Creative Thinking-Towards The Open and Wise Mind
I have just had the pleasure of reading Dr. Ronald Alexander’s latest book, “Wise Mind, Open Mind, finding purpose & meaning in times of crisis, loss & change.” He discusses how the practice of Buddhism can provide the ultimate creative connection. I encourage everyone to read this book. After reading it, here are a few questions which have come to mind and Dr. Alexander’s comments:
1. As the ante goes up and the consequences of a decision are more severe what advice do you give for any kind of step by step evaluation. That is, if the outcome is inconsequential we may not care if our intuition is right or wrong, but if the choice is life threatening, relationship terminating or financially chaotic do you have a personal process? I have found in discussing this with therapists, seekers, etc they are not in agreement. They admit that it is a fine nuance. Some have turned to kinesiology, others to psychics, or your wisdom council, or combinations thereof to somehow find a confirming thread to what they think is their intuition.
Sandy, thank you for your kind words about my book, Wise Mind, Open Mind and speaking with me today. I’ve discovered that my mindfulness meditation practice has awakened and deepened my intuition, allowing me to improve my capacity to be more reflective and receptive. Being reflective gives you access to information in your unconscious mind that’s hidden from your conscious mind. It lets you receive subtle communication. For instance, you may feel a sense that’s something’s not right when you’re offered a job you want or when you receive advice from a medical specialist. With mindfulness, you resist the temptation to set aside your discomfort and forge ahead; instead, you remain present with that feeling, allowing it to rise into your awareness. Then you explore where it’s coming from. When you’ve honed your ability to easily access your core creativity, you soon find that your intuition has become a trustworthy source of information, and you may not feel the need for hard evidence to validate it.
If I do want to validate my intuition then I reach out to my personal Council of Support. This type of council is when you bring people you respect around you, and who are not afraid to exercise what I call a strong dialogue with you in a way that a guru or teacher is not afraid to crush your ego. It is like creating a family of supporters who are willing to bring you along on your path, whether it’s an idea or a project you are developing, and are willing to confront you when you’re in your ego or your nonsensical stuff.
I have many friends, like Judith Orloff, Shiva Rea, Emma Farr Rawlings, PhD and Catherine Ingram, who helped me with the process of writing my book, Wise Mind, Open Mind. With them I wasn’t afraid to say, “Here read this, and don’t tell me what you think I want to hear; take it apart, give me some reflection so that when I get up and leave, I feel like you really impacted me and the writing is going to have a different twist to it.”
2. Since mindfulness is such a highly resourceful state how would you coach parents who are trying to suggest these ideas to their kids? Or even more challenging how would you reach kids with low-self esteem who come from dysfunctional environments?
Often a person’s “differentness” can inspire feelings of suspicion, resentment, and disapproval from those they care about or from the people surrounding them. We resist actions that might cause others to perceive us as “strange,” because we fear that if we don’t conform to their expectations, we’ll be lonely and suffer. One of my clients, Sam, was a teenager who was picked on at school and mocked by the other children, because they felt he dressed oddly and behaved strangely. It was difficult for him to see that even as they ridiculed him, their behavior was rooted in their own insecurities. Sam’s parents themselves were iconoclasts and encouraged Sam to embrace his unusualness, but being an adolescent, Sam wanted to feel accepted by his peers. I helped him to recognize that many young people, if not the ones in his school, embraced his interests and that his style of dress, which was comfortable for him, could be altered in some ways to be more stylish without making him feel irritated by his clothing. I also helped him identify peers who perceived his “strangeness” as something positive. If Sam could let go of his desire to fit in with everyone else and, instead, embrace his “unusualness,” he wouldn’t create so much emotional suffering for himself and would open himself up to relationships with peers who could accept him.
Even as adults, we’ll cling to the desire to fit in with everyone else, at the expense of our own imagination. If we can recognize that our resistance is rooted in the false belief that being different will automatically result in loneliness and suffering, we can start to accept who we are and create relationships with people who aren’t unsettled by or envious of us. By acknowledging and facing our fear of our uniqueness and ingenuity, we mine our own gold and discover our originality. As we step into this new role of power and passion, we’ll naturally and easily attract an entirely new and supportive community of friends and colleagues.
3. You spoke of the highly creative bi polar woman who felt her stream of consciousness techniques were producing a fast moving river of excellent ideas, “but upon evaluation, had produced little of value.” Based upon this observation would not a meditative practice prior to brainstorming sessions be a valuable tool for groups in business, government etc.? Are cutting edge businesses doing this now?
It’s highly unlikely, but imagine if Barak Obama started every cabinet meeting with a mindfulness meditation and sitting in silence?
As a business consultant, I was brought to work with the marketing department in a record company and I counted seventy-six no’s in the course of a twenty minute meeting and like eleven yes’s. I gave them that feedback and I taught them about mindfulness. Over time there were more and more yes’s and less and less no’s.
One week I arrived late, so I thought I should focus on doing the structured process with them, which was focusing on conflict resolution, conflict management, creativity and communication. More than half of the room said, “Wait, we want to do that silent, close the eye thing and get mindful before we continue.”
And I realized that what I was teaching was a technique that had already transcended their normal waking consciousness. They got that the Buddhist technique of mindfulness was so creative and productive they didn’t want to skip it.
It was a great realization for me, because here I was, teaching the method and believing it, but I even lost it in that moment thinking, “Well, I’m late so let’s get on to the ‘real stuff’ that they want.” It taught me this is the real stuff—the silence. Just resting in that place and continuing to open to what arises, what exists, what falls away and seeing the place of creative spaciousness and open possibility that will birth from an open mind.
Over time, the conflicts that they wanted me to wrangle, the anger, rage and devaluation that you see from upper management down to those on a lower level, started to deescalate and fall away and there was more compassion. People were listening to each other more, and supporting each other with an open mind rather being envious or jealous.
4. You make the point, “Traditionally we’ve been told that to achieve happiness we should use our minds to figure out what would make us happy.” That is we try to then chart a course of skills, endeavors, and relationships which we think will deliver this. This path is frequently limiting and disappointing. On page 52 you suggest that “to move out of suffering and into contentment and joy we must learn to listen to the music that calls from the heart and go where that takes us.” The question is, do you see the meditative process as a passive process to overcoming suffering or do you see that we need to set an intention for happiness and joy and then let the meditative process lead to the answer?
In my book, Wise Mind, Open Mind I talk about the state of wanting mind, when we’re not satisfied, no matter what we have. If we attain the object of our longing, we simply replace the old desire with a new one. If we achieve revenge, we feel worse than we did before. The problem is that wanting mind is rooted in the incorrect belief that something outside of ourselves is the key to lasting happiness. The reality is that no emotion or state of being, however strong, is permanent and that happiness can’t be found outside of ourselves only within. Buddhists call this phenomenon of endless wanting and dissatisfaction the “hungry ghost.”
For the most part, you can’t control what happens as it occurs, but you have a choice about your mind. The decision to ride the wave of change helps you to accept your current circumstances and let go of any unwholesome thoughts or feelings your mind creates in response to the challenge. The more you build your mindstrength through mindfulness practice, the better your ability to maintain a sense of joy and contentment for long stretches before the wheel turns and the afflictions of sadness and anger arise again.
5. Perhaps this question is related to question 4. You mention that “acceptance” is the cornerstone to Buddhism. Some seem to be able to achieve acceptance to a greater degree by believing in their potential as creators to create a more useful counterpart or place to go. Is this the state you refer to when you talk about “Mind strength”? Others might look at acceptance as a state of surrender that simply rewards one with a “new state” of being. Can you say more about the relationship between acceptance and mind strength?
Well Mindstrength helps you to stay in the present. It is the ability to very quickly and easily shift out of a reactive mode and become fully present in the moment, experiencing the full force of your emotions even as you recognize that they are temporary and will soon dissipate. Mindstrength gives you mastery over your thoughts and feelings, opening your eyes to whether the products of your mind are useful tools for self-discovery or merely distractions. The more you cultivate mindfulness, the easier it is to stop running away from difficult feelings; to make the choice to break out of denial, stagnation, and suffering; and to act with mindful intention. Cultivating mindfulness is similar to working out in a gym, but instead of building muscle, you’re building what I call mindstrength.
6. It seems as if the all of our structures to cope with the environment, economics, social order, cultural differences have been exceeded. People are having , like it or not, to seek answers from within. Some people just turn to prayer. How would you describe the difference and or relationship between prayer and meditation?
There are many forms of meditation including prayer. The practice of mindfulness meditation, which is what I teach although spiritual in nature is free of religious and spiritual dogma. In fact, if you believe in turning to God for guidance, you can use mindfulness meditation to set aside distractions and listen to the divine wisdom that can be found only when you tune out the endless chain of thoughts your own mind creates. This form of meditation turns down the volume of the chatter in your mind and allows you to tune in to deeper wisdom and insight. Mindfulness practice is a pathway to discovery that any of us can use, regardless of our religious or spiritual beliefs. For example the Trappist monk Thomas Merton author of Wisdom of the Desert made a trip to Asia during the last year of his life and was most interested in learning to study mindfulness meditation and apply it to his daily life.
7. You mentioned the “Beginner’s mind” as the state of being open and ultimately with practice and dedication reaching Open mind or Core Creativity where one experiences a more empowered and resourceful state. Presently these concepts are still a choice for people. With the accelerating rate of change do you see this way of experiencing the world as being essential rather than optional to survive?
Well Beginner’s mind is a start that allows us to connect to our core self and its resources instead of closing down our creativity and believing we’ve learned all that we really need to learn. In Buddhism, there are three states of consciousness, defined as wise mind, big mind, and open mind, which serve as metaphors for the stages we go through in the process of creative transformation. In mindfulness meditation, you soon stop running with your thoughts wherever they take you, and find yourself sitting with a sense of serenity and clarity, observing what your mind churns up and easily discerning its qualities, setting aside what’s unwholesome and taking delight in what’s wholesome. In this state, called “wise mind,” you easily and naturally sort through the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that enter your awareness, and let go of those that don’t serve you.
After you’ve quieted all the busy activity of your mind, which tends to look forward into the future or backward into the past, and you’ve surrendered to the present moment, you may be able to experience what Buddhists call “big mind.” In big mind, freed from the effort of concentrating or of noting and organizing thoughts, you’re so absorbed in the moment that you experience a blissful oneness with all that is. If wise mind is the doorway to the house of self, where your core creativity resides, big mind is the entryway.
From big mind—or even sometimes directly from wise mind—you step into a state of core creativity, or what’s called “open mind.” In this receptive state, you feel a sense of spaciousness, timelessness, and willingness to entertain new possibilities. You’re curious, nonreactive, compassionate, and accepting of the present experience, whether it’s positive, negative, or neutral. Creative flow occurs here in the main part of the house of self.
8. You make a distinction between a “wanting mind” and a “wholesome yearning” and that the difference is significant. Would you say more about that?
You experience wanting mind when you’re out of step with the core values of your real self, and seeking from a place of dissatisfaction rather than from a desire to have more of what you authentically value. A wholesome desire stems not from discontent but a yearning for new challenges and fulfillment, and inspires you to take positive, productive action. The former often occurs when your life is out of alignment with your authentic values. It cuts you off from your core creativity, causing you to generate unwholesome thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, such as hopelessness, judgment, despair, anger, and frustration. In contrast, the latter inspires enthusiasm, openness to possibility, and a feeling of optimism and expansiveness; it’s a form of gold. You cannot engage in the process of creative transformation when you’re stuck in wanting mind, whereas wholesome yearning can launch you into it.
Thank you, Ronald.
Please feel free to comment or ask questions of Dr. Alexander.
Ronald Alexander, Ph.D. is the author of the widely acclaimed book, Wise Mind, Open Mind: Finding Purpose and Meaning in Times of Crisis, Loss, and Change. He is the Executive Director of the OpenMind Training® Institute, practices mindfulness-based mind-body psychotherapy and leadership coaching in Santa Monica, CA for individuals and corporate clients (www.openmindtraining.com). For full details about the Wise Mind, Open Mind virtual blog tour, visit http://bookpromotionservices.com/2010/09/08/wise-mind-open-mind-ronald-alexander/