How I lost it, and how I’m working to get it back
This used to be me: the daydreamer, the idealist. Okay, let’s be honest—I wasn’t that skinny. But still, I was ridiculously creative. I had a dangerously vivid imagination. I used to stumble upon inspiration regularly. But then, something changed…
I first recall recognizing and consciously appreciating my imagination when I was 12 or 13. I loved to write, draw, read, watch movies, and listen to music (like any average tween, I would say). I wrote my first 50,000 word novel when I was 14 (it was horrible). I wrote a second one at 15 (slightly less horrible, but still embarrassingly bad). Between my two novels, I self-published a book of short stories and poems. I loved poetry, and I seemed to be inspired regularly. My inspiration came in waves; I would be going about my daily business when an idea “struck.” I dropped whatever I was doing and literally ran to find a form of parchment and writing utensil to record my thoughts before the wave of inspiration receded into the vast ocean of ideas to be lost forever.
I often chose to go to bed before my entire family so I could savor an hour of creative imagination before I drifted to sleep. I allowed my mind to run free—unrestricted by the cares of the world. Night after night I established an alternate reality into which I could escape at will. The voices in my head were comforting, reassuring, beautiful.
But then I left for boarding academy. I’m 17 and will be graduating in June. Looking back, I realize with horror that it has been ages since I’ve encountered the ecstasy and rush of inspiration, or experienced the inexplicable bliss of exploring my fantasy worlds. For months, I could never understand why I felt so unlike myself—so uninspired. Sometimes I would walk around our beautiful British Columbian campus for hours, begging the universe to strike me with a bout of creativity. I felt lost. Where were the voices, the characters, the poems, the inspiration?
At night, I would lie awake restlessly and attempt to recreate my favorite illusions. But the visions were gone. I simply could not imagine anymore. I was devastated. It seemed as though a vital part of my being had dissolved.
Creativity isn’t a faucet—this is what I believed. I couldn’t turn it off and on. I either had it or I didn’t. But what if I was wrong (a phenomenon that has been known to happen on occasion)? What if creativity, imagination, and inspiration can—to some extent at least—be controlled?
Some people relate creativity to “flow,” which in simple terms, is the positive feeling of complete absorption and focused energy on any specific task or project. “Flow” is optimal brain performance—a peak in personal productivity. More importantly though, there seems to be a direct correlation between “flow” and creativity. To me, the term “flow” sounded a lot like a new-age colloquialism. Yet, as I researched the topic, I was extremely excited to learn that “flow” is practicable. In other words, as I exercised my mind into this optimal state, I could conceivably reconnect with my long-lost inspiration and creativity.
But how does one enter the state of “flow”?
The Alpha State
To understand the process of entering “flow,” you must first have a basic knowledge of the five different brain-wave frequencies.
- Gamma Waves: Between 40-100 Hz, Gamma waves are involved in higher cognitive functions. Generally dominant when processing information and retaining facts and knowledge, they can also be observed during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
- Beta Waves: Between 12-40 Hz, Beta waves are characterized as high frequency, low amplitude wavelengths. They are involved in critical thinking, problem solving, and day-to-day brain functions such as reading, writing, and socialization.
- Alpha Waves: Between 8-12 Hz, Alpha waves are key to mental relaxation. They promote daydreaming, imagination, and creativity. Alpha waves are often observed during meditation and directly before sleep.
- Theta Waves: Between 4-8 Hz, Theta waves induce a deeply relaxed (verging on hypnotic) state of mind. This wavelength is a link between the conscious and subconscious world.
- Delta Waves: Between 0-4 Hz, Delta waves are the slowest recorded human brain wavelengths, and are often seen in individuals with brain injuries or learning disabilities. Delta waves are also present during deep sleep.
As I’m sure you’ve guessed, Alpha waves are optimal for inducing “flow.” But how do you force Alpha waves, and perhaps more importantly, should you force your brain to produce a certain wavelength? Growing up, I was taught that forcing the brain to produce Alpha waves (this is often accomplished by vegetating in front of the TV or listening to certain genres of music) can be potentially dangerous. Alpha waves almost act as a brain-default, or an idling position. When you’re alert, active, or problem solving, your brain is producing beta-waves. The theory is, as you meditate your mind into an Alpha state, your critical thinking and reasoning blur. The frontal lobe becomes deactivated/idle, and your judgement may be impaired. This is a strong argument against watching large amounts of television. As the mind is placed into a trance, the frontal lobe is unable to act as a reasoning filter. In other words, whatever you see or hear passes straight into your head without conscious consent. However, when practiced carefully, inducing Alpha waves can play a critical role in creativity, inspiration, and imagination.
Inducing Alpha waves through meditation:
- Sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine (no slumping), or lie flat on your back.
- Either close your eyes, or keep your gaze soft and lowered.
- Take deep, natural breaths.
- Focus on counting your breaths up to four. One… two… three… four… one…
- Control your thoughts. If and when your mind begins to wander, refocus on your breathing. In, out, one… two…
- Become aware of your emotions. Don’t allow your mind to create stories or relive past scenarios (if this happens, refocus on breathing). However, it’s beneficial to note your feelings. Is your chest tight with anger? Or your stomach fluttery with fear? What is your body telling you?
- Remember that silence heals. Try to meditate in quiet stillness. (Some people prefer using meditation music. Try experimenting with a variety of techniques and do what works for you. Just avoid anything that distracts from your concentration.)
- Meditate for a few minutes. Don’t force yourself to go longer if you’re uncomfortable. With time, you will find it easier to sit for 10-15 minutes or more.
- Enjoy. This is your time to refresh your mind and escape the pressures of the world.
A Side-note on Sleep
As I researched the benefits of inducing an Alpha brain wave state, I began to wonder if my sleep could be improved by consciously meditating before bed.
A few years ago, I had a bad crash on my dirt-bike and received a nasty concussion. I experienced Post-Concussion Syndrome for many months following the initial accident. One of the affects was incessant insomnia. I was plagued by countless nights of fitful and restless sleep.
Again, a few days before the start of my Senior year of high-school, I was horsing around with a few friends and ended up smashing my head against the base of a sofa (somehow, these things just happen). Following my most recent injury, I had several more weeks of restless sleep and irritability.
I still suffer from insomnia. Although I value my sleep and almost always go to bed early, on bad nights I only manage a couple of hours of decent rest (which, I might add, is very good compared to others suffering from sleep deprivation). I tend to manage my stress and generally avoid using electronics right before bed. I exercise, eat healthy, and drink a lot of water. So what’s the problem? Sleeping pills and Melatonin haven’t been very affective, and I dislike the idea of relying on any form of medication to induce sleep. But what about meditation? Surely I could devote a few minutes to practice meditation each night before bed. Is it possible that by inducing a relaxed Alpha brain wave state, I’d enjoy a more peaceful and restful night of sleep? It’s not a very scientific experiment, but definitely worth a try. Depending on the level of success I experience, I may have to write another article explaining my results.
But alas, I digress. I’m supposed to be talking about creativity, inspiration, and imagination. So I have a theory. When I’m at school, I have extremely limited free time. My days start early, sometimes as early as 4:30AM. I get up, study/read, go to breakfast, go to class, go to lunch, go to work, go to supper. Only one hour per day is allotted for free-time, and more often than not, I spend it at the gym or in my room catching up on homework. With such a strict and unbending schedule, it’s nearly impossible to take time for creativity. It’s so go, go, go, I simply can’t force my mind into relaxation mode. In addition, I do not watch movies or read novels when I’m at school. While I believe an excess in these activities isn’t necessarily healthy, I have found that they increase the likelihood of me daydreaming as well as my ability to imagine. When I’m at home on break, I spend a great deal of time just allowing my mind to run free. I daydream, imagine, and focus on creative ingenuity.
We need creators…
Is it possible that we have scheduled creativity out of students’ lives? Small children are creative. They dance, sing, draw, and write. They have vivid imaginations and aren’t afraid to tell stories and try new things. But then they’re placed in school and forced to focus on subjects such as math, science, and English. They learn the world operates within a set of rules—the second law of thermodynamics, the law of quantum mechanics, I before E except after C (not exactly a rule, but you get my point). Art, music, dance, and creative expression are almost forgotten. As students are taught the rules, they simultaneously forget how to think outside the box. Sir Ken Robinson, in his brilliant TED talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity? made an extremely potent statement on creativity: “My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status… Picasso once said this… that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it.”
Are we educating our young people out of creativity? Are we producing a generation of students lacking in the most essential skills—problem solving, creative ingenuity, and imagination? What if schools began to promote creativity? What if they encouraged daydreaming? Perhaps it’s not about harnessing the brain, but releasing the brain from its harness.
The world is experiencing a creativity drought. What are you going to do about it? A simple solution: regain touch with your inner child—spend a few minutes every day daydreaming and exercise that imagination of yours. Relax your mind. Meditate. Induce Alpha brain waves. Try “flow.”
And always remember: Today will be amazing!