‘If you want to discover your creativity, and make more insightful decisions, then read this book.’ Professor Mark Williams, Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Oxford.
Exclusive extract from Mindfulness for Creativity: Adapt, Create and Thrive in a Frantic World
The philosophers of ancient Greece believed that wisdom was imparted to mankind through the breath of the gods. Indeed, our own word inspiration means, literally, to breathe in. Mindfully focusing on the breath may not give you enlightenment from the gods, but it will certainly bring great clarity of mind. For this reason, the first week of the programme in my new book Mindfulness for Creativity teaches a simple breathing meditation that enhances clarity of thought and awareness.
Breathing meditations are not only profoundly relaxing but also directly relieve anxiety, stress and depression. They also enhance ‘convergent thinking’, or the ability to focus deeply on an idea, problem, or work of art – and this happens on both a conscious and unconscious level. The flipside of such convergent thinking is ‘divergent thinking’ (and I’ll come to that in a later post). Creative ‘Eureka moments’ happen when you shift between these two styles of thinking. In effect, this shift in awareness allows you to approach problems and ideas from different angles in different states of mind. Such a profound change in perspective is the essence of creativity.
The meditation programme at the heart of Mindfulness for Creativity enhances both convergent and divergent styles of thinking and teaches you how to move effortlessly between them. And it begins with one of the simplest of all mindfulness exercises: the Breathing meditation. You can listen to it here:
The meditation works by inviting you to focus on the sensations the breath makes as it flows into and out of your lungs and to notice the effect this has on your whole body. Throughout the meditation, it is important to focus on the sensations of breathing, rather than the idea of breathing. Many meditators, initially at least, tend to think about the breath, instead of actually experiencing breathing first-hand.
Why is focusing on the breath in this way so important?
Firstly, it provides a dynamic anchor for your awareness. It allows you to sense when your attention has wandered and provides a focus to return to. This helps you to see when your mind has slipped into the circular, repetitive thought patterns that undermine creativity. You also come to a deep-seated realisation that your mind is in constant flux. It is never idle and thinks constantly. This isn’t ‘bad’ in itself but if you are unaware of the thoughts passing through your mind then you can easily miss interesting or creative ideas. If you are lost in your thoughts, then your greatest ideas may also become lost.
Secondly, it helps strengthen your powers of concentration, so that you can effortlessly shift the focus of your awareness. See it as a form of exercise that gently builds and enhances your mental flexibility. This has positive ramifications across the whole of life.
Thirdly, it teaches you that the breath can become a sensitive emotional radar. All of your emotions are reflected in the breath. If you learn to focus on the breath while paying attention to your own emotional landscape, then you can begin to use it as a sensitive early-warning system. You can learn to sense when you are under pressure long before distressing thoughts appear in your conscious mind simply by becoming aware of disturbances in the normal rhythm of the breath. Such an alarm system allows you to defuse the ‘negative’ emotions that drive anxiety, stress, fear, anger and unhappiness before they gain unstoppable traction in the mind.
Fourthly, it teaches you that you can relate to your thoughts in the same way that you do to the breath. Just as the breath rises and falls, thoughts ebb and flow. At any one moment these might reflect an accurate view of the world – or they might not. This can be a profound and liberating insight because you are no longer compelled to believe that your mind’s running commentary on the world is completely true. You come to realise that it might, instead, be simply reflecting your emotional state; or perhaps running on autopilot, with your thoughts simply reflecting a habitual state of mind.
Fifthly, breathing itself can be profoundly relaxing. When you pay attention to the breath, and it becomes calmer, it naturally becomes deeper and more rhythmic. This stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and is naturally calming. So, paradoxically, noticing the build-up of negative emotions by the effect they have on your breath and body actually helps dissolve them. And actively ‘breathing into’ the areas of the body where the negative emotions appear to be localised can dissolve them even more effectively.
You can listen to the Breathing meditation here – or by clicking on the red ‘play’ button below
You can download the first chapter of Mindfulness for Creativity for free from here: