One of the influences on my concept of “artist” was Charlton Heston as Michelangelo in The Agony and the Ecstasy, 1965 – high passion, high drama, plenty of sturm and drang.
Hardly a contemplative type.
So is this sort of highly excited or agitated state more conducive to being creative?
The Yerkes–Dodson law developed by psychologists in 1908 showed that, at least for the most part, “performance increases with physiological or mental arousal, but only up to a point. When levels of arousal become too high, performance decreases.” [From the Wikipedia page on the subject.]
Of course, different kinds of creative expression have different demands on attention and body movement. A performance arena like acting or music require a level of physical arousal that writing may not.
But what about emotional arousal versus calm?
In my interview with creativity coach and author Eric Maisel, PhD about his book Ten Zen Seconds, he noted “Creating is not an energy-neutral state: it is a high energy state, with, at its healthiest, enthusiasm and not anxiety driving its engine.”
I asked him about the enduring mythology about creative inspiration and performing as an actor, for example, that it benefits from an “edge” of nervous tension or even anxiety to some degree.
Dr. Maisel replied: “It isn’t at all clear that tension or anxiety is what’s needed for peak performance and lifelong creativity. They may be unavoidable by-products of the difficulties that we face as we try to do large things and connected to our fear of failing, fear of making messes and mistakes, and so on, but they are not beneficial per se.
“Part of the confusion is that ‘life energy’ in the form of hormones like adrenaline are necessary, so it is easy to confuse ‘enthusiasm’ with ‘anxiety,’ since both have a real (and similar) hormonal edge to them.”
But he added, “Our best way of being in the creative moment is to be ‘full of energy’ and also ‘fully calm,’ a state that the [mindfulness techniques in the book] are designed to promote.”
He also notes that emotionally, if not physically, withdrawing from distractions and mental agitation can facilitate creative thinking.
“When you free neurons from their usual grip on small thoughts — ten worries, fifteen errands, and so on — and get to reclaim them.. you experience a ‘pregnant emptiness’ which is actually your whole mind, now recovered, readying itself to create. The ‘quieting’ serves the ‘exploding’ of the creative encounter that follows.”
So reducing (or eliminating) fears, worries, anxieties, and other ways we can be over-aroused can help us be more creative.
Read more articles on Meditation and mindfulness.
Also see a variety of programs on my Anxiety Relief Solutions site.
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Last reviewed: 27 Oct 2010