“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”
– Andre Gide, as cited by Ellen Langer in Mindful Creativity
THE LEARNING LAB ON CREATIVITY
Creativity is inherent to all human experience, and it can be strengthened through learning and practice. This Learning Lab experience focuses on incorporating the awareness and acceptance of mindfulness into the creative process in ways that highlight this fact. We will explore how the brain changes and can be rewired to make more novel choices and connections. We will also engage in mindfulness practice and creative activities such as building our brains with Play Doh and responding to visual art.
Feedback from Participants:
“Mindfulness is presence. It reminds me to be in the moment. It also encourages me to allow for more play, space, and flexibility.”
“Mindful creativity is like the promise to run three times a week. At first a labor, awkward, exhausting. At some point a refuge: sacred, exhilarating.”
“Mindful creativity answers a question few ask (but more need to). Mindful creativity softens the edges and demands of modern living.”
“Mindful creativity is like a strong ship in a rocky ocean that is education. I am the captain of the ship and my students the passengers. Once we are on-board, we can discover unchartered territory with confidence and beautiful imperfection.”
“The more we write and share, the less judgmental we become of our own work. Letting go.”
“A waterbug skittering across the surface of something big, something deep, but unknowable.”
“This experience felt like wading knee deep in a mental swamp. In the busyness of our lives, slowing down for even a moment feels dangerous, overwhelming. After the initial struggle, mindfulness to enter- there comes an inevitable floating.”
“Mindful creativity is a warm breeze. It sweeps you up as you walk through it.”
“Mindful creativity is taking your first step into a larger world.”
“Mindful creativity is like the stars in the sky- bright and endless. Mindful creativity is the open ocean. a person can go where they please.Mindful creativity is being open to possibilities, and a world where there are no right answers, slowing down to explore the present.”
“Mindful creativity is trying another way- it might be difficult a first but might end up being the best or easiest.”
“Mindful creativity is like a fog that filters out all but the brightest stars.”
“Mindful creativity is like getting lost off the freeway and finding a bunch of cool stuff you would not have seen otherwise.”
“Mindful creativity is like absorbing every drop of each sensation and color and letting the tingles of wonder exhilarate your body and mind.”
“Mindful creativity is the clarity to peacefulness.”
“Mindful creativity is like sitting near a stream of cool water listening to the sounds and counting passing clouds.”
“Mindful creativity is a bird in flight- it is active and purposeful- going toward something- but outwardly seems just peaceful and quiet, like gliding.”
“Mindful creativity is water and fertilizer to a garden. It allows seed in our brain to grow that may not usually get watered.”
“Mindful creativity is the ocean. It is vast and open and full of unknowns but can be beautiful when you let yourself enjoy it.”
“Mindful creativity is a choice to be a better person by knowing your mind and making your own choices.”
“Mindful creativity is looking, sensing, being in the present moment. Letting go enough to find acceptance of myself and others. Accepting the journey not racing a destination.”
“Mindful creativity is a link in the chain of human potential being reached. Mindful creativity is being open to possibilities and trying new things. It is adaptability in your practices.”
“Mindful creativity is like a tree with pebbles for leaves. It can be anything we want.”
“Mindful creativity is like being in a dark fog and then walking into a clear morning.”
“Mindful creativity is like a new frontier. As a history teacher I always had a profound respect for people who were willing to go directions that were new and uncharted. It took valor and commitment to forge a new path.”
More About Mindful Creativity:
Mindful creativity is authentic engagement with a creative task. When one is mindfully creative getting lost along the way is a given, as is making changes, redirecting and re-planning. In order to engage in the process, the rules of “right” and “wrong” ways to do things have to be set aside, opening up one’s personal discernment. The reward for such an engagement is a process and product that speaks to who one is as a person, his or her unique nuance and voice.
Art that is mindfully created is inherently more creative and personal and less idealized. It is also more appealing. In Langer’s studies, she found that, “People… prefer art that is mindfully created. It is less perfect and more pleasing… We seek perfection and get frozen by the thought of our imperfection. This is ironic in that the outcomes we seek are more likely to come from our imperfect selves.”
Mindfulness practice is focused on two key ideas: awareness and acceptance. Each of these has a strong correlation with the skills needed for the creative process.
Awareness is needed to: gather ideas, be present when there are important environmental factors, focus attention on the task at hand, to see in new ways, and to make changes when something isn’t working. However, in Langer’s words, we are often overcome with what she describes as “everyday blindness.” Basically this means that because we have “named” things, we assume to understand and know them without paying attention, and the nuances of difference and novelty are lost on us. We aren’t noticing and gathering because we assume that we already know. The light coming through the trees in the morning, the different shades of blue in the sky each day, the sounds of the insects humming, are all lost on us because they fall into the category of “walk to my car to go to work.”
Conversely, awareness and presence can make everything inspiration for our creativity. Langer states that in her own experience, “I now know that I don’t know what any particular tree will look like without first seeing it, and even then it is likely to be more than I see.”
Acceptance is needed to: to understand there are many ways to do something, to be open to more of those ways, and to become more comfortable with the vulnerability that comes with idea creation and the production and sharing of products.
Acceptance is really about being okay with ambiguity and being nonjudgmental about our own experiences and the experiences of others.
Tolerance for ambiguity is inherent in the creative process because one cannot know the next step with certainty when improvisation is involved. Langer states, “If there are meaningful choices, there is uncertainty.” This can feel uncomfortable or it can feel invigorating depending upon one’s acceptance of this reality as part of life and the artistic process. When ambiguity feels uncomfortable, individuals are likely to cling to what they already know, to assume the answer, to not take a risk. All of these actions limit the creative process.
Judgment is another sure way to limit the creative process. When one begins to believe that there is a “best way,” then all possibility of other options are lost. In one study conducted by Langer, participants were asked to draw horses in a variety of settings. Those who were shown a number of horse pictures as models that were from a varied range of cultural perspectives were the most creative in their artistic endeavors. Langer summarizes, “perceived choice and enhanced subjectivity led to increased artistic creativity as rate by blind volunteers.” In other words, the belief that there are many ways to do accomplish a task and that those ways can be quite different from one another leads to increased creativity.
Non-judgmental acceptance can also limit the negative repercussions of comparisons to others who are doing things the “right way” and judgment of one’s own perceived failures and mistakes. In Langer’s words, “To make an error simply means to have done something we had not previously planned to do.” In addition, “failure” can be viewed as just another effort or stage in the creative process- not an indictment of the person as a failure, which is a sure way to make sure no one ever tries again.
This week I worked with students in the Mosaic program with Kim Leddy and Steve Shapiro. We wanted to provide students with an introduction to mindfulness and mindful creativity while also introducing the themes of transformation, identity and change.
Before I came into the classroom, Kim and Steve had used a variation on this mindfulness lesson (originally for teachers and staff) to introduce neuroplasticity and mindfulness to students. In the lesson, they also had students write metaphors for their brains. Student responses ranged from “a runaway train” to “Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.”
This lesson prepared students by providing opportunities to think about what their brain is like now, and what they might want it to be like in the future with the understanding that they can make changes with focused attention. It was a great lead in to some creative, messy work.
As part of my participation in an Artist’s Way group, I am obligated to spend two hours alone doing something that fills my “creative cup” once a week. I have been pining for a photography trip in downtown Columbus, so that’s how I used my “artist’s date” time on Sunday. Here are some of the images that caught my eye.