Manchester Art Gallery

Take notice

Every month, a group of us head off to Manchester Art Gallery to look at just one painting for 30 minutes.

The dictionary definition of mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations”. This is exactly what we try to practice in these sessions.

We arrive and take our seats in front of a painting and Louise, the gallery’s Health and Wellbeing Manager, goes through a short warm up exercise where we focus on our surroundings. We concentrate on what we can hear – this can be footsteps, voices, doors closing, air conditioning rattling – and how we feel – our backs on the chairs, are we cold, hot, hungry, anxious. If our mind wanders, we are advised to gently bring it back to the here and now.

Then onto the main event, a guided session on the painting by Louise. We are encouraged to think about how we feel about the painting, do we like it, what emotions does it bring up in us, what does it depict? Then we look at the colours, the texture of the paint, light and shade, the frame and setting.

In this way, we are encouraged to really “see” the painting and how it affects us, and it is amazing (and maybe obvious) that the more you look, the more you see. The painting can draw you in, challenge your perceptions and evoke feelings of sadness, curiosity, joy or peace. It can bring up memories and stories, and free the mind to wander where it will whilst focusing on this one image.

One example that stands out for me was a small, drab looking painting that I probably would not have given a second glance to. It was by Gwen John, and was a tea table in a sitting room, all browns and beiges. However, in concentrating on the image, the colours, the textures and how it made me feel, I became aware of what a beautiful painting it was, the harmony of colour and light. I left that session feeling a very deep sense of peace and contentment.

In our busy lives where we are always trying to juggle and fit everything in, rushing about and never stopping to think, this is a way to be kind to ourselves and nourish our body and mind and general well-being.

I relish this opportunity to sit still and use mindfulness in this unique way. It has opened my eyes to other areas in my life where I can use these techniques to breathe, to stop, to renew and recharge.

It has also had other benefits – getting out of the office, meeting like-minded colleagues and discovering the art gallery shop! I have bought a number of gifts for family and friends here, I can browse in a calm atmosphere and avoid the scrum of the Arndale Centre – result!

The next session will be on Tuesday 21 February, so if you’re interested meet at the Information Desk at 12.05pm for a mindfulness art adventure!

Sandra Robinson, National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE)