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"The truth of Zen, just a little bit of it, is what turns one's humdrum life, a life of monotonous, uninspiring commonplaceness, into one of art, full of genuine inner creativity."
Reflect for a moment on the above words from D.T. Suzuki, a Japanese scholar and professor of Buddhist philosophy. What is the truth of which he speaks? How does our understanding of the essence of mindfulness contribute to the blossoming of our creative potential?
Creativity or creative thinking is a mental process of bringing something new into existence through imagination. It involves the input of facts and sensory stimuli, interpolation, and critical reflection to imagine something that does not exist.
Creativity is a lot like compound muscle movement. Exercising it bestows many benefits on things like abstract reasoning, design thinking, spatial awareness, and cultural appreciation, to name a few. But when we partner creativity with mindfulness, something magical happens.
Mindfulness is the absence of judgement, and when we remove judgement from the equation, we remove our fear of it since we give it no importance.
Simply put, all of the wonderment of our creative expression becomes unhindered as we give it space to evolve as a journey rather than a destination. Our need to judge, criticize, and compare our output to the efforts of others becomes unnecessary.
We learn to stop shooting the arrow for the sake of simply hitting the target, and instead begin to honour the process of aiming, steadying the bow, mastering our breath, and choosing the perfect moment to release the string.
Perhaps this is the truth of D.T. Suzuki's observation: aligning creativity with mindfulness turns the ordinary into the extraordinary, and only because the extraordinary was within us all along.
How Creativity Benefits from Mindfulness
To begin with, what is creativity? In our quest to bring mindfulness and creativity together, we must understand what it is.
Say you spend time drawing the same picture every day for a year. Your skill would improve, but this doesn't necessarily make you creative. This is simply a repetition of a series of motions that leads to proficiency with them. Creativity, however, is about ideas—and ultimately about possibilities. It is a means of self-expression that encompasses multiple pathways and disciplines.
Where we can get stuck with being creative is in our thoughts and beliefs. It's easy to forget we are inherently creative beings when we measure our skills against others or fall short of our expectations. But when we become mindful, all of that disappears, leaving only room for the creative journey to unfold as it is meant to.
A study published in 2020 concerning the implications for mindfulness regarding creativity and learning found this:
"... mindfulness improves a person's ability to concentrate, decreases the fear of being judged, and enhances open-minded thinking while reducing aversive self-conscious thinking."
If we think about it, this makes sense. Mindfulness is the absence of judgement of our thinking, and when we remove judgement from the equation, we remove our fear of it since we give it no importance. This in turn frees us to imagine creative possibilities untethered to the worry of what others will think of our ideas. Mindfulness, in other words, leads to fearlessness, and fearlessness is an essential aspect of creativity,
We learn in the article What is Creative Mindfulness? that the mindfulness practice of honouring the present moment opens yet another gateway to creativity:
"Adding moment by moment mindfulness to our creativity helps us to just enjoy the process rather than focusing on end results, which means we draw, colour, write, journal or paint more freely and more joyfully."
What the author says here also stands to reason. After all, mindfulness practise brings us into the present moment and trains us to experience it fully. Understanding the moment we live in now as our point of power gives us a more profound respect for both the product and the process. Remember the bow and arrow analogy we used earlier? That's it.
Ways to Use Mindfulness and Creativity Together
1. Devote a Space to Your Creative Outlet
Aside from the obvious perk of having peace and quiet, there are reasons why having a separate creative space is essential. Perhaps the most significant one is that it places you immediately in the correct mindset. Such areas allow you to be mindfully creative with fewer distractions and tell your brain, "I'm here to brainstorm or create something", without pressure or panic.
2. Shut Off the Noise
By noise, we are referring to anything outside of you that hinders your ability to think creatively. For many of us, this means deactivating our phones, computers, or other devices. It means staying offline or not answering when someone knocks on the door. We are preparing for the advent of what's known as "deep work", or work that is genuinely creative or meaningful. We apply mindfulness here by resting in the peace of the moment with only our creative nature for company, and it is coaxed out of us and embraced without distraction.
3. Let The Ideas Flow
In the article How to Apply Mindfulness to the Creative Process, we see that practising mindfulness paves the way for our creativity to speak to us in its own language:
"When we practice mindfulness, we are more clear and can see our thoughts better ... mindfulness increases awareness. If a brilliant insight appears in a cluttered and noisy mind, you may just miss it. So when the moment of insight comes, be sure to receive a clear signal."
The very act of being mindful of our thoughts means not attaching any particular importance to them, especially those that may interfere with our creativity. When we do this, we naturally declutter our brains, making space for bold new ideas to take shape.
Giving Creativity a Mindfulness Boost
Perhaps creativity and its origins will always remain a mystery. However, we do know one thing for sure: ideas take shape much better in a relaxed and undiscriminating mind. That's what mindfulness does for creativity.
When you practice putting mindfulness into your creative ventures, you enjoy focus, enhanced clarity of vision, deeper insights, and the awareness of heightened perspectives. You serve your highest creative nature by being mindful, and bringing into the world the ideas that will change it.
And even if you don't hit the target, you'll still savour shooting the bow.