By Paul Harrison
Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso.
Creative people. They’re the rock stars, authors, and artists of the world. They’re the ones we look up to for their imagination and their talent.
They’re special, aren’t they? Those creative artists who create the music, books, and art we turn to when we want to dream.
I remember the first time I went to La Louvre in Paris, one of the most impressive art galleries in the world. A teenage art nerd, I couldn’t help but fall in love. I ogled the works of artists like Gericault and Da Vinci. They were people born to create works of creative genius.
As an author, I dreamed that one day I might create works that would be one hundredth the creative brilliance of those paintings adorning the walls of France’s most important gallery.
But where Da Vinci and Gericault were born for creative brilliance, I was not. Most of us are not. Right?
If we were born with creative talent we would surely know about it, wouldn’t we? Talent like that couldn’t be hiding somewhere, unbeknownst to us. Could it?
But what if creative talent isn’t reserved for just the lucky few? What if creative talent is actually inside us all?
Pablo Picasso famously said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
Sure enough, every child is indeed an artist. Give a two-year-old a crayon and they’ll draw you a picture. True, it might be a mangled mess completely uninterpretable until said child tells you it’s a cat, but they will grab that crayon and they will draw to their heart’s content; they will have a go.
Trouble is, most adults will not have a go. Give an adult a crayon and they’ll probably just put it right back in the box and tell you to grow up. It’s like the mere idea of being creative seems absurd to them.
We lose our creativity as we grow old. And no wonder. “Stress is a well-known creativity killer,” says psychologist Robert Epstein, PhD. “Time constraints are another.” As we age we are gradually exposed to both increasing levels of stress and tightening time constraints, and our creativity is stifled.
Stress and time-constraints kill creativity in many ways:
- Stress prevents the mind from being playful, which is essential to creativity.
- Stress makes us obsess over worries rather than thinking about possibilities.
- Stress prevents us from living in the moment, cutting off our main source of inspiration.
- Stress is tiring, sapping our creative energy.
- Time constraints mean we’re forced to do things the way we know rather than looking for alternatives.
- Both time constraints and stress make us hyper-focused on action and results, preventing us from looking outside the box, from considering alternative options, and, ultimately, from being creative.
Put all these factors together and it’s easy to see why the modern world is custom designed to kill the average adult’s creativity.
But that doesn’t mean adults cannot be creative. It just means we have to make a concerted effort to actually use our creative powers.
The key to reclaiming our creativity, perhaps surprisingly, is this: We need to chill out.
Sounds jovial. It’s actually both vital and incredibly accurate.
If we want to be creative we have to let our minds play. We have to stop being so darned focused on the time and on productivity and results. “Chilling out” truly is the answer.
To say we need to “chill out” really means we have to let go of stress so we can be more mentally flexible.
We can liken this to yoga.
Physical stress kills a yoga practice like mental stress kills creativity, and for precisely the same reason.
When we are tense (in other words, physically stressed) our muscles are cramped in one position, making it impossible for them to take up an asana.
Similarly, when we are mentally tense (stressed) the mind is too forced in one position, too focused on one way of looking at things, making it impossible to be creative.
We can solve both these problems in the same way.
When we are tense in yoga we don’t immediately jump into Locust Scorpion. We begin by helping the body to relax. Only once the body is relaxed can we perform advanced asanas.
It’s the same with creativity.
When we’re mentally stressed we don’t pen A Tale Of Two Cities. Rather, we have to take steps to relax the mind so that we can start to be more creative.
To relax the mind, we meditate. But in a specific way.
The majority of meditation techniques are focused. These are techniques in which we focus the mind on one thing, such as the breath. This, however, is not conducive to creativity because creativity is not about focusing on one view. It’s about being open to myriad different views.
The opposite of focused meditations is Open Monitoring.
These are meditations in which we do not focus on one thing, but rather we extend awareness to the entirety of our environment. It’s as though consciousness were butter in a warm pan. The butter expands evenly to cover the whole pan. Same with open monitoring meditation. Consciousness spreads evenly so we are aware of our whole environment.
If you have ever found yourself fully absorbed in beautiful scenery you will have experienced open monitoring meditation. It’s the state in which we feel one with our environment, when we seem to breathe with the world, when we are calm and yet aware of the fullness of our environment.
Scientific research proves that open monitoring is an incredibly powerful technique for creativity.
Cognitive psychologist Loenza Colzato studied the affect that open monitoring meditation has on divergent and convergent thinking. These are mental processes that enable us to come up with new ideas and bring those ideas together into one cohesive unit (such as when we conceptualise a story, first brainstorming ideas and then bringing them together into one story).
Colazato’s study showed that open monitoring meditation significantly improved these mental processes. This, Colzato said, showed that open monitoring meditation is an incredibly powerful tool for creativity.
The reason open monitoring meditation boosts creativity is, essentially, because it is freeing. It undoes the damage that too much stress and time constraints do to us.
As adults, it is far too easy to become hyper-focused on productivity and results, always choosing the trusted way rather than being free to experiment. It’s a self-imposed cage in which we cannot see the infinite possibilities that are always within us.
Open monitoring meditation opens the mind, limbering us up like those warm-up moves in yoga. It creates mental flexibility and freedom with which we can realise our creative potential.
Why not try open monitoring meditation today. It’s easy.
To do open monitoring meditation:
- Go somewhere quiet and relaxing, a place you would want to be one with (such as a beautiful countryside).
- Sit or lie down.
- Count your breaths up to 50 just to relax.
- Be aware of your senses. Listen, feel, smell, taste, and see the environment around you.
- Let your consciousness out so that you are aware of everything.
- If thoughts and feelings arise, let them come and go while still paying attention to the environment.
- Continue for 20 minutes.
- Notice how you feel more open, more relaxed, and freer.
Practice this technique whenever you want to get in touch with your creativity. It will open your mind and give you the mental freedom and flexibility with which to be creative.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Paul Harrison, based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Paul is a spiritual author, meditation teacher, and owner of The Daily Meditation.com. Be sure to read Paul’s guide to using meditation for creativity so you can achieve your true creative potential.