Let's get creative!

I wrote a blog piece a few months ago which was about five of the books that have made the biggest personal impression over the last couple of years. They were not necessarily books about mindfulness, except indirectly, so this month I have decided to talk about five books that I particularly like, that are. They are all books I have read (or in the case of number 2, re-read) over the last year, and they are all concerned with various aspects of creativity. With Chrismas so close, why not give one of these as a gift, or maybe drop a hint to your significant other.

1. STOP, LOOK, BREATH, CREATE by Wendy-Ann Greenhalgh

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I am a big admirer of Wendy-Ann. She is an artist, teacher and meditator who has been writing about creative mindfulness for a long time. I discovered her work through social media a couple of years ago and, as a result, felt inspired to integrate creativity into my own daily practice. I do this through photography, writing and drawing - something I have never done before. This isn't a difficult book, it is accessible and beautifully illustrated. It describes how this simple formula of SLBC can be used to inspire a fresh and joyful way of connecting with the world. It reminds me that mindfulness practice isn't a chore; it's playful and a source of enormous pleasure in life. Try some of Wendy-Ann's clever little exercises and assignments and see for yourself. Incidentally the Kindle edition is currently only 99p. That's a bargain!

2. WRITING DOWN THE BONES by Natalie Goldberg

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The book that got me writing again. I like Natalie’s no-nonsense approach to writing. A mixture of Zen wisdom and New York Jewish straight talking. Sit down in a café with a pen and a cheap notebook, she advises, and write. First thought is best thought. Just keep your hand moving, don’t cross anything out or think about it – just write. And listen. Listen carefully to what’s around you. It’s no surprise that she is such an admirer of the great Japanese poets Bassho and Ryokan; both poets who never seemed to lose their childlike joy of the world. This is more a manual for the aspiring, rather than the experienced, writer and if you are stuck or mired in self-doubt, give Natalie’s method a go. Nice short chapters and easy to follow exercises to liberate the creative energies inside you. It worked for me and I had a lot of fun doing it.

3.THE PRACTICE OF CONTEMPLATIVE PHOTOGRAPHY by Andy Karr and Michael Wood

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There are many beautiful photographs in this book but one, in particular, stands out for me. It is a picture of a clear, blue sky across which an aeroplane is flying, leaving a vapour trail behind it. At the very bottom of the picture is the arrow of a weather vane pointing to the left. That’s it. And it encapsulates what this book is about. Rather than a book about photography, it’s about a way of seeing the world simply and clearly. Everything is beautiful, and everything contains a hidden magic.  Just look at some of the images here and you’ll see what I mean. Mindful photography invites us to blend this direct way of seeing the world with the technical knowledge needed to use a camera to capture the image. To do this the authors provide a series of assignments and exercises, some quite challenging. A beautiful book to look at and, I found, quite inspiring.

4. THE ART OF MINDFUL BAKING by Julia Ponsonby

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Well why not? Creativity comes in all forms and none of them are more important than creating the food that keeps us alive – and while we’re at it, gives us pleasure, keeps us healthy, strengthens the bonds between us and maintains our culture. Even if you’re not much of a baker, like me, there’s a lot of pleasure to be had from this little book which comes from the eccentric, but deeply lovable, Leaping Hare Press. Cooking is the only creative activity that engages every single one of our senses. As such it is the perfect mindfulness practice.  You can just dip into this book, follow one of the projects and, of course, do some baking – there are plenty of recipes, just follow them slowly, immerse yourself every step and see what emerges; I can guarantee it will be delicious. A gem of a book.

4. RHS GARDENING FOR MINDFULNESS by Holly Farrell

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Actually there is another creative activity that engages all the senses. It's gardening. I really wanted a gardening book on this list. It’s surprising that there are so few of them especially since gardening and mindfulness just seem to go so well together. As a keen gardener and allotmenteer, I know the value of getting your hands in the soil and making things grow. I know just how much better that makes you feel. This is a lovely book to look at, written by someone who clearly has a strong mindfulness practice. Not so much a gardening manual (there are enough of those anyway) it’s more about how to engage all your senses in the art of growing things and she has some great suggestions for projects to help you do this. I like to do some of these things with my grandchildren. They love it, as will all children, no matter how old.

The one area of creativity not represented here, is the one that means most to me personally - music. I don't know why but I found it very difficult to find a book that talked about engaging mindfully with music, either as a listener or a performer. Such books exist but they seem to be written for the expert and therefore exclude most of us. Maybe you have some suggestions? In which case, please let me know and I'll add it to this list.

Enjoy the holiday everyone. Happy New Year!

Donald MurrayComment