Mindfulness and Creativity

Photo by Diego

Creativity is the ability to generate new ideas and possibilities. This highly valued quality is responsible for the solutions to some of our most pressing problems and for many of the wonderful innovations that make our lives more enjoyable and less difficult. Research is demonstrating that mindfulness may enhance creativity through a number of mechanisms of action.

Flexibility of thought is essential to creativity and studies show that mindfulness practice is positively correlated with cognitive flexibility. This flexibility of thought is necessary for the divergent thinking that characterizes creativity. Divergent thinking involves the exploration of many possible solutions, in contrast to convergent thinking, which involves finding the one “correct” answer to a problem. Creativity also often relies on insight. Insight problem solving is the sudden discovery or recognition of a solution rather than a step-by-step analysis of factors. People with greater dispositional mindfulness have been found in the research to engage in more divergent thinking and are more likely to use an insight approach to solving problems the require convergent thinking. Interestingly, many of the insights gained about human psychology through millennia of Buddhist practice of mindfulness of inner experience are now being supported by modern science.

Creative thinking requires a coordination of the default mode (DMN) and executive control (ECN) networks in the brain, via a third brain network called the salience network, which is responsible for balancing the activity between them. The DMN is a set of interacting brain regions that work together when we aren’t engaged in a specific mental task, while the ECN regulates attention, emotion and behavior. Neuropsychologists speculate that the linking together of cognitive control and spontaneous thought helps nurture creative idea production. Mindfulness has been positively correlated in the research with enhanced executive functioning as well as functional connectivity between these three implicated networks. Studies indicate mindfulness and especially open monitoring meditation may:

  • encourage an insight rather than analytical approach to problem solving during convergent thinking tasks
  • reduce the influence of habitual 1) verbal-conceptual processes in thinking, and 2) patterns of responding
  • enhance flexibility, fluency, and originality of responses in divergent creative thinking tasks

Other ways mindfulness may fuel creativity may be through improved stress management and the cultivation of certain advantageous attitudes. High levels of stress are negatively correlated with creativity while trust encourages us to honor our instincts, opening us to insight. Beginner’s mind helps us see experience with fresh eyes, nurturing curiosity and inviting new experiences, exposing practitioners to information that might otherwise be missed. Compassion allows us to be more forgiving of mistakes, which may provide the courage to take risks and innovate.

It may be no coincidence that Buddhist monks throughout the ages have created incredible works of art such as calligraphy, soulful poetry, intricate sand paintings, colorful thangkas, and flower arrangements. The slow, precise and skillful choices and movements made in creating such artwork makes it a suitable practice of mindfulness. Perhaps the link between mindfulness and creativity has actually been long established. I invite you to investigate this connection in your own experience. Does the clarity and flexibility of thought developed through a dedicated mindfulness enhance your own creativity – and if so, how does this show up in your life?

We bring so many value judgements to our creating and meditating. And to ourselves. Not just is IT right but are WE wrong? Like there’s some fundamental flaw in us that means that whatever we do, we’ll never trust it. But we have to trust the truth of who we are and what we do. This goes way beyond value judgements of right or wrong – this is about knowing that who we are, and therefore what we do with that – the art we make, the stories poems or songs we write, the way we sit in meditation – is a wholehearted expression of pure creativity of awareness and energy that’s so WHOLE it doesn’t know the meaning of opposites, of good-bad, right-wrong, artwork-artist, you-me, meditating-not meditating. When we’re wholehearted in our practice, we are ourselves, and we offer up all of ourselves fearlessly, holding nothing back. Whatever happens then is WHOLENESS and REALNESS and we can trust it utterly.Wendy Ann Greeenhalgh

Resources

Beaty, R., Benedek, M., Barry Kaufman, S. et al. (2015). Default and Executive Network Coupling Supports Creative Idea Production. Sci Rep 510964

Capurso, V., Fabbro, F., & Crescentini, C. (2014). Mindful creativity: the influence of mindfulness meditation on creative thinking. Frontiers in Psychology.

Chambers, R., Lo, B. C. Y., and Allen, N. B. (2008). The impact of intensive mindfulness training on attentional control, cognitive style, and affect. Cogn. Ther. Res. 32, 303–322.

Colzato, L. S., Ozturk, A., and Hommel, B. (2012). Meditate to create: the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and divergent thinking. Front. Psychol. 3:116.

Doll, A., Hölzel, B. K., Boucard, C. C., Wohlschläger, A. M., & Sorg, C. (2015). Mindfulness is associated with intrinsic functional connectivity between default mode and salience networks. Frontiers in human neuroscience9, 461.

Horan, R. (2009). The neuropsychological connection between creativity and meditation. Creativity Research Journal, 21(2–3), 199–222.

Lippelt, D. P., Hommel, B., & Colzato, L. S. (2014). Focused attention, open monitoring and loving kindness meditation: effects on attention, conflict monitoring and creativity. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1083.

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