As every creative person knows, coming up with fresh ideas is often not the challenge. The challenge is coming up with fresh ideas that resonate. Whether you wish to be taken seriously by the literary elite, sell truckloads of paintings to hotel decorators, or have your sculpture find a permanent home on a municipal plinth, at some level your creativity has to appeal to an audience and its gatekeepers, typically in the form of gallery owners, agents, commissioning editors and the like.
I have always been amused by a quote from British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan who once said: ‘As usual the Liberals offer a mixture of sound and original ideas. Unfortunately none of the sound ideas is original and none of the original ideas is sound.’ Our challenge is: how to come up with an idea that’s both original and sound?
One clue should come from the fact that the most successful consumer companies of our era – the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple and others in the Silicon Valley set – choose to focus on mindfulness and meditation at their annual Wisdom 2.0 conference (see: http://www.wisdom2summit.com/). When companies that live or die according to their ability to innovate show this level of interest in meditation, you have to ask why?
Neuroscientists go some of the way to providing an answer. When we meditate our brains demonstrably produce more gamma waves. These are associated with ‘aha’ experiences. Joining of dots. Seeing the wood for the trees. We may not be consciously searching for a particular insight but, whether on the meditation cushion or recently off it, we find we are struck by an insight that was staring us in the face all along but that we may not have otherwise noticed. Often this insight is all we need to help us come up with that original and sound idea!
Over years of meditating I have had many such experiences. And speaking to fellow meditators I know my experience is the norm. Insight and creativity go with the landscape. What’s more, you don’t even have to be a particularly accomplished meditator for the lights to go on.
One of the most striking examples of this happened to me only months after I began meditating. By way of background, from the age of 18 I had set my heart on being a writer. I wrote novel after novel, each of which was rejected by publishers in London, New York and South Africa, where I used to live. By my early 30s, all I had to show for my efforts was 10 completed manuscripts and a thick file of rejection letters. I created a montage out of the more entertaining of these, which I framed and hung on my wall. (“No, no, no, this simply will not do!” I remember one of them saying!) For all the bravado, however, the phrase “frustrated writer” hardly began to describe me.
Then I took up meditating. And it was a couple of months later that I was mulling over how the media was filled with stories of spin doctoring – particularly those who advised politicians. Tony Blair and Bill Clinton seemed part of a new era where unseen, influential and unelected spin-meisters seemed to wield huge power over the media. Journalists often portrayed this development in dark and sinister terms, which I found quite amusing given that I had worked in public relations my whole career and knew that the real story was somewhat, and intriguingly, different. It seemed to me that most people had no idea who spin-doctors were or how they operated. I wrote a short proposal suggesting I write a book explaining exactly that, sent it to half a dozen publishers, and weeks later it was accepted by a major publisher. I had my first book deal.
After decades of tireless energy, nights and weekends at my bedroom desk, knocked-back social invitations, and having hopes raised and dashed numberless times, I can’t tell you how good that first publishing contract felt. Nor, how ridiculously easy. I hadn’t had to write a book. I hadn’t spent weeks agonising over character development, story lines or narrative tone. Bang! It just happened. Right place, right time, right idea with the right pitch.
There’s no way I can prove that it was meditation that helped me join the dots. But I personally have no doubt. Having spent the previous decade and a half trying all manner of genres, it seems a bit coincidental how things fell so beautifully into place just weeks after I started a meditation practice. Other people have similar experiences.
For creative people, generating ideas that resonate with others is one of the benefits of meditation. But it’s not the only one. There are other ways in which meditation reshapes not only our effectiveness at what we do, but also, in a more profound and wonderful way, how and why we do it.
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