Wisdom and Creativity: Nurturing Insightful Ideas


  Wisdom and Creativity: Nurturing Insightful Ideas

The creative juices start to flow when your brain is in a state of deep relaxation. Taking one hour of “wasted time” away from the workday can yield new insights and ideas.

One strategy for accomplishing this is called an incubation period. You can take the breaks between problem-solving sessions to relax, meditate, listen to music, or do something unrelated that rejuvenates you. If you have a half-hour lunch break at work, for example, take an hour lunch break and plan on doing something different other than just eating lunch during that time period. This breaks up your day and helps you find insight in solving problems or working on projects.

The term “irrelevant” is used to describe the things you do when you are trying to think outside of the box. So, allow yourself time to think about something completely irrelevant. If you’re working on a project that involves your children, decide not to think about the problem for 30 minutes and instead spend that time playing with your child or thinking about a favorite childhood memory. You might be surprised by the solutions you develop while mentally taking a break from the problem at hand.

Also, it can be helpful to plan regular breaks into your day. It helps to break your day into 15-minute increments. You can use this time to think about your problems or projects. Some people set a timer so they know when it’s time to stop thinking about their problem and do something unrelated.

One of the most important things you can do to bring on creative thinking is to develop a relaxed state of mind. If you don’t take time out from work, stress, and exercise, there is little likelihood that your brain will relax enough to allow new insights and ideas to emerge. It takes discipline, but if you plan regular breaks into your day, you will find that more creative ideas come easily.

Deep relaxation is the key to creativity. Without it, your brain gets stuck in a rut and does not have the ability to connect with other areas of the brain that store information related to insights and ideas. For more about the science behind this process, read The Wisdom Paradox: The Art and Science of Using Your Brain [UNQUOTE]

The Chinese used this form of thinking in making tea. They would burn or cast tea leaves into a stone bowl or other container lined with ashes, crush them into a loose black powder until they released their essences. They would let them sit in this state for 10-15 days before putting it back on the fire or into hot water. In Chinese culture, tea is traditionally drunk at ceremonies or on special occasions. The act of "letting tea sit" is a reference to the thinking process, where ideas and insights are best digested after a bit of time.

As an example of this I was recently thinking about how to organize my time for writing better. I was in a state of inspiration as I had just finished reading Dr. Ursula Goodenough’s book Finding Your True North [UNQUOTE] . It has been available from the Library Guild in Canada for over 35 years but it is finally available in America too!! It’s very hard to find these days.

I read her book several years ago and was inspired to do more of what she recommends. I read that she quotes another author, James Hillman, who says we know things by the flow or rhythm of our brain as something like a music track. It is important to find your true North. We are not robots or machines; we require rhythms among our thoughts for ideas to be formed. (Hillman calls this “The Rhythm of the Spirit”.) You can arrive at new insights by letting your mind flow naturally through its own consciousness – that is where you will find new ideas and new directions.

Since then I have been trying to find my true North. I thought about how many hours of the day are unproductive time. Typically we write in the evening, so I've been writing at night. That's right in my north. But I know as a writer that if I do this for too long (after a few years), then my work is no longer fresh or original. So, for better or worse, in order to think creatively sometimes you need to be somewhere else.

I have also been thinking about my car. I've had a lot of cars in my life and most of them were not working well. I’ve had them fixed, but typically there is still something wrong. I’m sure there are good mechanics around, but more often than not they leave my car with some kind of problem, so that it takes me a little while to get somewhere (whether it be to the grocery store or to work). This is what happens when we ignore our car. As a result, our car is not working as well as we would like.

I decided in this case that one of the better things for me to do was to take the advice of Drs. Goodenough and Hillman. To me, this meant that I should be more aware of my car; that I should take the time to notice what is happening with the car, and then I should do something about it. So far, I have been doing this regularly recently, and the ideas have started to flow again.

I could go on but the point is that we all have problems in our lives and often we ignore them until they get worse. Then finally we fix them - after they become more expensive. We learned a long time ago that if you keep putting water in a leaky boat long enough then one day it will sink or you will swim (that's actually another saying). The water will usually keep coming in faster than you can bail it out until you either fix the leak or sink.

The same applies to our minds. We need to recognize that ideas and insights come from the unconscious mind, and we can encourage this thinking process by relaxing our minds, taking breaks regularly, and avoiding over-thinking (which is actually just thinking too much in a rut).

Of course, there is also a difference between being idle or lazy and being relaxed. If we are too relaxed, then it's almost like being unconscious or depressed. So one of the keys is to find a balance between over-thinking and not thinking enough, between working too hard but not hard enough.


The next time you have a problem - be it a personal problem or an artistic problem - try the Chinese method of tea. Tea is a metaphor for your mind. It will let your thoughts flow freely and you can find solutions. Your thinking may even flow better if you make tea for others, as it is used in many cultures as an act of making peace or reconciliation between people. (In Japanese culture, this is symbolized by kazari-cha.)

Then when you are finished take a break from work. Relax for 15 minutes, or longer if you can afford to. If possible do something that requires physical activity that gets your blood flowing (like hiking).

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