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Does meditation affect creativity?

Meditation is a practice/tool for exploration, discovery and self – awareness. The aim is to better understand the self, helps position oneself and choose participation in the external world. The process - become sensitive and observant of the internal world. Eventually raise it to awareness of the self in the external world.


My story

I was taught meditation in school. It didn't amount to anything at the time and it was simply an excuse to fall asleep during the class. Our teacher never woke us up either because she was also napping during that class. After I graduated college, I started taking meditation more seriously. Long story short, I was at a stressful job, driving long hours, in need of some kind of 'stress buster'. So I started meditating with an app called Headspace. Initially it was difficult to discipline myself to meditate everyday. Once I became fairly consistent, I began to see some benefits. Nothing great but I was definitely sleeping better. After a year of guided meditations, I knew I needed personal training and maybe a teacher. After a bit of searching and some trial and error, I started a course called Inner engineering with Isha yoga. I chose this course for its secular and non-preachy methods. The practice I do now is called Shambhavi Mahamudra. In all, I have been meditating for over two and a half years, enough to notice some changes.


Research

In the study 'Meditate to create' (by Colzato LS, Ozturk A and Hommel B [2012]) the researchers wanted to find out if meditation had any impact on creative thinking. There are many different types of meditation techniques. There is also very little idea of how creativity actually takes place in the brain as well. So it becomes difficult to track mediation with respect to creativity as a whole. Having said this, the researchers looked specifically at techniques popular to the Buddhist mindfulness meditation – Focused attention meditation (FA) and Open-monitoring meditation (OM). In FA, the person focuses their attention on one object or point. They largely ignore all body sensations, thoughts, environmental noise and keep all their attention on the single point of focus. For example, focusing on a single body part or pebble. In OM, the person is open to their thoughts – accepting as they come without any interference or judgement. For example, they focus on the breath and don't stop the flow of thoughts.

The researchers also focused on two aspects of the creative process – divergent and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking is where we come up with many possible solutions to a problem, evident in group discussions. Example: Find 6 uses for each: brick, soap, bottle etc. In convergent thinking, we come up with one focused solution to a problem, find patterns and connect the dots. Here speed and accuracy are most important. An example would be to find the similarities between 'time, hair, stretch' (the answer is 'long')


'We investigated the impact of focused-attention (FA) meditation and open-monitoring (OM) meditation on creativity tasks tapping into convergent and divergent thinking respectively'

The results:

OM meditation had significant impact in improving divergent thinking. This practice allowed for flexible and unrestricted attention in participants. The study also showed that different types of meditation have varying outcomes on creative thinking. The study did not show any significant correlation between FA meditation and convergent thinking. In general, both practices improved mood and stress reduction.


My meditation practice

Starts with basic yoga postures followed by exercises moving attention to the body. It also includes some chanting to help train the mind to relax further and be more open. Finally the core of practice is increased breath work and focus on the body's energy levels.


So. Have I actually become more creative? Do I agree with the research mentioned above? Has my creative thinking improved?


Sort of, yes. There is no earth shattering change in the quantity or quality of ideas. I still have ridiculous ideas. But after two years, I have begun to notice the building up of small significant changes.

  • I execute better – I am able to sit in one place and work on projects for extended periods of time.

  • Improved discipline and attention – I find it easier to keep up a routine and keep up with deadlines.

  • More openness – Not overly attached to my ideas. I feel more flexible and open to collaboration.

  • Some days I let my monkey mind explore and jump around. I let myself day dream but now I pull back when needed.

  • Slowing down – Earlier I used to juggle multiple projects always trying to catch up to my own schedule. Meditation has helped me allow things to take time without rushing.

  • Tapping into the flow state while I draw or paint is better now.

  • Combining meditation with journaling, physical fitness, yoga etc. addresses my emotional, physical and spiritual well being as a whole.


How to find a meditation practice?

Meditation works for anybody but if you are interested in experimenting with your creative boundaries, here are some suggestions:

  • Learn about the different types of meditation practices.

  • Find the practice that works for you – search explore and discover apps, teachers and practices that suit your needs.

  • Experiment with one practice for at least a month before switching to a different practice.

  • Visualizations and attention to breath work may (as science suggests) may be more of what you want to find.

  • Guidance is not necessary. But do find a teacher if and when you are not sure of things.


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