28 May Creativity and Stillness in the Midst of Chaos
The current coronavirus pandemic is bringing worry and scary times. At the same time, the national policy of stay-at-home is challenging all of us. Uncertainty is often considered to be an incentive for creativity, but the complete uncertainty we are facing would daunt even the most resourceful of people. This benefit of stay-at-home time is not enjoyed by everyone. The brave workers on the front line—from doctors to people in the supply chain—have less free time, not more. People whose jobs are at risk (or lost) are focused on more immediate needs. But many who are working from home, with no commutes or in-person meetings, and all others like retirees, find themselves with more time on their hands. That’s undeniable. The novel coronavirus; Covid-19, has dramatically altered the structure of our everyday lives with orders of social distancing, curfews, quarantines, lockdowns, and more.
The higher-level creativity we see in quarantine times is very interesting. Some renowned actors, singers, and comedians are using their gifts to do at-home performances that are lifting people’s spirits. Some accomplished such as inventors and businesspeople, are shifting gears to try to make masks or ventilators using fewer resources. Most essentially, the top doctors and scientists around the globe are working toward treatments and, ideally, a vaccine. All these activities are creativity at work.
It can feel easy to fall into despair. However, as vital as it is to act with responsibility for the good of everyone since we are actually in the midst of a pandemic, it is equally important to search out the potential silver linings for our own sanity and mental wellbeing. Creative activities can help reduce stress, handle trauma, and improve our mood—all of which are particularly helpful at the current moment. A lot of messages are being thrown at us during this pandemic, such as optimizing our time and seize the opportunity to be productive.
Constraints, such as stay-at-home across the country, are a force that removes the many obvious and mundane solutions and activities available on a daily basis. With these current constraints, we’re forced to recalibrate our life and search for new ways to solve problems. Constraints may create boredom, but boredom may create moments where our mind begins searching. The ability to tolerate boredom is correlated with creativity. We are hungry for stimulation, and so we begin to search into the recesses of our mind, reaching out and hoping for new ideas. This searching is what inspires creativity.
According to an article in Harvard Business Review, “Why Constraints Are Good for Innovation”, by O.A. Acar, M. Tarakci and D. Van Knippenberg, who conducted a meta-analysis of 145 studies on constraints, found that while people tend to intuitively believe constraints stifle creativity, they actually have the opposite effect. In situations without constraints—for example, pressures on time, money, process, etc.—“complacency sets in, and people follow what psychologists call the path-of-least-resistance—they go for the most intuitive idea that comes to mind rather than investing in the development of better ideas.”
In this pandemic, mindfulness helps us to maintain focus, to remain calm, build resilience in the face of uncertainty, setbacks and difficulties. It speaks of things the chaotic mind has no awareness of. Out of these constraints, boredom and stillness, come clarity and inspiration which beams the light of wisdom onto the moment.
Creative people use stillness and silence to access their inner resources including their imagination. The business of life and constant thinking means we are rarely still or silent. In the process, we cut ourselves off from creative insight. Jon Kabat-Zinn also reminds us that exploring what we do not know or understand is the beginning of learning and creative solutions. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a clarifying effect in a number of respects, such as priorities, life style. One of them is the new direction creativity and art are at this moment, when people all around the world have found authentic meaning expressing themselves creatively, whether through painting, singing from balcony or baking.
The coronavirus-induced isolation that we have all experienced to some degree reveals the importance of this type of psychological creativity. It fills us with joy, while opening space for expressing and reflecting upon our present emotions and feelings. Coming up with something that feels valuable to us, no matter the quality of the product, can be an effective way of healing and well-being.
As we all plunge into a state of deeply constrained boredom, despite our losses, maybe when we emerge from this pandemic, we will be holding the new ideas we need to create a better future. That’s our silver lining.