What is "Un-being"? And Can Art Meditation Really Help Us Live More in The Present?

How Meditation Helps Us Stay With All Moments

By Michael Gallagher

I remember my 7-year-ish old self looking up at a massive waterslide and feeling deeply annoyed and terrified all at once. I was annoyed because everyone was lining up with so much enthusiasm, which of course meant that I had no choice but to go on it too. My family was on vacation in the Bahamas. We went to Atlantis one day to ride the “fun” slides. So here I was, looking up at “The Leap of Faith”. I was shocked that people actually wanted to plummet down this slide into a tube through a shark-infested aquarium. But despite being shocked, I knew I had to suck up the short term fear rather than deal with the long term ridicule. Then, I distinctly remember a moment when something shifted in my mind. I had to trick myself out of being afraid, and so I started to tell myself (or maybe someone else said it too) “it’ll be over before you know it”. This completely shifted my inner thinking; and before I knew it, the whole experience was over.  

 

This tool stuck with me for years. Whenever I didn’t want to do something, I would remind myself before I knew it, it would be over. It became my fast forward button. This worked well for homework assignments, doctor’s visits, and awkward social situations. At one point, I was even praised by my father for saying that’s a great way to get done the tasks you aren’t too excited about that still need to get done.

 

But this mindset had some negative repercussions. It created this sense of un-being. I could mentally check out whenever I didn’t want to do something. And the way I see it now, I basically lost those hours of my life. And even if we don’t have such a specific moment in time that we can point to when it started, I think a lot of us do this naturally. We all have those times when we drift out of our minds—or perhaps even feel like we are out of our bodies.   

 

Obviously, the process of un-being has become more and more commonplace with the advent of recent technology and social media. We can pull out our phones at any moment, whether in an elevator or at dinner, and blip into not being with what we are doing. With this, there are some clear benefits, and some clear drawbacks.

 

Don’t take this as finger-wagging, but the stage we are acting on now is one written and directed by technology. We now can optimize so many micro-moments, achieving more productivity than ever before and be able to make contact with others at any moment. 

 

However, depression rates have increased with social media usage. We feel a looming pressure to capitalize on every waking moment. And we can more readily compare what seems like our life progress with that of our peers. We also are all given this golden key tucked away in our pockets and purses to get out of the room and escape into the virtual space of our choosing. I believe this has made me, and many others, more agoraphobic.

Sherry Turkle, Image Source

For a deeper dive on this stuff, I recommend Connected but Alone by Sherry Turkle (19 min Ted Talk).

 

It’s up to each individual to find what works for them to not get trapped in a sea of swiping pixels, and to resurface in a reality devoid of retouch. I battle with this myself, and at the times in my own life when I feel out of alignment with keeping my phone addiction at bay, I feel my soul shrink, my energy scatter, my focus sleep, and my vitality dampen. 


But there’s so much more at play than just technology. We have a more competitive world than ever before. Costs climb, and expectations for standards of living we can achieve climb. So we have our wanting-minds on overdrive culturally. Sometimes the wanting mind can drive us into a land of un-being. We can want so badly to get out of our current mood, current situation, or current mindset that we escape energetically, physically or mentally. When we check out of the pain and discomfort or lack-luster reality, we habituate un-being (even insidiously and unconsciously). We miss the “magic in the mundane” (as Sarah Blondin says). 


For me, mindful living (that can be practiced, cultivated and enhanced through art) becomes a bumper that can stop energetic momentum from escaping into the gutters of un-being. Meditation allows us to rewire our brains to not push the eject buttons to escape the moment. We can use meditation and art (separately OR together) to come into a deeper and more vivid existence. 

 

Just in the way that you do not have to be a monk to benefit from meditation, please note that you do not have to be a technically trained artist to benefit from the practice of meditation art. In the coming weeks I will release more blog posts about conquering un-being through art meditation practices, and the benefits of approaching art therapy teachings with infused meditations. So the answer is, yes, art meditation can and will help. But like anything, it takes time and practice. And I am excited to dive into more of how exactly to practice this. This is merely an introduction, so stay tuned.