Creativity and Meditation Essay
I have been meditating since the age of 16; I’m now 56. That’s forty years, so quite some time. I have also been a life-long artist and writer, and I have noticed some definite parallels between these disciplines.
When engaged in art I have always found that my mind tends to become very one-pointed and focussed upon the task in hand, to the exclusion of all other things; when writing, I experience the same phenomenon.
In meditation, I also find that my mind tends to exclude all others things and becomes very one-pointed. There is clearly a similar state which emerges from the act of meditation, which parallels art and writing, and vice versa.
In essence, meditation is an altered state of consciousness, and it is my feeling that art and writing are also altered states of consciousness. Those involved in the performing professions such as acting or singing or playing a musical instrument will most like report the same phenomenon.
The common thread which connects creativity, in all its forms, is an altered state in the individual’s consciousness. Inventors have experienced this too, when, in pensive moments, the idea which will complete their new invention suddenly springs into their consciousness, as if unbidden.
Sometimes this may come in the form of a dream when the subconscious is allowed to surface. There are many stories of creative artists, inventors and scientists of all kinds having significant dreams which reveal the answer to the earthly question. Sleep and dreaming is of course, yet another altered state of consciousness.
The Beta State
Scientists have been able, over the years, to determine and differentiate the different brain states which we pass through in everyday consciousness and beyond that into these so called ‘altered states.’ They have been able to identify these different states of brain activity and each has been given a name to differentiate these states from one another.
When we are walking about, being busy in the external affairs of the physical world, our brain is generally engaged in the Beta State. This is the stage of brain consciousness which operates as the ‘busy mind’ the intellectual mind, the mind which is generally involved in all the myriads of functions which we have to perform in any one day, from work, to tasks at home, to even just reading a book. It is our reasoning, logical brain at work.
The Beta State doesn’t let the brain rest much, and it is this very state where anxiety arises, worries, fears, and other daily concerns, and it is this state of mind which refuses to shut down at night when the person needs to sleep.
This Beta State is necessary for everyday functioning, but it also blocks the channels which access the deeper aspects of the mind where creativity is found and expressed. Meditation and creative expressions of all kinds take us out of the Beta State.
The Alpha State
The Alpha State may be seen as a slowing down of the rhythm and ‘cycles’ of the brainwaves, so that there is an inlet of creative energy. You actually experience the Alpha State in a mild sense, when you are sitting calmly and there are few thoughts in your mind and you feel a sense of deep calm, untroubled by the world around you.
Meditation techniques can train you to enter this state more easily so that you may learn how to access the Alpha State at will. Most people enter this state of consciousness only in a mild and unconscious manner, and it may be experienced every night just before falling asleep, albeit briefly.
The Alpha State is a condition of the mind in which your everyday brain consciousness is slowing down to the outside, external influences, but becoming more alert and alive to the internal sense of personal presence and awareness.
It is a condition of the brain in which the calmness of breathing slowly and deeply with a fixed mental attention, brings about a state of consciousness in which you feel present in the moment, and the past and the future disappear.
By comparison, the Beta State will also keep you firmly fixated in the present, but in a way that excludes the possibility of letting go of the everyday problems and concerns. The Alpha State, however, leads you away from this often oppressive condition of the busy Beta mind.
You can access the creative part of your brain far better when you allow the Alpha State to bring you inspiration. All inspired thought comes from this aspect of the brain, but only when the cycles of the brain slow down enough to access the Alpha State.
It is a condition in which you find a deep, inner peace and tranquility. A true place of inspired thought, a type of thought which is not of the reasoning, critical mind, but of the inspirational, creative mind.
The Hypnogogic State
When you are lying in your bed, eyes closed, and slowly drifting into sleep, your brain starts to move into a totally different electrical cycle; you are steadily moving away from the everyday Beta State to the more subliminal Alpha State.
Have you noticed, that as your brain is slowly shutting down its activity, and as your breathing is becoming deeper, that you start to see images ‘on the screen of your mind’ as it were, which come from an unbidden source? You are now entering a world of symbols, just prior to the dream state, in which visual imagery may appear unbidden, upon the ‘screen of the mind.’
Just like dream symbology, these images which can just come from ‘nowhere’ and play upon the pensive brain, have hidden symbolical meaning. They can often occur in the Alpha State of Meditation. This is the world of inspiration and fresh ideas. These series of images which flash and flicker into your mind are a result of entering the Hypnogogic State, which is a phase of brain activity in which you are just starting to access Alpha and slowly moving into the next phase of consciousness.
The Theta and Delta States
The Theta State is another level of brain activity which then follows Alpha, taking you deeper, bringing dreams and visions. It is another level of reality.
As you fall deeper into sleep, Theta moves into the Delta State, which is the state of deep sleep itself. Some have theorised that we do apparently dream in this state, but are less likely to recall doing so upon awakening. So we are actually less conscious in these states.
So the brain will cycle daily through the Beta State, and in most people, this means that it predominates their everyday consciousness. In pensive, quiet moments, and just before sleep, the brain enters the Alpha State as outlined, but in most cases this will become drowsiness which leads to ‘nodding off’ and then sleep proper, bringing the individual into Theta and then Delta and hence unconsciousness.
We have therefore, four principle brain states:
1: BETA State (Everyday consciousness)
2: ALPHA State (Meditative consciousness)
3: THETA State (Sleep and trance consciousness)
4: DELTA State (Deep sleep and unconsciousness)
Step into Higher Consciousness
As creative people, we want to be able to consciously control our brainwaves so that we can slip easily into the Alpha State at will. This Alpha State is the most vital state of consciousness for creativity because unlike the Theta and Delta states it does not involve so much loss of consciousness. Indeed, consciousness is enhanced and you are likely to feel more aware than when in the everyday Beta State.
We obviously cannot enter into a fully comprehensive account of meditation practice, as the subject is too vast for an article of this nature. But let’s talk in outline, about some techniques that may be employed to increase our creativity via meditation.
Learning how to concentrate is probably the single most important practice which you can do as an artist or writer or for any other creative pursuit such as acting or performing on stage. Think of high-wire artists such as in the magnificent Cirque du Soleil performers who must be able to concentrate to a very high degree if they are to perform correctly and expertly without falling. Think of actors on stage having to remember reams of lines.
Meditation as a discipline is the first basic principle. Commit to a time and a place to meditate every day. Start with 15 minutes and increase to 30 minutes every day. That is the first step. Without this basic commitment of discipline you will never learn to enter the Alpha State at will.
There are many techniques for learning to concentrate the mind, but here are a couple of favourites of mine. There are countless others, so please do research this subject more fully for yourself.
Begin with deep in-breaths through the nose counting in your mind from 1 to 4.
Hold the breath for a couple of seconds as if it has entered the top of the head.
Breathe out slowly and deeply to a mental count of 4.
This counts as One Round.
Begin again by breathing in to a count of 4, holding for a couple of seconds, then breathing out once more. Perform this breathing practice for at least ten rounds. All breathing is done via the nose with the mouth closed.
This deeply relaxing practice will slow the brain waves down and bring the brain from the Beta State onto the threshold of the Alpha State.
Place a candle about 18 inches from your nose at eye level, on a firm table. Light it, and please ensure that the candle is safe in its holder and will not topple over. Blow it out when you are finished.
Have the room fairly dark with no distracting objects behind the candle; a blank wall will serve well as the background behind the candle.
Now softly focus your eyes upon the flame of the candle. Do not look along the candle stick or anywhere else. All attention is solely given to the candle flame only.
Breath deeply and slowly, in and out through the nostrils. Allow the eyes to feel very soft, not hard and staring. Try not to blink excessively.
Do this for about 5 minutes.
Most people find that they become mildly mesmerised by the candle flame and that eventually, all other thoughts disappear. Only the candle flame is the object of your attention.
If you now cover your eyes with the palms of each hand, as if playing hide-and-seek, you may see an after-image of the flame on the retinas of your eyes. Just breathe gently, hands softly over the eyes, gazing into the bright spot of light in the mind’s eye. It will change through a kaleidoscope of colours as the cone cells of your eyes have been activated. It really can be very beautiful to see.
Allowing the after-image to dissolve, now lower your hands and carry on with the rest of the meditation, allowing your breathing to find its own natural level.
You have now practiced concentration externally by gazing at the candle flame, and you have also practiced internal concentration in your mind’s eye, by gazing at the candle’s after-image.
Self-Induced Alpha State
Performing these simple meditation practices will train you to bring the brain into a self-induced Alpha State very easily and quite quickly. For creative people, this state of consciousness is an absolute must.
All areas of your creativity (and indeed, other aspects of your life) will improve in myriads of ways. You will perform better, and for longer. You will make fewer mistakes. Your creative ideas will come ‘out of the blue’ more frequently. If you are stuck on the next part of your novel or have trouble rendering your artwork or recalling your lines, these meditation practices will help you.
Only by a conscious access of the Alpha State will you be able to control and utilise your creativity to its fullest potential. Meditation shows you how.