By Doug Hanvey
As a music teacher, and former instructor of an undergraduate class on mindfulness meditation (at Indiana University Bloomington from 2007 to 2014), I am fascinated by the many possible applications of meditation to music. One of these applications is creativity.
The Source of Creativity
Albert Einstein said “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.” Like most geniuses, Einstein understood that the source of creativity is beyond the mind. And, of course, what is beyond the mind is mysterious – at least to the mind!
Musicians can upgrade their creativity by becoming more familiar and comfortable with the mysterious place from which all thought and creativity arise. Meditation is a proven way of doing this.
Now, I realize that by using terms such as “beyond the mind” and “space of awareness,” I can be accused of New Age philosophizing that has no practical relevance to everyday life. Yet, as evidenced by Einstein’s appreciation thereof (not to mention that of many other artists and scientists), getting comfortable with the space beyond thoughts is as practical and useful as tying one’s own shoes, particularly for creative activities like improvising.
Meditation is a superb practice for any creative musician. Let me tell you about two types of meditation, both of which I’ve practiced extensively, and both of which I’ve found to be extremely powerful for boosting creativity.
Transcendental Meditation (TM)
Since the Beatles first helped popularize TM in the 1960s, musicians and creatives like film director David Lynch have gravitated to it.
At its heart, TM is a simple concentration practice. Students are given a mantra – a sequence of Sanskrit syllables with no particular meaning – to repeat over and over to the exclusion of other thoughts.
By interrupting our habitual mental commentary, TM opens a door to the creative space beyond thoughts. I have experienced spontaneous solutions to numerous creative problems while practicing TM. And there is no question in my mind that TM facilitates creativity generally.
The ultimate objective of mindfulness meditation is to establish a non-judgmental awareness of the flow of one’s present moment experience.
As anyone who knows about brainstorming is aware, letting go of judgment is essential to the process of creativity. But there’s much more to mindfulness than just releasing judgment. As we rest more deeply as the mindful observer of our experience, we begin to notice the natural, unfabricated awareness in which all thoughts come and go. We can then rest in this space more deeply. By doing so, we begin to release ourselves from attachment to the mechanical, repetitious and not-very-creative nature of most thinking, and enter the true source of creativity.
“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it,” said Einstein. While musicians may not be solving problems in the same way as a physicist, this statement is no less true for us. By transcending, if only temporarily, the noisy mind, we give ourselves the gift of entering that mystery from which all creativity arises, the source, said Einstein, of “all true art and science.”
Doug Hanvey teaches piano in Portland, Oregon. His Piano Lab Blog offers tips and creative inspiration for piano teachers and students.