By Rolf Brandrud
Everybody talks about it. Creativity and flexibility are key words in job ads. Young people are attracted to creative jobs, and all of us want to be part of creative milieus and live in cities associated with innovation, new perspectives and future-oriented development. Some think creativity and innovation are the only ways to sustainable growth.
What is creativity?
We tend to think of creative persons as unconventional and as perpetual sources of new ideas and imagination; capable of original thinking and exploration of unusual solutions – people who hit upon new perspectives whenever they meet challenges.
Open access to inner sources and resources is essential as a starting point, but it isn’t sufficient. We have no guarantee that anything positive will result from our ideas. The challenge of creativity is not only to hit upon a good idea, but also to have the necessary capacity to put it into practice.
There is “Creativity” with a big C and “creativity” with a small c. Da Vinci, Gutenberg and Einstein represent the former – they made discoveries and contributed to inventions that changed the world. However, all of us may be potentially creative in a less spectacular sense – with a capacity for renewal and development of ourselves and our relation to others – at work, in our studies and in spare-time activities.
If we look behind the actual content of our creativity and look at how new thoughts, discoveries and inventions come into being, we see some general patterns, a process with five typical phases:
Creativity may start when we are stuck and experience that the way we approach challenges doesn’t help us get any closer to a solution.
After some time we may give up our project at the conscious level, but our unconscious may still be involved and continue to ponder the problems. The maturation phase may sometimes be brief, but may also last for months, even years.
There may suddenly be a moment of insight: “Of course, this is how I’ll do it! Strangely, it never occurred to me before.” Such glimpses of insight tend to be followed by excitement and joy about the unexpected access to new possibilities.
After a day or two the excitement may fade, as, according to our new judgement, the bright idea and golden opportunity seem less bright and fabulous, and no longer so splendid. This may be accompanied with either self-criticism or a more realistic evaluation. A dialogue with others may help us sort out the value of our ideas.
This is the phase Thomas Edison referred to when he said that creativity is 1% inspiration and 99% transpiration. Our creative seeds may perhaps create something of value if we have the courage to try, the endurance to go further in the face of resistance, and the capacity to adjust and develop nuances in a dialogue with others.
Parallels to meditation
There are several similarities between creative processes and the personality development that results from the practice of Acem Meditation, guidance, communication and related activities. In three particular areas, meditation seems to stimulate development of more creativity within each individual.
When you look at something, what you look at is your focus. At the same time, you may vaguely perceive movements and light on all sides, without doing anything in particular to see them. These constitute the periphery of your field of view. The same applies to your inner awareness. Some of your thoughts are in focus, while other thoughts and impulses are in the periphery of consciousness.
When we work actively with something, nearly all our attention is on the central focus. When we relax and don’t do anything in particular, the focus is softer and less distinct, and our sensitivity for activities in the periphery increases. Most literature on creativity suggests that aha-experiences tend to occur under such circumstances. “My best ideas come to me when I am taking a shower,” some people say. Others claim that being alone while driving their cars are the most creative moments. Many mention that the experience of “sleeping on it”, or “meditating on it”, facilitate new solutions to problems in which they were stuck.
Non-directive techniques like Acem Meditation may be seen as opportunities for training in such peripheral processing. This implies reducing the activity in the centre to a minimum, while activities in the periphery are allowed to come and go freely. This allows tension from our current life, as well as residue from the past, to be expressed and processed. Spontaneous thoughts in the periphery of the mind will become accessible, with all their creative potential.
Imagine a jazz musician on stage. She does not only play according to the notes, but also tunes into the audience and her fellow musicians when she improvises. The creative expression of herself and the music include her spontaneous impulses and ideas during the performance, and gives energy to the musical experience. It looks simple, but thousands of hours of training precede the performance in order to develop the required skills to make such improvisation possible.
In the same way, we develop most skill-demanding activities, whether we play music, dance, learn new languages or drive a car. Not until we have attained the necessary mastery can we do it with elegance, drive and flow. A characteristic and advantage of Acem Meditation is that we may quickly obtain a certain level of skill. The repetition of the meditation sound is a volitional activity so simple to practice that you can master it already from the first meditation. Thus, from the very beginning, you find yourself in the same creative field as the improvising jazz musician, continuously searching for ways to practise your technique in gentle and effortless ways that work close to the mind’s spontaneous impulses, whatever they might be in the moment.
Shifts of perspective
There are no unresolvable problems, only perspectives that make them seem unresolvable. Creativity increases when we let go of the ways we look at problems and open for new perspectives, rather than getting stuck in the old ones and not seeing any solutions. When our central awareness is locked in a certain perspective, the associations and impulses in the mind’s periphery may bring about openness for new paths. This may take time; in such processes there is no quick fix.
We easily recognize this from our meditation. At times we feel dissatisfied with the way our meditation is. We feel too tired, too restless, have too many trivial thoughts, or sexual impulses, irritation or whatever we dislike. We may switch between struggling with and giving up attempts to change our meditation.
Intellectually, this is not difficult. We know that what matters in meditation is not the spontaneous activity entering our mind, but our own contribution – how we meet our own spontaneity with the repetition of the meditation sound: in an open and effortless way that gives room for spontaneous impulses. But this is theory. In practice, we often forget. Not because we have a bad memory, but because the meditation process brings up and actualizes our tendencies to get stuck in narrow perspectives.
Discovering and letting go of such hang-ups in meditation provides a basis for bringing a creative impulse into our life as well.
More creative with meditation?
For the moment, we may not be able to document this. What we can do now, however, is to point to parallels between meditative and creative processes, and explore the probability that nondirective techniques like Acem Meditation may have a positive effect. Meditation stimulates peripheral processing. It brings us quickly into processes that involve our spontaneous impulses. This provides us with training in discovering perspectives that make problems seem unresolvable – and in working our way through them.
Text: Rolf Brandrud
Translation: Anne Grete Hersoug
Language editor: Ann Kunish
Photos: Ole Gjems-Onstad, Halvor Eifring et al.