Neuroscience Validates Mystical Practices for Enhanced Creativity
By Michelle Rothwell
Neuroscience research has made stunning advances in understanding how our brain functions by using monitoring tools that can observe electrical activity in our brains as they perform and react, such as MRI’s, EEG’s, and MEG’s. Such studies have shattered our previous understanding of how the brain is organized and performs, especially when engaging Creativity.
One significant set of discoveries has created links between creative activity and techniques that heighten Consciousness: both practices are known to produce identical frequencies of brain-wave patterns. Activities that were once viewed as not logical or practical —such as mindfulness exercises, yoga, meditation, prayer, and others— are now known to produce exactly the same brain-wave patterns that are associated with being in various states of creative engagement. For example, in one such state known as Theta, we become finely attuned to a deep intuitive awareness.
The link between ancient mystical practices and now-observed states of brain function has an important implication for those who would wish to increase their ability to be creative and productive. Powerful practices based in spirituality and mysticism should be investigated as valid methods of creative enhancement.
Mindfulness is a popular term for a number of techniques that increase our conscious awareness of the Present Moment and promote health and well-being. Some of these forms use directed attention, such as concentrating on awareness of our breath, or witnessing our constant parade of thoughts and emotions. Another technique that many people find effective uses non-directed attention, which does not seek to focus on any specific element. Neuroscience research has determined that this method of diffuse awareness is the most effective for innovative Creativity. People tend to exhibit more flexibility, fluency, and originality in their responses, when engaging open, non-directed Mindfulness practices.
The directed form of Mindfulness includes techniques such as Guided Visualizations or Positive Affirmations, which concentrate our thoughts on images or phrases in order to guide or script our experience. In contrast, diffuse Mindfulness is a relaxed state of being aware of ‘what is’ that allows us to witness the Present Moment without any effort to control it.
The successful practice of diffuse Mindfulness requires an ability to attain a state of relaxed and non-attached awareness. In this heightened state of consciousness, you allow things to be ‘as they are’ and let go of the mind’s tendency to control and manipulate our perceptions of reality. You access instead a more profound and flowing awareness that can ‘witness’ each moment without judgment, neither clinging or resisting.
Rewiring Your Brain for Enhanced Creativity
Until recently, many scientists thought that our brains were mostly fixed in terms of both the number of cells and the ability to change once developed. According to Susan L. Smalley, PhD, and Diana Winston in their book, Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness, new research now reveals that “Our brains have a great capacity to change in both structure and function with experience, whether that experience is mindfulness practice, learning to ride a bike, speaking a foreign language, learning math, painting, or learning to think or feel differently. Practice changes the brain. . . We can rewire our brains, just as an electrician rewires a house, and science is beginning to show the possible range of such rewiring. . .”
The transformative properties of the brain can shape either positive or negative effects and outcomes. Descartes’ famous axiom could be restated as, “You become what you think and do.” Mindfulness practices have real potential to rewire our brains for sustained states of consciousness, which ultimately impacts our Creativity. There are a variety of practices for achieving different states of awareness and functioning.
Brain-wave Entrainment for Enhanced Creativity
It is important that creative individuals incorporate some form of mystical practice that engages a balance of all patterns and frequencies of brain-wave function, referred to as Brain-wave Entrainment. As described in Brain Wave Entrainment by David Mager, “a complete brain wave harmonization in the left, right, anterior, posterior, and occipital regions of the brain” will provide for both optimum well-being as well as fulfill your potential for inspired Creativity.
Brain-wave Entrainment can have a powerful effect on your creative ability. It is described as “any procedure that causes one’s brainwave frequencies to synchronize with a periodic stimulus (sound, vibration, or light) having a frequency corresponding to the intended brain-wave state (for example, Theta to induce a trance, dreams, or creative inspiration; Delta to induce sleep; or Alpha for attentive relaxation.)”
Ancient wisdom traditions have used for thousands of years diverse techniques that produce Brain-wave Entrainment for both spiritual experiences and creative rituals, such as meditation; rhythmically rocking or dancing; chanting; drumming; musical stimulus; repetitive silent phrases; repetitive vocal exclamations; walking a labyrinth; breathwork; and others.
John Daido Loori in his book, The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life states, “[Creativity] is our birthright. It is an integral part of being human, as basic as walking, talking, and thinking . . . Every human life contains its seeds and is constantly manifesting it . . . The Creative process, like a spiritual journey, is intuitive, non-linear, and experiential. It points us towards our essential nature, which is a reflection of the boundless creativity of the universe.”
Loori’s assertion reveals an important guiding principle for us all. If we seek a fuller expression of our innate creative potential, the answer will be found in changing ourselves first before we change any techniques or methods. The evolution we desire for our creative practice will flow organically out of the transformation that is taking place within. Such Mindfulness practices have been observed by various cultures around the world for thousands of years.
Both Meditation and Somatic practices (practices that use the body to shift consciousness) are methods to master a spiritual awakening that ultimately changes who you are and how you live and create. You are the most powerful and fundamental element of Creativity that you can change. In the beginning, basic spiritual practices act like training wheels, guiding you as you master each stage of development until you break through to ride more expanded states of consciousness that are “beyond form.“ There, you will “dance” with your evolving creative potential until you reach your fullest expression of creative identity, which I call your unique Personal Creativity Signature.
Mystical or Mindfulness practices are some of the most pragmatic and direct resources you can apply to achieve your creative goals and dreams. When you engage in a regular practice, it will ultimately change the structure and function of your brain, while simultaneously creating the potential for a deeper sense of well-being.
Michelle Rothwell is an Associate Professor with more than 30 years of experience in Art, Media, and Design. She has developed college degree programs and dozens of college courses. Her client list includes DuPont, Proctor & Gamble, GlaxoSmith-Kline, Merrill Lynch, SAP, and others. Michelle is a practicing Fine Art whose work has been shown internationally and nationally in solo and group shows. She is the founder of Holistic Creativity, a complete System for personal growth and creative development.