BY LINDA EGENES

My dad holding me at 6 months old

Growing up, I was taught that creativity was a highly prized commodity. My father was a product engineer for International Harvester, designing plows and farm equipment, and earned 22 patents. When he retired from that, he and his brother designed a nifty cable-laying machine that laid wires in the ground while leaving behind only a tiny slit—and is still popular 40 years later. His most amazing creative achievement, though, was a passive-solar home that he designed in 1959 and built out of all-natural materials with his own hands. Our family dearly loved the magical and beautiful home he built for us.

My dad taught us that anyone can be creative. You didn’t have to be a famous scientist like Madame Curie or a famous dancer like Isadora Duncan to be highly creative in your everyday life, he said. He pointed out that the world is filled with people who create amazing things every day.

Yet even as a child it was clear to me that some people come by the creative gene more easily than others. So I was interested to read a new study on creativity by Fred Travis, Ph.D., and Yvonne Lagrosen, Ph.D., published recently in Creativity Research Journal. The researchers found that brain integration is a common feature among highly creative people.

“It’s a simple fact that some people stand out as creative, and we’re trying to tease out why,” Dr. Travis says. “We hypothesized that something must be different about the way their brains work, and that’s what we’re finding.”

Dr. Travis has developed a measure that he calls “brain integration.” He analyzes EEG patterns to assess brain wave coherence (connectedness) in the frontal brain. He also assessed alpha power, a measure of inner directedness of attention, and the brain’s preparation response, which measures how efficiently the brain responds to a stimulus.

In this study, Dr. Travis and Dr. Lagrosen studied 21 Swedish product engineers—who, like my dad, were designing new products as part of their jobs. The researchers found that those with the highest brain integration scored the highest in creativity as measured by standardized Torrance measures — as well as other characteristics of highly creative people such as speed of processing information, speed of executive decision-making and a factor called “Sense-of-Coherence,” which means a sense of being in control of one’s situation.

In previous studies in collaboration with Dr. Harald Harang, Dr. Travis had found greater brain integration in world-class athletes, top managers and professional musicians. In other words, he is finding that brain integration may be the underlying factor that leads to success in many different areas.

Dr. Travis says, “While there’s a common notion that 10,000 hours of practice is necessary for high achievement, some people put in long hours and do not excel. This new research and previous studies suggest that brain integration may be the inner factor that leads to outer success.”

So the next question is—can a person develop greater brain integration, and thus increase their creativity and ability to succeed?

As Dr. Travis points out, the regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique has been found to increase levels of brain integration and to increase creativity in many randomized controlled, peer-reviewed studies.

There are other ways that the TM technique heightens mental abilities. For instance, it helps relieve the mental fatigue that can stand in the way of creativity. For instance, when women are tired or stressed, they can’t be as clear, present or creative as they would like to be.

I found my own creativity soaring when I started to practice TM at age 19. Gone was the writer’s block, the struggle with realizing my inner vision on paper. And as I was able to express my true self in my writing, I felt happier and more self-confident in other areas of life as well.

It is my belief that creativity is an essential part of being a woman—after all, we have the ability to create the miracle of human life. So a practice that allows us to come in contact with our inner source of creativity, happiness, and power is something that can benefit every woman.

So if you want to give your creativity a boost, consider learning the Transcendental Meditation technique and seeing the effect of regular transcending on inner happiness and outer success.

I think that Madeleine L’Engle, the author of A Wrinkle in Time, says it so well: “But unless we are creators we are not fully alive. What do I mean by creators? Not only artists, whose acts of creation are the obvious ones of working with paint or clay or words. Creativity is a way of living life, no matter our vocation or how we earn our living. Creativity is not limited to the arts, or having some kind of important career.”

Here’s a video by my friend Cheryl Fusco Johnson where I talk about my creative process. Check out other videos of writers talking about their writing on Cheryl Fusco Johnson’s YouTube channel. 

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

(I originally wrote this post for Transcendental Meditation for Women Blog, May 12, 2014. Reprinted with permission.)

BY LINDA EGENES

Mindy Weisel

For Mindy Weisel, art is about feelings. Take the time she was driving to New York City one winter’s day in 1995 and heard a radio report of the devastating Kobe earthquake in Japan. That day she started an immense painting and collage called “The Day the World Ripped Open” because, as she says, “I’m sure for those people it did.”

An oil painter who in recent years has turned to glass as a medium, Weisel has shown her work in solo shows in prestigious galleries and is the recipient of numerous awards. Her art appears in the Hirshhorn Museum, the National Museum of American Art, the Israel Museum, the U.S. Embassy, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Archives of American Artists at the Smithsonian Institution.

“My process is about what I’m feeling most, what I respond to, and it isn’t always about my own story,” she says. “I care about what is going on in the world.”

For someone whose art is so personal and expressive, it’s hard to imagine that Weisel has ever struggled to find her artistic voice. Yet she identifies this to be her main challenge as an artist.

Drawing from Personal Experience

“I have an unusual background,” Mindy says. “I was born in 1947 in Bergen-Belsen, Germany, in a displaced persons camp, one of the first children born to Holocaust survivors after the war. Growing up as the only daughter of Holocaust survivors, I don’t think I had a clue what it meant to live my own life.”

She did know she liked her art and literature classes in high school, and decided to major in art in college. But finding her place as an artist was daunting.

“It was during the time when my kind of art, which is a very emotional, expressive, abstract expressionist painting, was not taught,” she says. “I really struggled with my professors, but despite a lot of crying and frustration, I stuck with it.”

Weisel continued her graduate studies at American University, and with the help of mentors she found there, she established her own studio by age 27 and launched her first solo painting show.

But it wasn’t until she dug deep into her own personal experiences that she found her own voice and gained recognition in the art world.

“Basically after I learned drawing and painting through all the rigorous study, I understood that you could learn all the technique in the world, but if you don’t feel it, no one else will feel it either.”

In 1978 Weisel started a series using her father’s number at Auschwitz, which was tattooed on his arm. Weisel says, “The paintings started out colorful, but I wrote his number all over them and they became blackened out, dealing not only with the destruction of beauty, but to my surprise there was light coming through the paintings—so it became the survival of beauty.”

Created long before there was a Holocaust museum, before Schindler’s List, Weisel’s paintings of 1978 were well received by art critics and laypersons alike and were shown in a traveling exhibition in museums around the country.

Mindy Weisel: Following Her Heart with Art

Working in the Moment

Yet as her art evolved, Weisel says she continued to struggle emotionally with each piece to discover what she wanted to say.

She quotes the German artist, Hans Hoffman, and the Jewish philosopher, Abraham Joshua Heschel, who both said that an artist should not have a memory.

Weisel explains, “What that means is that each time you approach your work it should be as if for the first time. So you’re not thinking, ‘How did I make this painting before?’ or ‘What color did I use?’ as that takes away from the immediate experience of making the art. For me, creating art is not premeditated at all. It’s literally surrounding myself with my materials and going right into it.”

“I really struggled a lot to find an honest voice to say what I want to say,” says Mindy. “I noticed that after I started the Transcendental Meditation technique, my TM practice has really helped me be in the moment.” Weisel continues, “It seems to me that in the last eight years, since I started meditating, that’s what’s changed. If the art is not coming, I don’t even struggle with it. I simply put myself in a place where it’s possible to make art.”

She’s also more at peace. “I was very much a Holocaust survivor’s daughter, running to stay ahead of everything, to fill up the loss,” she says. “And that running had made me very, very sick. Since meditating I can just be. I take better care of myself, I take the time to meditate, and I love the experience.”

“Art is the skillful expression of life. The artist, constantly utilizing his creative impulses, continues to draw from the reservoir of creativity present in his own being. This is how his consciousness, bathing in the fresh springs of creativity, rises to the prodigious brilliance of natural creation. Exposed to the beautiful process of unfoldment, an artist, when he opens his awareness to the fullness of pure creative intelligence within, draws together the strokes of inspiration and ultimate achievement and enjoys them in the oneness of freedom.
—Maharishi, 1975

Another dramatic shift for Weisel is that she is now using brilliant-colored glass as a medium. “This is amazing to me, because I never knew anything about glass,” she says. “I’m doing things creatively that I never ever would have imagined. I walked into this glass studio, I recognized something, I was ready to learn, and I didn’t doubt it. I can attribute this switch in materials to meditating, because it kept me open enough to try it and enough in the present to make it.”

Weisel took classes at Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle to learn her new medium, and just a year and a half later, her vibrant, colorful works appeared in a solo exhibition, “Words on a Journey of Glass,” at Katzen Art Museum, American University.

Describing her experience in meditation as a deep, profound, meaningful rest that is beautiful, easy, and simple, she says, “You are in a state of being, of being in the moment, and somehow that lasts—it accumulates.”

Weisel says that this experience of awareness carries over into the process of making her art. “I’m being more present in the creative process as well,” she says. “Work doesn’t have to be so hard. Work can come from a place of flowing, of openness, of responsiveness, of hearing, of listening. You don’t have to fight so hard to get to that work.”

Somehow Weisel finds time to express herself in writing as well. The author of five books, she is currently working on her memoir, Making Marks, in which she writes about making marks of longing, of loss, of survival, of beauty.

“I think that’s what my work is about. It’s very emotional, and I’m always thrilled that somebody feels something when they look at it. You can change your mind about things but you can’t change your feelings about things. You really have to understand them. They won’t go away until you understand them.”

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 3. Reprinted with permission.)

 

UnknownI was listening to an NPR interview of a woman writer explaining how she keeps her muse happy by talking to it. After a while I realized the woman being interviewed was Eat Pray Love’s author Elizabeth Gilbert, whom I consider to be a writer’s writer, one of my favorites because she crafts her words so beautifully.

I loved this notion, that you need to talk nicely to your muse or it might not treat you so nice in return. In the interview Gilbert (or should I call her “Liz” as she referred to herself in the interview?) explains how she talks to a book if she’s going to be away from a project a while. “I talk to it every day,” she says. “I say, ‘Listen, in April I will be with you. I want you to stay. Don’t let me wake up and read in the New York Times that someone else wrote you.’”

This is another idea I resonate with—that ideas are there to catch, and if you’re open you can catch them and run. But if you don’t act on them, but let them wither in the dust, they might just pick themselves up and turn to another, more alert writer.

These are all reasons for a professional writer like me to sit down at my computer and write every day, to treat my job with respect, to keep slogging through the dry spells as well as flying with the highs. Because you never know when your muse is going to give you a perfect ending to your story, or a great idea.

It’s also a reason to cultivate your mind to catch the big ideas, to be open to your muse, as filmmaker David Lynch says in his book, Catching the Big Fish. For me, the most effective way I know to heighten my receptivity to the cauldron of creative ideas that bubble up from within, is to experience the silence of my own mind through daily meditation. Lynch, too, recommends Transcendental Meditation—it’s such an important part of his creative life that he’s never skipped it for 40 years.

And I guess that’s a different way to look at your muse—as a part of yourself that needs to be nourished and cared for. As my mentor Kristi Holl writes in Writer’s First Aid, when you’re a writer, your own mind and body are your tools. So you need to take care of yourself. And you know how to do that—eat well, sleep well and stay fit—to keep your creative mind at its peak.

So either way—whether you believe your muse is outside you or inside you—this Valentine’s Day, give your muse a hug.

Listen to NPR’s Radiolab interview of Elizabeth Gilbert and Oliver Sachs, Me, Myself, and Muse, here. The Elizabeth Gilbert part starts about two minutes in. 

Listen to Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on Your Elusive Creative Genius here.

BY LINDA EGENES

When Keelan Dimick was three years old, he started tinkering on the piano. At first he taught himself to play by ear, then took two years of instruction in classical piano. But it wasn’t until he switched to jazz that great things started to happen.

Transcendental Meditation with Pianist Keelan Dimick

At age 13, just four months after taking his first jazz piano lesson, he won first place in the Lionel Hampton International Jazz Festival, junior division. Two years later, he won first place at the senior division and was recruited by top music schools.

It turns out that Keelan had a secret weapon that set him apart from other contestants: his practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique.

“It’s easier to get into the zone when you do your meditation regularly,” he says. “It also balances the whole system, calms you down so it’s easier to let go. That’s the main thing when playing jazz, to let go. Then the music will play itself.”

Keelan, who recently graduated from the Manhattan School of Music, says that with regular meditation, composing music is easier too. “You plant a seed and then let the music write itself. Meditation helps you stay on the feeling level. The more intellect you put into your music, the less moving it’s going to be to an audience.”

Right now he’s excited about opportunities that are popping up, including a New Year’s Eve gig in Santa Barbara with a big jazz band that will be playing Keelan’s own compositions. And he’s taking two months to help set up a jazz music program and train faculty at a Filipino university this fall.

Keelan is one of thousands of young people who are turning to the TM technique not only to give them a cutting edge as students, but also to help them launch their careers in the competitive field of the arts.

Transcendental Meditation helps Overcome Dyslexia Anxiety Depression Dana FarleyOvercoming Dyslexia, Anxiety, and Depression

Take Dana Farley, age 22, a Long Island native who credits the Transcendental Meditation technique with helping her to overcome the challenges of dyslexia as well as teenage anxiety and depression. A chance meeting with director David Lynch started her on the path to TM and filmmaking.

“I was a sophomore in high school, and my mom asked me, ‘Do you want to go to the city and meet a director?’ I was really into film, so I hate to admit that I didn’t know who David Lynch was at the time. But I went to the meeting where he showed us a video of kids in an inner city school who, because of the David Lynch Foundation, started practicing TM. They sat quietly and meditated twice a day, there was no more school violence, and the kids did better in school. After hearing that, I was interested in learning the technique and seeing what it could do for me.”

Having struggled with severe dyslexia since childhood, Dana says, “I had a lot of insecurities when it came to school. Since starting TM I’m not putting myself down all the time. The negative thoughts just don’t appear. Instead of thinking, ‘I can’t do this’ I’m thinking ‘Why not?’”

Aware of the high stress levels and a troubling rise in suicide rates and depression in American teenagers, Dana had the idea to create a documentary about her own TM experience. She started making the film in high school, and continued working on it even while an undergraduate at Bucknell University. Even though Dana majored in English, she joined a film club to get more practice behind the camera.

Dana’s perseverance paid off. While still a junior in college her documentary Beyond the Noise: My Transcendental Meditation Journey, which featured David Lynch and Dana, was released and received a favorable response at the Marbella International Film Festival.

In the film, Dana talks about how TM practice can help young people deal with stress. “Instead of running away from or avoiding the problems and hassles you have by taking drugs or fooling around in other ways, TM practice helps bring a sense of inner freedom, of being ‘high’ in a completely natural way. It gives you a lift in your spirits—a freedom from the stress you are feeling and the sense of burden you are feeling.”

Since the film came out in 2011, Dana has created another documentary, completed internships with Howard Stern radio, and graduated from college. She is currently pursuing work in documentary film and the nonprofit sector. She says, “I think of where I want to be in ten years, and it would be nice to in some way make a difference, to help people, to leave the world a little bit better than it was before.”

Transcendental Meditation helps women model Tanell Pretorius

Looking For Something More

Tanell Pretorius of South Africa has taken a different route—postponing college to pursue a glamorous London modeling career that included TV commercials for Sony PlayStation, catalogue work for Marks and Spencer, and shoots with Rankin, the legendary British photographer.

“The TV work was really fun,” she says. “You’d arrive at five a.m. and see hundreds of lighting people, gaffers, and set designers running around, and often you’d be the hero of the whole thing.”

But the long hours (one shoot started at 3:00 in the afternoon and lasted until 9:00 a.m.) and the pressure of constant self-scrutiny started to take their toll.

“In modeling your body is your product,” Tanell says. “Like most models, I started to develop weird habits with food. I was working out too much and injured myself. That’s when I found meditation.”

Tanell says that all her life, she had been looking for something more, even after becoming a top model. “When I started the TM technique, I immediately felt that this is the missing part of life, this is the thing that makes life complete, that makes it full and amazing. I started to feel so deeply in touch with myself, a lot more connected to my body and my needs. It even healed my sports injuries.”

At that point Tanell decided to leave full-time modeling and explore her love of learning at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa. A media and communications major, she is also earning certification as a Maharishi Ayurveda wellness consultant. She plans to use her skills in writing to share what she’s learned about health, yoga, and fitness with other women.

“I’d love to help women to get more in touch with themselves, to work out and choose what to eat from an intuitive level rather than from what a magazine or an article is telling them to do,” she says.

As an undergraduate, Tanell is already writing for a regional magazine on health and fitness topics. She says that TM practice helps writers because “the fog of stress goes away and you’re able to experience life more richly. With the TM technique, you get more in touch with the universal truths of life. That’s what makes any art powerful—whether it’s writing or film or music. TM practice allows the writer to feel and experience those truths more deeply, and so the audience can also feel more deeply.”

These three creative twenty-somethings have one thing in common—they all highly recommend the TM technique to other young people.

“When you’re a student, it’s easy to float around and get lost, defeating the purpose of going to college—which is to get grounded and to learn, not to party all the time,” says Keelan. “Meditation helps you to prioritize and puts you automatically on the right path.”

Tanell agrees. “It’s helped me to not be so confused by the little things, moment to moment,” she says. “The great thing about the TM technique, you’re not just talking about the bigger picture, you’re experiencing it. And it’s so freeing, so liberating, to feel the largeness of life, how big you really are as a person, within yourself. Then you don’t get lost in the small things.”

(I originally wrote this interview for Enlightenment Magazine, Issue number 14. Reprinted with permission.)