Innovation and fresh ideas fuel growth, in our own personal lives and in societal and global relationships. Creativity is what helps us evolve and become better versions of ourselves. It also enhances our senses of joy and wonder, those childlike qualities that we strive to hold onto as we get older and our days are full of obligation and responsibilities.
The ancient practice of meditation is usually associated with peacefulness, tranquility and stress relief, but there's a growing body of scientific research that suggests it can also supercharge your creativity.
Creativity & The Brain
If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you probably know that I’m a neuroscience geek. I love all things brain, behavior and perception! So first, let’s chat about the basics of creativity in the brain.
Creativity is a multifaceted process or state that involves divergent thinking, making novel connections between seemingly unrelated ideas, and thinking outside the proverbial box. It's not confined to artists and writers; it plays a role in problem-solving, entrepreneurship, global wellness and everyday decision-making.
One crucial aspect of creativity is the brain's default mode network (DMN). This network of brain regions activates when we're not actively focused on a task. Instead, it kicks in during daydreaming, brainstorming, and introspection—exactly the activities that are closely linked to creative thinking. Just as we cycle through dream states while sleeping, we also have the tendency to cycle through DAYdream states while awake. Around every 45 minutes or so, our brain would like to fall into its open-awareness, default mode, and be allowed to invite an open stream of consciousness.
Studies using neuroimaging techniques like fMRI have shown that meditation can reduce the activity of the DMN (functional MRI shows the brain's activity in real-time, as thoughts and perceptions take place). This might seem counterintuitive since the DMN is associated with self-referential thinking and mind-wandering, which are integral to creativity. However, the magic lies in the balance that meditation strikes.
By quieting the DMN, meditation helps you gain better control over your thoughts. It reduces the constant chatter and noise in your mind, allowing you to focus more effectively when needed. This improved attentional control is crucial for creative output as it enables you to direct your mental resources toward a specific creative task. This is reflected by positive changes in the prefrontal cortex, largely the ‘executive control center’ of our attentional energy. This can be activated by practicing concentration meditation techniques, such as focusing on the breath by itself, or on a bell or mantra.
Meditation also encourages "open monitoring," a style of meditation that fosters awareness of your thoughts without judgment or grasping. This practice can lead to enhanced creativity by promoting a non-judgmental approach to your ideas. It encourages you to accept all thoughts, no matter how unusual or seemingly unrelated, as potential sources of inspiration. Scientists call this brain function ‘cognitive flexibility’— the open, expansive quality of mind when things can flow freely and organically.
We can stimulate growth in the areas of the brain that assist cognitive flexibility (like the anterior cingulate cortex, the posterior parietal cortex, and the insula) when we practice open awareness techniques, such as becoming the observer and remaining unattached. We may spend part or all of a meditation practice just allowing all thoughts to come and go on their own while curbing our tendency to follow a thought pattern or story by constantly coming back to the present moment.
Using meditation, you can train your brain to more easily switch between focused attention and divergent thinking. You also strengthen connections in the brain that promote better focus and better open awareness, and this combination of strength and flexibility is a hallmark of creative geniuses.
What about other types of meditation?
While mindfulness meditation has more research behind it, other meditation styles can also promote creative thinking. For example, loving-kindness meditation can boost empathy and broaden your perspective, leading to more creative solutions that consider the needs and feelings of others. Creative visualization techniques may help you to think outside of the box and fill in the details using the relationship of your imagination and the body’s responses to what you’re imagining (Listen to my Inner Genius Meditation here). During these types of meditations we may be reaching into the mirror neuron system to understand things outside of ourselves and the amygdala to access emotion to fuel creation.
Incorporating meditation into your daily routine could be the catalyst you need to unleash your inner creativity. By taming the default mode network and fostering a more focused and open-minded approach to thinking, meditation offers a scientifically-backed pathway to becoming more imaginative and innovative.
So, whether you're an artist seeking inspiration or an entrepreneur looking for the next big idea, give meditation a try—
it might just be the key to unlocking your inner genius.
Want to give it a try with me? Join me Live on Saturdays at 11am ET for the Creativity & Flow Meditation Series, happening now.
Jessica Crow helps people harness the power of meditation and mindfulness to change their lives and the lives of others for the better through practical classes and courses for the everyday practitioner, teacher trainings, and personalized mentorship.
Check out her book 'The Power of Guided Meditation', published by Fair Winds Press and her New On Demand Course 'The Power of Guided Meditation' or anyone who wants to harness the power of meditation in their own lives.