As a professional Irish artist who consciously chose the career of an artist at the age of seven, I can truthfully say I’ve been exploring the nuances of creativity for 43 years now.
And as a mindfulness instructor who began meditating 25 years ago, I can clearly see the links and common ground between mindfulness and creativity.
So what are the secret links between mindfulness and creativity ?
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Mindfulness and creativity are linked by a shared guiding principal. Both artists and mindfulness practitioners are aware of its importance to their practices . It is essential to developing mindfulness and essential to developing a dynamic arts practice. It is what feeds inspiration, awakens compassion and fuels creativity.
The principal is to ‘Stay Open to Experience’. It sounds simple, but in practice it can prove to be quite difficult. American psychologist, researcher and author Scott Barry Kaufman has recently acknowledged its significance in his latest book Wired to Create…
My data suggests “openness to experience” is the number one thing to cultivate for both personal meaningful creativity and world changing creativity. What that means is constantly challenging yourself beyond your comfort zone, constantly questioning assumptions, being intellectually curious, and appreciating beauty. Personal growth is intimately tied to openness to experience. (Scott Barry Kaufman)
‘Staying open to experience’ is what enables painters to see with clarity and render the object of their focus, exquisitely. ‘Staying open to experience’ is the doorway through which inspiration walks, when a sculptor is grappling with materials. ‘Staying open to experience’ is what has unveiled so many of nature’s greatest secrets to physicists, botanists and naturalists over the centuries.
Staying open is also at the heart of Mindfulness practice, as it keeps us in touch with ‘direct experience’. Staying open offers us continual opportunities to practice our ability to stay present as we attempt to stay in touch with ‘direct experience’. To maintain presence is not easy, this is why Mindfulness is called a practice. Through practice we learn to resist the mind’s tendency to distract us with its running commentary and learn to keep in touch with reality by practicing returning again and again to ‘direct experience’. Direct experience is registered at a deeper level within us than our minds habitual running commentary.
Staying Open Informs Perception
Have you ever tried to draw something, and it ends up a strangely skewed version of what’s in front of you ? Well you’re not alone – it is an extremely challenging thing to do. The most important skill needed to draw something visually accurate is ‘observation’. By simply looking at the subject and drawing what is presented to the eye, our perceptual skills are seriously tested. To be able to draw something accurately, an artist must eliminate all flawed preconceptions about the appearance of objects.
To observe accurately and eliminate flawed preconceptions, he /she must ‘Stay Open to Experience’. This means slowing down, questioning assumptions, staying curious and suspending the urge to hastily judge and label. (Non-judgement is one of the seven attitudinal factors of mindfulness practice.) Labels have a tendency to concretize our understanding and narrow our perception. For example when drawing an eye, we must forget it’s an ‘eye’ and simply draw the shapes and forms that we see in front of us. These shapes and forms together make up the eye. If we become distracted by the thought of ‘eye’ while drawing, we will end up with an inaccurate symbol, and not the eye that is in front of us. In short we must stay totally present, mindful, open to the truth of what is, and vigilant to the mind’s ability to distract, coerce, hurry us up and pull us out of contact with reality.
Why would the mind attempt to distract us and pull us out of reality?
Staying with ‘what is’ can be challenging but it has the power to transform our perceptions and wake us up to the fact that ‘our mind sometimes plays tricks on us’. It does not play tricks out of malice or because it is faulty in some way. The mind is constantly trying to create shortcuts in order to free up working memory. To do this, it offers us simplified versions of our complex reality. Whether it is a ‘shortcut symbol’ of an eye when we are drawing, or a simplified label, that blinds us to the truth of the person or thing in front of us. Through habit and helpfulness, the mind unwittingly blinds us to the complexity of reality. As we begin to recognize these illusions, we are put in touch with our emotional reality. Feelings bubble to the surface, as we begin to see the truth of how things really are, and realize we have been depending on inaccurate labels and misperceptions. This is why ‘staying open to experience’ is challenging.
So what are the benefits of ‘Staying Open to Experience’ ?
We gain access to our deeper, more integrated intelligence, beyond judgments and labels. Insights and intuitions increase tenfold. Our awareness expands, giving rise to our ability to respond more appropriately and creatively to ‘what is’. Each move we make becomes born out of the present and out of our more accurate perceptual understanding of it. If our perception is skewed so will our next action be. At best it will be off target, at worst it will be inappropriate -whether it’s the next mark we make on a page or the next word we say to a stranger.
The practice of Mindfulness is dependent on our ability to ‘Stay Open to Experience’. And as we have seen, our capacity for appropriate creative response when engaging with the world, is also dependent on our ability to ‘Stay Open to Experience’.
I agree with Scott Barry Kaufman when he says that ‘openness to experience’ is the number one thing to cultivate for ‘world changing creativity‘. If we want to grow compassionately and to respond creatively to the challenges that face us, both on a personal level and global level, then we must practice ‘staying open to experience’ even beyond our comfort zone. It is through this openness that we will gradually learn to become peaceful, perceptive, playful participants in life and be able to ‘Approach Mindfully & Respond Creatively’.
Author: Una Keeley BA. MLitt. HDip.
Una Keeley is a professional Irish Artist, Educator and Mindfulness Instructor. She has designed educational programmes for arts organisations and institutions for over 25 years, including 15 years for the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Her background includes an Honours Degree in ceramics and a Masters in Art Education. She has been using mindfulness practices in her workshops for over 15 years. Una has a Diploma in Mindfulness & Well-being and is currently studying MBSR Mindfulness Instructor Training with the Institute for Mindfulness Based Approaches, IMA Germany. Una has been practicing meditation for 25 years and Adheres to The Irish Good Practice Guidelines for Teaching Mindfulness-Based Courses.
To view some of Una’s Paintings click here PAINTINGS
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