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Mindfulness for Creativity

In this interview, Danny shares why stress kills creativity and what you can do to become more relaxed, open and creative.

I'm your host Melli O'Brien. And I am here today with Dr. Danny Penman, who is a qualified meditation teacher, an award-winning journalist and author, and actually the author of two of my favorite books on mindfulness. And he's just put out a third one called Mindfulness for Creativity, which is what we're going to be talking about today. So, Danny, thanks so much for being here and sharing your time.

Oh, no, it's great to be here. It's, I'm just so glad that, you know, like you could squeeze me in. And I also would like to take this opportunity, Danny, just to, to really, you know, give you a, a deep, deep bow for being the very first person really who, who really truly believed in this project and started to really support and help us. So thank you so much for making this, helping make this summit happen. No, it's brilliant.

I mean, it's, it's just such an extraordinary range of people and, you know, it's, it's just great that you pulled everybody together and they're just sharing their knowledge and their wisdom. It's, it's brilliant. Well, thank you. Thank you. And so I'm really excited about talking about mindfulness for creativity, but I'd love to know, first of all, what brought you to mindfulness in the first place? Well, it's quite a shocking story in a way because I used to be a really keen paraglider pilot, and, you know, it was like the central feature of my life.

And one day I was paragliding over the Cotswold Hills in Southern England. And my, my canopy collapsed and it literally just collapsed into nothing. And I just plummeted towards the earth. And I was about 80 feet up at the time, and luckily I managed to reinflate it, but it immediately collapsed again. I fell about 30, 35 feet onto the hillside below and it drove the lower half of my right leg through the knee and into the thigh.

It was a really, really horrible, horrible thing to happen. And you know, I, I, I was stunned obviously for a few seconds and I kind of came around and was, you know, hit by the most unimaginable, unimaginable pain. And, but I realized that, you know, I had to stay fully conscious because I had to call an ambulance. And I also knew that if I lost consciousness, I might never wake up again. And so suppose, you know, I was in this quandry, I just wanted to basically just drift off, but I knew I had to stay awake.

And the only way I knew of controlling pain was a form of meditation I'd learnt in, when I was about 16 or 17 in, in secondary school. And it's a very, very simple meditation, the simplest one of all, where you just, you focus on the breath and you know, you just keep on following it as, as, as the air flows in and then the air flows out. It's a very, very simple breathing meditation. And I'd heard that, you know, meditation could be used for, for pain relief. So I, you know, I, I did it there and then, more in hope and desperation than, you know, any belief that it was going to work.

And much to my surprise, it did start to work and, you know, gradually the pain did begin to diminish. And you know, it meant that I could kind of maintain consciousness and just hang in there until, until the ambulance arrived. And it was, and well obviously they took me to hospital. I had a series of operations and I spent about a month in hospital. Wow.

This big steel frame strapped to my leg and there was 16 bolts and wires going in one side of the leg through a piece of bone and out the other side of the leg. And from time to time, they'd move the, these bits of bone around the sides to make sure they all kind of stuck together in the right position. So obviously I was highly stressed and extremely unhappy and in an awful lot of pain and they were giving me really powerful painkillers, because obviously that's the only thing available. But I was, the trouble with painkillers is they, they dull your awareness, you know. You kind of live in this nether world and it's, it's just not a pleasant place to be.

But it's obviously better then being in pain. Anyway, I remembered the meditation that I'd used. And I just started to use it along with a simple visualization meditation. And kind of gradually, over the next four and a half or five months, while I had this frame on, you know, I, I, I became quite addicted to this meditation, really because it was the only way I could get to sleep each night because of the levels of pain I was under. And it was the only thing keeping me sane, to be honest, because, you know, I was having a really intensive physiotherapy, three hours a day minimum.

And yeah, it was a horrible time, really, really horrible time. I was highly stressed. I wasn't depressed as such, but, you know, I was pretty unhappy and the only thing really that was driving me forward was this determination to kind of get better and be able to walk again, because there was some doubt that I'd ever be able to walk again properly. And anyway, I actually recovered in double quick time. They said that I probably need this for about 18 months, this frame on my leg.

And they removed after about four and a half or five months because my healing had accelerated so, so rapidly. And, you know, I mean, this was largely down to the fact that I was nowhere near, as stressed as most people were. You know, if you're highly stressed, it retards healing. If you relax, you know, and you are just able to cope with life a bit better, your healing accelerates. And over, I suppose, over the following year, I started to study these meditations more and more.

And I came across the work of Professor Mark Williams at Oxford University in the UK, who I think he was your first, your first guest. Yes. Yes, and so I came across Mark's work and mindfulness based cognitive therapy. And, you know, I just thought this is one of the most amazing mental health discoveries, that have ever been made. You know, I mean, you look at the evidence and it roughly halves the relapse rate for serious mental complaints, like, obviously clinical depression.

It's great for anxiety and stress as well, but it's also good for a whole range of other physical conditions. So I came across this work and I was determined to get this in print. You know, I'm a journalist and I just couldn't get any interest at all. It was driving me mad because here's this technique that had helped me enormously and, you know, the evidence base was phenomenal. It had just started to be used in our national health service and still no newspaper was interested.

I found this completely crazy. Eventually I actually came across the work of, uh, luckily, there was a, a news peg I came across, that's what it was. William Kiken, who was then at Exeter University, had done some more work on this area showing that it was a least as good as antidepressants. And so this was the news peg to get it in a newspaper. And really then I made about 500 words.

And again, it was really frustrating. So I eventually persuaded Mark that, you know, we might as well put this into a book together. You know, we take everything, we'd slim it down as far as possible while still being effective. And it'd be a nice structured eight week program. But didn't really have much hope that it was going to be a best seller or anything like that.

But I thought, well, at least the information is out there. It's going to benefit a few hundred or a few thousand people. And, you know, it was just worth doing in its own right. And anyway, the rest is history, you know. It's, it's, it's become a worldwide bestseller.

It's been in the UK Top 10 paperback chart for three and a half years now. And it's doing really well in America, in Australia, all around the world. It's been translated into 25 languages, I think now. So it's exceeded our wildest expectations really. And I then teamed up with Vidyamala Burch of Breathworks.

And this, this is a wonderful organization based in Manchester, in the North of England that uses mindfulness, teaches mindfulness for, to help people with, with chronic pain. You know, with the worst kinds of pain imaginable, absolutely unremitting. And, you know, mindfulness has been proven to, again, roughly half the, the, the intensity of chronic pain. And in experienced meditators, you know, some evidence shows it can reduce it by up to 90%, which is an astonishing figure.. Yeah.

That's absolutely incredible. And what I love about Vidyamala's work as well, is that the, the first thing that often goes when you have an injury, right, is your income? And she has these wonderful scholarships to make sure that all of those people have some accessibility there. So you wrote those two books, both of which I've read and both of which are my favorite, some of my favorite books on mindfulness of all time. And so what made you now want to write about mindfulness for creativity? What was your inspiration for that? Well, it became obvious to me that you know, mindfulness has been used to kind of help, people with kind of mental, physical, mental, and physical pain and suffering. You know, it was brilliant for alleviating problems.

And it just suddenly struck me that it was going to be really good for helping people kind of optimize their approach to life and intellect and creativity. A nd I started looking at the evidence and about, I suppose about three or four years ago, people had started looking into this area. I found that it was, it was brilliant for, for boosting creativity and decision-making, and cause it enhanced this kind of rational thoughts as well. And the more I started looking into this, the more convinced I became the actually, you know, this could be a great way of, well, improving society. You know, if people started making sensible, rational decisions, then that's got to be good.

And not only that, you know, if you enhance creativity, you know, it's good all around because it means you'll come up with better solutions to problems, better art, maybe. Just everything is going to be better if you have creative solutions to any kind of difficulty or situation, or, you know, it's obviously great for writers and all the rest of it. Yeah. I was thinking that the perks for you, you know, studying that when you're such a creative person, it must've been such a journey for you as well. Yeah.

Well, I found that it does, it does improve. Just a few minutes, preferably more, but even just a few minutes of just open awareness, as it's called, you know, where you just focus on the whole field of awareness, sounds and thoughts, for example, I just I find it settles my mind and it just, if the mind stops chattering, then ideas just start bubbling up from, from your subconscious. And it just makes it a lot easier to write. That's what I found. Yeah.

So there's two, there's two sort of things that you point out in your book. You point out some of the things that kill creativity or dampen it, and then you talk about some of the ways that mindfulness can really help cultivate certain, certain skills. Yeah. So could you talk about a little bit, first of all, what, why is stress such a big killer of creativity? What, what's going on there? Well, if you're on the back foot, that you're frightened or stressed, what happens is your mind essentially closes down. It's called the avoidance system because it focuses on the immediate needs of survival.

And in the past, when we lived, say on the African savannah and there was lions and tigers and God knows what about to eat, you. That's brilliant because it fires you up and, you know, you, you, you pick the best way out of a situation. You just basically run away and all of your energy is diverted to escaping. That's great, does, does the job perfectly if you're in that environment. But of course, if you're in, say in an office environment or in a factory, and you're under stress, the last thing you need is for your mind to close down, because you're not going to come up with, you're not creative.

You won't be able to think clearly. And, you know, it's also, you can't escape. If you are in the modern world, you cannot escape from these nebulous threats. So the stress just builds up and builds up and builds up and your whole life begins to narrow. And that obviously leads to chronic stress and depression.

But it means you, you know, any kind of rational thought and creative solutions, they just, well, you're just not going to notice them because you're so focused on the immediate needs of survival And, yeah. Go ahead. It's, and so what you need to do is you need to, what mindfulness is brilliant at is obviously reducing stress, but in some ways that's not enough. You need to enhance your ability to, kind of assimilate new ideas and information, you know, so that you're open to new concepts and you're open to noticing new ideas. And so that's what mindfulness gives you, but it, it gives you something more as well.

It gives you this kind of mental resilience to pursue an idea. So you don't only do you notice these new ideas that are bubbling up in your mind, you actually have the kind of drive and the resilience to just put them into action and basically ignore all the naysayers, you know, just you, you know, resilience is so, so important. Strength of character is so important to achieving anything in life. And that's what mindfulness does. Yeah.

And I love that you draw that the, you know, you, you bring into awareness, the difference between somebody, somebody who might be imaginative and somebody who's actually creative. And, you know, the difference is that the creative person actually does. You know, and that does require a lot of resilience. It's it's, you know, it's an increase. It's a, and the naysayers often are in here too.

It's not just naysayers out there. It's mostly in here, the ones that you have to discern, you know, that's just a voice in my head and I can do it anyway, because I believe in this or because I love this and. Yeah. We're all our own worst enemies. You know, we, we, we criticize ourselves far more than anybody else ever.

It's just a, it's just, I think it's a major problem with, with the modern world, you know, just the brutal way we treat ourselves. Yeah. Which is why I think one of the themes in this summit that's just been coming out more and more and more is, self-compassion. So, but it's like that self compassion and resilience together. Yeah.

So a, and there are specific skills that you talk about in the book that the practice of mindfulness really cultivates. Resilience is one of them and there's other skills that mindfulness helps us to cultivate as well. Could you speak about those as well? Yeah, it's a full week program and it's four weeks for a very good reason in that it builds, uh, three skills, three core skills. And then in the fourth week, you kind of bind them all together. On the first week is really is learning how to focus again.

And the great thing about learning how to focus is that it helps you to kind of just assimilate information. And that's that's the first stage of creativity is, is simulating ideas. Was it Picasso who said, steal like an artist? Well, you know, the first thing you have to do is assimilate those ideas. And that's what the first week is, it's a very, very simple breathing meditation. I'm sure anybody who's, who's done any mindfulness practice will know this, but it's still very important to do that for the first week.

And then in the second week, you learn a skill called open monitoring. And a good example is the sounds and thoughts meditation or an insight meditation. And that what that does is it broadens your awareness. So again, you notice new ideas, but crucially, you start to notice your own ideas. So that once your mind calms down, you can actually begin to notice and pay attention to your own ideas, because we're constantly having ideas, it's just we don't notice them.

They're just drowned out by this kind of incessant chatter in our minds. And so that's the second week. On the third week is to build a mental fortitude and resilience. And we do that with a what's called a Metta meditation, or some people call it a loving kindness meditation. And that teaches you or inculcates the idea of just being a little more gentle with yourself, because if you're a little more gentle with yourself, you've got just, you have the resilience to take the brickbats from everybody else because people are always going to try and knock you down.

And if you actually, you know, have got a great idea, you have to believe in it and you have to put it into action. And other people are inevitably going to try to undermine you. That's just the way the world works. So you need to be able to cope with that and the best way is using a metta meditation. And the fourth week.

Teaches you, it's an insight meditation. And, again, it just broadens awareness so that you can kind of gather more information. You can see the ideas bubbling up, and also builds resilience. So it's kind of a way of putting it all together. You know, so it's a, it's a step-by-step process.

And you know, that's what, yeah, that's the, these are the core techniques you need to succeed in any field. And the, so in, in this book and your recommendation is to do some, it, my question is actually, what is, is the mindfulness practices in this book for creativity, for cultivating creativity, are they any different to, are they specifically for creativity or is it just that mindfulness itself, as you go through this process, mindfulness itself just allows those skills to emerge more and more? Yes and no. There's quite a lot of evidence over the past few years that open monitoring meditations, they're the ones that really enhance creativity. But you need both. You need to be able to focus because we all have very scattered minds at the moment.

So you need to spend a little time learning how to just notice the world around you. And the simplest way is the breathing meditation. Now that's a focused awareness meditation. But you need the open monitoring to really optimize your own creativity. And know it can have a really dramatic effect.

I mean, some of the evidence says that it's at least a 30% improvement in your standardized creativity test results. Oh. wow! So it's a big, it is a big, big increase, and in some aspects of creativity, it's actually a four-fold increase, which is an astonishing figure. And... What time period was that of practice? Well, the interesting thing is it happens very, very quickly because most, most forms of meditation, like focused awareness ones are, it actually builds up over time.

So the brain begins to rewire itself. Yeah. But the odd thing about open monitoring is it seems to be almost instantaneous and that's yeah, because of what you're doing here is you're, instead of having a point- like focus in the meditation, you're opening up. And obviously when you stop meditating, your field of awareness begins to narrow and you, your mind starts to hop around like a, like a crazy frog or something. And that's, that's inevitable.

It, it just that's what life does to you. And but I would imagine the evidence isn't there yet. But I'm sure it's true that the more you do these opened monitoring meditations, they will actually begin to rewire your brain in the way that other meditations have been shown to do. But the evidence is only there for an immediate left, which is great, of course. Nobody's going to complain about that.

And so besides the formal practice of mindfulness, are there, are there informal ways that you're recommending for people to integrate into their creative lives or just into their lives? Yeah. I mean theres', in common with the previous books, there's lots of, we call them habit releases, which is essentially a kind of formal way of breaking habits. And it's really, really important to do those kinds of things because we're all creatures of habit and you actually have to consciously set out to break your habits. Otherwise you just end up going around in circles. And so, I mean, my favorite one is we call a creative date.

Whereas as you set time aside each week, just a couple of hours to do whatever you fancy. And that sounds easy to do, but actually to create an hour or two of time each week, for many people, is very, very difficult and they'll never actually do it unless somebody tells them to. So that's So that's why you make it a date. Yeah I'm telling them you have to do this. And it's stuff like, I mean, it could be anything.

You know, it could be going to an art gallery to watch a film, go and watch a sunset. Anything that kind of fills your heart with joy and sparks your interest, just go and do it and set aside that time. So that's my favorite one. I do that all the time. Probably more than once a week.

Yeah. When I read that in the book, I think you also mentioned that if you sort of can't think of something to try and think of something that you did half your lifespan ago, was that it? Yes. Yeah. And well, the thing that I used to do a lot that I realized I still do sometimes, but not as much is just keep a diary. I used to doodle and, you know, keep a diary.

And so I had a creative date and my partner did as well. He had a creative date and, and we both had so much fun doing it. And it was that feeling of just a free flow of creativity and idea. So I really enjoyed that. Yeah.

Yeah, no, they're, they're always good fun to do. And you know, it's, it's just a great way of sparking new ideas. And what would you do these days, after all of this research and everything that you've learned, what would you do in a moment of writer's block, if you had a moment of writer's block right now? Wander around the park. I live near a nice park and it's just great, you know. Just walk around, get some fresh air and it just sets you off on a different track.

It just opens the mind, broadens the mind. And that's kindof my favorite practice. I mean, I'm a real avid walker. And you know, you look at anybody who's involved in the creative field at all. You know, they always do things like that.

It's just a way of jumping the tracks into some, to a different direction. As opposed to, I would say, and I've experienced this myself, I'm sure most of our viewers have as well, that moment where you just try and force yourself through it. You know, you, you are trying to do something, you're trying to write something or do something creative and you just try to push. You mentally try to like grit your teeth and think your way through it, or, you know, it's, and it's a, it's a horrible moment. You berate yourself and why can't I do it? And...

Yeah. I mean, actually, I mean the real way of, if you're a writer, this is what I found is you do need those breaks, but you also need to, I mean, I just set aside 90 minutes every morning to, to write. And sometimes I'll just start with almost random words. You know, and it's, I'll just start and it's terrible, you know, I read it and it it's, it just doesn't make much sense at all or it's really clunky, it's ugly, but it doesn't matter. It kind of gets, gets you moving and it's, it's the momentum.

Yeah. I think creativity is about momentum. It's just, it's turning up. It's turning up and just doing your best. Danny, would you care to guide us through, maybe a short, a short practice, maybe five, 10 minutes? Yeah.

My favorite one. You shouldn't have favorites when it comes to mindfulness, but I do. A secret favorite. Exactly, exactly. This is the one I do most days really.

It's, when I do it myself, it's 20 minutes. It's the sound of the thoughts meditation. And for me, I, I go to my local park and there's a, I have a favorite bench and it overlooks the city where I live and I just sit there and I close my eyes and I just focus on the sounds around me. And the idea behind the sounds of thoughts meditation is to see the similarity between the way sound behaves and the way your thoughts behave, because both just arrive as if from nowhere. You've got no control over them arriving at all, and the same often really powerful message that force you to react and then they just disappear, just disappear of their own accord.

You've got no control over it at all. And so it's a, if you really notice that, it's quite a profound realization when you realize that you are not your thoughts. I mean, it's, it's become almost a cliche, but it is so, so true. And if there's one message that rings true from mindfulness is you are not your thoughts. And so that's why I love this meditation.

And just to see how your mind just constantly throws these thoughts and ideas up and they're very sticky, you know, you want to react. And it's extremely difficult not to react. And in fact, the only way you can not react is, is really to watch them. And this, so this is what I do most mornings, rain, hail or shine, in my local park. Really, hail? Well, maybe not.

So if you could sit upright. I think you've got the same chair as me so we'll both make lots of funny fidgeting sounds. Oh, we've got matching chairs. They're all around. Yeah.

So gently loosen up, loosen your shoulders and begin to, begin to relax. And sit upright as much as you can. So you've got this like very calm and dignified posture. And then when you feel ready, gently, close your eyes. Begin to pay attention to the world around you.

What thoughts are here> And when you feel ready, begin to move your awareness down to your feet, where they make contact with the floor. Just soak up the sensations. And move your awareness through your ankles, lower legs, knees, thighs, hips and then onto your hands and arms. And feel the breath as it flows into your body. And your stomach.

And lower back. Feel the rise and fall of your shoulders. When you feel ready, begin to pay attention to the world, to the sounds. What sounds are here? You may hear cars, buses, aircraft in the distance. Or the sound of wildlife.

Birds, scampering animals or sound of the wind in the trees. Whatever is here, just just pay attention to it. Notice how the sounds just arrive. You have no control over them. They arrive, linger for a while, and then just disappear.

They may arrive from the front or the back, above or below, and left or right. Try not to become too engaged with any specific sound. Just listen to the whole soundscape, the whole panorama of sound. After a while, when you feel already, move your awareness to the thoughts flowing across your mind. Notice how they behave like sounds, Notice how they arrive, linger for awhile, and then dissipate.

Have no control over your thoughts. They arise and trigger other thoughts and then dissipate. When you become lost in your thoughts, as you will from time to time, gently shepherd your awareness back to the breath for a few moments and take a mental step back. Watch your thoughts once again. When your mind wanders once again, try not to criticize yourself.

Minds think. It's what they do. So gently shepherd your awareness back to the breath and then pay attention to your thoughts once again. If any thoughts are particularly strong or compelling, gently say to yourself, remind yourself, thinking, thinking, worrying, worrying, or whatever feels the most appropriate. And then briefly focus on the breath and begin to watch your thoughts once again.

When you feel ready, begin to bring this meditation to a close. Begin to notice the sounds around you. Gently begin to move and reconnect with the outside world. Stretching is always a good one. Thank you so much for that practice.

Something occurred to me actually, while we were practicing is that I, I kind of felt there was even a kind of resilience that was happening even in that moment when you, you know, it just happens moment to moment in meditation, you, you find yourself lost and then you come back with some gentleness and some friendliness, and that feels like right there is just like doing the rep of resilience and right there in that moment. So, and it's a kind of liberation, I guess. It's a liberation from the tyranny of that, that internal voice. Yeah, yeah yeah. Just being quiet for a while, it's just, I don't know.

It's all you need sometimes, isn't it? Yeah, yeah. Is there anything else that you'd like to share before we close this session? Yeah. I mean, everybody understandably focuses on formal mindfulness practices, but actually one the most important things you can do is just be aware as you go through your day, you know. Just eating more mindfully, drinking more mindfully, you know, talking and listening more mindfully, just walking down the street, being aware of what's going on around you. I mean, that to me is it's the essence of mindfulness.

The practices themselves are just there to reinforce that awareness. And I think that's something that most people, including me, quite often forget. Y Yeah. You don't want to sort of, I guess it can be a bit of a, a, o, I don't want to say the word trap, but it can be a bit of a tricky thing when you have the idea that you do meditation for, you know, 15 minutes a day and then, and then that's over and then you just go back to daily life. But daily life is where it's the most...

This is, this is our lives, we want to be awake for it. This is it. But this is where we spend most of our time. Yeah. Yeah, thank you for sharing that.

So it's been said that mindfulness has the capacity to change the world from the inside out one person at a time. And so I'm wondering if mindfulness would to hit critical mass, in your view, what do you think that would look like on a, on a world stage? What kind of changes? Yeah, I don't think we'd notice. I think it would just become so normal, such a part of the paint work that we'd regard it as entirely normal. And it would of course be a far better world. But maybe we just notice the people who were unmindful, you know.

We'd, we'd almost need to usher them off to hospital for a bit of rest and recuperation. It would just be a far better world, you know? It's not going to happen in the next few decades, but maybe in 500 years I think all of these projects have to be seen as 500 year projects. Oh, Danny, thank you so much for your time. And I definitely highly, highly recommend your new book. They're always wonderful, but Matty and I are both creative people, so we're already taking ourselves on creative dates and loving some of the tips in there.

So thank you so much again for believing in this project and for your time. And I wish you all the best.

Talk

4.5

Mindfulness for Creativity

In this interview, Danny shares why stress kills creativity and what you can do to become more relaxed, open and creative.

Duration

Your default time is based on your progress and is changed automatically as you practice.

I'm your host Melli O'Brien. And I am here today with Dr. Danny Penman, who is a qualified meditation teacher, an award-winning journalist and author, and actually the author of two of my favorite books on mindfulness. And he's just put out a third one called Mindfulness for Creativity, which is what we're going to be talking about today. So, Danny, thanks so much for being here and sharing your time.

Oh, no, it's great to be here. It's, I'm just so glad that, you know, like you could squeeze me in. And I also would like to take this opportunity, Danny, just to, to really, you know, give you a, a deep, deep bow for being the very first person really who, who really truly believed in this project and started to really support and help us. So thank you so much for making this, helping make this summit happen. No, it's brilliant.

I mean, it's, it's just such an extraordinary range of people and, you know, it's, it's just great that you pulled everybody together and they're just sharing their knowledge and their wisdom. It's, it's brilliant. Well, thank you. Thank you. And so I'm really excited about talking about mindfulness for creativity, but I'd love to know, first of all, what brought you to mindfulness in the first place? Well, it's quite a shocking story in a way because I used to be a really keen paraglider pilot, and, you know, it was like the central feature of my life.

And one day I was paragliding over the Cotswold Hills in Southern England. And my, my canopy collapsed and it literally just collapsed into nothing. And I just plummeted towards the earth. And I was about 80 feet up at the time, and luckily I managed to reinflate it, but it immediately collapsed again. I fell about 30, 35 feet onto the hillside below and it drove the lower half of my right leg through the knee and into the thigh.

It was a really, really horrible, horrible thing to happen. And you know, I, I, I was stunned obviously for a few seconds and I kind of came around and was, you know, hit by the most unimaginable, unimaginable pain. And, but I realized that, you know, I had to stay fully conscious because I had to call an ambulance. And I also knew that if I lost consciousness, I might never wake up again. And so suppose, you know, I was in this quandry, I just wanted to basically just drift off, but I knew I had to stay awake.

And the only way I knew of controlling pain was a form of meditation I'd learnt in, when I was about 16 or 17 in, in secondary school. And it's a very, very simple meditation, the simplest one of all, where you just, you focus on the breath and you know, you just keep on following it as, as, as the air flows in and then the air flows out. It's a very, very simple breathing meditation. And I'd heard that, you know, meditation could be used for, for pain relief. So I, you know, I, I did it there and then, more in hope and desperation than, you know, any belief that it was going to work.

And much to my surprise, it did start to work and, you know, gradually the pain did begin to diminish. And you know, it meant that I could kind of maintain consciousness and just hang in there until, until the ambulance arrived. And it was, and well obviously they took me to hospital. I had a series of operations and I spent about a month in hospital. Wow.

This big steel frame strapped to my leg and there was 16 bolts and wires going in one side of the leg through a piece of bone and out the other side of the leg. And from time to time, they'd move the, these bits of bone around the sides to make sure they all kind of stuck together in the right position. So obviously I was highly stressed and extremely unhappy and in an awful lot of pain and they were giving me really powerful painkillers, because obviously that's the only thing available. But I was, the trouble with painkillers is they, they dull your awareness, you know. You kind of live in this nether world and it's, it's just not a pleasant place to be.

But it's obviously better then being in pain. Anyway, I remembered the meditation that I'd used. And I just started to use it along with a simple visualization meditation. And kind of gradually, over the next four and a half or five months, while I had this frame on, you know, I, I, I became quite addicted to this meditation, really because it was the only way I could get to sleep each night because of the levels of pain I was under. And it was the only thing keeping me sane, to be honest, because, you know, I was having a really intensive physiotherapy, three hours a day minimum.

And yeah, it was a horrible time, really, really horrible time. I was highly stressed. I wasn't depressed as such, but, you know, I was pretty unhappy and the only thing really that was driving me forward was this determination to kind of get better and be able to walk again, because there was some doubt that I'd ever be able to walk again properly. And anyway, I actually recovered in double quick time. They said that I probably need this for about 18 months, this frame on my leg.

And they removed after about four and a half or five months because my healing had accelerated so, so rapidly. And, you know, I mean, this was largely down to the fact that I was nowhere near, as stressed as most people were. You know, if you're highly stressed, it retards healing. If you relax, you know, and you are just able to cope with life a bit better, your healing accelerates. And over, I suppose, over the following year, I started to study these meditations more and more.

And I came across the work of Professor Mark Williams at Oxford University in the UK, who I think he was your first, your first guest. Yes. Yes, and so I came across Mark's work and mindfulness based cognitive therapy. And, you know, I just thought this is one of the most amazing mental health discoveries, that have ever been made. You know, I mean, you look at the evidence and it roughly halves the relapse rate for serious mental complaints, like, obviously clinical depression.

It's great for anxiety and stress as well, but it's also good for a whole range of other physical conditions. So I came across this work and I was determined to get this in print. You know, I'm a journalist and I just couldn't get any interest at all. It was driving me mad because here's this technique that had helped me enormously and, you know, the evidence base was phenomenal. It had just started to be used in our national health service and still no newspaper was interested.

I found this completely crazy. Eventually I actually came across the work of, uh, luckily, there was a, a news peg I came across, that's what it was. William Kiken, who was then at Exeter University, had done some more work on this area showing that it was a least as good as antidepressants. And so this was the news peg to get it in a newspaper. And really then I made about 500 words.

And again, it was really frustrating. So I eventually persuaded Mark that, you know, we might as well put this into a book together. You know, we take everything, we'd slim it down as far as possible while still being effective. And it'd be a nice structured eight week program. But didn't really have much hope that it was going to be a best seller or anything like that.

But I thought, well, at least the information is out there. It's going to benefit a few hundred or a few thousand people. And, you know, it was just worth doing in its own right. And anyway, the rest is history, you know. It's, it's, it's become a worldwide bestseller.

It's been in the UK Top 10 paperback chart for three and a half years now. And it's doing really well in America, in Australia, all around the world. It's been translated into 25 languages, I think now. So it's exceeded our wildest expectations really. And I then teamed up with Vidyamala Burch of Breathworks.

And this, this is a wonderful organization based in Manchester, in the North of England that uses mindfulness, teaches mindfulness for, to help people with, with chronic pain. You know, with the worst kinds of pain imaginable, absolutely unremitting. And, you know, mindfulness has been proven to, again, roughly half the, the, the intensity of chronic pain. And in experienced meditators, you know, some evidence shows it can reduce it by up to 90%, which is an astonishing figure.. Yeah.

That's absolutely incredible. And what I love about Vidyamala's work as well, is that the, the first thing that often goes when you have an injury, right, is your income? And she has these wonderful scholarships to make sure that all of those people have some accessibility there. So you wrote those two books, both of which I've read and both of which are my favorite, some of my favorite books on mindfulness of all time. And so what made you now want to write about mindfulness for creativity? What was your inspiration for that? Well, it became obvious to me that you know, mindfulness has been used to kind of help, people with kind of mental, physical, mental, and physical pain and suffering. You know, it was brilliant for alleviating problems.

And it just suddenly struck me that it was going to be really good for helping people kind of optimize their approach to life and intellect and creativity. A nd I started looking at the evidence and about, I suppose about three or four years ago, people had started looking into this area. I found that it was, it was brilliant for, for boosting creativity and decision-making, and cause it enhanced this kind of rational thoughts as well. And the more I started looking into this, the more convinced I became the actually, you know, this could be a great way of, well, improving society. You know, if people started making sensible, rational decisions, then that's got to be good.

And not only that, you know, if you enhance creativity, you know, it's good all around because it means you'll come up with better solutions to problems, better art, maybe. Just everything is going to be better if you have creative solutions to any kind of difficulty or situation, or, you know, it's obviously great for writers and all the rest of it. Yeah. I was thinking that the perks for you, you know, studying that when you're such a creative person, it must've been such a journey for you as well. Yeah.

Well, I found that it does, it does improve. Just a few minutes, preferably more, but even just a few minutes of just open awareness, as it's called, you know, where you just focus on the whole field of awareness, sounds and thoughts, for example, I just I find it settles my mind and it just, if the mind stops chattering, then ideas just start bubbling up from, from your subconscious. And it just makes it a lot easier to write. That's what I found. Yeah.

So there's two, there's two sort of things that you point out in your book. You point out some of the things that kill creativity or dampen it, and then you talk about some of the ways that mindfulness can really help cultivate certain, certain skills. Yeah. So could you talk about a little bit, first of all, what, why is stress such a big killer of creativity? What, what's going on there? Well, if you're on the back foot, that you're frightened or stressed, what happens is your mind essentially closes down. It's called the avoidance system because it focuses on the immediate needs of survival.

And in the past, when we lived, say on the African savannah and there was lions and tigers and God knows what about to eat, you. That's brilliant because it fires you up and, you know, you, you, you pick the best way out of a situation. You just basically run away and all of your energy is diverted to escaping. That's great, does, does the job perfectly if you're in that environment. But of course, if you're in, say in an office environment or in a factory, and you're under stress, the last thing you need is for your mind to close down, because you're not going to come up with, you're not creative.

You won't be able to think clearly. And, you know, it's also, you can't escape. If you are in the modern world, you cannot escape from these nebulous threats. So the stress just builds up and builds up and builds up and your whole life begins to narrow. And that obviously leads to chronic stress and depression.

But it means you, you know, any kind of rational thought and creative solutions, they just, well, you're just not going to notice them because you're so focused on the immediate needs of survival And, yeah. Go ahead. It's, and so what you need to do is you need to, what mindfulness is brilliant at is obviously reducing stress, but in some ways that's not enough. You need to enhance your ability to, kind of assimilate new ideas and information, you know, so that you're open to new concepts and you're open to noticing new ideas. And so that's what mindfulness gives you, but it, it gives you something more as well.

It gives you this kind of mental resilience to pursue an idea. So you don't only do you notice these new ideas that are bubbling up in your mind, you actually have the kind of drive and the resilience to just put them into action and basically ignore all the naysayers, you know, just you, you know, resilience is so, so important. Strength of character is so important to achieving anything in life. And that's what mindfulness does. Yeah.

And I love that you draw that the, you know, you, you bring into awareness, the difference between somebody, somebody who might be imaginative and somebody who's actually creative. And, you know, the difference is that the creative person actually does. You know, and that does require a lot of resilience. It's it's, you know, it's an increase. It's a, and the naysayers often are in here too.

It's not just naysayers out there. It's mostly in here, the ones that you have to discern, you know, that's just a voice in my head and I can do it anyway, because I believe in this or because I love this and. Yeah. We're all our own worst enemies. You know, we, we, we criticize ourselves far more than anybody else ever.

It's just a, it's just, I think it's a major problem with, with the modern world, you know, just the brutal way we treat ourselves. Yeah. Which is why I think one of the themes in this summit that's just been coming out more and more and more is, self-compassion. So, but it's like that self compassion and resilience together. Yeah.

So a, and there are specific skills that you talk about in the book that the practice of mindfulness really cultivates. Resilience is one of them and there's other skills that mindfulness helps us to cultivate as well. Could you speak about those as well? Yeah, it's a full week program and it's four weeks for a very good reason in that it builds, uh, three skills, three core skills. And then in the fourth week, you kind of bind them all together. On the first week is really is learning how to focus again.

And the great thing about learning how to focus is that it helps you to kind of just assimilate information. And that's that's the first stage of creativity is, is simulating ideas. Was it Picasso who said, steal like an artist? Well, you know, the first thing you have to do is assimilate those ideas. And that's what the first week is, it's a very, very simple breathing meditation. I'm sure anybody who's, who's done any mindfulness practice will know this, but it's still very important to do that for the first week.

And then in the second week, you learn a skill called open monitoring. And a good example is the sounds and thoughts meditation or an insight meditation. And that what that does is it broadens your awareness. So again, you notice new ideas, but crucially, you start to notice your own ideas. So that once your mind calms down, you can actually begin to notice and pay attention to your own ideas, because we're constantly having ideas, it's just we don't notice them.

They're just drowned out by this kind of incessant chatter in our minds. And so that's the second week. On the third week is to build a mental fortitude and resilience. And we do that with a what's called a Metta meditation, or some people call it a loving kindness meditation. And that teaches you or inculcates the idea of just being a little more gentle with yourself, because if you're a little more gentle with yourself, you've got just, you have the resilience to take the brickbats from everybody else because people are always going to try and knock you down.

And if you actually, you know, have got a great idea, you have to believe in it and you have to put it into action. And other people are inevitably going to try to undermine you. That's just the way the world works. So you need to be able to cope with that and the best way is using a metta meditation. And the fourth week.

Teaches you, it's an insight meditation. And, again, it just broadens awareness so that you can kind of gather more information. You can see the ideas bubbling up, and also builds resilience. So it's kind of a way of putting it all together. You know, so it's a, it's a step-by-step process.

And you know, that's what, yeah, that's the, these are the core techniques you need to succeed in any field. And the, so in, in this book and your recommendation is to do some, it, my question is actually, what is, is the mindfulness practices in this book for creativity, for cultivating creativity, are they any different to, are they specifically for creativity or is it just that mindfulness itself, as you go through this process, mindfulness itself just allows those skills to emerge more and more? Yes and no. There's quite a lot of evidence over the past few years that open monitoring meditations, they're the ones that really enhance creativity. But you need both. You need to be able to focus because we all have very scattered minds at the moment.

So you need to spend a little time learning how to just notice the world around you. And the simplest way is the breathing meditation. Now that's a focused awareness meditation. But you need the open monitoring to really optimize your own creativity. And know it can have a really dramatic effect.

I mean, some of the evidence says that it's at least a 30% improvement in your standardized creativity test results. Oh. wow! So it's a big, it is a big, big increase, and in some aspects of creativity, it's actually a four-fold increase, which is an astonishing figure. And... What time period was that of practice? Well, the interesting thing is it happens very, very quickly because most, most forms of meditation, like focused awareness ones are, it actually builds up over time.

So the brain begins to rewire itself. Yeah. But the odd thing about open monitoring is it seems to be almost instantaneous and that's yeah, because of what you're doing here is you're, instead of having a point- like focus in the meditation, you're opening up. And obviously when you stop meditating, your field of awareness begins to narrow and you, your mind starts to hop around like a, like a crazy frog or something. And that's, that's inevitable.

It, it just that's what life does to you. And but I would imagine the evidence isn't there yet. But I'm sure it's true that the more you do these opened monitoring meditations, they will actually begin to rewire your brain in the way that other meditations have been shown to do. But the evidence is only there for an immediate left, which is great, of course. Nobody's going to complain about that.

And so besides the formal practice of mindfulness, are there, are there informal ways that you're recommending for people to integrate into their creative lives or just into their lives? Yeah. I mean theres', in common with the previous books, there's lots of, we call them habit releases, which is essentially a kind of formal way of breaking habits. And it's really, really important to do those kinds of things because we're all creatures of habit and you actually have to consciously set out to break your habits. Otherwise you just end up going around in circles. And so, I mean, my favorite one is we call a creative date.

Whereas as you set time aside each week, just a couple of hours to do whatever you fancy. And that sounds easy to do, but actually to create an hour or two of time each week, for many people, is very, very difficult and they'll never actually do it unless somebody tells them to. So that's So that's why you make it a date. Yeah I'm telling them you have to do this. And it's stuff like, I mean, it could be anything.

You know, it could be going to an art gallery to watch a film, go and watch a sunset. Anything that kind of fills your heart with joy and sparks your interest, just go and do it and set aside that time. So that's my favorite one. I do that all the time. Probably more than once a week.

Yeah. When I read that in the book, I think you also mentioned that if you sort of can't think of something to try and think of something that you did half your lifespan ago, was that it? Yes. Yeah. And well, the thing that I used to do a lot that I realized I still do sometimes, but not as much is just keep a diary. I used to doodle and, you know, keep a diary.

And so I had a creative date and my partner did as well. He had a creative date and, and we both had so much fun doing it. And it was that feeling of just a free flow of creativity and idea. So I really enjoyed that. Yeah.

Yeah, no, they're, they're always good fun to do. And you know, it's, it's just a great way of sparking new ideas. And what would you do these days, after all of this research and everything that you've learned, what would you do in a moment of writer's block, if you had a moment of writer's block right now? Wander around the park. I live near a nice park and it's just great, you know. Just walk around, get some fresh air and it just sets you off on a different track.

It just opens the mind, broadens the mind. And that's kindof my favorite practice. I mean, I'm a real avid walker. And you know, you look at anybody who's involved in the creative field at all. You know, they always do things like that.

It's just a way of jumping the tracks into some, to a different direction. As opposed to, I would say, and I've experienced this myself, I'm sure most of our viewers have as well, that moment where you just try and force yourself through it. You know, you, you are trying to do something, you're trying to write something or do something creative and you just try to push. You mentally try to like grit your teeth and think your way through it, or, you know, it's, and it's a, it's a horrible moment. You berate yourself and why can't I do it? And...

Yeah. I mean, actually, I mean the real way of, if you're a writer, this is what I found is you do need those breaks, but you also need to, I mean, I just set aside 90 minutes every morning to, to write. And sometimes I'll just start with almost random words. You know, and it's, I'll just start and it's terrible, you know, I read it and it it's, it just doesn't make much sense at all or it's really clunky, it's ugly, but it doesn't matter. It kind of gets, gets you moving and it's, it's the momentum.

Yeah. I think creativity is about momentum. It's just, it's turning up. It's turning up and just doing your best. Danny, would you care to guide us through, maybe a short, a short practice, maybe five, 10 minutes? Yeah.

My favorite one. You shouldn't have favorites when it comes to mindfulness, but I do. A secret favorite. Exactly, exactly. This is the one I do most days really.

It's, when I do it myself, it's 20 minutes. It's the sound of the thoughts meditation. And for me, I, I go to my local park and there's a, I have a favorite bench and it overlooks the city where I live and I just sit there and I close my eyes and I just focus on the sounds around me. And the idea behind the sounds of thoughts meditation is to see the similarity between the way sound behaves and the way your thoughts behave, because both just arrive as if from nowhere. You've got no control over them arriving at all, and the same often really powerful message that force you to react and then they just disappear, just disappear of their own accord.

You've got no control over it at all. And so it's a, if you really notice that, it's quite a profound realization when you realize that you are not your thoughts. I mean, it's, it's become almost a cliche, but it is so, so true. And if there's one message that rings true from mindfulness is you are not your thoughts. And so that's why I love this meditation.

And just to see how your mind just constantly throws these thoughts and ideas up and they're very sticky, you know, you want to react. And it's extremely difficult not to react. And in fact, the only way you can not react is, is really to watch them. And this, so this is what I do most mornings, rain, hail or shine, in my local park. Really, hail? Well, maybe not.

So if you could sit upright. I think you've got the same chair as me so we'll both make lots of funny fidgeting sounds. Oh, we've got matching chairs. They're all around. Yeah.

So gently loosen up, loosen your shoulders and begin to, begin to relax. And sit upright as much as you can. So you've got this like very calm and dignified posture. And then when you feel ready, gently, close your eyes. Begin to pay attention to the world around you.

What thoughts are here> And when you feel ready, begin to move your awareness down to your feet, where they make contact with the floor. Just soak up the sensations. And move your awareness through your ankles, lower legs, knees, thighs, hips and then onto your hands and arms. And feel the breath as it flows into your body. And your stomach.

And lower back. Feel the rise and fall of your shoulders. When you feel ready, begin to pay attention to the world, to the sounds. What sounds are here? You may hear cars, buses, aircraft in the distance. Or the sound of wildlife.

Birds, scampering animals or sound of the wind in the trees. Whatever is here, just just pay attention to it. Notice how the sounds just arrive. You have no control over them. They arrive, linger for a while, and then just disappear.

They may arrive from the front or the back, above or below, and left or right. Try not to become too engaged with any specific sound. Just listen to the whole soundscape, the whole panorama of sound. After a while, when you feel already, move your awareness to the thoughts flowing across your mind. Notice how they behave like sounds, Notice how they arrive, linger for awhile, and then dissipate.

Have no control over your thoughts. They arise and trigger other thoughts and then dissipate. When you become lost in your thoughts, as you will from time to time, gently shepherd your awareness back to the breath for a few moments and take a mental step back. Watch your thoughts once again. When your mind wanders once again, try not to criticize yourself.

Minds think. It's what they do. So gently shepherd your awareness back to the breath and then pay attention to your thoughts once again. If any thoughts are particularly strong or compelling, gently say to yourself, remind yourself, thinking, thinking, worrying, worrying, or whatever feels the most appropriate. And then briefly focus on the breath and begin to watch your thoughts once again.

When you feel ready, begin to bring this meditation to a close. Begin to notice the sounds around you. Gently begin to move and reconnect with the outside world. Stretching is always a good one. Thank you so much for that practice.

Something occurred to me actually, while we were practicing is that I, I kind of felt there was even a kind of resilience that was happening even in that moment when you, you know, it just happens moment to moment in meditation, you, you find yourself lost and then you come back with some gentleness and some friendliness, and that feels like right there is just like doing the rep of resilience and right there in that moment. So, and it's a kind of liberation, I guess. It's a liberation from the tyranny of that, that internal voice. Yeah, yeah yeah. Just being quiet for a while, it's just, I don't know.

It's all you need sometimes, isn't it? Yeah, yeah. Is there anything else that you'd like to share before we close this session? Yeah. I mean, everybody understandably focuses on formal mindfulness practices, but actually one the most important things you can do is just be aware as you go through your day, you know. Just eating more mindfully, drinking more mindfully, you know, talking and listening more mindfully, just walking down the street, being aware of what's going on around you. I mean, that to me is it's the essence of mindfulness.

The practices themselves are just there to reinforce that awareness. And I think that's something that most people, including me, quite often forget. Y Yeah. You don't want to sort of, I guess it can be a bit of a, a, o, I don't want to say the word trap, but it can be a bit of a tricky thing when you have the idea that you do meditation for, you know, 15 minutes a day and then, and then that's over and then you just go back to daily life. But daily life is where it's the most...

This is, this is our lives, we want to be awake for it. This is it. But this is where we spend most of our time. Yeah. Yeah, thank you for sharing that.

So it's been said that mindfulness has the capacity to change the world from the inside out one person at a time. And so I'm wondering if mindfulness would to hit critical mass, in your view, what do you think that would look like on a, on a world stage? What kind of changes? Yeah, I don't think we'd notice. I think it would just become so normal, such a part of the paint work that we'd regard it as entirely normal. And it would of course be a far better world. But maybe we just notice the people who were unmindful, you know.

We'd, we'd almost need to usher them off to hospital for a bit of rest and recuperation. It would just be a far better world, you know? It's not going to happen in the next few decades, but maybe in 500 years I think all of these projects have to be seen as 500 year projects. Oh, Danny, thank you so much for your time. And I definitely highly, highly recommend your new book. They're always wonderful, but Matty and I are both creative people, so we're already taking ourselves on creative dates and loving some of the tips in there.

So thank you so much again for believing in this project and for your time. And I wish you all the best.

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