Eight Mindfulness and Spirituality Practices to Start the Year Well

As we start the new year, I am more determined than ever to fully engage in the present moment as much as I can and to have that moment be held as sacred. I’ve included ideas here for myself as well as for you about how to enable this process. These practices might also be thought of as including self-reflection, sensory processing and grounding techniques.

1. Writing a poem

I am writing a series of poetry dedicated to animal encounters. This process has felt sacred to me as I draw deeply from each moment of time in which an animal and I exchange meaning. Other series I think would be interesting to try include weather patterns, plants, seasons and the sky.

2. Drawing a nature scene

I prefer my time in nature to be a slow process. What I mean by this is I am not focused on moving quickly through it by mechanical means like a jet-ski or ATV and that I let go of trying to “conquer” any aspect of it, such as completing a trail in as little time as I can. I once joined a walking group and spent so much time outside for a season, but the focus on walking fast and talking completely detracted from any mindfulness. Activities such as sketching and drawing can require tremendous patience and repetition, which enables me to pause and to be rather than do.

3. Practicing Breathwork

I shared recently that breathwork can potentially affect the brain-body connection in PTSD. Knowing this inspires me to spend time simply in awareness of my breathing. For those who do not have much free time, even a few minutes between activities can serve to help us recenter.

4. Connecting with nature through each sense

I love forest therapy and the relationship it encourages between mindfulness and nature. My favorite practice is to notice how each sense is affected by being outside. With a bit of planning, this encounter can be tailored to an individual’s sensory needs and abilities.

5. Engaging in a Body scan and movement

I sometimes find myself reacting emotionally to a situation, and, only after I get some time for self-reflection, do I realize that my physical state either contributed to or has been impacted by the encounter. Spending time checking with each body system and sending it healing energy helps me feel grounded.

In the past six months, I’ve also educated myself about ways to stretch specific parts of my body such as my toes. Doing so not only frees me of physical tension, but it also helps me expand my sense of inhabiting every aspect of who I am. Becoming embodied can be a challenge for those of us who have endured trauma, but doing so has allowed me to more fully process other aspects of my identity such as being trans.

6. Drawing a card

I believe that qualitative as well as quantitative data and information are useful, and I find that using tarot and oracle cards helps me release some of my compulsions towards liner thinking so that I can also take in “big picture” viewpoints. Experiencing insight through not only written but also through illustration is also enabled through the inclusion of various decks I have.

7. Listening inwardly

I’ve shared my process for doing inner work. I sometimes find myself wishing I could pause social encounters, check in with myself, and then reengage. I may need to find a way to do this IRL as so much of my out-of-body, out-of-time response is due to not having enough brain power to process my internal and external experiences simultaneously. When I make time for this practice, I often realize that much of the anxiety and anger to which I’d been reacting for hours was due to an inability to fully hear myself.

8. Holding Sacred Ritual

There is a good deal of overlap between the practices I’ve listed above and scared ritual in which I might engage. I have at times kept to a Pagan calendar as well as honored the full and new moons, but I did not find myself relating to these holidays any more than I relate to the ones most Americans follow. Ritual, for me, works best when it is held in anticipation or response to lived events. In particular, I want to engage in it at times where I feel scattered from myself and in need of reconnection.

Conclusion

Which of the mindfulness and spirituality practices that I’ve shared have you found to work the best for your needs? What else would you add as beneficial? What barriers, if any, might you need to overcome to allow yourself to be in the scared moment?

A colored pencil drawing of a pine branch with green needles. The branch is drawn from the upper left to the bottom right of the paper.

Needle by Needle

I finally drew something I don’t hate! I created this pine branch using my Faber-Castell colored pencils on Strathmore 400 Series Colored Pencil paper. In addition to two types of green pencils, I used yellow to highlight and blue to shade. All the pencils I used are in the 12 pack starter version of the Faber-Castell (I cannot emphasize enough how helpful it was to limit how many pencils I’m trying to incorporate).

In terms of technique, I first started by looking at a pine tree and realized the needles covered the branch as well. I sketched in the brown wooden part of the branch lightly first. I used green at first to line each branch at an angle with both shades of green. Next, I drew with yellow on the ends I wanted to highlight, and blue closer to the branches on the underside and where they met. Finally, I covered the wooden part in a cross-hatch motion nearly parallel to it with both shades again.

In terms of improvements needed, my color balance is messed up because I added the smaller areas of needles after the first few branches and they got too much blue, and because I rotated the final drawing in my photograph. I have to work on where and how to photograph my drawings as the overall color is too dark as well but I was too lazy to go outside in 20 degree F weather to try there. Finally, I have to consider how to make the branch appear more 3-D–I think the needles are alright for this but the branch itself looks rather flat because of the angle I used on the parts that split off.

I started my colored pencil drawings attempting to draw an entire tree and it did not go well. I think I have to break stimuli into their components in order to be able to have any chance of creating a visual representation I find palatable. Observing what I am trying to draw in person proved very useful so that is something I will be continuing. If you like to draw, what do you find useful in drawing natural objects? To what extent do you focus on realism? What serves as your inspiration?

Seasonal Foliage (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I didn’t intend to draw trees without leaves as my first colored pencil project, but my attempt to create fall colors quickly left me disheartened so I shifted my concentration to bark and limb. Below are few beginner (as in, I’m a beginner) tips I’ve gleaned so far. I’ve linked to the products I’m using but am not an affiliate with any of the companies.

  • Begin with the background. One positive about drawing a tree that will be in much darker colors than the sky is that you can first create the background layer and build on it. Once I move back to including leaves, I’ll have to leave dead space for where they will be placed. In order to layer sky colors, I paid extra attention to some brilliant autumn mornings as my inspiration.
  • Outline the tree in your mid-tone color. I’m using Faber-Castell pencils, so I outline the trunk and branches in walnut brown and add the highlights and shadows later. This choice makes it easy to adjust without creating weird lines between the branch and the trunk.
  • Consider limiting your color choices if you are just starting out. I purchased the full set of colored pencils from Faber-Castell but am only using about 15 or so to create my drawings currently. This has greatly reduced my stress and has prompted me to think about how colors blend together. I’ve most enjoyed making purples and peaches in my sky by blending two or three colors together.
  • End the branches in triangles not squares. I made a tree each way and the blunt-ended squares made it look like it was dead, whereas using a thinner, pointed end for the branches allowed it appear at rest. This is obvious if you think about trees, but didn’t register for me until I finished a layer.
  • Consider proportions before placing any strokes. I got too enthusiastic on one of my trees with the grasses underneath, and they turned into a seaweed shape. The trunk to branch proportion has also been difficult for me to get my head around. I think the width of all the main branches should probably very slightly thinner when added together as compared to the trunk, and there should only be a few main divisions (one of my trees had a super-wide trunk with many main branches off of it and it did not work for me).
  • Burnishing is where it’s at! I’ve been using Gamblin gamsol to burnish the sky colors together (lay down a layer of colors, burnish and repeat), and using my Prismacolor colorless blender pencils on the tree portion. The tree is draw over the background, so there is a great chance of smearing it if I tried to use the oil. Burnishing allows the colored pencils, especially if they are oil-based like the Faber-Castell, to appear more like paint.

My tree, if I am able to make one that I feel is good enough to include on a card for my In an Open Hand deck, will be set in winter rather than fall. I almost gave up on the whole enterprise after my first set of leaves looked ridiculous, so I’m glad I found something I am able to create that has potential.

If you are starting out and you get overwhelmed, I encourage you to break down the elements of what you were trying to draw and to see if you can perfect one component at a time. After drawing all the trees to get to one I like, I think I’ll be better prepared for that elements once I start including leaves. Please leave any colored-pencil tree drawing tips, beginner or otherwise, below!

Exploring a New Art Medium (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

After much deliberation, I’ve finally arrived at the medium I am going to use to create my In an Open Hand intuitive deck: colored pencils! I’d spent time reflecting previously and had thought digital art was the way to go. I’d planned to purchase an expensive computer and use Adobe Illustrator to illustrate the cards.

As I sat with the decision, however, I felt more and more uncertain. Specifically, I kept imagining myself dropping a few thousand and then feeling totally overwhelmed by the process and too lazy, frankly, to move to another part of my house to spend time on my artwork. My dog and I have an evening routine of sitting on my couch and I came to see that whatever I do, at least for now, has to be easy to access as well as portable in case I want to work outdoors or in a cafe.

Because of these realizations, I settled on colored pencils. There is a class I can take next summer locally on working with the medium which excites me even more and which made the choice easier. My lack of self-control led me to purchase both the Prismacolor set (wax-based) as well as the Faber-Castell set (oil-based) and lots of accessories. (Side note: it is easy to justify spending a few hundred when you can tell yourself you are “saving” over a thousand dollars 🙂

The colored pencils are scheduled to arrive soon. I plan to start by creating gradients and practicing my technique before trying to actually draw any of the elements of my cards. Luckily, there are lots of Youtube tutorials that have given me a likely exaggerated sense of self-confidence that I can produce beautiful art with this medium. I will eventually have to at least photograph my artwork (if I make it that far) to have the deck printed, and can explore the digital art format if needed. I believe that years of exploring my spirituality and my creativity have led me to this new chapter, and I cannot wait to write it. Which art medium have you been exploring lately? What has it taught you?

Drawing in Season (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

For today’s simple pleasure, I combined photography and drawing to trace and color a leaf* on Adobe Draw (a free phone app). I struggle with fine motor skills and tend to give up on drawings because I have to work from an outline. As I understand copyright law, I don’t think it is legal to trace someone else’s photograph and then draw it as my own if I want to share it. I was excited to realize that I can use my camera and take my own photographs in order to have something from which I can work.

Leaves are turning very colorful and falling from the trees where I live, so using that as my focal point made a lot of sense. My artistic knowledge is pre-K if that is a fair comparison, but one element of drawing to which I’ve been attending is the idea that adding black lines around and within a drawing seems to elevate it. I included several brown and red colors to my leaf and then drew in the veins which made it pop. What is in season where you live? How might you go about drawing it?

*I couldn’t figure out the resolution so unfortunately I am not able to share it here. I cannot wait until I get Adobe Illustrator and am able to include my own artwork!

Experimenting with Shading in a Drawing (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I plan to continue my simple pleasures even after I’ve gone through all my cards one time, so I decided to “cheat” today by gathering resources instead of actually practicing the skill. I think I may have to use this approach with some of my prompts related to creativity as jumping right into doing them actually feels overwhelming and I give up before I even start. So, for today, I found a video, a website and specific art tools to help me with learning how to shade drawings.

A helpful website: https://www.wikihow.com/Shade-Drawings

Pencils designed for drawing and shading: https://www.staedtler.com/intl/en/products/pencils-and-accessories/graphite-pencils/mars-lumograph-100-drawing-pencil-61-100-c6/

If you enjoy shading in drawing and have techniques or tools you recommend, please share in the comments!