Are you scattered? Is the thought of writing making you anxious? Kali Anthony explains why meditation and mindfulness might be just the solution you need.
You know how life gets, full of stress and busyness. I’ve talked before about how difficult those times are for creative people. Stress and a lack of mental space stymies creativity because we have no room for imaginative thought, which is the key to creativity.
I’ve come to accept that stress is a part of my daily life, particularly since my paid job is exceptionally busy. Leaving work and having to switch my head into mother brain, leaves very little time to think about my stories, or daydream about what my characters might be getting up to. All my spare time is spent either thinking about the tasks I have to do at work or the jobs I have at home. Sometimes I feel as if I’m planning a daily military campaign, and none of that encourages warm, fuzzy thoughts about my stories.
Unfortunately, all this thinking began spilling into my sleep time. I talked last month about why getting sleep is vital to the creative process. Unfortunately, the techniques I used to try to get the hours I needed, didn’t seem to work because my brain was going a million miles an hour. Coupled with that, when I finally sat down to write, I'd become tremendously anxious. Anxious enough some days I'd feel physically ill. It made me avoid sitting at my computer. I’d stare at the screen feeling stressed and futile. So, what to do?
Turns out that what you need to do is encourage divergent thinking.
That’s the type of free-flowing thought which enhances your ability to create and helps form those bright ideas. Imagining all possibilities with no limitations.
Techniques to encourage divergent thinking can include free writing, brainstorming and stream of consciousness exercises. Bingo! I realized the problem I had was that my day was constantly filled with convergent thinking – following logical steps to get to the correct or “right” answer. Whether it was in my work as a lawyer, or problem solving as a mum, my mind was filled with logic and not imagination. I needed to encourage that divergent thought.
I wondered whether meditation might help since meditation is well known for having a variety of health benefits such as managing stress, increasing self awareness and improving attention span.
Initially I explored meditation to manage my stress. What I wanted, was to be able to quiet my mind so I could get enough sleep, and to settle the anxiety before I started writing. I began meditating at night before going to bed, in an effort to switch off my brain. Gosh, it was hard to shut down the errant thoughts but after a week or so, I snatched moments where my head was blissfully silent, and it really helped calm my mind so I could sleep. I hoped it might help with my writing too, because my thoughts were about as creative as the times tables. So I started doing some investigation as to how meditation might help with creativity.
Turns out, not all meditation is equal, where creativity is concerned. There are broadly, two types of meditation practice. One is "focused attention" – whilst meditating you focus on one thing, like your breathing. This type of meditation isn’t great at encouraging divergent thinking. The second is "open mindfulness", and studies have shown that this is the type of meditation you need to encourage creativity.
Which is bad luck for a beginner, because open mindfulness is harder than focused attention (which is where most beginners start). The open mindfulness technique requires you to sit with your thoughts,
acknowledge them, and let them pass by. It’s a difficult concept to grasp but think of your thoughts like the ocean. Those thoughts roll in like waves, and most of the time we’re stuck in the water getting buffeted about by them, totally immersed in the thinking. What open mindfulness requires, is for you to get out of the water and sit on the shore, watching the waves. You’re not in the water but observing. Not becoming involved, just recognizing them and letting them go.
So, where to start if you want to give meditation a try? There are plenty of apps for your phone, some which are free (like Smiling Mind) and others that have a free period, but you need to subscribe if you want to access more (like Headspace). If you want to find out more about open mindfulness meditation, YouTube is a good place, too. In my meditation practice, the guided meditations I take include both focused attention and open mindfulness and since practice makes perfect, I’m trying to meditate for at least ten minutes a day.
How has it all been going? I’ve been meditating for about a month now. My ability to sleep has improved out of sight. I also found this meditation helped settle my anxiety before I sat at the computer. This is a huge plus. And with the new found knowledge of open mindfulness and its link to creativity, I’m hoping my stories become less of a problem to solve, and more like the flights of fancy they should be. So far, so good. Wish me luck!
Have you tried meditation? What techniques do you use? Has it helped your creativity? We’d love you to get in touch here or on social media using the hashtag #GoDeep.