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Lions Roar : September 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2012 80 of apple juice on the table and allow the sediment to fall to the bottom, till the juice itself becomes unclouded, clear. Jonah Lehrer is no Buddhist, but his new book, Imagine, is packed with images and anecdotes that reflect the meditative experience. He has conducted lengthy personal interviews with psychologists, sociologists, and neuroscientists, and with art- ists and writers and inventors, too. This allows him to describe “how creativity works”—both from within (from the neurolog- ical perspective) and from without (in terms of ordinary daily practice). His aim is mastery, not mystery; productivity, not peace of mind; and his writing is clear, competent journalese, not especially dazzling or original. Nonetheless, his book is well worth reading. At the very least, it reminds us just what a rich and turbulent brew creativity can be, that “seething cauldron of ideas,” as the psychologist William James once called it, “where everything is fizzing and bobbing about in a state of bewilder- ing activity.” The contents of that cauldron are not much studied, even now. A survey of psychology papers published between 1950 and 2000 found less than 1 percent concerned with the creative process. All too often, creativity is taken to mean just one thing: a gift, a special aptitude, separate from more ordinary kinds of cogni- tion. But as Lehrer explains, creative practice is in fact built upon a number of distinct (and often contradictory) factors. Openness and receptivity alternate with focused concentration; time alone with time in company; adult efficiency with childlike wonder- ment; a sufficiency of sleep with an alert and active working life; and (perhaps most surprising) the dogged persistence granted by depression with the joyful alpha waves of relaxation. The creative person must find ways to befriend his or her own mind, remaining alert to its constantly changing chemistries, as well as to what is thrown up at random by dreams, by idle talk, by casual encounters. In the course of this, he or she develops a certain obdurate trust, a willingness to pause and to endure confusion, much as an apprentice meditator learns to do. This does not come easy, whether for the practicing artist, writer, or musician, or for the high-tech inventor in Silicon Valley. “I tell you,” said the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, “one must have chaos within oneself to give birth to a dancing star.” Or, in Bob Dylan’s wryer, warier formulation, “I accept chaos. I’m not sure whether it accepts me.” In certain sectors of scientific and corporate America, that chaos is allowed to run free for a portion of each day in the service of cutting-edge inventions and ideas. Every afternoon, the psy- chologist Jonathan Schooler, for instance, goes for a “dedicated daydreaming walk” high on the bluffs above a Santa Barbara beach. The wind rustles in the oak trees and the chaparral; he can hear the gentle boom of the Pacific far below. This is where he comes to relax. But just because he’s relaxed doesn’t mean that Schooler isn’t working. “I never have a plan or a list of things I need to think about,” he says. “Instead, I just let my mind go