Two seniors demonstrated the synergy between painting and mindfulness by guiding a meditation for students last Friday at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art. Moving beyond the visual experience of seeing art, participants were directed to engage with the paintings of Richard Pousette-Dart, an abstract expressionist, who expresses a range of ideas in his work, from technology to self-awareness.
“I found it to be a great place for a group to get together and to experience the art in a more pointed way,” said Miles Brautigam ’19. Brautigam, who worked at the museum this summer, said he was motivated to suggest a gallery meditation after seeing the number of lectures and events that brought the public into the museum to engage with art. He asked his roommate Benny Painter ’19 to lead the mediation.Painter, along with Jon Luke Tittman ’19, is one of the leaders of the school’s Mindfulness Over Matter club. Through events like the art mediation and his club, he introduces students to the basic principles of meditation and mindfulness—a concept that may be difficult to explain, but is elegant and simple in practice.
“Mindfulness is a hard thing to define with a single sentence, but how I think about it is paying attention, on purpose, to your present experience with the quality of curiosity, kindness, and acceptance,” said Painter.
In the gallery, sitting among Pousette-Dart’s paintings, Painter advised the students to use the paintings as “anchors,” which help meditators bypass the distraction of their thoughts and engage with the present moment. Common anchors are the breath, sounds, and body sensations.
“When we notice we are lost in thought, we kindly and persistently return back to the anchor. In those moments, it can be cool to explore what happens to the thought that we were just wrapped up in. Sometimes the thoughts seem to vanish or drift away,” Painter said.
He also suggested to the students that if an emotion arose from observing the paintings (which, he added, seem to dance if you look at them long enough), to shift to the new emotion as an anchor. “I invited them to explore where they were feeling the emotion in their body. And whenever that emotion faded away, to return back to the visual anchor,” he said.
Over the course of the year, Painter will continue to lead Monday night meditation sessions, at 9:30 p.m. On Tuesday through Friday, other students will lead mediations to give students the chance to practice every school day.
Brautigam, too, said he’s been helped through his own meditation practice. While he does not sit down and meditate consistently, he embodies the tenants of the philosophy in his daily life.
“Meditation is about intentionally applying attention. And you can do that while walking,” he said.
Brautigam hopes he can organize more “destination meditations” similar to the Museum event that would be organized around a particular setting. More broadly, as a student intern, he is working to offer programming that can continue bringing students into the Museum of Art.
“Student-run programs are the move. Programming for students by students is the way to go,” he said.