Can mindfulness be a good way to fill your mind with new ideas?
As I write, it's Mental Health Awareness Week - a great time to talk about what you can do to be kind to your mind and keep it in good shape to receive new ideas when they arrive.
I've previously talked more generally about the creative benefits of meditation and its power to help your creative mind.
But there are many different types of meditation - hundreds in fact. As neuroscientist Richard Davidson says in the Netflix series The Mind Explained: "You can liken it to sports. There are many different kinds of sports."
Mindfulness is but one of those meditative sports.
I first heard of mindfulness well over a decade ago, when it was being introduced in schools and businesses, but still had sceptics talking it down as some kind of hippy fad.
Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts is one of the key people who introduced mindfulness practice to the west. He studied Zen Buddhism while also studying for his PhD in molecular biology. What he learned from his experiences he subsequently turned into something called Mindfulness Stress Based Reduction (MBSR) - which he admits was deliberately made to sound as secular and non-Buddhist as possible to appeal to a Western audience.
Fast forward to today, and mindfulness is used by health practitioners around the world to help people deal with a whole host of mental health issues, as well as coping with physical conditions like headaches, chronic pain, eating disorders, heart problems, digestion issues and others.
So what's the difference between mindfulness and transcendental (vedic) meditation which I've written about before?
As part of Satipatthana meditation, Mindfulness sits as one of 'The Eightfold Path' to enlightenment created by the Buddha. Satipatthana can be translated a few different ways and is sometimes interpreted as the ability to 'keep something in mind', or 'keep your attention inside'. The goal is to practise paying attention - often to your breathing - but not necessarily emptying your mind.
When you are stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, sad etc, mindfulness helps you notice these feelings - not ignore them - and practise changing how you relate to them.
So how does this help with creativity?
Noticing is the key to mindfulness. As it is with creativity and creative thinking. When you pay closer attention to your environment and all things that cross your path, then you're better placed to integrate these things into your mind and see them re-emerge as potential new ideas.
Your mind will wander during mindfulness meditation. A lot. But that's okay - just notice it, recognise it, then refocus on your breath. This repeated action activates a part of the brain called the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex, which is responsible for functions including our capacity for selective attention - a.k.a. what makes our brain focus. Meditation 'exercises' this portion of grey matter and strengthens your abilities of noticing and awareness.
Since coming up with new ideas has its roots in noticing, absorbing and integrating the world around you - colours, sounds, patterns, stories, smells and all the rest - then the brain training of mindfulness can only enhance your abilities in that regard.
And since you also cultivate a healthier mind from mindfulness practice it's a win-win.
As a strapline might put it: Mindfulness - for a mindful of ideas.
Mindfulness. A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. We've mentioned this book on the blog before. It's one part scientific study into mindfulness (and why we need it) with the second part being a how-to guide. There's also an app now as well.
If you just want to get on with it and skip the reading, then Headspace is one of the best mindfulness apps on the market and includes a free trial. Its founder Andy Puddicombe has also done a series for Netflix (trailer here) which is a great introduction to the topic. Headspace Guide to Meditation: https://www.netflix.com/gb/title/81280926
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