things just note that it has happened and redirect your attention back to your making. It doesn’t matter how many times your mind drifts away what matters is recognising that it has happened and bringing your attention back to your making. Do this without judgement — no frustration or anger with yourself if you find it challenging to begin with. If you do feel frustrated try focusing on your breath for a moment, use it as an anchor to the present moment.
Thinking about attention led me to consider another word that I think also underpins mindful making and can undermine our attempts to direct our attention to our making — intention. I’ve mentioned previously my favourite quote from Mindful thoughts for Makers by Ellie Black.


‘If we make our work for the purpose of pleasing someone else – perhaps to have our egos stroked, or to boost our online status- this often means that we are making work that doesn’t feel true to ourselves. When we do not tap into our internal quiet, and instead are only guided by the noise of the world, we lose a vital connection between our making and our self. Making becomes a mindless activity.’


This summarises for me why I think intention is important in mindful making. If the purpose of our making is some future, hypothetical reward tenuously connected to the act of making our mind consciously or subconsciously will be focused on something other than our making.
Our intent may also affect our creative choices — choosing a yarn colour that looks good on Instagram, making something of a size that’s easier to photograph or fits with a popular hashing, making choices based on other peoples expectations. For me that leads to a creative dead end and nagging dissatisfaction with my making.
Practising mindful making; focusing our attention with intention leads to a more intimate relationship with our making, there’s no one and nothing else in the relationship, and that can be inspiring — freeing our creativity.

Three a day – the benefits of keeping a positivity journal

Blue skies and clover in the meditation meadow

Can you list three things that went well for you today?

Now, can you list three things that went well for you every day of the past week?

Some days it can be a challenge to list even one positive experience but that’s not because your life is a black pit of never-ending negativity. It’s because our brains are pre disposed to remember all the bad experiences. We have an inbuilt negativity bias. There’s a good evolutionary reason for this, constantly scanning our environment for threats kept us alive and our brains evolved to minimise threat, which means our brains spend much more time focusing on the negative rather than the positive.
Think about those times you made a mistake in your making, even though you solved the problem and finished the project I bet you were still focused on that negative mistake, rather than the positive of having the skill to fix it or to complete the project despite the mistake.
Martin Seligman credited as being the ‘Father of Positive Psychology’ conducted research into overcoming the negativity bias inherent in all of us. Every day for a week participant were asked to write down 3 things that went well each day and an explanation for why they went well.
After one-week participants were found to be 2% happier than before. It didn’t end there though, happiness kept increasing from 5% at one month to 9% more happiness at 6 months. The participants were only told to keep a positivity journal for 1 week but they found the exercise so beneficial they continued doing it.
Apart from our innate negativity bias the brain has another unhelpful mode of operation that limits our experience of happiness: the ability to adapt. We very quickly get used to the things we have or that occur in our life.
Think about the last time you acquired some new tools or supplies for your making. It probably made you happy but how long did that happiness last? Hours, a day, a week? How long before your appreciation of it faded and it was just another tool or part of your ever-increasing stash of supplies?
The answer may vary but the reason for the happiness and fading of that feeling is the same. While you were consciously thinking about and therefore experiencing gratitude for your new tool or supply you automatically feel happy. Appreciation creates happiness – automatically.
So, taking the time to write down 3 good things that have happened that day, or 3 things that you have to be grateful for, in as much detail as possible, imprints these positives more deeply on the brain, creating neural pathways of gratitude and appreciation.
Research has shown positive emotions don’t just make you feel good in the present but also increase positive emotions in the future. Creating a positive upward spiral in your mood and happiness that will bring positivity into your making increasing your satisfaction and creativity as you train your brain to stop focusing on the negative and appreciate all of the positives.

Tips for keeping a Positivity Journal

  1. You don’t need fancy stationery you can keep a journal on your phone. Either use a notes app or simply text or email your positive experiences to yourself each day.
  2. You can list more than 3 things
  3. If you find it easier to list negative things this is your negativity bias in action, challenge it and day by day it will be easier to find 3 positives.
  4. Completing your positivity journal just before bed can be helpful because what we focus on before sleep continues to be processed by our minds as we sleep.
  5. Write minimum of 3 positives everyday – you’re getting your brain on a strict training program and need to stick to it to get results.
  6. Try not to write the same things – you have more positives in your life than you think. It’s just that pesky negativity bias is hiding them from you.

Mindful Making Diary: What is mindful making?

The Meditation Meadow at Hooters Hall

It’s always helpful to define a topic before you start getting into the detail, good to know the direction you want to travel and destination even if you haven’t mapped out the exact route.
Despite my professional background my exploration of mindful making is not about clinical or therapeutic approaches. If you’re interested in mindfulness for mental health the NHS website https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mindfulness/ is a good place to start and MIND also has useful information https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/mindfulness/about-mindfulness/
My mindful making diary is instead focused on understanding and incorporating mindfulness into my making. I want to see if there are benefits for my making process and I’m sure I’ll discover benefits for my wellbeing along the way as well but it’s not my main motivation.
So, what is mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and co-founder of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) defines Mindfulness as:
‘Paying attention in particular way;on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgementally.’
Another way of saying the same thing is that mindfulness is the opposite of automatic pilot. Our brains are very good at wandering away, allowing us to think about any number of unrelated things when we are doing familiar and repetitive tasks. We develop thought habits over time, patterns formed in the brain through repetition. Some of our habits are harmless e.g. daydreaming about holidays others can be more unhelpful e.g. constant ruminating about money worries or relationships. Mindfulness is about developing a new habit that is helpful.
Our brains ability to autopilot was born out of the need to save energy. The human brain will always try to make routine a habit so we don’t have to think about it. This is a helpful evolutionary skill but causes problems when we overuse it and spend too much time thinking about the past or future rather than the moment right now.
Working against the autopilot isn’t easy. It means learning new skills and practising them every day. Which brings us to formal mindfulness of breathing meditation practice.
Starting a daily formal meditation practice has been my first step in exploring mindful making. I’ve been using a mix of guided meditations on the Headspace App https://www.headspace.com/ and from the Mindfulness course I’m doing with the British Mindfulness Academy.
Mindfulness breathing meditation is simply using a focus on your breath as a way to control your attention. You always have your breath with you so it’s a practical tool. It’s important to recognise this isn’t about relaxing, although sometimes it can feel quite relaxing.
What you will notice as you focus on your breathing, auto pilot kicks in and your mind wanders. The simple act of noticing this, without judgement, and bringing your attention back to your breath is training your brain into a new habit. Learning to focus on the here and now. New neural connections are formed and each time this process occurs you reinforce these neural pathways and make it easier to do next time.
Breathing meditation doesn’t suit everyone. If you suffer from panic attacks you may have a tendency to over focus on your breathing in which case other types of meditation e.g. perhaps walking meditation are more suitable. It’s also important to make sure you are comfortable with the process e.g. if you don’t like closing your eyes try just lowering your gaze or pick a fixed point to focus on.
I do a daily breathing meditation first thing in the morning after I have fed the animals. I like to sit in the paddock that we are turning into a wildflower meadow, cross legged on the grass, facing west looking out across the countryside. It’s a beautiful, calm spot, quiet apart from birdsong and sheep grazing. I’m very lucky to have access to such a space but I also do a few minutes breathing meditation at lunchtime in my office which is a less attractive environment. Ultimately the environment doesn’t matter so long as you can be undisturbed for a few minutes.
There are many researched benefits to daily breathing meditation. For me I found that I slept more deeply, stopped craving carbs and had a big boost in creativity. I want to explore the links between mindfulness, meditation and creativity in more detail because of the benefits it offers for my making so I’m going to be starting the meditation for creativity course on the headspace app.

Reading
I’ve just started reading Mindful thoughts for Makers by Ellie Beck. I’ve highlighted so many quotes from it but here’s one that really spoke to me and I think summarises the motivation behind my mindful making diary.
If we make our work for the purpose of pleasing someone else — perhaps to have our egos stroked, or to boost our online status — this often means that we are making work that doesn’t feel true to ourselves. When we do not tap into our internal quiet, and instead are only guided by the noise of the world, we lose a vital connection between our making and our self. Making becomes a mindless activity.’ Ellie Beck Mindful thoughts for makers.

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