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Focusing

What Daily Meditation Can Do for Your Creativity

Sometimes the best way to improve your performance is to do nothing at all. The creative benefits of calming your mental chatter.


If you depend on your creativity for your living, then your most valuable piece of equipment is not your computer, smartphone, camera, or any other hi-tech gadget. “In a modern company 70 to 80 percent of what people do is now done by way of their intellects. The critical means of production is small, gray, and weighs around 1.3 kilograms. It is the human brain.”*So what are you doing to maintain this precious resource? You probably give it plenty of stimulation – books, movies, music, nights out, interesting conversations with offbeat people.

But I’m not talking about stimulation, quite the reverse. I’m talking about qualities such as focus, calmness, clarity, and insight. They may not sound so sexy, but they are at least as important to your creative process as the glamour and stimulation side of things. And amid the bustle of daily life and the chatter of social media, they are the qualities most easily lost.

What works for me is daily meditation. Every morning, before I start work, I spend 20 minutes sitting on a mat, focusing on the sensation of breathing, doing my best to be present and aware, and trying not to get tangled up in my thoughts. It makes all the difference for the rest of the day. And I’m convinced it makes me a better writer.

Qualities such as focus, calmness, clarity, and insight are as important to your creative process as glamour and stimulation.

I received my initial instruction in meditation from Buddhist monks. I’ve also been on a few meditation retreats, which I highly recommend. But you don’t need to disappear into a monastery to take up meditation. And you don’t need to be a Buddhist, or adopt any religious beliefs. You can do it right here in the middle of your daily life.

The Benefits of Meditation Practice for Creatives

It’s important to note that there’s a lot more to meditation practice than simply “boosting your creativity.” If I were to promote meditation as some kind of creative thinking technique, the monks would be rightly appalled – or amused. So the benefits I’m going to describe, while very real, are really side effects of meditation – if you approach meditation looking to “get” any of these things, you’ll probably be disappointed. On the other hand, if you just practice it for its own sake, you may be pleasantly surprised to discover yourself experiencing some or all of the following:

Focus. Concentration is essential to outstanding creative execution and performance. The simple act of focusing on your breathing day after day, will gradually improve your powers of concentration.

Patience. Meditation can be incredibly boring. For once in your life, you’re not trying to do anything or think anything, just sit there and pay attention to your immediate experience. And you will encounter all kinds of resistance to doing it. Zen priest Steve Hagen says, “If you can get past resistance to meditation, nothing else in life will be an obstacle.”

Calmness. At first, you’ll be surprised, maybe even horrified, to discover how busy your mind is – a non-stop stream of mental chatter. But if you stay with it, you should gradually find that your mind settles down as the months go by.

Clarity. Like calmness, this can be gradual and intermittent to begin with. But you are likely to notice moments and even periods of mental clarity, when you see things clearly and your mind is sharper than usual – which makes problem-solving and decision-making easier.

Insight. You’ve probably had the experience of suddenly realizing the solution to a problem, even though you haven’t been consciously thinking of it. Or you may have experienced a moment of inspiration, when a new idea flashes into your mind unbidden. If you’re practicing meditation regularly, expect this to happen more often.

Perspective. When you spend time just being present and observing your breath, thoughts, feelings, and moment-to-moment experience, you start to realize how trivial most of our daily worries really are. Even in the midst of the daily grind, you can let go of the small stuff, and keep the big picture in view.

Getting Started

The kind of meditation I practice is a mixture of concentration (Samatha) and insight (Vipassana). Samatha practice is simply about focusing on your breathing, in order to develop concentration and calmness. It’s the best place to start, given how busy and unfocused our minds typically are. Vipassana is so simple it almost sounds like doing nothing at all – it’s about being very aware and present to your immediate experience, noticing your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the sounds and sights around you.

To learn how to get started, read the Introduction to Insight Meditation by the monks at Amaravati monastery. I also recommend Steve Hagen’s book Meditation – Now or Never.

How About You?

How do you maintain your mental clarity and focus in the midst of the pressures of daily life? Have you ever tried meditation? Did you notice any effect on your creativity?


Mark McGuinness is currently helping readers of the Lateral Action blog to break through their creative blocks. For bite-sized inspiration follow Mark on Twitter.

* Research from the book “Funky Business.”

Comments (69)
  • Tanz

    Great article, always good to be reminded.

    @ Rondal – I was reading something somewhere about a guy who meditated at lunch time – don’t remember where, reading too may books at the moment – anyway he was just a regular guy who spent some time in his lunch hour to be still and within a month he and most impressively, his colleagues noticed a real difference in him, particularly in the afternoons : )
    So I would say, start anywhere! Jon Kabat-Zinn has tons of resources on this ‘start small, start anywhere, start anytime, just start’ kind of approach to mindfulness and meditation, particularly in the workplace and every day life. Good luck!

  • Mark McGuinness

    Thanks everyone, great comments and suggestions. Maybe we should start an online creatives’ meditation group. 🙂

  • Kinglouie357

    Great stuff ! I don’t meditate, although I’ve told myself that I should because everyone says it’s beneficial. Funny how DR’s don’t tell their patients to meditate-just a thought. Anyhow, I think I will start tomorrow.

    Thanks for the info.

  • Jan Buble

    Hi,
    nice article. Im practicing meditaion twice a day for 3 months now and I approve all that you said. Im recommending this for everyone, not just creative proffessions. It can really enhance the quality of your life in every aspect. Give it a try.

    My kind of practice is called AYP (advanced yoga practices). It is a twice-daily meditation with mantra. You find everything about it here http://aypsite.org/MainDirecto

  • PJ

    Meditation helps a lot. For me, though, music is a great help too! Nice article, thanks for the tip.

  • Asher

    Mindy Weisel is a really amazing artist and she talks about how her meditation helps with creativity.
    http://www.tm.org/blog/people/

    I personally find I get ideas from meditation and it has many other benefits as well.

  • Divyesh

    Thanks for this inspiring article. I would also like to suggest the substitute version of Meditation, which is basically Indian version called “Pranayama” This concept is also about Breathing. Try the following link to get started.

    http://msnyuva.webdunia.com/he

    Good Luck !!!

  • Shrikrishna Potdar

    Really Good article on benefits of meditation in daily life.
    I read some more stuff on meditation on Art of living foundations website which spoke about ancient techniques, Pancha kosha meditation guided meditation which sounds good

    http://www.artofliving.org/spi

  • Anna Houck

    I wanna try meditation to improve the way I handle problems, What is the best way to meditate for beginners?

  • deep meditation

    Great article, by the way not all types off meditation can give you such a boost on creativity, because not all types requires relaxation, for example chakra meditation. Anyway, once you free your mind, all the borders vanish immediately

  • JohnLemire

    I love meditation. I have a buncha free guided meditations on my site if you are interested. I firmly believe that everyone should be doing meditation. It has so many benefits. Many of which you listed. Cheers.

  • Matthew

    Thank you for this article. This is the second time I’ve come across it – it must have had an impact on me, as I am taking part in this wonderful practice regularly now. The simple discipline of being time bound for 20 minutes in the morning with one-pointed focus is precicely what my creative feminine needs.

  • Mark McGuinness

    Great to hear you’re making it a habit (and feeling the benefits).

  • Mark McGuinness

    I’m writing about one of the types that don’t require relaxation. Plus relaxation isn’t necessarily a requisite for creativity.

  • Mark McGuinness

    Here’s a good introduction: http://www.amaravati.org/abm/e

    I also recommend Steve Hagen’s book Meditation: Now or Never.

  • Wide Eyed Pupil

    I meditate two hours a day, one hour in morning one at night generally. I think it’s important to learn meditation from a recognised teacher. Fees should never be charged, it devalues the teaching and the teacher.

    To think one can learn Vipassana from a book is optimistic, the Dhamma has many inter-supporting aspects and reading books one may not get to appreciate that. A strong moral base for is required for samādhi for example and just reading about a breathing exercise one may miss that critical aspect.

    I learned from S N Goenka, a non-sectarian teacher in the Burmese lay tradition. His teacher was S U Ba Kin who taught several of the well know lay teachers. I can vouch for the deep personal and cultural insights Vipassana will almost certainly reveal if practised diligently — something I had been seeking all my life has become my path.

    More info dhamma.org

    I also very much like the Thai Forest monk tradition of Ajahn Chah; now Ajahn Anan. If you have one of their monasteries in your area definitely pay a visit.

  • Malik Metouri

    As a young entrepreneur and amateur designer, daily meditation has got out so much potential from within myself! So much so that with a bunch of friends we decided to build a site around it, for young people to learn meditation online! The site was launched very recently! Try it out at http://www.coolcheck.org

  • Annegwells

    Meditation is not only for creativity but for the improvement of body luster and general health and concentration.

  • Martincspencer

    It also builds self-confidence!

  • Caveman

    Hey Mark, I remember watching a short animation sometime ago that @the99percent tweeted, I’ve tried googling for it but can’t seem to find it, do you have any idea what it’s called or what I’m talking about?

  • Behind Mandalas Meditation

    These are really cool forms of exercise! And would lots of building up to your body. It would make your body in shape and everyone wants to have the body that is in shape.

  • Breathe Meditation Studio

     great article! The benefits you listed are spot on. Another that I would echo from Martinspencer (below) is confidence. Learning more about how your mind works can lead to less judgment, and therefore more confidence, towards yourself. Being comfortable with yourself is key in the creative process. There has to be a certain amount of submission and letting-go in order to let creativity arise and take over. Insecurity is often the biggest obstacle to creativity because it tends to produce mental chatter that takes up a significant amount of energy and space in your mind.

    Regarding meditation resources:
    I’m sure there are many resources for free guided meditations, but I know of one at http://www.imeditation.org/imc

    Also, here is great site for free dharma talks http://www.dharmaseed.org/

  • Zsa Zsa

    This is so true..and it gives me more reason to do yoga! Contrary to what most people think, calm and focus are really one of the secrets to success without the burnout! 

  • Cmdelore

    I have been practicing meditation for a number of years now. I find 15-20mins can greatly improve the way you treat your day.
    I have also been using a slackline (a tightrope-like activity) in my backyard which I have found to be a great tool to help you solely focus on the events that are happening at that given moment. It also is a good workout. It helps the mind relax but also gives a sense of empowerment and control. All good things to start your day with!

  • industrial equipment

     Hi,
    It’s a wonderful post.As the equipments are the one on which whole company performance depends so the equipments should be best in quality and durable also and resistance to wear and tear..

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