How Meditation Makes Us More Creative
The Ultimate Guide To Creativity & Meditation
What's The Origin Of Human Creativity?
Looking to win the great "space race" against its Cold War rival, NASA spent much of the early 1960's hiring the world's best and brightest rocket scientists and engineers.
With a tsunami of applicants and the need to separate the contenders from the pretenders, NASA commissioned Dr. George Land, a highly respected University of Minnesota professor and Pulitzer Prize nominated author, to design a highly specialized "divergent thinking" creativity test.
Ultimately, with the 1969 moon landing just a few years later, his test design efforts were a boon for NASA, helping them on-board some of the world's most innovative thinkers, bringing the space race to an emphatic close.
But Dr. Land and colleagues were left with a few big questions. What's the origin of human creativity? Are we born with it? Is it learned? Is it something else entirely?
Looking for clues, the researchers administered the same test to 1,600 five-year-olds. How'd they do? Shockingly, a whopping 98% of the children scored at the "creative genius" level!
Captivated by the results, the scientists decided to do a longitudinal study, testing the same group of kids 5 years later, and again 10 years later. What did they find? At age 10, only 30% of the children scored at the same level. At 15, that number had dwindled to 12%!
Disturbed and intrigued by the clear and present downtrend (plummeting from 98% to 12% in just 10 years!), the scientists wondered, how (un)creative are adults? To find out, they administered the same test to 280,000 adults (25+ years old). Pathetically, a mere 2% scored at the creative genius level! Their suspicions were confirmed.
Why Creativity Is "Unlearned"
So, if creativity is not learned, but rather "unlearned," what's the reason? Why are 98% of us "creative geniuses" as children but only 2% as adults? Why such a steep drop?
"Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up." — Pablo Picasso
The truth is, our inner "painter, composer, inventor, innovator, etc" gets muzzled from the day we enter our highly structured, "no thinking outside the box" educational system.
Year after year of cramming our little brains with (soon to be forgotten) facts and figures, only to spit them back out on a fill in the bubble, standardized test really suffocates our precious little imaginations.
With a school system that rewards compliance and obedience rather than originality and ingenuity, when it's time to "graduate" into the work force — we are, in essence, programmed robots.
Creativity Breeds Success, Happiness
If NASA made a pre-employment test to find the "1 in 50" people who "held on" to their imagination beyond childhood, you know, the 2% of creative geniuses still left in the "adult wild," then you can bet these folks are the innovative "old system breaking" and "new system making" superstars topping their respective field(s) — whether it's technology, engineering, entrepreneurship, design, art, healthcare, business, science, or else.
With some of the world's heaviest hitters having little more (and sometimes less) than a high school education, billionaires like Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Paul Allen, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, and Richard Branson — perhaps it's time we rethink our "memorize, test, and forget" educational system?
With our imagination entering hibernation at some point during our "youngsterhood," we seldom get to experience the highly euphoric "flow" state as adults. Where, in the midst of making, building, and designing cool new things, we totally lose ourselves in the creative process. Where minutes fade into hours, and we forget to eat, drink, and sleep because our creative "high" is all that really matters.
Is there any surprise that, according to a recent Gallup poll, about 70% of us are miserable with our jobs? While 84% of those in creative fields view themselves as happy and fulfilled?
The World Needs Us To Be Creative
The thing is, the world needs us to be creative. Books don't author themselves. Inventions don't invent themselves. Music doesn't write itself. The by-product of creativity is every great achievement the world has ever seen.
Whether it's Michelangelo's David, Bell's telephone, Beethoven's 5th symphony, Herman Melville's Moby Dick, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, Gutenberg's printing press, Thomas Edison's electricity, the Wright Brother's airplane, Alexander Fleming's penicillin, or Al Gore's internet (kidding on that one, couldn't resist!), we need "out of the box" thinking to invent useful things, create timeless works of art, solve problems from new angles, find new cures, and so on.
If we had kept with yesterday's brainchildren then we would all be riding around in horse and buggies instead of Uber, carrying around "Zach Morris" brick-phones instead of sleek iPhones, driving to Blockbuster instead of logging into Netflix, and "seeking knowledge" via AOL instead of Google. Without innovation, the world stands still.
Staying Relevant Requires Creativity
Our ability to work and contribute to the world are also on the line. To survive automation, according to multiple outlets, including the US Department of Education, the World Economic Forum, and Bloomberg, the jobs of tomorrow will depend on "creative problem solving." Staying relevant in today's world requires "out of the cubicle" thinking. So cliche yet so true.
We need creativity in our personal lives too. Whether it's transforming a near-empty fridge into a hearty dinner for the kiddos, fashioning a barren closet into a last minute Halloween costume, fabricating a heartfelt (yet budget-sensitive) birthday gift for that special someone, or masterminding our way to a thriving "lifestyle business" — creativity's only limit is our imagination.
Luckily, we are creative by nature. It's in our genes. It's in our brains. Then, what's the best way to bring our creativity back to life?
Meditation. And the reasons why could fill a library. Here are a few:
How Meditation Supercharges Creativity
A Highly Connected Brain Is A Highly Creative Brain — While Dr. Roger Sperry's "split-brain" studies won him a Nobel Prize in 1981, much of the latest research suggests that, rather than simply being a "right brain" function, creativity is actually a "whole brain" function, requiring a scale of neuro-networks to fire together.
As the bundle of 200 million nerve fibers connecting the left and right brain hemisphere(s), upgrading our "corpus callosum" (CC) cranks up "whole brain communication," and according to the work of a world-renowned Caltech neurosurgeon, Dr. Joseph E. Bogen, really gets the creative juices flowing.
In case you caught any of the news articles, after detailed pictures of Albert Einstein's brain surfaced in 2013 (to the delight of neuroscientists), a couple of unique features dropped jaws. One was the great physicst's incredibly well-connected, thick, and brawny "corpus callosum," ground zero for his "out-of-this-world" creative genius.
Fortifying The Brain's "Bridge" — Luckily, to strengthen your corpus callosum, you don't need to tape on a funny looking mustache, grow kooky white hair, wear an unkempt "roaring" 1920's professor suit, or memorize the theory of relativity. There is another way. It's called meditation.
As shown by a 2012 UCLA School of Medicine study, meditation cranks up the corpus callosum, making it bigger, stronger, thicker, and in-turn, more well-connected. Yes, very much like Einstein.
(Note: We aren't saying that meditation will make us the "next Einstein," it's more about being the best version of "us." Meditation helps you reach your potential better than any other medium.)
The Great Creative "Brain Dance" — A meditation supercharged corpus callosum opens the door to what's called the creative "brain dance." What's that? After mapping the noggins of 163 volunteers taking part in "imagination exercises," Harvard researchers found three highly active subnetworks (which don't typically work in unison). Keeping this short, they are the "new idea igniting" default mode network, the "brainstorming & idea sorting" salience network, and the "will this crazy idea actually work?" executive function network.
Drivers Of Creativity — Another study by a team of Dutch psychologists (Colzato et al) found that meditation stimulated very important "drivers" of creativity, including "divergent thinking" (brainstorming creative uses for an everyday object, such as a paperclip), "convergent thinking" (which solution works best?), "working memory" (keeping creative ideas from "flying away"), and "cognitive flexibility" (openness to new ideas and experiences).
On the results, the team told Mindful.org: "To be creative, you need to have, or be trained in, the ability to observe, notice, and attend to phenomena that pass your mind's eye."
So, where is the mind's eye? The subconscious mind.
Accessing The Subconscious Mind — While this article is focused on the brain, since creativity effectively "lives" in the subconscious mind, we must mention it here.
We all know the iceberg metaphor. While our "above the surface" conscious mind is "just the tip" of our potential, our "under the surface" subconscious mind is where our true power resides.
Everything that happens to us but never notice, our dreams, our long lost memories, and zillions of other data points are all held by the near infinite reservoir that is our subconscious mind. Creativity lives there too.
Unlocking this treasure trove requires us to simultaneously quiet our "monkey" conscious mind while diving into our deeper, far more powerful subconscious mind. And that's precisely what meditation does! The chart on this page shows our subconscious mind's ocean of superpowers, and how meditation helps us dive right in.
Meditation's Legendary Impact On Creativity
Meditation's ability to magnify creativity is growing in legend. Especially in the business world.
In the early 1980's, Walt Disney was at a creative crossroads. In hopes of "accessing new creative directions," executives called in high profile psychotherapist and meditation teacher "to the Hollywood stars," Dr. Ron Alexander. After seeing the massive creative leaps by those who finished his mindfulness course, the Walt Disney company adopted mindfulness on a broad scale. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Over the next decade, with new Disneylands springing up in cities like Paris and Tokyo, groundbreaking animation patents hitting the books, and blockbusters like "The Little Mermaid," "The Lion King," and "Beauty & The Beast" gracing movie screens (to all the world's delight!), meditation's affect on the company, especially within its creative department — has been momentous.
Other companies have followed in Disney's footsteps. Since 2007, Google has offered a mindfulness course aptly named "Search Inside Yourself." Apple, Nike, and other heavy hitters have also tapped into meditation's wide spectrum of creative benefits.
Creativity Makes Life Better In All The Ways
"How will awakening my creativity change my day-to-day life?"
Creativity fuels passion, meaning, and purpose. Instead of hitting the snooze button (as we dread yet another mundane day at the dreary office), we spring out of bed looking forward to designing, making, and building cool new things.
Creativity has no limits. In this way, the creative process forces us to expand our boundaries each and every day. In turn, we grow. Perpetually. And it's wonderfully fulfilling. High level creatives know this, and experience a sense of joy felt by few in the world.
Instead of ignoring the wonderful brilliance and beauty all around, creativity allows us to experience life through the eyes of a child. From this "higher" perspective, life stays forever fresh and new. Speaking of:
"Come with me, and you'll be, in a world of pure imagination, Take a look, and you'll see into your imagination, We'll begin with a spin traveling in the world of my creation, What we'll see will defy explanation, If you want to view paradise simply look around and view it, Anything you want to, do it, Want to change the world? There's nothing to it..."
As the great Willy Wonka (of the Chocolate Factory fame) so eloquently put it, whether it's changing your life or changing the world, creativity is the key. It lives in all of us, awaken yours with meditation.