Be honest: how many new creative projects have you started in the last year, and how many did you finish? If you find that you start many more projects and ideas than you ever complete, do not worry – you are not alone! With the bewildering pace of modern life and the stress of competing demands on our attention, it is all too easy to get side-tracked when you start thinking about doing something new and creatively challenging.
Meditation can help. Evidence indicates that meditation not only enables us to think and act more creatively, it can also give us the focus and concentration we need to see our ideas through to the end.
Boosting Your Creativity
You may have noticed that recently there has been a subtle shift in our language around creativity. People whose work requires them to think imaginatively and provide new solutions often describe themselves as creatives. But we are all more than capable of being creative and thinking creatively. Put another way, creativity is not only a noun, naming a particular type of person, but an adjective – a word that can describe or apply to anyone.
It means the fundamental human ability to be creative, to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships and the capacity to create meaningful new ideas. We all need to be creative at one time or another. But it is easier at some moments than others – indeed maintaining consistent ‘creative flow’ can be incredibly challenging, not least when considering the chronic overstimulation of our modern lives.
The pace and complexity of society today excites our nervous system in an unhelpful way, making us stressed and anxious. You may have heard of the ‘reptilian brain’. It is the oldest part of the human brain, concerned with survival and fight or flight, as opposed to more reflexive, conceptual thinking. This part of the brain is primarily activated by anxiety and adrenaline – our stress hormone. At the same time, the constant demands on our time and attention, along with an ever-pressing series of deadlines, often make our thinking more programmatic, as we cycle through our day and routines.
Meditation can offer a mental and physical space for being more intuitive and thinking more creatively. Studies have shown that when people practise meditation regularly the neo-cortex – and particularly the pre-frontal cortex – is activated and, incredibly, even starts to grow denser. This is the part of the brain responsible for creative thinking, problem solving, reflexivity, hypothesising and so on.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is the ‘newest’ part of the human brain – that is, the modern, most newly (‘neo’) evolved part. There have also been studies done specifically to measure the so-called cognitive ‘rigidity’ of people who meditate and the ability to solve problems in novel ways. The research shows non-meditators had greater cognitive rigidity than regular meditators – that is, the way they thought tended to be more patterned, and they also had a tendency to apply outdated solutions to easy problems.
This was not the case for people who meditated: regular meditators tended to approach problems in far more creative ways and come up with novel solutions. Equally exciting was the finding that meditators also worked more productively with others. Far from being a purely individualistic process, meditation enhanced social relationships and greatly strengthened interpersonal empathy.
So, if you want to calm your mind, unlock your inner creative genius and work more empathetically and productively with other people, you should consider meditation.
Focus and Concentration
Boosting your creativity is one thing – but to see your new idea or project through, you also need to be able to focus and concentrate. Once again, meditation can be vital. We are all prone to mental ‘chatter’ and ‘white noise’. Our brains are constantly processing complex sequences of information and the various competing stimuli of contemporary society are all constantly (and purposefully) vying for our attention. But if you find it particularly hard to concentrate, a concentration-based meditation practice may not be right for you!
Beeja meditation is based on the oldest form of meditation in the world, in which you concentrate your mind on silently thinking your own personal mantra. Thoughts are spontaneous and actively trying to resist your stream of consciousness can be counterproductive. The benefit of Beeja is that, by repeating your own unique mantra, you can bypass your busy mind and get into a more relaxed, mentally clarified state.
This is not simply about ‘switching-off’, though: it is precisely through the calming results of meditation that you experience less excitation of the nervous system, meaning less of that trivial, day-to-day noise in the mind, and more focused concentration, without having to struggle. The less scattered our nervous impulses and the more coherent our thinking, the more capable we are of simultaneously processing competing demands, allowing us to stay evenly on-task.
Neuroplasticity research confirms that the brain functions of frequent meditators change for the better and that meditators are less likely to find themselves at the mercy of distractions and an unruly mind. This is at least partly down to the way that meditation affects our neurons – cells in the brain that transmit electrical nerve impulses. When neurons transmit a current there are, as scientists call it, ‘neural oscillations’.
These are broadly categorized as gamma, beta, alpha, theta, and delta waves. It has been shown that meditation can increase alpha waves. When alpha oscillations or waves are prominent, your sensory inputs tend to be minimised and your mind is generally clear of unwanted thoughts, meaning that you are better able to concentrate on the task at hand. This means that people who meditate are more likely to complete tasks than those who do not. This is true over both the short and the long-term, covering everything from your day-to-day routine to that huge new canvas you are going to paint.
We are all prone to repeating the same cognitive patterns over time and to distraction – it is part of the way our brains and the modern world work. But with meditation, you are more likely to think creatively and to keep concentrated on the task in front of you. So next time you are planning that big creative project, why not make some time for meditation, too?