Easing my mind from overthinking isn’t about silencing my thoughts. It’s about focusing my attention and accepting the duality of emotion.
I’ve experimented with dozens of tools and tricks to quiet my mind and overthinking: meditation, essential oils, breathing exercises, yoga. These have worked to an extent, some better than others, but my thoughts often still find a way to slip in.
The more I try to force my mind to go blank, the more it seems to retaliate. Not every thought is an intrusive one. Sometimes it’s just the passing question of what I should eat for dinner. But even still, this is not what I want to be thinking about as I lie on my back at the end of a yoga session, the calming voice of the instructor reminding me to be present in my body; to let each incoming thought go with the exhale of my breath.
A few months ago, I decided I would try something new. In the age of Zoom classes, I signed up for an online class about drawing your emotions. I watched as the instructor painted in bold, beautiful colors while I had only a pencil to work with at the time. My drawings of swirls and waves were quite dull in comparison, but the exercise still helped me to feel more present and less consumed by overthinking.
From this I realized that maybe the goal didn’t have to be emptying my mind completely. Instead, I could quiet my mind by focusing on one thing. I ordered my own set of watercolor paints, cleared off a table in my living room and decided to give it a try.
The act of creating in of itself is an escape. As I dip my brush into blue, then yellow, then green, and glide it across the page, my mind zeros in on the image that each brush stroke creates. I envision the formation of mountains, a simmering sunset of pink and gold, the reflection of Evergreen Trees in a crystal lake. All awhile, my incessant thoughts fade away. And if only for just an hour, my mind feels quiet.
What I love about watercolor painting is that it allows me to enjoy the creative process without overthinking the end result. I am by no means an artist and while my perfectionism still wants the shape of the trees to look a certain way, watercolor painting is an outlet where I can be creative without placing high expectations on myself.
By nature, watercolor paints are meant to be messy. I only have so much control over how the colors bleed. How the lines between dark and light blur as the sunset and mountains meet. It reminds me that even the unexpected can turn into something worthy of being called art.
This notion has been particularly cathartic over this last year of uncertainty and even in recent weeks, as the arrival of spring has sparked a new collective energy. I can feel the sun rays improving my mood, awakening me from hibernation, though I had grown comfortable there. With this comes a feeling of excitement but also nervousness. Even as the sun shines, there are still days when I feel anxious, overwhelmed and uncertain. My light, overshadowed, by that around me.
In this, painting has become a way to not only quiet my mind from overthinking but also to explore and accept my emotions. It has served as a reminder that it’s okay to feel a multitude of things all at once. You can be both happy and sad; comfortable and anxious; eager and apprehensive; confident and vulnerable. Your emotions do not need to be contained in neat, packaged boxes. Instead, they can flow freely; absorbing into the strokes of one another, creating new colors as they do.
It is this duality of emotion that paints our lives in kaleidoscopic hues. The messiness of the dark and the light, the good and the bad, is exactly what makes it beautiful.