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meditation enhances creativity and problem solving

meditation enhances creativity and problem solving

by November 19, 2014 0 comments

Creativity is not an easy thing to define. Its meaning varies widely, depending on a person’s background, profession, or general outlook on life.
To an engineer, creativity might mean finding a solution to a nagging problem—like how to make a car engine more fuel-efficient. An artist relies on the creative spark to express an idea in a unique way through words or pictures or music. And if you’re a teacher, creativity can be all about getting 30 kids to pay attention to—and maybe even enjoy—the day’s math lesson. The list can go on; just ask yourself what creativity means to you.
Regardless of the specifics of your definition, creativity generally involves seeing things in a new light and getting past a sense of being “stuck.” And it turns out that meditation is really good at making that happen. It’s no surprise then, that Wikipedia publishes an extensive list of prominent people across all kinds of disciplines who practice Transcendental Meditation—which is just one of the many meditation techniques out there.
Filmmaker David Lynch is on that list, and in his book Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, & Creativity, he invokes the classic metaphor of the mind as an ocean, and ideas/creativity as fish. When the ocean is turbulent, the waters murky, it is difficult to locate and catch the fish. But when the waters become still and clear, even the biggest fish dwelling at the greatest depths become accessible. Lynch attributes much of his success as an artist to his meditation practice, which he says has had the same calming, clearing effect on his mind and given him access to big ideas.
Meditation’s connection to creativity is supported beyond the testimony of creative people, however. In fact, it’s become a popular area of study among neuroscientists, and the scientific literature on meditation, creativity, and problem-solving is steadily growing. Here are just a few examples:

  • A study performed at Leiden University in the Netherlands found that “open awareness” styles of meditation, where the meditator is open to whatever sensations or thoughts arise, increased divergent thinking, or the ability to come up with many new ideas (for example, how many uses can be found for an object, such as a pen).
  •  A Chinese study on problem-solving saw a significant improvement in participants’ ability to solve problems that had previously stumped them after practicing meditation techniques requiring focus on a specific stimulus–such as the breath or physical sensation. This suggests an increase in convergent thinking.
  • Mindfulness meditation was seen to reduce cognitive rigidity in participants of a study published in 2012. Test subjects were given a series of problems with extremely complicated solutions, followed by problems with much simpler solutions. Non-meditators tended to be “blinded by experience,” assuming that because the first problems were tough, so would the later problems. This threw them off. Mindfulness meditators, however, were more prone to recognize simple solutions where they existed.

So it appears that different types of meditation can have benefits in specific areas of creativity and problem-solving. Modern science is catching up with the anecdotal evidence that’s been coming from meditators for centuries.
Have you experienced the benefits of meditation on your creative process? Please share your thoughts or questions in the comments section below.

photo credit: opensourceway

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