“The true value of a human being is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self.
Our task must be to free ourselves; by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Albert Einstein, 1954
This list has been expanded into the new book, “Wired to Create: Unravelling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind,” by Carolyn Gregoire and Scott Barry Kaufman.
Creativity works in mysterious and often paradoxical ways. Creative thinking is a stable, defining characteristic in some personalities, but it may also change based on situation and context. Inspiration and ideas often arise seemingly out of nowhere and then fail to show up when we most need them, and creative thinking requires complex cognition yet is completely distinct from the thinking process.
Neuroscience paints a complicated picture of creativity. As scientists now understand it, creativity is far more complex than the right-left brain distinction would have us think (the theory being that left brain = rational and analytical, right brain = creative and emotional). In fact, creativity is thought to involve a number of cognitive processes, neural pathways and emotions, and we still don’t have the full picture of how the imaginative mind works.
And psychologically speaking, creative personality types are difficult to pin down, largely because they’re complex, paradoxical and tend to avoid habit or routine. And it’s not just a stereotype of the “tortured artist” — artists really may be more complicated people. Research has suggested that creativity involves the coming together of a multitude of traits, behaviors and social influences in a single person.
“It’s actually hard for creative people to know themselves because the creative self is more complex than the non-creative self,” Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at New York University who has spent years researching creativity, told The Huffington Post. “The things that stand out the most are the paradoxes of the creative self … Imaginative people have messier minds.”
While there’s no “typical” creative type, there are some tell-tale characteristics and behaviors of highly creative people. Here are 18 things they do differently.
Creative types know, despite what their third-grade teachers may have said, that daydreaming is anything but a waste of time.
According to Kaufman and psychologist Rebecca L. McMillan, who co-authored a paper titled “Ode To Positive Constructive Daydreaming,” mind-wandering can aid in the process of “creative incubation.” And of course, many of us know from experience that our best ideas come seemingly out of the blue when our minds are elsewhere.
Although daydreaming may seem mindless, a 2012 study suggested it could actually involve a highly engaged brain state — daydreaming can lead to sudden connections and insights because it’s related to our ability to recall information in the face of distractions. Neuroscientists have also found that daydreaming involves the same brain processes associated with imagination and creativity.
They observe everything.
The world is a creative person’s oyster — they see possibilities everywhere and are constantly taking in information that becomes fodder for creative expression. As Henry James is widely quoted, a writer is someone on whom “nothing is lost.”
The writer Joan Didion kept a notebook with her at all times, and said that she wrote down observations about people and events as, ultimately, a way to better understand the complexities and contradictions of her own mind:
“However dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable ‘I,'” Didion wrote in her essay On Keeping A Notebook. “We are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its marker.”
They work the hours that work for them.
Many great artists have said that they do their best work either very early in the morning or late at night. Vladimir Nabokov started writing immediately after he woke up at 6 or 7 a.m., and Frank Lloyd Wright made a practice of waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. and working for several hours before heading back to bed. No matter when it is, individuals with high creative output will often figure out what time it is that their minds start firing up, and structure their days accordingly.
They take time for solitude.
“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone,” wrote the American existential psychologist Rollo May.
Artists and creatives are often stereotyped as being loners, and while this may not actually be the case, solitude can be the key to producing their best work. For Kaufman, this links back to daydreaming — we need to give ourselves the time alone to simply allow our minds to wander.
“You need to get in touch with that inner monologue to be able to express it,” he says. “It’s hard to find that inner creative voice if you’re … not getting in touch with yourself and reflecting on yourself.”
They turn life’s obstacles around.
Many of the most iconic stories and songs of all time have been inspired by gut-wrenching pain and heartbreak — and the silver lining of these challenges is that they may have been the catalyst to create great art. An emerging field of psychology called post-traumatic growth is suggesting that many people are able to use their hardships and early-life trauma for substantial creative growth. Specifically, researchers have found that trauma can help people to grow in the areas of interpersonal relationships, spirituality, appreciation of life, personal strength, and — most importantly for creativity — seeing new possibilities in life.
“A lot of people are able to use that as the fuel they need to come up with a different perspective on reality,” says Kaufman. “What’s happened is that their view of the world as a safe place, or as a certain type of place, has been shattered at some point in their life, causing them to go on the periphery and see things in a new, fresh light, and that’s very conducive to creativity.”
They seek out new experiences.
Creative people love to expose themselves to new experiences, sensations and states of mind — and this openness is a significant predictor of creative output.
“Openness to experience is consistently the strongest predictor of creative achievement,” says Kaufman. “This consists of lots of different facets, but they’re all related to each other: Intellectual curiosity, thrill seeking, openness to your emotions, openness to fantasy. The thing that brings them all together is a drive for cognitive and behavioral exploration of the world, your inner world and your outer world.”
They “fail up.”
Resilience is practically a prerequisite for creative success, says Kaufman. Doing creative work is often described as a process of failing repeatedly until you find something that sticks, and creatives — at least the successful ones — learn not to take failure so personally.
“Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often,” Forbes contributor Steven Kotler wrote in a piece on Einstein’s creative genius.
They ask the big questions.
Creative people are insatiably curious — they generally opt to live the examined life, and even as they get older, maintain a sense of curiosity about life. Whether through intense conversation or solitary mind-wandering, creatives look at the world around them and want to know why, and how, it is the way it is.
Observant by nature and curious about the lives of others, creative types often love to people-watch — and they may generate some of their best ideas from it.
“[Marcel] Proust spent almost his whole life people-watching, and he wrote down his observations, and it eventually came out in his books,” says Kaufman. “For a lot of writers, people-watching is very important … They’re keen observers of human nature.”
They take risks.
Part of doing creative work is taking risks, and many creative types thrive off of taking risks in various aspects of their lives.
“There is a deep and meaningful connection between risk taking and creativity and it’s one that’s often overlooked,” contributor Steven Kotler wrote in Forbes. “Creativity is the act of making something from nothing. It requires making public those bets first placed by imagination. This is not a job for the timid. Time wasted, reputation tarnished, money not well spent — these are all by-products of creativity gone awry.”
They view all of life as an opportunity for self-expression.
Nietzsche believed that one’s life and the world should be viewed as a work of art. Creative types may be more likely to see the world this way, and to constantly seek opportunities for self-expression in everyday life.
“Creative expression is self-expression,” says Kaufman. “Creativity is nothing more than an individual expression of your needs, desires and uniqueness.”
They follow their true passions.
Creative people tend to be intrinsically motivated — meaning that they’re motivated to act from some internal desire, rather than a desire for external reward or recognition. Psychologists have shown that creative people are energized by challenging activities, a sign of intrinsic motivation, and the research suggests that simply thinking of intrinsic reasons to perform an activity may be enough to boost creativity.
“Eminent creators choose and become passionately involved in challenging, risky problems that provide a powerful sense of power from the ability to use their talents,” write M.A. Collins and T.M. Amabile in The Handbook of Creativity.
They get out of their own heads.
Kaufman argues that another purpose of daydreaming is to help us to get out of our own limited perspective and explore other ways of thinking, which can be an important asset to creative work.
“Daydreaming has evolved to allow us to let go of the present,” says Kaufman. “The same brain network associated with daydreaming is the brain network associated with theory of mind — I like calling it the ‘imagination brain network’ — it allows you to imagine your future self, but it also allows you to imagine what someone else is thinking.”
Research has also suggested that inducing “psychological distance” — that is, taking another person’s perspective or thinking about a question as if it was unreal or unfamiliar — can boost creative thinking.
They lose track of the time.
Creative types may find that when they’re writing, dancing, painting or expressing themselves in another way, they get “in the zone,” or what’s known as a flow state, which can help them to create at their highest level. Flow is a mental state when an individual transcends conscious thought to reach a heightened state of effortless concentration and calmness. When someone is in this state, they’re practically immune to any internal or external pressures and distractions that could hinder their performance.
You get into the flow state when you’re performing an activity you enjoy that you’re good at, but that also challenges you — as any good creative project does.
“[Creative people] have found the thing they love, but they’ve also built up the skill in it to be able to get into the flow state,” says Kaufman. “The flow state requires a match between your skill set and the task or activity you’re engaging in.”
They surround themselves with beauty.
Creatives tend to have excellent taste, and as a result, they enjoy being surrounded by beauty.
A study recently published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts showed that musicians — including orchestra musicians, music teachers, and soloists — exhibit a high sensitivity and responsiveness to artistic beauty.
They connect the dots.
If there’s one thing that distinguishes highly creative people from others, it’s the ability to see possibilities where others don’t — or, in other words, vision. Many great artists and writers have said that creativity is simply the ability to connect the dots that others might never think to connect.
In the words of Steve Jobs:
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”
They constantly shake things up.
Diversity of experience, more than anything else, is critical to creativity, says Kaufman. Creatives like to shake things up, experience new things, and avoid anything that makes life more monotonous or mundane.
“Creative people have more diversity of experiences, and habit is the killer of diversity of experience,” says Kaufman.
They make time for mindfulness.
Creative types understand the value of a clear and focused mind — because their work depends on it. Many artists, entrepreneurs, writers and other creative workers, such as David Lynch, have turned to meditation as a tool for tapping into their most creative state of mind.
And science backs up the idea that mindfulness really can boost your brain power in a number of ways. A 2012 Dutch study suggested that certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking. And mindfulness practices have been linked with improved memory and focus, better emotional well-being, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved mental clarity — all of which can lead to better creative thought.
Arianna Huffington and Mika Brzezinski are taking The Third Metric on a 3-city tour: NY, DC & LA. Tickets are on sale now at thirdmetric.com.
The Jesus Prayer Meditation is a wonderful spiritual tool to deepen your inner communion with Jesus Christ, and with the Infinite. This meditation is a variation of the Hong-Sau technique. Swami Kriyananda taught this Jesus Prayer Meditation to a Catholic priest.
The “Jesus Prayer” Meditation
by Mary Kretzmann, Ananda Healing Prayer Ministry
Years ago, I was reading a small and humble magazine dedicated to Therese of Liseux, “the Little Flower.” It recorded experiences of answered prayers, especially after people had prayed a novena in her name. Therese had promised to send “Roses from Heaven” to signify when prayers had been heard. Some of the stories were remarkable. All were touching.
One story, however, made an impression, and it was different from all of the others. It was written by a widow who had been very lonely, until her priest taught her the Jesus Prayer Meditation. After making this a part of her daily life, she said that while she was still alone; she was no longer lonely, for she inwardly felt His presence with her always.
When I turned the page to read about the techniques, I expected to see something akin to what I had learned from the book, “The Way of a Pilgrim,” the 19th century Russian spiritual classic, which describes the author’s inner transformational journey using this Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the poor sinner.”
But to my surprise, what I found was a meditation technique that I knew from the tradition of Paramhansa Yogananda, called Hong Sau. Everything was the same, such as sitting still, and watching the breath, except instead of “hong sau,” one said the Jesus Prayer. I was thrilled, thinking, “Oh my goodness! This must have been passed down intact from the time of Jesus, and then through the Desert Fathers, then up to this time!”
I was young and very enthusiastic. I happened to see Swami Kriyananda a short time later and told him about my discovery. He was just as thrilled, but in a different way. He exclaimed, “I taught that to a Catholic priest years ago! He must be out there teaching it.”
The kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17:20-21)
The Jesus Prayer as written in her article was, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”
Please note that it does not include the traditional ending, “a poor sinner.” Paramhansa Yogananda taught that, “It is a sin to all yourself ‘a sinner.’”
Our God nature is our true state; our errors and ignorance along the way are temporary. Our past errors do not define who we truly are, for as Jesus said, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, Ye are gods?’”
“…And Christians who imagine themselves inherently sinful, rather than sinning under the influence of delusion, would do well to meditate on the parable of the prodigal son, whose true home was in God. And, if those Christians aspire to heaven, they might ponder these words of Jesus, ‘No man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven.’ (John 3:13)” The New Path, by Swami Kriyananda.
It is also good to clarify the word, “mercy.” Think of it as asking for the loving mitigation of our karma, or spiritual debts; some created long ago, but still getting in the way of our spiritual understanding, and unfolding. So even though we are not to define ourselves as “sinners,” we have indeed created errors over the course of this lifetime, and many lifetimes. So, we are asking for help in dissolving our old karma, much in the same spirit as in the Lord’s Prayer, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Matthew 6:12
Practicing the Presence
A beautiful benefit about doing the Jesus Prayer Meditation is that once you complete your formal practice of the technique (instructions are at the end of this article) you will find that it is now much easier to “practice the presence of God” using this prayer throughout the day. The phrase, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, is now in your thoughts, and you can encourage it along, like the turning of a prayer wheel. In your normal day, while “practicing the presence,” you need not link the prayer to the breath; that is better for your meditation time. But do try to let each prayer be sincere; you don’t want merely to “parrot” the prayer as that serves little purpose. Feel that your spiritual heart is talking to Jesus as you say the prayer. Try to feel His Light, or a warm Presence in your heart center. This sense of His Presence will grow over time, with practice.
It is also very powerful to feel that you are sending this prayerful attention to Him from the point between the eyebrows, which is called the Christ center, or spiritual eye. As a little girl, I would see the spiritual eye every night after my Dad said bedtime prayers with me. I would quietly lay in bed, feeling my love for Jesus, and Mary, his Mother, and see a “donut” of blue light – surrounded by a ring of golden light. I did not know what it was, but I saw it every night of my childhood, after saying prayers, until finally drifting off to sleep.
Jesus Christ said, The light of the body is the eye: If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. Matthew 6:22
This point of energy is in you, even if you do not yet see that light. It is a point of inspiration in your body. Lift your prayers to that point. You can also pray: “Reveal Thyself, Reveal Thyself, Reveal Thyself…” from that point, and after a little while, relax to feel His answer in your heart.
Reverence for the Holy Name
There is a timeless and powerful principle in the reverence for the holy name. This is referenced, of course, in The Third Commandment: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. When we use the power of the Holy Name trivially, or “in vain,” and for no purpose, we cheapen that potential spiritual power within us.
The Desert Fathers in the 4th century used segments of the psalms repetitively in order to focus the mind spiritually. The first written record of the Jesus Prayer is in the 5th century in Greece. In the western tradition, there is a practice of repeating the name of Jesus, in order to practice the presence of God. A quick Internet search brought up this devotional gem from the Catholic Catechism on praying unceasingly:
THE TRADITION OF PRAYER
“The invocation of the holy name of Jesus is the simplest way of praying always. When the holy name is repeated often by a humbly attentive heart, the prayer is not lost by heaping up empty phrases, but holds fast to the word and “brings forth fruit with patience.” This prayer is possible “at all times” because it is not one occupation among others but the only occupation: that of loving God, which animates and transfigures every action in Christ Jesus.”
Love is the source of prayer; whoever draws from it reaches the summit of prayer. In the words of the Cure D’Ars: l love you, O my God, and my only desire is to love you until the last breath of my life. I love you, O my infinitely lovable God, and I would rather die loving you, than live without loving you. I love you, Lord, and the only grace I ask is to love you eternally…. My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love you, I want my heart to repeat it to you as often as I draw breath.
Paramhansa Yogananda used to like to remind people that the Cure D’Ars also said, “If you only knew how much God loved you, you would die for joy!”
Paramhansa Yogananda saw Jesus Christ in vision many times, and he said that the paintings by Heinrich Hoffman looked the most like the real-life Jesus of any art availble at the time.
Spiritual Power of Man’s Word
“…Man’s word is Spirit in man. Words are sounds occasioned by the vibrations of thoughts. Thoughts are vibrations sent forth by the Ego or Soul. Every word that leaves your mouth ought to be potent with your genuine soul vibration. Words in most people are lifeless because they are automatically put forth into the ether, without being impregnated with soul force. Too much talking, exaggeration or falsehood used in connection with words is just like shooting bullets out of a toy gun, without the gun-powder. That is why the prayers or words of such people do not produce any desired definite change in the order of things. Every word you utter you must mean it, i.e., every word you put forth must represent not only Truth, but some of your realized soul force. Words without soul force are husks without the corn…” (From Scientific Healing Affirmations, 1924 Edition: By Paramhansa Yogananda)
This tradition of reverential, devotional use of “the Holy Name” also exists for the name of the great Indian Master, Babaji: “Whenever anyone utters with reverence the name of Babaji,” Lahiri Mahasaya said, “that devotee attracts an instant spiritual blessing.” Autobiography of Yogi, by Paramhansa Yogananda.
“The kingdom of Heaven is within you.”
Jesus Prayer Meditation: Preparation
Adaptations by Mary Kretzmann: from “Watching the Breath Meditation” from the book, How to Meditate, by John Novak
One of the best ways to relax the body is to tense it first. Then, with relaxation, you will find tensions being released that you didn’t even know existed. Begin your meditation experience by practicing the following two relaxation techniques. The first exercise relaxes your body, and the second calms your mind.
- Inhale, tense the whole body, then throw the breath out and relax. Do this exercise three times to help rid your body of unconscious tensions.
The breath reflects one’s mental state. As the breath becomes calmer, so does the mind, and vice versa. Relax your mind before meditation, by doing this simple breathing exercise:
- Inhale slowly counting one to eight, hold your breath for the same number of counts, then exhale for the same count. This is one round of “even count breathing.”
You may either lengthen or shorten the number of counts according to what is comfortable, but keep the inhalation, retention, and exhalation equal. Practice the “even count breathing” six times (six rotations).
For the Jesus Prayer Meditation, you can do the “even count breathing” with the numbers above, or using the Jesus Prayer:
Inhale: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.” (9 syllables= 9 counts)
Hold: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.”
Exhale: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.”
For longer counts, try this:
Inhale: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.” (18 syllables= 18 counts)
Hold: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.”
Exhale: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.”
Meditation: As the breath becomes calmer and more refined during meditation, there is a joyous feeling of peace and exaltation. Practice the following meditation technique to help calm your breath, your mind, and your whole being.
Complete Instructions for Jesus Prayer Meditation
Adapted, by Mary Kretzmann, from the book, How to Meditate, by John Novak
Although simple to practice, this is one of the central and most important techniques of meditation. Watching the breath is extremely powerful because it works scientifically to calm our breath, mind, and life force. By concentrating intently on the breath and becoming a simple observer of the breathing process, you quickly calm the breath, redirect the flow of energy to the spiritual eye (or Christ center), and concentrate the mind.
- The technique of watching the breath should be done immediately following the preparatory techniques, (tensing and relaxing and even count breathing), when you are already relaxed and focused.
Begin by exhaling completely. As the next breath flows in, mentally watch it as if you were observing the flow of a tide. Be very aware of the breath, but make no attempt to control it in any way. Simply observe its natural flow. Try to feel the breath as it passes in and out of the nostrils. If you are unable to feel the breath in the nostrils, focus for a short time on the breathing process itself, the movement of the chest and lungs, and then transfer your awareness back to the breath in the nostrils.
- To help deepen your concentration, mentally repeat a simple word formula such as “Amen” in tandem with the breath. As you inhale silently say “A,” and as you exhale silently repeat “men.” Or you could say “I am” while inhaling and “He” while exhaling. Or, say “Jesus” for the incoming breath, and “Christ” for the outgoing. Or even more simply, “Je-sus.”
And, one can also do it like this:
Inhalation: “Lord Jesus Christ”
Exhalation: “Have mercy on me”
All of these help contribute to training the mind to “pray unceasingly.”
In India they silently repeat “hong” with the incoming breath and “sau” with the exhalation. This is a special “mantra” or word formula that is especially effective in calming the flow of energy in the spine
It is also helpful to move the index finger of the right hand slightly toward the palm on the inhalation and slightly away on the exhalation.
If the mind wanders, immediately bring it back to concentrating on the technique.
- As the breath becomes calmer, gradually become aware of it as it passes higher and higher in the nostrils until you are feeling it high up in the nasal cavity. Now you can transfer your point of concentration from the breath to the point between the eyebrows. Continue to mentally observe the breath, and to silently chant your word formula, still making no effort to control either the rhythm or depth of your breathing.
- The key to success with this technique is to deepen your concentration at the spiritual eye until you no longer think of anything except the rhythmic flow of the breath. As the mind becomes very focused and calm you will find your need for breath diminishing. Enjoy the spaces between breaths, keeping your mind very still and allowing the pauses to lengthen naturally.
A cycle of increasing interiorization is set into motion through this technique. As the breath (and the flow of life-force) begins to calm down, the mind is naturally able to concentrate more deeply. Deeper concentration brings about an even greater calming of the breath, allowing yet deeper focusing of the mind, and so on. The final stage of this cycle is the complete withdrawal of life current from the body and senses and the total concentration of the mind. “I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.” 1 Corinthians 15:31
As the energy becomes completely focused at the spiritual eye, the body’s need for oxygen ceases and the breath stops. At first this may be a somewhat odd, and even frightening experience, but it is the doorway to the deepest states of meditation.
- End your practice of this technique by taking a deep breath and exhaling three times. Then concentrate very deeply at the spiritual eye, trying to hold your mind completely still. With the mind deeply concentrated and interiorized, you can go on to the other parts of your meditation, such as concentrating on the light of the spiritual eye, listening to the inner sounds, or feeling the deep love, peace, and joy brought by meditation.
How long should you practice this meditation? Be guided by your own feeling of enjoyment and your ability to maintain your concentration. Be sure to allow time for silent communion and devotion after your practice of the Jesus Prayer Meditation technique. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10)
Revelations of Christ
Proclaimed by Paramhansa Yogananda
Presented by His Disciple, Swami Kriyananda
“…My fervent prayer is that this book, and its proclamation of Paramhansa Yogananda’s renewed revelation of Christ’s revelation, will initiate a renewal of dynamic, original faith in Jesus Christ…”
“Jesus Christ was sent to earth to proclaim the Heavenly Father’s love for us all, and to awaken love in our hearts for Him. Science has shown us a universe, however, too vast to have been created by any man-like Father figure. Science’s view, however, is also limited. Whatever, or Whoever, brought everything into existence created also human beings with human feelings, and with individual appreciation for parental love, filial love, romantic and friendly love. If that Infinite One is omniscient, then He certainly knows our innermost feelings, no matter how often science with its dry, factual outlook on reality scoffs at the idea of a Being infinitely superior to the scientists themselves, far beyond their intellectual games, lambent with tenderest feelings of love for us all, unceasingly forgiving, and awaiting only our love in return to bring us back to Himself.”