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Donna Giraud of Donna Giraud Art: “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”

Listen. Sometimes people just need to vent. It’s hard enough to be vulnerable, so try not to throw your opinions out just to hear your own voice. Offering a space to listen, without response, can have an enormous impact. It almost always allows you to gain more insight and form deeper connections.

As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Donna Giraud.

Born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, Donna Giraud specializes in large-scale, textural abstract paintings inspired by her love of travel and the surrounding west coast water and mountains. Formally trained as a nurse, Donna discovered art as a vehicle to express messages of optimism & hope through her unique style combining texture and composition. Over the last 20 years, Donna’s work has graced the walls of residential and corporate spaces across North America, and she has collaborated with galleries in New York City and Palm Springs. Currently, Donna works out of her hometown of Vancouver, and she helps run The Space: An Art Gallery in Vancouver’s Yaletown neighborhood as part-owner.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

My name is Donna Giraud and I was born, raised and currently live in Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada. My first career was a collegiate level soccer player, and after graduation, I worked 14 years as a head nurse at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver. In 2017, I gave up my nursing license and retired to follow my passion as an abstract painter. At my core, I am a healer and a connector, and when I figured out that I could do both of those through my abstract paintings, I had to make the transition. I have now created a thriving business where I paint my soul on canvas and transform people’s hearts and spaces. I have been given a gift of communication via a creative process, and I am so grateful that I get to live my life doing what I love most.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

One of the most interesting things that has happened to me was finding out that people were traveling to Vancouver from Australia, Los Angeles and Yellowknife (Northwest Territories, Canada) to participate in my paint classes. During each of those moments, I was overwhelmed with so much gratitude and awe. After all, I thought I was just an artist, creating paintings to make spaces and rooms more beautiful. But what I learned from those people traveling such large distances, was that my art provides so much more than a pretty aesthetic. I realized that I have the ability to create beautiful art that also has the power to move, inspire, motivate and influence people.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Creating a fantastic work culture has never been more important. Finally, people are beginning to realize that — when people feel safe and inspired — their potential is unimaginable. I feel the best way to create a culture like that starts with modeling the behaviors and attitudes you expect to see in your working environment. Why would someone feel inspired to do their best for someone or a company that doesn’t walk the walk? Secondly, have fun. I try and create a space with laughter and positivity wherever I go. Life is serious enough as it is, and we spend a lot of time at work. If you can create an environment where people feel their opinions and thoughts matter, while having a laugh at the same time, I think you will get the best out of your team.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I am in love with the book, How to Be an Artist by Jerry Saltz. It’s a rather simple book, but he just tells it like it is. Artists typically find a lot to complain about and can get caught up in their own heads when it comes to their work. Jerry’s book provides these perfect little truths that, if listened to, can make life a whole lot easier. We can’t dwell on the past, and we shouldn’t stress about the future. According to Jerry, just do the work, and the rest will follow.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?

Mindfulness is being intentional with your thoughts and living in a place of acceptance. It’s a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment, and it’s about not focusing on the things we cannot change or worrying about the future. It’s not being overly reactive, but rather compassionate with yourself. Ultimately, it’s an ongoing endeavor that takes an enormous amount of practice.

This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?

The greatest reward of becoming mindful is that it can directly affect your physical, mental and emotional well-being. When you take the time to be intentional with your thoughts or actions, the results can be quite calming. Stress no longer sits as heavily. When you find yourself aware that you only have this exact moment in time, your head becomes less full of past or future worries and nothing seems so insurmountable. When you take the time to be less reactive, your heart opens up and you are able to connect on a deeper level. All of this is only intuitive to me now because I have been practicing mindfulness for a long time. I am not perfect. It takes a lot of work, and I make mistakes all the time. All that matters is that you try. It becomes easier the more you practice, and the benefits are amazing.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.

  1. Stop watching all the poorly sourced social media and news. It is so easy to get caught up in the social media & news circus. It’s essential to remain informed, but we can’t believe everything we hear just because someone shared a link on Facebook. I tend not to watch the news because it hurts my heart so much to see all the negativity in the world. When the pandemic happened, I was glued to the TV just like anyone else. I cried every day. I worried every day. I felt hopeless every day. Until I made a conscious decision and stopped watching all the news. I kept myself up to date with the important details, but as soon as I decided not to fill my head with all the opinions, my anxiety and fears dramatically decreased.
  2. Practice kindness. I have witnessed so many beautiful moments over the last six months, moments where communities and families came together with simple, kind gestures. On March 18th, one of our neighbors and I started banging pots at 7pm. 72 days later, we had the entire block participating, and it became my favorite part of the day. Not only were we saluting my husband (who is a doctor) and all the incredible healthcare workers that were sacrificing their safety, but we were creating a sense of community and togetherness that I will remember for the rest of my life.
  3. Be hopeful. If you are constantly thinking about the worst, the emotions that come with that are not going to be happy and uplifting. If you practice an optimistic mindset that things will work out and that you have a part in that process, your road through that period of anxiety will appear much more surmountable. Recently, I created a solo art exhibition titled “Together is Always Better.” I created eight new pieces of art representing all the beautiful moments I witnessed around the world during quarantine, with the intention of emphasizing this hope. We are so much better when we do things together, and we can accomplish so much more if we combine our areas of expertise. I wanted this art show to inspire and instill hope — hope that we will get through this unprecedented time and that we are capable of so much more if we do it together.
  4. Surround yourself with people that uplift you and make you a better person. When you have a team of people that believe in you and support you, you are much less likely to focus on fear or anxiety. The fact that we were forced to stay home and quarantine from all of our people seemed like the worst thing that could ever happen. As it turns out, absence does make the heart grow fonder. I witnessed overwhelming efforts of families, friends and communities, and I think I felt more connected than I ever have. A lot of us take the people in our lives for granted, but quarantine helped us refocus on what’s truly important.
  5. Breathe. Just breathe. The simple act of breathing can have an enormous impact. When we pay attention to our breath, it has the power to bring us back into the present moment, where we can then refocus and find calm.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

  1. Listen. Sometimes people just need to vent. It’s hard enough to be vulnerable, so try not to throw your opinions out just to hear your own voice. Offering a space to listen, without response, can have an enormous impact. It almost always allows you to gain more insight and form deeper connections.
  2. Don’t judge. Everyone deals with anxiety differently. Try to understand their side and take a curious approach. You never know, you actually might learn something new.
  3. Share. Oftentimes we think we are alone, but when we share, we find others who are feeling the same way. There is a power in numbers and commonality, so don’t be afraid to share your story.
  4. Ask the person how they prefer to have you involved. What helps you feel less anxious might not work for them. Be clear that you are there for them and that you respect their process.
  5. Be patient.

What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?

There are so many apps, blogs, websites, books, etc. that teach the practice of mindfulness. Not everything is going to resonate the same way for everyone, but I really like these:

  1. Spotify’s “Meditative State of Mind” playlist. It’s hours of beautiful calming music that I listen to before going to sleep every night.
  2. The book Personality Types. Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery by Don Richards Riso with Russ Hudson. Only once I started learning about myself and the psychology behind my behaviors, did I have the capacity to be more open and less judgmental of others.
  3. Anything yoga. Do it! It’s seriously magic.
  4. Walking in nature. Trees, mountains, water, etc. know exactly how to put you in a state of awe. When you are in awe, you can’t help but be present and mindful.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Sometimes people come into our lives and go quickly. Other move our soul to dance. They awaken us to new understanding with the passing whisper of their wisdom and make the sky more beautiful to gaze upon. Some people stay in our lives for a while, leave footprints on our hearts and we are never ever the same.” Flavia Weedn

If you are mindful about being open to people and avoiding quick judgments, you are often rewarded with the right people coming into your life. It’s about truly seeing a person for all that they have to offer. Sometimes when you remain open, the perfect person shows up. A perfect example of this is my husband. He walked into my life, and I have never been the same. He has provided unwavering support as I’ve discovered my passion through art, transitioning from a career as a nurse. I can honestly say if it weren’t for him, I may have never made the terrifying choice to leave my previous career in pursuit of building my art empire.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

If I could start a movement, it would be a movement of kindness. There is no greater power than kindness. A smile, an unsolicited compliment, holding a door open — the ripple effect is intoxicating, and it can influence the trajectory of our collective energy in enormous ways. My daily life is a mini movement focused around kindness, and I hope that my efforts will rub off on anyone who comes in contact with me, encouraging them to live the same way.

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