Can Meditation and Creative Ideas Play Well Together?
I’ve been getting good ideas about a character in my next novel. He’s the nephew of the protagonist, and has recently moved to her town. I have lots of decisions to make about his situation. It’s a great feeling to recognize spurts of inspiration about this guy. Trouble is, those spurts are disrupting my focus on my breath.
“Begin again.” “Return to the breath.” “Note to yourself: ‘thinking,’ and let it go.”
If those nuggets sound familiar, it’s likely that you, too, are using audio guides to strengthen your meditation practice. I stopped pressuring myself to be a purist and began using apps several months ago. The results have been positive. I now begin each day with quiet time dedicated to meditation, focused breathing, and exercise.
But here’s the thing: I tend to get a lot of my creative ideas at the same time. The voice in my ear advises me to let the thoughts and ideas go away. The voice in my head, however, wants to welcome that creative idea, invite it in, and have a nice long chitchat about my protagonist’s nephew. What does this character do for work? Did he move before getting a job? Is it only part time so far? What’s his education and training? Do his mother and her younger sister the protagonist get along? What are the sticking points in that family relationship and where in the past do they originate? Fun stuff, right?
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The apps I’ve been listening to tend to assume that those thoughts and ideas that surface during meditation are unwelcome – that I’m being self-critical, or catastrophizing, or comparing. What if the thoughts are really useful? Do I cast them out? What if inspiration is visiting? Do I slam the door?
From what I can tell so far, there are several possible answers to these questions. Here are four, and an invitation to add more.
A poet I know, a longtime meditator, explains that they keep their journal at hand when they prepare to start a meditation session. When the creative idea arises, it gets jotted down. A return to the breath is easier to accomplish after the brief, necessary interruption. Later, when the time is right, those hasty notes are enough to recapture the moment and develop the idea.
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In my FLOAT tool, It’s Not Lost – and the song that inspired it – I offer the notion that sometimes it’s OK to let the idea go. Like the clouds in the sky or the waves on the surface of the ocean, the idea will pass by. Sometimes it’s possible to trust that the idea is not lost; it will return, perhaps unrecognizable, but its essence will circle back.
Sometimes, it’s more important to go with the creative idea and develop it, then and there, rather than to continue with the meditation. Although there is some overlap among the states of meditation, creative imagination, and dreaming, they are not identical. So a choice is involved. Sometimes it can be a sound choice to let the current carry you down a different branch of the stream than the one you set out to travel. If time permits, it can be possible to return to the original meditation after you’ve reached a place to rest with the creative work.
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Over and under
Lately I’ve been experimenting with sometimes keeping the breath as an underlying repeating accompaniment – an ostinato, in musical terms – while exploring an idea over it at the same time. I gather from my audio guides that my goal in meditation is to acknowledge all distractions from my breath, or other focus of meditation, and to return to my focus, again and again – always aiming for one single stream of attention. So inviting two to continue together feels transgressive. Also, this idea of doubling up may run counter to the conventional wisdom that the human brain is incapable of multitasking, and instead switches imperceptibly among multiple streams of thought. I do like the possibility, though. More to the point, if it works, it works. Right?
What do you do? As a newbie, I have a lot more questions than answers, and welcome your comments and experiences.
I’m anticipating the publication of another collection of essays on journaling to which I contributed a chapter. Led again by the dynamic editing team of Lynda Monk and Eric Maisel, this book is due out in a few months. Here’s a sneak peek from my chapter.
The starting place for reconnecting to purpose and becoming unstuck is listening to your own wise self. And how better to do that than in an ongoing journaling practice? Stuckness comes and goes, and it lands more lightly and leaves more quickly when you have a steady journaling practice in hand.
Chapter: “The Becoming Unstuck Journal” in The Great Book Of Journaling: Learn Journal Writing from 50 Top Journaling Experts (Lynda Monk and Eric Maisel, editors; Conari Press, 2022)