Transformation Through Art: Mindful Creativity Connections

This week I worked with students in the Mosaic program with Kim Leddy and Steve Shapiro.  We wanted to provide students with an introduction to mindfulness and mindful creativity while also introducing the themes of transformation, identity and change.

Before I came into the classroom, Kim and Steve had used a variation on this mindfulness lesson (originally for teachers and staff) to introduce neuroplasticity and mindfulness to students.  In the lesson, they also had  students write metaphors for their brains.  Student responses ranged from “a runaway train” to “Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.”

This lesson prepared students by providing opportunities to think about what their brain is like now, and what they might want it to be like in the future with the understanding that they can make changes with focused attention.  It was a great lead in to some creative, messy work.

During my visit, we used the microlab protocol from Harvard Project Zero’s Visible Thinking Project to talk about the article I wrote for the Pages training about mindful creativity.  Students responded really well to this protocal, sharing afterward that it improved their ability to listen to others without thinking about what they would say next.  They also liked that no one interrupted them while they were speaking.

The conversation we had about the article was also really interesting.  Students asked very thought-provoking questions about education.  For example, one student said: 

If we are trying to do something that requires creativity, like solving a math problem or a writing a narrative, and it is presented in a way that activates our executive attention network (for focus regulation and impulse control) instead of our imagination network (for imagining new possibilities), then are we really being prepared to do the work asked of us?  

Hmm…  How many times are students given a creative task in the form of a directive handout and possibly a structured outline and told to do these kinds of tasks…

Once we had discussed the science and ideas behind mindful creativity, we engaged in a short focused attention meditation (see this article for more information on practice types) before going into the first part of the activity.

Afterward, students were instructed to go silently and choose a few pieces of paper from a random accumulation of magazine pages, scrapbooking paper, tissue paper, and various other paper scraps.

Students then did some extended looking with their papers, noting textures, colors, images, smells, and anything else they might observe.  After looking, students were asked to answer the question:

How is this paper like you (or not like you)?

After writing students were asked to destroy the paper- ripping, cutting and wrinkling it in any way possible.

We paused here and discussed what the experience of destroying the paper was like.  While students who wrote about how the paper was not like them found this freeing, the students who had identified with the paper found this to be difficult.  This discussion was a guiding point: Often during change, there is a sense of a loss.  Something with which we have grown to identify gets destroyed, and this can be hard.  At the same time, change and ambiguity can be liberating.  And not to fear,  reconstruction is on the way.

This lead directly into my favorite part of the exercise.  We did a short open monitoring practice with students  and then we jumped into reconstructing “ourselves.”

We told students to  assemble their papers into something new.  We provided markers, oil pastels, glue, scissors, paste, even packing peanuts that students could use to complete this process.

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Students created some really interesting works.

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When they were finished, they answered the question:

How is this paper like you (or not like you) now?

We didn’t have time to share out their overall reflections and final statements, but more to come.

On a sub-note, this activity was modified by something my very creative and infinitely insightful sister, Jen Lust, did in her second grade classroom with a book called Perfect Square.

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How could destruction and/or reconstruction be helpful in your classroom or in your life?  For what might it leave room?  

Please feel free to leave your thoughts as comments or send me a message via the “Contact” tab.

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