Mindfulness and the Creative MInd

February 7th, 2017 by

What do you think of when you think of creativity? Far too many people think of someone other than themselves – art and ideas are for other people, or kids, but not them. But it’s not limited to children and those uncommon individuals like William Shakespeare and Georgia Okeeffe who have been touched by genius; everyone can be creative. While some studies show that creativity can slow with age, other studies show it doesn’t have to – and mindfulness may be one of the keys to maintaining creativity throughout our lives.

Creativity is not restricted the arts and music – scientists and accountants and computer programmers are creative. Creativity occurs whenever you’re producing something both new and useful, whether that’s a book or a building or a pasta salad. Scholars who gave the same creativity tests to artists and engineers got the same spectrum of results: both groups were equally creative. You can be, too, even though creativity tends to peak in our late 30s and early 40s, just when some of us are too busy with kids and bills to feel creative at all.

But creativity is our birthright. Creativity feeds the soul and gives significance to our lives. Part of being your best self is being creative, whether it’s solving the ordinary problems in life, expressing yourself through music or movement, writing a novel, cooking with whatever’s on hand, or joking with your friends. (Humor, of course, is highly creative.)

Mindfulness supports creativity in a variety of ways, some more direct than others. One major component of creativity is divergent thinking, the sort of thinking that generates lots of new ideas. Divergent thinking is important enough that for a long time the term was used as a synonym for creativity, but it’s not the whole story. Creativity is realized when we also use convergent thinking to pick an idea, or combine several, and run with the result. The right and left hemispheres of the brain must work together for us to be creative.

In a 2012 study at Leiden University in the Netherlands, researchers studied the effects of meditation on both divergent and convergent thinking. Participants who engaged in “open monitoring” mindfulness meditation – the sort of meditation in which you observe whatever arises in your awareness non-judgmentally – were significantly better at a task that required divergent thinking.

In the Five Factor model of personality, “openness to experience” is the trait that correlates highly with creativity. Several studies have also shown that openness to experience also correlates highly with meditation practice. Interestingly, creativity – not overall intelligence or openness – predicts a longer life. Scientists theorize that this is because creativity exercises the brain, maintaining the integrity of neural networks. Creativity also allows us to handle stress better, which helps protect our health.

Mindfulness meditation might also support creativity in other ways. Just one night of sleep loss can severely impair someone’s divergent thinking; mindfulness meditation improves sleep. Many creative types need to be in a particular mental starting place to begin work, and find that meditation can help them get there consistently.

How to Meditate for Creativity

Interested in trying meditation to enhance your creativity? Try open monitoring meditation – sometimes called “open awareness” or “open focus” meditation – which is an aspect of mindfulness meditation. After first settling your mind by focusing your attention on something you are experiencing in the present moment, such as the feeling of your breath, allow your thoughts and feelings to move through your awareness, without reacting to them or judging them. As best you can, simply see them as they come and go, but don’t hold on to them or follow them. Similar to the experience of watching clouds passing through the sky, allow your thoughts to be witnessed and released as they move across the blue sky of your awareness. If you notice your attention has become engrossed in the content of the thoughts (rather than simply witnessing the thoughts as temporary mental events), then return to your original “anchor” for attention (for example the feeling of your breathing). Then, when your attention is again settled in the present, expand again to a more open focus in which thoughts, emotions, and sensations can arise, be known, and allowed to pass naturally. Set aside some time each day for your meditation practice. As little as ten minutes a day can be life changing. Try it and see for yourself what creative ideas begin to arise in that head of yours!

Going With Your Gut: How Mindfulness Meditation Develops Insight

May 18th, 2016 by

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Call it a hunch, gut feeling, intuition – that immediate sense of truth, without words or reasoning, is one of your most important faculties. It can tell you where you want to move in life, what you need to let go of, and how to best relate to challenges. But how can you develop your intuition?

Seeing Clearly

Meditation is one way to tap into your “gut” feelings. Mindfulness meditation is sometimes known as “Vipassana” – an ancient word from the language of the Buddha which means “insight” or “seeing clearly”. Vipassana or mindfulness meditation is the foundation of most Western meditation practices. It’s also the most studied by Western scientists.

“The insights of meditation are intuitive, not conceptual,” writes Joseph Goldstein, author of Insight Meditation (1993) and co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society. “Intuitive in this sense does not mean some kind of vague feeling about something; rather, it means clearly, directly seeing and experiencing how things really are.”

Rather than trying to solve problems with the thinking machine in the head, we practice mindful awareness, training our attention to “just be” in the present moment by focusing on an anchor like the breath, footsteps, sounds, or body sensations. As we become more skilled in being “present”, we can begin to see creative solutions to sometimes very big problems in our lives. These solutions arise spontaneously from within, through feelings and an “inner knowing,” and not through thoughts or concepts. We simply know.

Knowing What You Really Want

Often, we don’t really know what drives us. We are moved to do something, because it’s the expected thing to do in life or because it seems like a reasonable choice. But if we understand our true motivations, maybe we would do things differently. Before she began her meditation practice, a friend of mine bought a lovely house. It seemed like the logical and “right” thing to do. However, she soon noticed that she really didn’t even like having a house! She wasn’t handy and felt like she was rattling around in the extra space. Once she began meditating, however, she gradually had the insight that want she really wanted was not a house, but a home. She realized that had she continued to rent, and work on developing more close personal relationships, her life would have been moving more in the direction of her true needs and desires. Meditation created the conditions for her to see and feel her true feelings. When she sold her home, she felt immense relief.

Compassion for Your Own Experience

Meditation is the practice of staying present in the moment without judgment, even those moments we’d like to escape or avoid. It’s a skill that grows with patient practice, and it enables us to have insights in how we work with difficulty, including pain. In my mid-forties, I developed chronic pain in my hip, and I became quite angry about it. As my pain increased, so did my anger and attempts to get rid of the pain, which included physical therapy, electrical nerve stimulation, and giving serious consideration to a hip replacement. One night, as I lay awake with the throbbing pain, I had the insight that anger and resistance were not relieving my suffering. I tried a different approach: instead of resisting the pain, I tried to get to know it. I brought my attention right into it and discovered a part of my body that was holding a tremendous amount of suffering and yet was trying to do the best it could to keep functioning.

When I came up close to my pain without judging it, as I had learned to do from my meditation practice, I felt spontaneous compassion for this part of my body that was suffering. As I continued to work compassionately with my pain, the change was dramatic. Although I still have some pain, it’s manageable now and I know it’s a signal to take care of myself (think yoga). Having compassion toward pain in my body (and heart) is an insight I credit to my meditation practice.

The skill of mindfulness, developed through meditation, allows us to experience things they really are, without the distracting and often intensifying effect of our judgments, beliefs, and thoughts. Sometimes what we discover has been long hidden by the activity of the chattering mind. It’s only when we train the mind to become quiet that these realities become known, whether it’s our desire for a home or compassion for our own pain. Learning how to sit quietly and just “be with” our own unfiltered experience allows us to receive insights that can transform our lives.

Graduate’s Story: Artist Theresa Girard

February 14th, 2016 by

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Many of you have seen the beautiful art on display in the Integrative Mindfulness studio in Bonita Springs, FL. These are the words of the artist, Theresa Girard, on her experience upon completing the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program –

“The discovery of this seemingly simple process reaches far beyond anything I had previously considered. Being present for me began a new emotional connection to who I am and what is embodied in my true spirit. At the same time, filling a spiritual void that had crept into my life.
Previous torments, such as anxiety, fear, a barrage of “what ifs” lessened in an acceptance of being where I needed to be in the moment. A certain quieter place comes forward and seeps into much of my decision making and provides a peace focused on awareness. Even when things are not going well, I was able to decrease my self judgement and negativity.

As an artist, with an overly active and creative mind, I became able to self soothe in a forgiving way and found that my work actually raised to a higher level as I learned to slow down and really “look” and be a part of the painting in the present.

My new series of work is not based on comparison to other artists, but a peace at being here and a new self talk to encourage and gently disengage my focus from low self worth. I am lovable in this moment. My work is good, I can be successful for myself, just as a direct expression of my own energy……mindful energy….

Thank you!”

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