Once seen as a ‘New Age Fad’, mindfulness is now used by a range of people from health professionals to athletes, teachers to school children and, most recently, in parliament as a means for combatting mental health concerns such as stress and anxiety.
But what does it have to do with creativity?
Researchers are increasingly discovering a massive link between mindfulness practice and the impact it has on creativity as well as the expected human well-being, health, and happiness (Langer, 2005).
As part of the Design for Services Programme at the University of Dundee we run a four week Mindful Design Practice module (MDP). Mindfulness practice is a way of rebalancing thoughts and reducing anxiety through meditation practice, which we feel frees our students minds up to be creative in new and challenging situations.
Our masters programme is an intensive one year of study – many students are juggling the responsibilities of family, part-time work or adapting to a new culture and language: a heady mix which does not always foster creativity.
The mindfulness practice complements the design research and practice element of the module – supporting students as they gather insights from a range of people in new and sometimes challenging environments. The mindfulness practice is led by practitioner Kumanga Andrahennadi supported by David Sanchez in five 90 minute sessions in the design studio at the university and two short (two hour) ‘retreats’ to the Botanic Gardens in Dundee and a local beach. In the sessions the participants were guided through a series of exercises to reduce the number of thoughts in their mind and focus on positive thoughts.
Feedback from the students suggested that the mindfulness practice gave them ‘space’ for their thoughts and many of them reported on the positive impact it had had on keeping them ‘balanced’ throughout their study.
Psychologist Brad Waters (2014) also supports research that suggests mindfulness can help foster creativity stating “I’ve personally found that, regardless of the science, learning how to cultivate mindfulness during my own bouts of creative block has been a welcome discovery.”
However, mindfulness can be daunting to the novice and should be embraced by learning to ‘trust the process’.
It’s not about ‘doing nothing’ or ‘daydreaming’, it’s about learning to focus on the moment you are in right now and removing yourself from all the distracting thoughts in your mind by becoming aware of them. Admittedly daydreaming can help to generate ideas, but being able to clear your mind and focus on the problem you are addressing is much more helpful in establishing a creative solution.
People may argue that you need a busy mind in order to create lots of new ideas. However, Shamash Alidina and Joelle Jane Marshall, authors of ‘Boast Creativity with Mindfulness, suggest that “when you have a calm mind, creativity naturally reveals itself’. They suggest this is for the following three reasons:
When you practice mindfulness:
- Your normal conscious thoughts start to lose their grip on your awareness.
- Your more creative, unconscious brain is able to work more effectively and create new connections and ideas.
- You make a mental space when your conscious mind calms down in which the new ideas are revealed.
The added benefit, they suggest, is that you are able to identify solutions faster, making you a more effective problem solver.
Try it for yourself:
Right now take a moment to become aware of the space around you, the lights, sounds and shadows. Focus on your breathing and what part of your body you feel it most in. Let thoughts come to mind but dismiss them immediately without letting your mind focus on them. Do this for a couple of minutes. Your only focus is being entirely present in the situation you find yourself in now. This is mindfulness. See where it takes you.
Alidina, S. and Marshall, J. J. (2014) Boost Creativity with Mindfulness
in Mindfulness Workbook For Dummies
Brad Waters, L.C.S.W. (2014) The state-of-the-art in personal development. Psychology today: Design Your Path
Dhiman, S. Mindfulness and the Art of Living Creatively: Cultivating a Creative Life by Minding Our Mind. Journal of Social Change 2012, Volume 4, Issue1, Pages 24–33 Walden University, LLC, Minneapolis, MN DOI: 10.5590/JOSC.2012.04.1.03
Greenberg. J, Reiner. K and Meiran. N (2012) “Mind the Trap”: Mindfulness Practice Reduces Cognitive Rigidity. PLoS ONE 7(5): e36206.
Hofmann, G. (2014) How Mindfulness Can Help Your Creativity
Langer, E. On Becoming an Artist: Reinventing Yourself Through Mindful Creativity. Ballantine Books; 2005.
White, H. (2014) Personal Interview. DJCAD: University of Dundee.