Thursday, January 24, 2013

Creativity and Meditation

When I was younger, I had a fear of meditation. Not only was I sure that it was completely boring ("you just sit?") but I had also heard a rumour that it reduced creativity. At the time the popular thing was TM, Transcendental Meditation, which is where you meditate to a mantra or specific sound, and some of its first practitioners were a bit holier than I wasn't too enamoured of the concept.  It's amazing to me now, how long this prejudice stayed with me, and really stopped me from developing an interesting tool. 

I also think part of my hesitation came out of a (false) idea about what creativity is and how it functions. That creativity was about letting one's brain bounce around, and any attempt to control the process would kill the poor thing. This notion still exists in popular example would be our continued belief in brainstorming. Turns out that classic brainstorming, where a group gathers together and just puts out as many ideas as possible, all the while making sure that there are no judgements of any kind, just isn't a very effective creative activity. While it may be a good process for an individual to practice, it's not very effective as a group endeavour. 

Getting back to meditation...I would say my more recent experience with it, and recent scientific studies show, it's actually the opposite of my previous beliefs. There are many kinds of creativity and many types of meditation. If we look at the generation of new ideas (divergent thinking) - then science is showing that "open monitoring" meditation is an effective tool. During this type of meditation you  remain open to any thoughts or sensations, but you don't focus on them. You're aware of how you feel, you're aware of sounds...but you don't invest in them. You see the "road" but you don't go down it. Studies show that practicing this type of meditation for as little as 20 minutes a day helps promote divergent thinking, which can be an important part of the creative process. 

For me, one of the additional benefits is that it quiets the chatter and worry that goes on in my mind and allows me to focus more deeply. If you think of your mind as the surface of a pond, meditation makes that surface just a little bit more resilient...makes the splashes of events and worry just a little less disturbing so the waves aren't quite as strong. 

It also gives me a greater sense of perspective which makes me feel a little stronger internally. Being an artist means you're often going out on a limb...trying to create a new vision...and part of that process is having faith in your own creative space. The ability to have a more solid core can give you greater faith in your ideas...which of course, can mean you pursue them with more conviction. 

A very good example of a meditation convert is the director David Lynch. Through his Foundation for Consciousness-based Education and World Peace he's bringing the power of meditation to troubled communities throughout the world. Here's a link to an interesting talk he gave about meditation,  his creative process, bliss and how his film-making experience has changed through this practice. 

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