Through the Eyes of an Artist: The Practice of Presence


If you pay any attention to the personal development gurus or so called “Thought Leaders” you will have heard much discussion about “mindfulness” and “presence”.  I have always bought into the concept but have equally struggled with the practical reality of it for an adult, whom would surely be diagnosed with ADD if ever he could focus long enough to be tested, to actually achieve this state.

I can see you nodding your head vigorously in agreement.  “Yep Mike, you nailed it.  I’m just not zen enough for this shit”.  Trust me, I get it.

Queue the sales pitch on meditation right?  Well not exactly.  Yes, I think meditation is a wonderful tool to help you calm the inner chatter within your mind.  Yes, I would highly recommend taking up some kind of meditation practice, however, that is not what I want to talk about.

You see I have found another tool to practice presence of mind.  I have found something that, for me, works extremely well.  When I remember to practice it that is.  I will throw my disclaimer in here right now.  I don’t always remember to practice this.  Shocking I know.

I love listening to the self help gurus who will tell you about daily rituals and habits they practice.  For the most part they make it sound like they nail it day in and day out.

I’m calling Bullshit!

Nobody gets it right all the time.  So I give myself permission in my practice of just about everything, to mess up a few times.  Hell, who am I kidding, I give myself permission to mess up all the time.  The key is to not give up and to keep practicing.  OK, end rant, end disclaimer.

What I want to share with you is something that I started to learn from my Colleen.  How to see the world through the eyes of an artist.  As an artist, photographer, painter, sculptor, Colleen would always look for, and uncover, the beauty in any situation.   I would observe her scanning the landscape, composing that perfect image in her mind.  It was an amazing thing to be a part of and experience.  You could feel yourself becoming part of the scene.

If you’ve followed me for any length of time you know how much I love to write.  This tip, trick, technique, whatever you want to call it, crystallized for me out of something I gleaned while trying to refine my writing skills.  I can’t seem to find the direct quote or who to attribute it to but I’m fairly certain it was Stephen King in his book “On Writing”.  King shares some lessons on how to be a better writer and somewhere in the 300 pages of wisdom he talks about how the real power of writing is not in the writing itself but more in the observatory prowess of the writer.

I mean think about it.  It makes total sense.  How can you write a believable character if you do not observe the character traits in the people around you.  How can you write a detailed landscape scene, or any scene for that matter, if you never closely observe your surroundings.

Sometime during my journey together with Colleen I started practicing this.  At first it was unconscious.  Then at some point I realized the power this had to shift my entire world view.  I cannot overstate the enormity of the impact that this had on me.

I know the poets will write about the power of Love and how the world becomes so much more beautiful.  The birdsong more harmonious, the colors around you just a little bit more rich and vibrant, aromas more fragrant and your tactile senses heightened.  But to me this was more than that.  To me this was something that I knew I would continue to practice whether in Love or out.

Consider this.  What if we chose to live every moment, every experience, every day as if we had to write a story, paint a picture or take a photo of it?  How might that change your view?  How much more lucid would our world become?

So now, what I try and do, is to write the story in my head as I am experiencing the moment.  It forces me to focus all of my attention on the present moment.  It ensures that I fully live whatever my current existence happens to be at any given time.

One of my favorite recollections of practicing this concept is what I now consider my farewell dinner to Colleen.  It happened in December, some two plus months after she was killed.  I’m not entirely sure why, but I decided to treat myself to a nice dinner at a great restaurant in downtown Edmonton.  OK, that is not entirely true, I think I know why but am loathe to admit it.  Colleen will always, always, always be a part of me but I had started to receive some subtle signs that I needed to make sure I moved forward.  I could share more, but that would make this blog post more a book than an article.

Suffice it to say that something compelled me to book this dinner.  The full story will have to wait for the book but it was one of the most magical meals I have ever had.  I turned off my phone, took up a seat in the corner of the restaurant and observed every little nuance of my environment.  From the modern baroque architecture to the table of 40, likely celebrating a Christmas dinner, to savoring the elation of the couple next to me seated side by side rapt in each others gaze.

I absorbed every moment, writing the story in my head as it unfolded.

Or at our triathlon group ride last week early on a chilly Sunday morning.  Inhaling the aroma of the McCafe box of coffee that Shawn so thoughtfully brought to share with the group before we set off.  The palpable chill of the fresh northern Alberta morning, the scene some 20KM in, unfolding as a red headed woodpecker, rustled from his perch in the nearby brush, flew out, paced us briefly, then flitted off into the horizon.  These are the kind of observations that make for an incredibly satisfying morning ride.

So no matter your medium, whether it be camera, canvas, scrawl, scribble or scroll, the next time you want to experience a moment more fully, take the time to see the world through the eyes of an artist.

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7 years ago

What a wonderful way for you to appreciate the present; thank you for sharing. An artist can portray movement within a painting and a story teller can foreshadow by describing details. In a similar way I see you recognizing the present and how it is flowing into the next moment.
I choose to see the beauty in small things. A similar idea to yours. This weekend I rode through a mountain pass. The rocks changed hues, the grasses got finer, the flowers varied, even a stretch of just strawberry blossoms, all while the mountains showed different faces and the clouds danced around the peaks. The moments told a story. I am glad I listened to the story they told. It may have slowed me a little to smile at the thought of the bear, who in July will enjoy the strawberry patch, but the joy it brought me to see the beauty of the moment and the story it held was worth the distraction. The negative connotation of distraction lifted. It brought joy to my ride to focus on the beauty of the moment.
May your day be full of beautiful moments.

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