Life is a dynamic, creative process that is best encountered with mindful awareness. As we face daily living and are bombarded by the needs of the moment — the countless signals, threats, and opportunities — we choose, sometimes in real time, how to respond to these challenges. With mindful awareness, we can weave the tapestry of a life well-lived, in health, contentment, compassion, and joy.
Many have commented that mindfulness, the mind’s response to internal chaos and unrest, is gaining widespread interest at the precise moment when states of distraction, anxiety, suffering, and lack of connection are becoming more common and detrimental. Over the last few decades, the practice of mindfulness, usually defined as nonjudgmental, moment-to-moment awareness, has helped individuals in our culture develop skills that are key to the art of healthy living and are typical of a creative mind.
Here are five ways that mindfulness helps to weave that joyful, contented, creative, and compassionate life:
Mindfulness improves a person’s ability to concentrate and respond to situations in a non-habitual fashion. Most research has examined mindfulness in a health and wellness context, including its ability to regulate stress and improve cognitive, emotional, and interpersonal functioning. Yet, we do so at the peril of forgetting about its open-ended and transcendent nature. Mindfulness is our listening to the music of life and a way to embody awareness, cultivate clarity, emotional balance, equanimity, and compassion. It provides an opportunity to navigate through a seemingly chaotic world with all our senses wide open, and a sensibility to the minute changes required to navigate it successfully and joyfully.
Mindfulness enhances open-minded, creative thinking while reducing aversive self-conscious thinking. We often associate the word creativity with special people, artists, creators, doers of novel things, forgetting that every moment of living provides us with the opportunity to be such a person. Creativity is more than the ability to develop novel and effective ideas, artifacts, or solutions. Indeed, from the moment we are born to the moment we take our last breath, life is a dynamic and creative endeavor. There is sufficient evidence to show that practicing mindfulness supports and promotes creativity, while creativity is an act of mindfulness. Together, this beneficial and supportive relationship provides an important foundation for a healthy lifestyle.
Mindfulness increases the ability to change perspectives by expanding flexibility and adaptability. An important aspect of life is how we express the mind’s plasticity and adaptability, or fluid intelligence. This intelligence comprises abstract thinking, quick reasoning, and problem solving, independent of any previously gained knowledge. Divergent thinking is associated with creative flexibility. It is an adaptable, iterative, and web-like strategy, focusing on connections between ideas. Divergent thinking settles into an optimal solution from a multitude of options, but in a more fluid, less linear, and more open-ended strategy. Individuals who show curiosity, nonconformity, persistence, and readiness to take risks exhibit more divergent processing, and engage in activities that trigger such judgment.
Mindfulness enhances curiosity, empathy, love, and wisdom. These are all qualities that reflect our sense of connection and responsibility for others. We feel what others feel, and are moved to help relieve their suffering. As fears subside in our mindfulness practice, the innate nature of our mind comes to the foreground: an inner and outer boundless field of awareness that is open, active, adaptable, dynamic, inquisitive, and creative. With greater openness, curiosity, and creativity, the intuition of something greater than ourselves increases, and trust in its benevolence grows. It is a non-conceptual awareness that carries a sense of vitality, intelligence, love, and wisdom.
Mindfulness decreases our fear of the negative. The uncontrolled mind and the creative mind are two sides of similar brain dynamics. These various expressions of mind are like identical twins growing up in different environments yet sharing the same genetics. In fact, the uncontrolled mind is the creative mind. What differs is that creativity is more at home in the present moment, while the problem-solving, troublesome mind emerges while accessing the past and looking ahead into the future and becomes trapped by the problem. The nature of this “chaos” causes negative feelings, from confusion to depression. Getting rid of such a mind is not the solution: rather, it’s best to place it in the proper environment and context. The key is training and guiding the obsessive, uncontrolled mind, through mindfulness practices, back to a more natural, controlled, and original state in which it can deal with the challenges of living in-the-moment.
Mindfulness helps weave the tapestry of a life well-lived. It is the true art of healthy living.
Jaime A. Pineda, PhD is Professor of Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, and Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of many widely cited papers in animal and human cognitive and systems neuroscience, as well as two books of poetry on mind-brain relationships with an emphasis on spirituality, mysticism, environmentalism, and social activism. Learn more on the author’s website. His new book is Controlling Mental Chaos: Harnessing the Power of the Creative Mind.