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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Mindfulness, Creativity, and the Five Senses (interview)

photo courtesy Sarah Lessire

Sarah Lessire is a singer, songwriter, composer, voice teacher, and music producer, as well as the author of The Scent of Dreams, an illustrated book for children and adults.

Your goal with The Scent of Dreams is to encourage “trust in one’s own journey” and “ease a lot of the angst that both kids and grownups feel around the idea of following their passion.” Some people worry that it's selfish to follow their dreams. How do you integrate your personal passion for your work with compassion for others and contributing to the world?

I believe that how we “serve” can be expressed in a lot of different ways. Yes, activists and volunteers serve in a very direct way, but to me, contributing to the world also means treating everyone I meet with kindness and respect, having a heart open to bounty and eyes open to beauty. And I am not of any service to anyone when I bypass what makes me come alive; when I don’t write, sing or compose, I become a bad friend and a cranky wife!

But when I take care of my inner fire and let myself answer my inner callings, I become someone who is more present to others outside of my work, and I am
better able to take life in and give back. I find myself to be more kind, thoughtful and willing to help. I see my passion as the center of my life, from which everything else grows.

In your opinion, why is it important to encourage creativity in young people?

Because we need it. Not just on a personal level, but as a collective as well. We are facing a lot of issues and we need all the imagination and the creativity we can get, from everyone.

Many people tend to think that creativity is like an add on feature to the cognitive function, but it’s an intrinsic part of it. We use creativity in our everyday life, not just in artistic pursuits, and creativity is what allows us to be more adaptive and fluid, and to learn from our mistakes. 

Unfortunately, it is much harder to learn to listen to and trust our own creativity as adults. We are very good at creating very bad stories about why this wouldn’t be a good idea! Kids however, are more willing to try and explore, and have a natural connection to their imagination that I find immensely valuable.

How can the five senses be a gateway to greater awareness?

Shifting our awareness to the lens of a bodily sense helps with becoming more embodied beings, and allows us to drop the mental chatter.  I find it impossible 
illustration by Jen Carnes
image courtesy Sarah Lessire
to create anything, to connect to any form of inspiration if I’m not able to first feel my body, the temperature, hear the sounds, etc. 

I used the sense of smell in The Scent Of Dreams because it feels like it’s less developed in us humans - as is our ability to listen to our inner voice - and has an ever-elusive quality that beautifully symbolizes our relationship to our intuition.

In a previous interview, mindfulness teacher and flutist Kimberly Hoffman explained that: “Mindfulness reduces performance anxiety, improves productivity of practice sessions, and creates a space to fully experience the emotions that arise while performing.” How do you incorporate mindfulness in your performing and teaching?

The way I practice mindfulness (through meditation, free stream writing, inquiry and long walks) helps me with my ability to listen, which is to me the most important part of performing and teaching. 

If I’m not able to feel my own feelings and observe my own inner chatter, then I can’t possibly listen and feel for the audiences’ subtle reactions to my music as I sing, or to my students’ unspoken needs when I’m teaching. It’s a matter of expanding the limitations of my awareness field and stretching out my capacity for differentiating and processing information.

What does ‘mindful teaching’ mean to you?

It's a form of teaching that places the human element at its center, and doesn’t hide behind what things should be and look like. 

It’s a form of teaching that values exploration and confusion as a necessary part of any form of learning. 

It’s an open way to deliver information or skills, in which students and teachers feel free to fluidly adapt and voice their impressions in order create a more clear and safe channel for teaching and learning.

illustration by Jen Carnes
image courtesy Sarah Lessire

What do you do in your own personal mindfulness practice, and how does it help you in your work?

I have a meditation and a free stream writing practice that help me with allowing my inner critic to be part of my creative process without letting it run the show. There were times when I was younger when I was unable to finish a song or a story because of how harsh my inner chatter was. 

Nowadays I have a more curious and trusting approach, and I can keep working even though I don’t yet see the bigger pictures and how all things will possibly fit together. Meditation also helps me to be more disciplined when editing time comes around… A lot of noticing what doesn’t work, and adapting with kindness and care.