This article is a working paper on an exploratory study that I conducted the last automn 2019 in Sweden. I have deliberately chosen to present here only the results of the exploratory study based on a participant observation and a qualitative study. It is by no means exhaustive or scientific as it stands. My objective is only to give some reflections for whom is interested on the association between creativity and meditation.
The art used as a therapeutic means is the subject of an increasing number of studies under these last years (Pauget and Tobelem, 2019). If a while ago we wondered if art could heal, there is no doubt today that it is curative as evidenced by the current success of art therapy. In parallel, another practice emerges with meditation coupled with creative activity. This practice is the subject of this article following a field study in the fall of 2019. In October 2019, we carried out a qualitative study with former participants of the « Creative meditation » and taught in the form of courses organized around three three-hour sessions (once a week for three weeks) since 2018. The courses are given in Sweden in Karlstad by Ingela Johannson who had created her own method based on meditation and creativity.
The particularity of this practice is that the creative practice is coupled with meditation and that’s what interested us most about studying. In the light of research conducted in the field of art as a tool for well-being, it appeared that the impacts on people who practiced a creative practice coupled with meditation had been little explored (Rappaport, 2014). The objective of this exploratory research was to verify whether a creative practice linked with meditation had an impact on the participants in the practice and which kind of impact was it.
Results of the exploratory study
Based on a participatory observation and an exploratory qualitative study with participants who tested the creativity/meditation approach, our aim was to validate or unvalidated the impact on the participants.
First step: AA-QII questionnaire
« The AAQ‐II is a self‐report questionnaire used to measure acceptation and experiential avoidance. Experiential avoidance is avoiding unpleasant inner experiences, such as thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. » This questionnaire is frequently used in psychology to evaluate « the ability to contact the present moment and the thoughts and feelings it contains without needless defence » (Source : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).
An AA-QII questionnaire was distributed during a creative after-work organized in September 2019 to people who had participated in the « Creative Meditation » courses that took place between 2018 and 2019. All ten participants in the special session responded to the questionnaire. Respondents have a homogeneous profile. They are exclusively women with an average age of 50 years who are all a personal practice such as yoga, sports, knitting or meditation to relax. They are therefore already aware of traditional wellness methods and commonly used by people who are seeking personal healing or development. They prefer to relax alone but they prefer to be in a group when they are in a creative process in order to exchange and inspire each other. For them, creating in a group or creating alone are two complementary practices. Thereafter, meditative art became an individual practice mainly practiced in the morning when they get up and that they use occasionally to reduce stress, when they feel the need. They explain that this allows them to « concentrate better » but also to « open up to others ». They add that before creating they feel « pumped » or « stressed » and then they feel « calmer » or « happy ».
Their three main motivations to participate in a group course of « creative meditation » are associated with a need for discovery, personal development or performance (and not a need for stress reduction):
- Hit a creative and artistic task (5 answers)
- To know myself better (5 answers)
- To increase out of the box thinking and innovation (6 answers)
It appears that these women are not very materialistic in their relationship to happiness and that they are open to others insofar as what brings them the most joy is « family », « love », « friends » and « well-being ». Their source of happiness then comes from their inner world (« themselves », « creativity » and their « home »). Finally, with rather low scores (score between 1 and 3 out of 10), « work », « economy » and « release » appear.
The questionnaire reveals that they do not have any particular psychological problems except for some difficulties in managing their emotions or worries, which sometimes prevent them from succeeding (score of 6 on a scale of 10). Rather, we will talk about personal difficulties related to the management of anxiety, stress and emotions, which is quite common in our Western societies and particularly in Sweden (Danielsson et al., 2012). Consequently, we can immediately affirm that the respondents are more concerned with personal development issues than with psychiatric issues. Does the « creative meditation » method respond to this identified need for healing among the respondents? The face-to-face interviews answered this question.
Second step: interviw with the participants
During the month of October 2019, nine former participants (six of whom replied previously to the questionnaire distributed in September 2019) were the subject of a 20-minute personal qualitative face-to-face interview (the interviews were conducted in Swedish and then translated into English). The individual interview was constructed according to an interview grid developed from the questionnaires and observations collected during participation in the Creative Meditation course in September 2019. The results were obtained according to the saturation principle (repetition of items).
Face-to-face interviews show that curiosity and the desire to discover something new are even more important than the other motivations previously mentioned in the questionnaire. Curiosity, the desire to discover something new and the desire to be more creative are the main reasons that convinced them to enrol in the « creative meditation » course. It appears that trust in Ingela is also an important argument for enrolling in the course because all nine respondents knew Ingela Johansson beforehand, either personally or by reputation. The most common words that come up when they explain the reasons for registering are « nyfiken » (curious), « nytt » (new), « kul » (cool) and « roligt » (fun). The method appears as well to be a good substitute for meditation, which is difficult to practice for participants who need to be in motion.
In a few points, here is what emerges from the qualitative interview study:
The objectives sought by registering for the course
- The search for something new
- How else to use intuition?
- A method to feel calmer
- The development of creative skills and self-expression
What is surprised the participants the most
- The « meditate-create-reflect » process
“I didn’t know it was possible to meditate and do something creative afterwards. For me, artistic practice as I did with knitting was already a form of meditation. But meditating and then sitting and being creative was exciting. It was completely new to me. When I create, as I do with crochet, for example, it’s very meditative. The « Zentangle » is also very meditative. There is no need to obtain a particular result. You just have to be in it. I’m in the flow that way. I’m bad enough to meditate, it’s boring. But there, it was something else. It was necessary to separate the three stages « meditate, create and reflect ». It was completely different from what I knew. The « reflection » aspect was also quite new to me. Thanks to this course, I can now meditate a little more. »
Most of the participants were curious about how art and meditation could work together: « It was new and I was only curious to know more ».
- Not having to be efficient
« It doesn’t have to represent something and yet it has a function… I thought it was incredible to be able to think like that! »
- Discover and test new techniques
« We’re finally on something other than painting. »
About the group work
All nine participants said they preferred to create as a group. The words that come up most often when group work is discussed: exciting, inspiring and fun. The reasons why they prefer to work in a group are as follows:
- The pleasure of sharing, exchanging and socializing
« We can discuss and exchange, it’s always interesting. »
« The energy that a group radiates is always motivating. »
- See what « we don’t see ourselves »
« Others help us to see and understand what we don’t understand about ourselves. »
« It brought me new perspectives: it allows me to see how to work on the same task, it is possible to do it differently. »
« This allows you to discover different ways of doing things. »
« Thinking together was really great. This allows you to see what you don’t see yourself for yourself. It’s very helpful. »
« If I think alone, I have only my own vision of things. The group helps to open up and see other perspectives. Being only with yourself is very limiting. »
- The group is a source of inspiration
« It helps me to increase my creativity. »
« It’s exciting to see how others do it. »
- The group is structuring and reassuring
« I need rules ». To release becomes possible within a defined and reassuring framework (the famous « thinking outside of the box »).
The changes that participants have observed in their lives under and after the course
The need for performance no longer serves any purpose. The discovery of creativity as a means of self-expression brings relaxation and letting go. Participants realize that it is possible to do things simply. In detail, the following changes can be noted that participants noticed in her after taking the « creative meditation » course:
- To release and letting go
« Now I no longer need to do something that means something when I draw or paint. Before I used to draw dogs or cats but not anymore. It no longer matters. »
« I was a lot in control, I had the feeling that I needed to control. The course helped me a lot to let go of control. »
« I could finally relax without any performance or service. »
The words that come up most often in connection with this idea of letting go: « slappa kontroll » (letting go), « öppnare » (open), « utan prestation » (without prestation).
- The method allows them to think more effectively
« It allows me to get reflections in another way. »
« My thoughts are clearer. »
« It allows me to sort out what’s important and what’s not. »
- A reduction in stress
The most common words when we talked about change: « lugnare » (be calm), « avslappa av » (to relax). The majority of respondents now take more time for themselves. Joy is also one of the effects of the practice on the respondents.
- An openness to oneself and the world
All respondents spontaneously addressed the issue of the colors they became aware of. Others discovered new colors and their impact: « I wasn’t aware of how much color could impact me. I can indeed become more joyful only thanks to the colors ». They suddenly see the colors around them and seek to use them in their daily lives: « I have become more aware of what is around me. I see nuances that I didn’t see before ». Or: « I am more open to everything visual. I no longer see art in the same way ».
Many of them also talk about the openness to the world they have acquired as a result of this practice: « I am more open to discovering new things » or « I feel more present » or « this course has helped me to understand myself better ».
- Have self-confidence/self-esteem
We also note the repetition of the verb « att våga » (to dare). Respondents dare more in their lives than they did before. They dare to test new techniques, they dare to enroll in watercolor classes or they dare to wear more colorful clothes. Behind the word « dare » is actually an increase in self-confidence that can be seen: « I am so proud of myself for having succeeded in daring! » They also acquire more benevolence towards them: « There is no right or wrong but only the need to focus on myself and what is important to me ». Or: « I feel safer with myself ».
- The development of creativity and the acquisition of new tools
« I can meditate a little more. »
« I got into the habit of writing after meditation. »
« My art has evolved. I was rather thorough before. Now I am much more in the movement. »
« I have acquired more tools to work with my creativity. »
« It has become easier to do with creativity or to paint. »
« It feeds my imagination and gives me ideas. »
There is a growing awareness that it is possible to create without it being necessarily beautiful or that it represents something. They realized that aesthetics and creativity are two different things.
As part of a “creative meditation” training course given in Sweden, we were intending to evaluate the effects of this practice with the participants. To sum up, the two practices -meditation and creativity »- coupled together:
1/ open a window to a better self-awareness,
2/ offer a way to reduce stress,
3/ increase creativity,
4/ invite the participants to practice meditation even more.
An accompanied creative practice is an effective tool for personal development and it should be interesting to follow this development in the case study. Indeed, the qualitative study is exploratory and cannot be generalized at this stage.
Base for the qualitative interview and for the questionnaire
Measuring the contribution of art therapy in multidisciplinary treatment of personality disorders: The construction of the Self‐expression and Emotion Regulation in Art Therapy Scale (SERATS): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5836990/
Jacobs N, Kleen M, de Groot F, & A‐Tjak J., Het meten van experiëntiële vermijding. De Nederlandse versie van de Acceptance and Action Questionnaire‐II (AAQII) [Measuring experiential avoidance. The Dutch version of the acceptance and action questionnaire‐II (AAQII)], Gedragstherapie 2008; 41: 349–361.
Danielsson, M., Heimerson, I., Lundberg, U., Perski, A., Stefansson, C. G., & Åkerstedt, T. (2012). Psychosocial stress and health problems: Health in Sweden: the National Public Health report 2012. Chapter 6. Scandinavian journal of public health, 40(9_suppl), 121-134.
Darlington, N. (2019). Study Says Art Makes You Mentally Healthier, Even If You’re Not Good At It? LifeHack, June 6.
Johansson, I. (2019). Creative meditation, Zenart.
Pauget, B., & Tobelem, J. M. (2019). Between museum and health care: An example of the successful creation, implementation, and diffusion of organizational innovations. Journal of Innovation Economics Management, (3), 145-161.
Rappaport, L., & Kalmanowitz, D. (2014). Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies: Overview and Roots. Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies: Theory and Practice, 1-13.