Today I would like to welcome you to an interview with Ingela Johansson, Swedish artist and the founder of Zenart, a practice that combines mindfulness and creativity.
I was curious about how this mindfulness practice can be beneficial if you want to create space in your life for creativity to flow. So I met up with Ingela over a cup of coffee and we discussed the benefits of a daily routine like Zenart and how it can impact your life.
Ingela founded Zenart 6 years ago, and since then she has lived most of the time in South East Asia where she has been refining the technique and building a business around Zenart.
What is mindfulness for you?
For me, mindfulness is about doing all the everyday stuff, but doing them in a totally present way with all you senses present. It can be as simple as doing the dishes. Instead of worrying about why so-and-so said this-and-that at work, you can focus on feeling into the now moment, feeling the scent of the soap, the warm water against your skin. To become conscious of how it actually feels. Be one with the experience. To awaken the senses. For me, mindfulness is very much connected to the senses, which is why it works so well in nature.
Oftentimes it’s a smaller step to begin with than to start with a meditation practice. A super simple mindfulness exercise is to lie down on the grass and look up into a crown of a tree. Look at all the branches, how they twist and twirl. Also, looking at the clouds just as you did when you were a small child, is very beneficial for your mindfulness practice.
Also, the breathing. Everything is your breath.
What is Zenart? How does the formula work?
Zenart is a method in three steps:
- Meditation or mindfulness (10 minutes)
- Creative practice (10-20 minutes)
- Reflexion (10 minutes)
For me these are amazing tools in and of themselves, but when you combine them, the process is a completion process.
You can use the formula in all aspects of life: to be more effective at work, for better sleep, to gain creativity, to reflect on things you’ve went through, and to learn things about yourself.
The most important aspect of the method though, is that it teaches you how to listen to yourself and helps you to get to know yourself and who you are.
So you can say that the method will apply differently to different people even though it is static by itself?
Yes, it will change according to what happens in your life as you are using the method. You can vary it, and do it in a thousand different ways. The only rule is that you have to do all three steps in order to complete the process. But the creative part of the formula can vary tremendously: you can draw, paint, write, sculpt, crochet. Whatever is your creative expression.
For how long have you been practicing Zenart?
I’m on my fifth year now.
Can you share some development that you’ve discovered in yourself since you stared practicing Zenart?
I have discovered a huge different in all aspects of life: professionally, privately, how I am as a parent, partner and friend. But the most significant development is that I feel more secure with what I like and what I don’t like, I’ve also come to terms with some of my beliefs and values, which I feel that I hadn’t really done before.
Yes, many of my unconscious beliefs surfaced and I got to see them and define what I wanted to let go of and what I want to hold on to. What is important to me. I can say that Zenart has helped me to discover my “Why” with the business.
I also tried to stop with the practice for a period of time to see what happened and if I could detect some difference. And the most significant difference that I noticed was the amount of bad decisions you make when you are stressed out. It is exactly like when you stop going exercising and going to the gym: the “mental muscles” shrink as fast as your muscles if you don’t practice meditation regularly. The result is that you go back to making worse decisions.
Ingela says that she always tries to prolong her decision making until after she has done her daily Zenart practice: I’ve discovered that this time is when I’m most focused and I’m calm. And when you’ve done the Zenart practice it can be a quick process to make a decision, because you can see things a lot more clearly, instead of being indecisive and obsess about if it’s going to be the right decision. So the process of making the right decision is much easier after a Zenart session.
The issues that you have in life doesn’t magically disappear. But you can handle all the things in a much easier way. Pictures, color, symbols that emerge when you meditate can be handled and processed in the creative part and then lastly be the subject for reflection in the writing part. One of my weaknesses is that I’m a person who easily forgets things, and this method helps me to remember what I’ve been going through. So it’s good to have the experiences, pictures and symbols written down so I can go back and maybe recognize a pattern. I always jot down the date and place so I can go back and reflect on a higher level.
How long is a Zenart session? Is it something that anyone can do even if they have a tight schedule?
For me, my sessions are between 20-30 minutes. Of course, if you’re going through something significant in your life you can need more time.
So it’s not a time consuming process really?
Exactly. The process doesn’t take so much time, and I’m thinking that if many CEOs of the world can prioritize time for a meditation session at the beginning of the day, so can I!
And if people worry that it will be too time consuming, I urge them to think about all the time they will save not making the wrong decisions. So this method is perfect if you’re a person who has a lot of responsibility and have to make a lot of decisions throughout a day.
Is there any scientific research connected to Zenart?
Yes, there is, finally! I had a phd in arts, Mathilde Gauthier, who did a study, How does creativity increase well being? where she interviewed people participants in my courses.
When I read the study I was relieved that so many other people had had that same experience with the practice as I do. One of the most significant discoveries was that a high amount of participants felt that they became more secure and felt more safe with who they are. There was an increase in the ability to stay present throughout the day. Another test result was also that many of the participants were more open to trying out new things when it came to creativity. Also that people in the study realized that they could actually increase their wellbeing just by starting to use colors in a different way than they used to.
Many also had the realization that they really didn’t need so much in order to be creative. The Zenart method is not a course in arts in any way, you will not learn any techniques in how to be a better artist. The point is to play and let the subconscious come to surface so we can get a chance to connect with it.
Could you compare Zenart to the Zentangle method?
I can see the connection with the mindfulness part. Zentangle is more like knitting though, relaxing with repetition. But maybe it doesn’t provide you with so many images from your subconscious as Zenart does. If your’e stressed out at work and have a piece of paper and a pen, Zentangle is clearly the way to go. A few minutes can work miracles for a stressed out mind.
Do you have online courses?
Yes, I have a few online courses.
Do you have any products that are linked to Zenart?
Yes, there are some products that are designed to help you in the Zenart practice: Today there is one book on the market, Create to Flow, and I’m planning to release another one soon. The first book that is available now is about the creative part, how to gain more flow in the process and how to get into the peak performance. The second book, Create to relax, is more about how to destress. It will be released during the fall of 2020. And the third book is about healing of wounds and childhood traumas with the Zenart method.
In addition to the book series there is also a card deck which can help a practitioner with inspiration. These cards are also a useful tool if you keep a journal for example. There is a statement on every card, which can work as writing prompts for example.
The card deck works like this: Let’s say that you have some kind of morning routine before you begin your Zenart session, like go for a walk. you then draw a card and you can have the card as inspiration during the day. This can be a helpful aid if you’re just starting out with the Zenart practice. One of her friends has the deck by her bed and draws a card every morning.
Who are your own role models and inspirations for finding your path towards Zenart?
Since I’ve lived in South East Asia for six years and had courses in different countries, I’ve come to know a handful of good mentors and dear friends. I have arranged art corses and developed a lot of mindfulness exercises together with a colleague and dear friend in Bali. Gloria, another one of my mentors in Singapore has been a great inspiration. She is 73 years old and has taught expressive art for all of her life. I also have a collaborative team in Shanghai who I cooperate with but who is also a great inspiration back to me. Inspiration is everywhere you look.
So you don’t have these unreachable “Buddha figure” type of inspirations like super famous artists?
Well, when I think of it, Hilma af Klint is a great inspiration for me as well as Kusama and Georgia O’Keeffe, to mention a few really great and inspirational artists that has inspired me in my work.
A way to approach your own creative space if you’re starting out can be to study artists that you like, and get inspiration from them. The art history is full of interesting artists that you can get inspiration from.
Do you have an ambassador program, if people are interested in becoming an ambassador/ workshop leader for Zenart?
I’ve received a lot of questions about when I’m going to start an ambassador program, so I have plans for that, for sure. But right now I’m working with simplifying my program even more, so it can be as accessible for as many people as possible. When I feel that it is working the way that I want, then I’m planning on launching an ambassador program.
It is a rare thing with the Swedish program for governmentally financed education for people. That is not a thing in most countries! But that’s where the online courses come in as an option.
What is a life advice you can give us? Do you have a motto?
Make room for the joyful things in your planning. Prioritize the joy, and don’t cancel the lunch with a friend just because something “more important” work related got in the way. I come to think of Julia Cameron’s advice to plan for an hour long meeting with your inner artist every week. Related article: how the morning pages changed my life
I’ve also learned that you can get burned out with things that you love. So the balance is super important. That’s why it’s important to also plan for the fun stuff.
Also remember to play! It’s a way to get in touch with your inner child and your inner artist, and when we’re in a good place and feel good, it tends to spill over to other areas of life as well.
Do you want to add something else?
Yes, a couple of things:
1. I recommend that you practice the Zenart process either just after you’ve woken up or just before you go to bed. That’s when the brain gets in its alpha wave state, which is the most beneficial state to be in if you want to achieve the flow state and get in touch with the subconscious.
2. Don’t listen to the news or scroll through social media before you do the practice is my advice.
3. Try out the creative expression that works for you! If you don’t want to paint or draw, you can work in a collage technique, photography or something else.