Can Meditation make you more creative?
Meditation has been used for thousands of years by various cultures around the World. There are different methods of meditation, but in brief it is a practice of concentrating, or focusing the mind and allowing it to become still. The popularity of practicing meditation has grown in the Western world in the last 50 years, and with it a number of claims that it is linked to health benefits for the body and mind.
It is therefore not surprising that scientific interest in meditation is growing. Here we are going to explore two studies that aimed to discover whether there was a connection between meditation and problem solving. There have been studies on this subject in the past producing varying results, but it must be noted that there were vast differences in the methodology used, and also in the typed of meditation that they studied. Meditate to create Colzato, Ozturk and Hommel published a study in April 2012, assessing the impact of meditation on creative thought required for problem solving. They analysed the impact of two forms of meditation. The first was focused attention (FA), which is where participants were required to focus on a particular object, using the breath to maintain intensity an concentration. The other form of meditation that was assessed was open monitoring (OM). This involves being mindful, and ‘freeing’ the mind, allowing it to open while remaining receptive to the present moment, and any thought or sensation that arises without judgement. These states of mind were induced before asking the participants to perform two different kinds of task, in order to assess if either form of meditation could promote creative thinking. The kinds of ‘thinking’ that were measured were convergent and divergent. Divergent thinking allows lots of new ideas to come to mind, such as is used in brainstorming. This works in a context where more than one solution is correct, and the aim is to generate as many ideas as possible. Convergent thinking requires speed and accuracy to find one good solution to an individual problem. The study was performed on 19 healthy adults who were asked to meditate using the methods discussed, before they performed their thinking tasks. The results showed that OM meditation significantly facilitated divergent thinking but not convergent thinking, and FA meditation showed some correlation that it aided in convergent thinking. Both forms of meditation elevated the mood of the participants, and this positive frame of mind could have been also benefitted the participants. It is interesting that not all types of meditation seem to have the same effect on problem solving and cognitive rigidity. The findings suggest that meditation has more of an impact than simply relaxing the individuals, and also that the effects may be long lasting.
Mind the trap
The second study was conducted by Greenberg J, Reiner K, Meiran N, published in 2012. They explored whether Mindfulness Practice Reduces Cognitive Rigidity.
Participants were required to perform six tasks, the first half of which required complex solutions, and the final three progressively easier ones.
Those that had not meditated before the tasks were found to become quickly frustrated as they consistently applied the difficult solution to the easier problems. Participants that had spent time being mindful before the tasks were more likely to realise that the problems could be solved simply. They adapted to each problem and brought a fresh solution, i.e. they were less rigid in their thinking.
Conclusions were drawn to suggest that mindfulness meditation reduces cognitive rigidity via the tendency to be “blinded” by experience.
Meditation in action
For those that rely on their creative mind for a living, it could therefore be beneficial to use meditation to nurture their precious resource. In a World filled with stimulation – buzzing mobile phones, bright adverts and loud televisions, taking time to calm the mind could be very important.
My own personal experience as a writer, is that twenty minutes of early morning OM meditation, focusing on breathing, such as yoga, allows me to stay present and be more receptive to ideas and focused throughout the day. It somehow creates more space and the benefits are far greater than just tapping into creativity and limbering up my grey matter. I will discuss other advantages that can be gained through meditation below. As the Zen proverb goes: “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”
This occurs when you are not consciously thinking about a problem, and a solution or idea flashes into your mind. You receive sudden insight into a new way of considering a situation. This is said to happen more frequently in those that meditate, and could be simply because you are more aware, and pay attention to your thoughts, even those that your inner critic would usually try to repress.
Meditation allows your mind to wander and form connections with that extravagant imaginative artist within. It is thought that there are levels within our mind, starting with the conscious (that we use day to day, our intellect), the emotional mind (subconscious) and even something beyond this that connects to a Universal knowledge. Meditation can help to tap into the deeper layers where we can hear the innate wisdom that is within. This is often where the real gems are hidden.
Brain mapping shows that those in meditation access different levels of their brain – so who knows!
Meditation may help creative individuals to find their flow, where ideas and words start to flood from within, via the paintbrush, guitar, throat or pen. It can almost feel as though our bodies are being used to channel a flow of creativity. The video here explains this in more depth.
Meditation has been found to improve attention and concentration through teaching us to focus, and stop being distracted! Practicing daily helps us to reduce the mind’s tendency to wander off, and instead appreciate the tasks that we are completing without continually flitting from one thing to the next.
Try to follow your thoughts for a moment, pay attention to what is happening inside your mind and you may be surprised by the endless stream of babble that you are producing. Practicing meditation can help to calm this chatter. Like a pond, the surface ripples will eventually settle down, and you will find clarity. From this quiet state problem solving and decision making happen naturally with less effort.
With the combined conclusions of the two studies discussed here, it seems fair to say that some forms of meditation can have a positive impact on different types of thought process. From my own experience, taking time to quiet and soothe the mind seems to allow inspiration, focus and flow in my creative work. The benefits undoubtably spill over into all areas of my life, and I certainly notice if I have not taken my twenty minute slot for a few days! It is a potential portal to your inner ocean of wisdom – why not take a dive and see what hidden treasures you might find there?