Creative people use several areas of the brain collaboratively. They receive input, craft it, and effortlessly shape it into something novel as they experience the flow of core creativity.
Neuroscientists have identified the three systems of the brain that communicate with each other effectively, sharing neural networks for exchanging information, have been as the default mode network, the executive control network, and the salience mode network.
- Default mode – We’re using our default mode network when we’re engaged in imagination or simply letting our mind wander. This network is also active when we’re retrieving memories.
- Executive mode – When we use our executive network, we’re making decisions and problem solving.
- Salience mode – The salience network is our inner editor. We use it when we decide what we’ll take note of and what we’ll ignore.
We need these three networks to communicate with each other through neural networks so that we can shift among daydreaming, analyzing our ideas, and discerning what is and isn’t important to explore further. Very creative people have more neural connections to make this interplay happen effortlessly. Someone with weaker interconnectivity among these regions will get stuck overthinking things or imagining, but not being able to build on the ideas.
The creativity process isn’t linear or sequential. It’s organic. We move among the three networks of our brain, intuitively deciding what to do next. Even for those who don’t necessarily consider themselves inherently creative, it can be enhanced by using (and reducing) certain stimuli.
Here are some ways to fire up your core creativity:
Access Open Mind Consciousness
Core creatively becomes available when you’re in a mind state called “open mind.” In open mind, you bypass the limited thinking and the biases of the rational mind. You experience a sense of spaciousness and feel yourself open up to receive knowledge and ideas. Both core creativity and intuitive knowledge can be accessed in open mind not because you havean open mind, or are trying to be open minded, but because you’re in a state of pure receptivity that evolves from the emptiness you’ve given yourself over to. Several forms of mindfulness meditation can shift you into open mind — observing the breath, walking in nature, sitting and looking at the ocean.
Explore Using Absorption
Letting yourself be curious and willing to absorb creative stimulation can spark ideas in ways you might not expect. The absorption work of exploring, observing, research and learning can lead to breakthroughs. It can include paying close attention to your dreams, which are portals to big ideas — like the melody for “Yesterday” by the Beatles. Time spent in absorption and stillness isn’t wasted time. It’s a way to access your witnessing self so that you can fire up your core creativity. With absorption, you take a break from generating ideas or shaping process, and it can involve strolling through a gallery, listening to music, or sitting in a garden.
Enter A State Of “No Self”
If creativity seems elusive, try embracing what Buddhists call a state of “no-self.” Your ego and its fears can be harsh inner critics and may generate resistance to creative downloads. To find your creative flow, you must be willing to be open to new ways of thinking and perceiving. You want to be able to see the familiar as if it were new. Dropping into a state of no-self lets you approach a problem as a beginner — lacking cynicism and full of curiosity. Your goal is to reduce you ego’s loud voice to a mere whisper so that new possibilities can enter your consciousness. Ironically, having greater self-awareness can make it easier to enter a state of no-self. Trouble dropping into no-self can indicate that you need to do more meditation practice and more work to let go of the fears that cause you to resist change.
As you fire up your core creativity through a state of open mind state, absorption, and no-self, you strengthen the interconnectivity among the default, executive and salience networks in the brain. In your receptive state, you allow ideas to pop into your head, and you’ll be able to sense strongly whether there are some you shouldn’t ignore.
Ronald A. Alexander, PhD, is the author of the new book, Core Creativity: The Mindful Way to Unlock Your Creative Self (Rowman & Littlefield, June 21, 2022), upon which this article is based. He is a creativity coach, consultant, and mind-body psychotherapist. He has a private psychotherapy and executive coaching practice in Santa Monica, California. He’s the executive director of the OpenMind® Training Program that offers personal and professional training programs in mindfulness-based therapies, transformational leadership and meditation. He is also the author of the highly acclaimed book, Wise Mind, Open Mind: Finding Purpose and Meaning in Times of Crisis, Loss, and Change (2008). Learn more at www.CoreCreativity.com.