An unexpected visitor waves through the windows, into Book Arts. It’s just hardly after noon on a Wednesday…we’re open to the public, but oops, a staff meeting ran long (as they always do), and we pop up to unlock the door. Always in some composition of blue, gray, and flowing, Kate glides through the door, eager to have a conversation about her upcoming Visual Mindfulness Meditation Workshop. Patiently, she waits for me, taking in the work hung in the gallery–our Members’ Exhibition–as I scramble myself together. I scribble down a few points I want to be sure we touch upon…her artistry & expertise, (and just what is visual meditation?). Okay, ready.

A little bit about Kate Stapleton Parzych (from one point of view–mine)
I’ve always loved working with Kate…her patient grace and inquisitive nature, and the way her mouth pauses and eyes squint a bit while she gathers a thought, then–eyes wide–as she lets out her new thought! Perhaps you’ve taken a workshop with her, or know her as a photographer or a teacher…if so, you know how she can change a room into a calm space for contemplating and art making. What I’ve recently learned is that Kate also leads Friday evening meditations at Yoga Parkside and offers private meditation consultations, following a practice called the Radiance Sutras. The Visual Mindfulness Meditation workshops Kate has begun to host in the Book Arts gallery are such a no-brainer. The meditations beautifully marry her art making and visual skills with her roots in yoga and meditation. Match made.

More about this meditation….
The hour and a half meditation is split up into a a few separate episodes…a few 5 minute exercises concentrating on artworks we feel drawn to, and a longer 20 minute meditation that feels like a refreshing dip.

While chatting, we dive deeper into what a visual meditation is. Kate stresses there are “10,000 ways to get into meditation,” and it’s not always in the stereotypical way we think…think Buddhist monks, or folks sitting crossed-legged and silent. While rooted in history & incredibly valid, it doesn’t work for everyone. Even a little daydream experience is a meditation, Kate explains. We don’t have to be void of thought in visual meditation, either. We can give those thoughts space, and see where we go. My favorite line Kate uttered during our conversation? “You can’t think nothing–that’s called dead.”

Kate & I talk about how we’re so bombarded by visual imagery everywhere: electronic everything, ads, billboards, bananas! (Okay, that one’s just me, we didn’t talk about bananas…but it is a fruit with an ad on it!) Our constant exposure to images doesn’t end…so much we tend to gloss over what we see, can’t take it all in. Visual meditation affords those who experience it the space to slow down and really look at the artwork, take in the color, the movement, the process. Kate prods: Looking at this piece, where does it transport you? What does it make you think about? Why? She acts almost as a guide to experience the artwork in a deeply personal way, offering us a space to share our thoughts & feelings aloud, or remain with them in solitude. Whether we share or not, what’s most important is that we set aside a time to experience this time of reflection.

Kate tells me visual meditation is an opportunity to activate all the senses. No only sight, but sound, smell and taste. For those who participate, she makes herbal tea, and chooses a light soundtrack. In the spring, during artist Mark Lavatelli’s “Trees & Bees” exhibition of expressive tree monotypes, Kate opted for the light sound of chirping birds, transporting us into a lush forest. Activating the senses so fully allows participants to feel relaxed, more in-tune with the artwork, the space, and hopefully, themselves. What’s most interesting, too, is how the meditations change when the gallery changes. Every new exhibition sparks a new energy, a new soundtrack, perhaps a different aromatic tea…

So, why in the Book Arts Gallery?
Art making is therapeutic, letterpress is slow, printmaking is process…doesn’t this all feel like all feel like a meditation of sorts? The world moves so fast, and sometimes, when we’re able to, we are allowed the opportunity to slow down. In our conversation, Kate mentioned there have been studies where researchers find people look at each artwork when visiting a gallery for about 6 seconds. We have one and a half hours together, in the gallery. Let’s take the opportunity.

 Joining in on a Visual Meditation
Until it is safe to reacitivate our space, please follow along for updates and ways to practice mindfulness at home!

Today’s blog was written by Rosemary Williams, Book Arts Education Director. Have an innovative idea to activate our space or educate from home? Let her know at [email protected]