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?
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