Meditation for Creativity:
The Secret to Originality and Innovation
For centuries people have been using meditation for creativity, focus, relaxation, and many other useful purposes.
This thousand-year-old practice has helped countless individuals discover their deepest passions and push the boundaries of creativity. From Hugh Jackman and Oprah Winfrey to Steve Jobs and Bill Ford, many of the visionaries, thoughts leaders, and celebrities of our time have used meditation to turn their passions into game-changing results.
But what exactly happens when we meditate? How can something as simple and accessible as meditation lead to creative ideas and original results?
The answer, as always, is in the structure and functionality of our brain. We know for a fact that practices such as transcendental meditation, Yoga Nidra, or mindfulness meditation can induce significant changes in brain wave activity.
But before we get to that, let’s take a closer look at what creativity is and how it changes the way we think about ourselves, others, and the world surrounding us.
What is Creativity?
Many of us talk about creativity. We seem to be excited about the amazing outcomes that can derive from this intricate mental process. We admire poets, fashion designers, painters, and visionaries for the original ideas that creativity has blessed them with.
But what is this wonderful process that makes something out of nothing and changes the order of things?
Creativity or creative imagination is the highest and most specific form of human imagination. It involves creating something meaningful and original that has a purpose for both the individual and society.
In other words, the creative process involves establishing a relationship between the products of creativity and human needs, from biological and material to spiritual and aesthetic.
Considering the multitude of mental processes that contribute to creativity, it’s obvious that this mechanism involves almost every area of the brain.
In fact, we can look at creativity as the result of brain reorganization. Brain circuits reorganize as a result of exposure to new information, especially during learning. Think of it as a ‘software’ update.
Based on this explanation, changing the environment can help us become more creative.
But it depends on what we mean by changing the environment. If we’re talking about an adverse change, it’s pretty obvious that creativity won’t flourish. An environment over which we have little to no control does not boost creativity. For example, we can’t talk about creativity in a labor camp.
If we want creativity to flourish, we need a positive and stimulating environment. A place that inspires us to come up with original ideas. That is the reason why many people choose to meditate in natural settings as opposed to their homes.
Meditation and Creative Thinking
We know for a fact that meditation has a positive impact on our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. From improving focus and increasing our pain tolerance to lowering depression, anxiety, and stress, this practice represents a viable solution to many of our day-to-day problems.
But what about creativity? How exactly does meditation lead to creativity and original ideas?
First off, the creative process relies on creative thinking, more specifically divergent thinking. This style of thinking allows us to generate several new ideas on the same subject.
But not all forms of meditation have the same effect on creativity.
According to a 2012 study, only meditative practices based on open-monitoring have a positive effect on creativity. In other words, only non-concentrative meditation – where you focus your attention on a specific object/thought/idea – can stimulate creativity and help you come up with original results.
If you’re planning to use meditative practices to boost creativity, keep in mind that meditation is a lifestyle that requires discipline, consistency, and patience.
Meditation for Creativity: Uncovering the Neurological Mechanisms
Just like any other mental process, creativity relies on a series of neurological mechanisms which serve as its biological foundation.
As we mentioned before, there are numerous areas of the brain involved in the complicated process of creating something original and unique.
But what exactly happens in the brain while we meditate? More specifically, in which way does meditation change the brain so that creativity begins to flow from within?
For decades, researchers have been exploring the neurological mechanism of the meditation-creativity link.
A study conducted in the 80s at Cornell University revealed some exciting changes that occur in the brain as a result of Transcendental Meditation.
As Maharishi Mahesh Yogi brilliantly describes it, Transcendental Meditation means “turning the attention inwards towards the subtler levels of a thought until the mind transcends the experience of the subtlest state of thought and arrives at the source of thought.”
Using electroencephalography (EEG), researchers were able to chart the neurological activity of the brain during the practice of Transcendental Meditation. It seems that while using this meditation technique, all the areas of our brain are ‘in sync.’ In other words, all the brain mechanisms involved in the creative process work in tune with each other. This synchrony can then set the stage for original ideas and unique creations.
In a more recent study, researchers discovered that meditation boosts creativity through transcendence and integration. As the authors concluded, “Transcendence surpasses informational limits; integration transforms informational boundaries.”
In a way, this study confirms what researchers at Cornell University discovered almost thirty years ago. More specifically, meditation helps us look past the conscious levels of thought and explore the origins of our ideas and beliefs.
Moreover, meditation also has an impact on brain wave activity, which then translates to increased creativity.
Let’s hear it from the authors:
Increased low-alpha power reflects reduced cortical activity and detached witnessing of multimodal information processing.
Theta indicates an implicit affect-based orientation toward satisfaction and encoding of new information.
Delta reflects neural silence, signal matching and surprise.
Gamma indicates heightened awareness, temporal-spatial binding, and salience.
In other words, meditation allows us to take on the observer’s perspective, process new information, ‘connect the dots,’ and reach high levels of awareness.
But creativity is not just about building spectacular works of art or writing heart-warming poems.
Many of us use creative thinking in our day-to-day life. For example, thanks to this amazing process, we can find innovative solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.
A recent paper published in Frontiers in Psychology revealed that mindfulness meditation could have a positive influence on insight problem-solving. In other words, the “observe and accept” philosophy of mindfulness meditation allows us to separate ourselves from the problem and come up with original solutions.
Whether you want to practice mindfulness, transcendental, or any other form of meditation that involves detaching yourself from everyday hassles and focusing on a particular idea, make sure to do it on a regular basis.
Meditation Reveals Your Truest Passions
In the end, being creative is all about finding your deepest passions and desires.
It involves a long and arduous process of self-exploration and self-discovery that will eventually lead to your most authentic and most intimate self.
Focus on getting to know yourself better. Delve into your deepest thoughts, emotions, sensations. Examine your past experiences and use the knowledge you gain to build a better future. Search for the things that hold profound meaning to you.
The effects of meditation are not palpable as soon as you start practicing. That’s one of the reasons why many choose to give up after just a few attempts.
Truth be told, it takes months (even years) of constant practice to figure out how meditation works and experience the amazing benefits of this simple but highly effective technique.
For a beginner practitioner, one 20-minute session each day should be enough. You can practice in the morning, as soon as you wake up, or in the evening before you go to bed.
If you’re looking to boost creativity, try to meditate right before you start working on your project.
Once you discover who you are and what you want to achieve, creativity will come naturally.