Does Meditation Inhibit Creativity?

A student sent me an interesting article from the New York Times recently about the benefits—and costs—of meditation. The article discussed several meditation studies.  In the first, Amishi Jha, the director of the University of Miami’s Contemplative Neuroscience, Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative, taught United States Marines twelve-minute meditation practices that they performed daily.

Marines who meditated twelve minutes or more each day improved working memory and increased their ability to pay attention. Those same skills degraded in Marines that didn’t meditate or meditated less than twelve minutes each day.

A different study (by Michael Posner of the University of Oregon and Yi-Yuan Tang of Texas Tech University) showed that meditation enhances integrity and efficiency in the part of the brain that controls problem solving and rational decision making.

Still other studies have demonstrated that meditation can help improve GRE test scores. Simply put, meditation helps people learn and stay focused, in spite of distraction.

New research, however, indicates there may be a cost to all of that focused attention: creativity.

Jonathan Schooler, who runs a lab investigating mindfulness and creativity at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that the most insightful ideas of both physicists and writers came when they were engaged in mindless activities—simple activities that allowed them to “space out.”

This creates an interesting conundrum for me as a yoga teacher/writer. Should I give up my mindfulness practices in order to deepen my craft?  Will my novels be more vibrant and engaging if I don’t try to control the random activities of my mind?

I suspect that the key, as in most of life, lies in balance.  For someone like me—who has suffered from chronic depression and anxiety most of her life—meditation is a powerful, life-changing tool. It trains my monkey mind to focus less on the bad things that might happen in the future, and more on whatever actually is happening in the moment. Meditation helps me stay present and truly take in the delicious world around me—a world that often ends up on the page.

My funniest lines pop into my head when I’m walking my dog—in that sweet, unstructured, daydreamy time that Tasha and I spend together in nature. Time I can only appreciate because of my meditation practices.

Without yoga and meditation, my mind would fill those walks with visions of tragedy and imagined despair. With it, I see more clearly.  Meditation has given me the ability to focus when I need to focus and let my mind wander to the vivid worlds of my characters when I don’t.

So to me, there’s no tradeoff between focus and creativity. Meditation gives me the ability to both.

What do you think?

Tracy Weber

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series.  MURDER STRIKES A POSE is available now from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Whole Life Yoga, and other retailers!

7 thoughts on “Does Meditation Inhibit Creativity?

  1. Susan Kroupa

    Great post, Tracy. So much that we get from the media is presented as an either/or scenario and ignores the fact that life is a balancing act.

    As to writing: my best lines or plot complications often come when I’m walking with my dog as well. Any steady physical motion–walking, swimming, even driving–seems to open up the subconscious in a way that sitting at the keyboard doesn’t. 🙂

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  3. Sheila Webster Boneham

    Interesting post, Tracy. I, too, “create” and work out writing problems while walking. My best walks are actually the long ones – longer than 30 minutes – all alone. No dog, no husband or friend, no ear buds. I don’t have a steady practice of traditional meditation, but after about 20 minutes of walking, my monkey mind apparently gets tired and shuts up, and good things happen. So I have to wonder whether the type of meditation makes a difference. I also find that physical movement is essential for me – sitting meditation or even slow walking meditation aimed at quieting the mind is completely different. I have also developed a little trick for when my mind wants to go to those depressing, soul-numbing subjects that bombard us these days…I think through the words of a happy song – “Walking on Sunshine” is a fav – and then consciously start a little thought thread to get my random thoughts moving in the right direction. I know, sounds like a bunch of monkeys, but it works for me.

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  4. Mark Brady

    Like many things in life, meditation has a shadow. One serious unintended consequence can sometimes be the surfacing of traumatic memories (similar to how such memories sometimes get triggered by yoga poses). Overwhelming experiences often become traumatic when the body is unable to move in response. When you surface a traumatic memory in meditation or yoga and you’re unable to take “triumphant action,” one hypothesis is that you’ve now added an additional memory to the trauma burden your brain and body are carrying. In his misguided quest to repeatedly try and heal the implicit wound of his mother dying the week after he was born, Buddha almost killed himself following ascetic practices that didn’t actually provide the healing he was seeking.

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  5. Jess Wolf

    Interesting, I am a writer and I get most of my ideas from sleeping and sitting at my keyboard or in front of the tv, but within a few hours of meditation I got nothing and I write every spare moment. I always have an idea in my head.

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