Why Mindfulness Is Essential to Creativity
There’s something magical about getting out a pen and paper to jot down a poem, or pulling out paint brushes to sketch a dream from the night before. I love that moment, right before creating something new where I have the opportunity to pause and invite in creativity. It could be anytime, perhaps after placing all the ingredients for a new dish on the counter, or sitting down at a piano or guitar to express the melancholy sentiments in our heart. A moment, a pause where we simply open up to the creativity potential in that moment. The other day, as I was folding laundry in my son’s room I was overcome with fatigue. I sat in this feeling for a mindful moment, questioning where it had come from so suddenly, seemingly out of the blue and I realized the act of folding the laundry in this very moment felt like drudgery. I simply didn’t want to do it. It was this resistance within my body to folding the laundry that had brought on the wave of fatigue. I stopped folding for a moment and asked my body, “how can I make this task in front of me more fun?” A book on tape I’d been enjoying listening to in the car immediately popped into my head — driving is another task of drudgery to me, one where books on tape or music are almost a necessity.
I got up, grabbed my ear pods and phone and started listening to my audio book before resuming folding laundry. The next 10 minutes flew by so fast that when I was done I started looking for other chores to do so I could keep listening! Creativity is an essential element in our human journey of self-inquiry and insight and goes hand in hand with mindfulness. Without insight in our hearts, mind and body, our creativity juices simply cannot flow. I wanted to learn more about this experience first hand from an expert on creativity so I sat down with Mari Reisberg, a licensed therapist and host of the Sustaining Creativity Podcast, to ask her how we can apply mindfulness to unlock more creativity in our everyday lives?
What do your clients say when they first start working with you?
Many of my clients, when they first start working with me, don’t believe they have the “creativity gene” in them or they feel they have lost it or it’s been blocked in some way. They might say things like: “I wish I were more creative.” “I wish I had more time to be creative.” “I don’t have any creative ideas, and now I’m too stressed out to be creative.”
What exactly is a creativity block, anyways?
It’s a vicious cycle we’ve all experienced: one day, you’re bursting with inspiration but too busy to sit down and express yourself; the next, you have all the free time in the world, but absolutely no creative spark. I know this process all too well, myself. The negative thoughts listed above aren’t unique to my clients — they’re thoughts I was having not too long ago. During these periods of my life, I couldn’t understand why inspiration wasn’t coming to me, or why I couldn’t make time to express my creativity when it’s something I’m so deeply passionate about. I’d find myself trapped in my own head, paralyzed by all kinds of concerns.
Why is safety such an important aspect of creativity?
Safety is a very, very important foundation of human emotional and social development. When we feel physically safe and out of harm’s way, we are better able to explore and experience the world around us. We also demonstrate an increased ability to learn. Of course, the word “safety” (in this context) means more than just physical security. It also encompasses psychological safety. As a therapist and mindfulness practitioner, I have known for decades that safety is vital for growth and change to occur. In my mindfulness practice I have spent a large amount of time getting to know myself. Increasing my awareness of what safety feels like in my body, how I know I feel safe, what happens to my body when I don’t feel safe. Over the years this practice has become easier and stronger. In the beginning it was a struggle, I’d forget the things I’d learned and would find myself off balance or emotionally overwhelmed. It’s not to say that I don’t still have those moments, however they are few and far between as I’ve deepened my mindfulness awareness of safety in my body and in my life.
Why do you think so many of us feel unsafe, emotionally, much of the time?
The answer is simple. Certain parts of the brain, such as the amygdala and the cingulate cortex, keep us alert to physical dangers. These parts of the brain are, of course, beneficial, because they help us keep our bodies out of harm’s way. In a modern age where we aren’t likely to be, oh, attacked by a giant carnivore, or engaged in hand-to-hand combat with an enemy tribe, these sections of our brain are still working hard. But instead of working mostly to keep our bodies safe, they are also working to keep our identities – and therefore our emotional well-being, our sense of self – safe. Essentially, the same parts of the brain working to keep us both physically safe are also trying to keep us psychologically safe; the brain makes few distinctions between these two types of safety. When we feel psychologically safe — safe enough to make mistakes, or share an “out of left field” idea without fear of ridicule — that is when our creativity can blossom.
What inspired you to start using mindfulness practice in your therapy practice?
The day I decided to apply my mindful therapy training to my creative process was the day these negative thoughts started to change. I realized that everything I do (yes, everything!) has the potential to be a source of creativity. This inspired me to bring the skills and tools I’ve learned as an artist and mindfulness practitioner into my own therapy practice. I was able to see how important it was that I emphasize a foundation of safety, not only in my creative life but also in my therapy practice. This paradigm shift really opened my eyes, empowering me to re-frame creativity as a mindful experience, a full-body practice, rather than a destination or a product. When we begin to apply mindfulness to our day, we can start to see all the little spaces that we’d previously been rejecting, or overlooking and realize something truly exciting: these spaces have immense creative potential.
As you develop a mindfulness practice you are teaching your mind to be in the present, not lamenting your past mistakes and failures or getting anxious about what might or might not happen in the future. This present non-judgemental headspace is a skillfully crafted safe space in our own mind.
Perhaps you have the impulse to turn your desk around so you face the door and this gives you a stronger sense of safety. It’s these little messages we get from our body that helps us create our own sense of safety in our lives and mindfulness is an essential part of that discovery. Additionally, mindfulness practices help us expand our awareness of creative opportunities and creative moments in our life.
Maybe driving a new way home or listening to a favorite song will support your work to home transition. With children struggling going to school maybe there’s a ritual of ending and beginning that supports more safety and an easier transition. Again, this is where our creativity gets to play!
Why do you think so many people don’t think they are creative?
Before deepening my relationship with creativity, I spent a lot of time looking to others for inspiration, searching for those elusive motivational sparks.
While there’s nothing wrong with that (like all artists, I continue to seek inspiration in others’ work), I found that I’d been so totally focused on what others were doing that I wasn’t allowing myself to fully enjoy and experience my own creative journey.
I had ideas I wanted to try, didn’t I? But something was keeping me from trying them.
Once I’d secured a foundation of safety through mindfulness practices for myself, my own creative expression surged and I see the same thing happen with my clients everyday.
One of my clients who is a performer, had always thought of the stage as a place of freedom, but her experiences with criticism and negativity had, without her realizing it, turned the stage into a place where she no longer felt safe enough to be herself.
She is now taking steps to create this sense of safety for herself. Both in and outside of the performing space, she has reclaimed her joy in acting. The other day, she surprised herself by sharing that she can’t wait to get back on stage! Not to mention that she’s also teaching acting to non-performers, and can’t wait to share her new creativity skills with them.
What is the one thing you wish you could change about the world?
While no environment or social situation is ever 100% safe, I want to show people that building your foundation of safety is absolutely possible! We can learn the skills and tools we need in order to start growing this “safety foundation.” That way, when our boss asks us to share our ideas, we can feel safe enough to do so. When we want to learn how to play a musical instrument at age 45, we go ahead and give it a try. Even a fledgling sense of safety is enough to spark more creativity in everyday life.
Check out Mari’s 7 Day Creativity Challenge!
If you’d like to continue learning about how to awaken creativity in your life by tapping into creative risk and attending to your safety, or, if you’d simply like to learn how to find greater joy, freedom, and fun in your everyday life, check out Mari’s free Awakening Creativity Challenge to learn more.
Written by: Heather Wise, MPH, Co-Founder of Skillful Means
Get involved in SkillfulMeans to finally meet, accept and nourish your most genuine self.