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With the flow - creativity and health and mind

Updated: Mar 23, 2022

Painting by the author and illustration by Romartika

The last stroke was a bold one. A big blue line engulfing considerable portion of the sky. I looked out the window. It is still raining. But with much less intensity. I could feel my anxiety fading away. The canvas looked happy and dry. I removed the masking tape and stared at the sharp straight border. If only life had a masking tape!

I made myself a cup of coffee and sat near the window to stare at the dancing water falling from the sky. The trees looked fresh and green. Somebody floated a paper boat. It was lying near the drain ready to be swept away. I am not worried now. Onir sent a message that he would be staying back in office. So, no need to worry that he might get stuck somewhere on the road.

Am I the only one who takes refuge in a canvas in time of anxiety or stress? I have always done that unknowingly. Immersing myself in the whiteness of the canvas, singing with the colours and dancing with the brush. It lowers the cortisol level and eventually calms me down. Actually, there is nothing unusual in it. It is proven now that any kind of creativity lowers the cortisol level which is responsible for stress and anxiety. Creating anything, is an emotional release that stimulates the creative mind, relieves mental strain and leads us to a healthy lifestyle. Over the years I have realized that stress is the sole cause of all unhappiness. I also realized that a responsible person will always be stressed. He will always struggle to be on time, meet the target or keep the promise. So, does it mean that sincerity and stress are directly proportional? The more happy-go-lucky or indifferent a person is, the less is the stress. Well, I am confused. From ages we are told how important it is to keep your promise. “Pran jaye par bachan na jaye” – Death is better than a broken promise. That is the definition of a true person with integrity. So, in our quest to become a respectable person, we all struggle, we all stress and we all walk toward a more sustained life with high BP, cholesterol, or diabetics.

Whether we should continue in our stressful journey or not, is our choice. But taking up a creative hobby is a must. It is established now that painting sharpens the mind through conceptual visualization and implementation. It boosts memory skills. I also read somewhere that people using creative outlets such as writing, painting, and drawing have less chance of developing memory loss illnesses when they get older. Also handling paintbrush improves motor skills increasing mobility in hands and finger. So, if you want to stay healthy and fit, take up a creative hobby and relax yourself. It can be anything- writing, painting, reading, music. Anything.

And painting as a form of creativity is not new. The oldest known paintings are approximately 40,000 years old, found in both the Franco-Cantabrian region in western Europe, and in the caves in the district of Maros (Sulawesi, Indonesia). Now one can say, painting needs talent. I agree. But there are two things in any creativity- the inborn knack and the skill. One may lack in the inborn ability but can surely develop some skill with practice. When you enter into the world of art there are so many new ideas, methods and art materials that even someone with microscopic level of talent can create something beautiful. What is essential is perseverance, smartness and sincerity. People who enjoy creativity, will often drift into a trance while creating. This is a state when time travels quickly and you are in something which the psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as “FLOW”. Flow is the mental state when you are fully immersed in an activity. Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it” (1990).

Statistics shows that people with autotelic personalities are more susceptible to flow. Such people do things for their own sake avoiding chasing some kind of faraway external goal. They are distinguished by certain meta-skills such as high interest in life, persistence, and low self-centeredness. While reading about this “flow” concept my mind kept drifting to our age-old concept of “DHYAN” or meditation. Once, long ago, I asked somebody, known to go into trance while meditating, what does he achieve by meditation. He replied with a smile, “it’s blissful”. Is this state of bliss same as “Flow”? So, the intrinsic motivation behind going into the flow is that blissful state when self-consciousness is lost, one surrenders completely to the moment, and time means nothing. I have seen painters painting, musicians playing, completely unmindful about their surroundings. In Rome while waiting for a bus I once saw a beggar playing violin. The violin box is kept open in front of him with a “Please help” note. People walking by are throwing small coins in the box. The person doesn’t even bother to check the coins. He is in a trance. Or flow.

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” -----(Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).

Now, again confusion. If losing oneself is so blissful then why do we need to be mindful? I finished my coffee, brushing aside these thoughts. Those are too challenging for an intellectually challenged person like me.

I enjoy painting. Whether I go into a “Flow” or not, I don’t know. I only know colours and brushes and pencils are something which defines me. They give me energy. A reason to wake up in the morning. To continue in the journey of life.

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