Leiden University has a new study that looks at how meditation impacts creativity. The results show that open meditation (e.g. Acem), where an individual focuses on whatever feelings or thoughts he has, had a positive impact on creativity. Closed meditation, where an individual focuses on one thing only, did not, however.
Acem meditation was developed in Norway. It’s a non-religious form of meditation which allows the participant to concentrate on his thoughts while listening to specific sounds. You’re still aware of your meanderings and you accept them, but they sit on the periphery of your awareness while you concentrate on the sounds. This method improves mainly divergent thinking (your ability to come up with many creative solutions for one problem). Interestingly, it does not seem to promote convergent thinking (your ability to come up with one solution to a problem).
Meditation Can Make You Think More
Meditation, it turns out, does not quiet the mind, but the right type of practice can make it more active. The Norwegian University of Science and Technology is studying brain activity during meditative processes. Their research shows that the brain processes more thoughts, emotions and memories during open meditation practices. UCLA researchers found that people who have been meditating for a long time have more gyrification (foldings in the brain cortex that are thought to enhance neural processing). In other words, the more years people spent meditating, the more efficient their brain cells were at talking to each other.
Mindfulness and Creativity
Mindfulness is wonderful for stress and pain management. Scientists, however, question its benefits when it comes to creativity and spontaneous thinking. A 2013 study showed that mindfulness increases cognitive abilities, but at the cost of some significant side-effects. It can help focus attention and therefore improve test taking type skills. The very same ability, however, that helps you with the SAT, can hinder your creative thought processes which are believed to occur in a region called the default network. There is a direct negative correlation between the regions of the brain that make focused attention possible and the ones involved in the creative default brain network.
What Kind of Meditation is Best?
Mindfulness is still a very good option for centering yourself, and achieving balance. Anxiety is also fuelled by our brain’s meanderings. Mindfulness, therefore, helps us by refocusing our thoughts. It also trains our mind to emerge from negative thoughts instead of diving deeper into them. The truth is, an artist cannot create art if his mind is too busy traveling through negativity or fear. Anxiety can crush creativity. Mindfulness can be a powerful ally to refocus our thoughts, allowing us to concentrate on what matters most to us.
Open meditation, such as the Acem method, is also beneficial. It can be combined with mindfulness practice. Since studies show that it promotes creativity, it is a good option for people concerned with achieving creative flow, or who fear that focused meditation will quiet their muse.
On a personal note, I have not found that mindfulness stomps my creativity. On the contrary, it has helped me feel more balanced. I am able to focus more diligently on my creative ideas when I practice regularly. My mind meanders often during my mindfulness meditations, but I’m okay with that. I see it as a flexible technique that flows with me.
For now, I’ll leave you with this thought–Jonathan Schooler, a researcher who studies the effects of mindfulness on creativity at the University of California, Santa Barbara, points out that it’s all about balance, and knowing when mindfulness or brain meandering is appropriate for you in that moment.
Let’s talk– Do you feel that meditation, especially mindfulness, promotes or lessens your creativity?