Mindful Mountains, Cheerful Trees: Looking Closely at the Phillips

Fifteen brave participants joined me during Jazz ‘n Families Fun Days for an all-ages gallery exploration, “Mindful Mountains, Cheerful Trees: Looking Closely at the Phillips.” By observing our thoughts and works of art in the galleries, we practiced mindfulness.

Prior to the tour, I had created a set of mind jars, spurred by the excellent children’s book Moody Cow Meditates.

Mind jars awaiting new friends in the Phillips' Courtyard.

Photo: Meagan Estep

When you shake a mind jar, the swirling glitter represents crazy, overwhelming, troublesome (or excited, or thrilled) thoughts—basically our frazzled minds on a normal day. As you watch the glitter settle, your mind begins to do the same.

We started in the Courtyard, where each person picked a color of glitter and poured it into a jar. Then we swirled and swirled, thinking of all the thoughts, feelings, and emotions occurring for each of us that day. Watching his mind jar, a ten-year-old observed: “I feel my mind settle. I am calmer now.”

Participants enjoying meditation and the mind jars in the Courtyard.

Photo: James Brantley

Then we gathered inside before Morris Louis’s Number 182 and Blue Column. Participants mentioned the words “serene” and “peaceful” while looking at Louis’s paintings. For me, the colors had never danced before my eyes so vividly.

The Phillips Collections opens its doors for the annual Jazz and Families Weekend, celebrating art, music and creativity for young and old at The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC on Saturday, June 1, 2013.   DC Councilman and Mayoral candidate Jack Evans, a longtime arts supporter, helped open the event.(James R. Brantley)

Photo: James Brantley

Being mind-full is much more difficult than being mind-less, but the benefits are endless. I’ve decided to keep a mind jar on my desk here at the Phillips, so I can remember to let my thoughts settle throughout the day.

Recreate the experience at home using this mind jar recipe:

You will need:

  • Quart-sized glass Mason jar
  • Hot water
  • Glycerin (look in the pharmacy section of your grocery store) or light corn syrup
  • Dish soap
  • Fine glitter in any color


Fill Mason jar 3/4 to the top with hot water (not boiling!). Add 1/4–1/2 cup of glycerin. Glycerin will act as a slowing agent for the glitter, so the more you add, the longer it will take for your glitter to settle. Stir the glycerin in with a fork or whisk for one minute.

Add a few handfuls of glitter—how much is up to you. How many thoughts do you have in your mind right now? What colors are your emotions today? Choose your glitter based on how you feel.

Shake the jar.

You’ll notice that some glitter remains at the top of the water (this is surface tension—an underlying science lesson, too!). Add 4–5 drops of dish soap and shake gently. The glitter should begin to fall without creating too many bubbles.

Your mind jar is ready to go! Add more hot water if you want the glitter to fall faster; more glycerin or corn syrup to decrease the speed. And more glitter as you see fit.

Meagan Estep, Teacher Programs Coordinator

One thought on “Mindful Mountains, Cheerful Trees: Looking Closely at the Phillips

  1. Pingback: Teaching mindfulness to kids | Wandering EMP

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