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Blog // Thoughts
April 16, 2019

Does Mindfulness Meditation Make Us More Creative?

Mindfulness meditation is everywhere. There are so many apps to help you do it. But does mindfulness meditation make you more creative?

I’ve been practising mindfulness meditation for a few years now. I’ve even written about it. It’s helped me become calmer and more focussed, and less anxious, distracted and forgetful.

But has it made me more creative?

I wonder.

The apps suggest it will. The popularity of mindfulness meditation among creative people makes us assume it must. But assumptions and suggestions aren’t the same as evidence.

Mindfulness, Focus and Creativity

The evidence should at least give us pause for thought. Mindfulness can help us focus better in our work. But focus and creativity are not the same thing. Caffeine can help us focus and get stuff done. But it’s not good for creating new ideas.

Mindfulness is the opposite of daydreaming. This is the clue we need to consider. In mindfulness, we let thoughts go and bring our attention back to the breath. In daydreaming, we follow the thoughts to whatever crazy place they want to go.

Creativity is connected to daydreaming and idleness. It’s also connected to sleep. We can’t control our dreams. Yet they can fuel our creativity.

Creativity can also be helped by walking. Maybe this is a clue. When we walk, especially in an open-minded and casually observant manner – not for the sake of exercise, but just as a way to be – we can find ourselves filled with inspiration.

Mindfulness Is One of Many Meditative Practices

Mindfulness is not a bad thing. There are times when our minds need to slow down. The burden can be too great. Stress, panic, anxiety, worry – all these can derail our creativity. Mindfulness conditions our mind.

But creativity-seeking minds need more than just mindfulness.

Thankfully, mindfulness is just one form of meditation. But there are many. They form a rich, interconnected network of contemplative habits. I like the way this site organises them in a tree. You can see there are many branches to consider.

I do Pilates every week. It’s a great form of exercise. A full-body movement like Pilates, or yoga, does amazing things for your body, but it doesn’t replace the kind of exercise you get from a cardio workout, like going for a run, a bike ride, or a swim. You need both kinds of workouts.

Perhaps we should start to think about meditation the same way? Not just commit all our time to mindfulness?

Meditation And Creativity

This raises the question of what we mean by creativity. It’s one thing to have creative ideas, another to craft those ideas into a creation. We think of the creative person as the master of both, though they are quite different.

The craft of creating demands skill and focus. It’s an inherently mindful thing. So mindfulness meditation, as a workout for the brain that needs to focus and let distractions fade into the background, will help.

But coming up with ideas… everything we know about that suggests it is almost unmindful.

The kind of meditation we need for this actually holds on to ideas, rather than letting them go. And does so in an open, vulnerable, non-judgmental way. Journaling is one powerful way to explore this. Open-monitoring meditation is another.

Learning to Shape Out Mindset

The big lesson of mindfulness – of any form of meditation – is how much we can change our mindset. The beliefs we have about ourselves and our place in the world are far more plastic than we often imagine. Mindfulness has exploded in popularity in direct response to the rise of anxiety-related conditions. We need mindfulness right now.

But we also need creativity. And we can start by asking how we make our mindset more creative. More open and responsive to fresh ideas. This will mean we seek other practices, in meditation and contemplation, beyond relying just on mindfulness to do it all for us.

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