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Mindful : June 2017
teachers, I asked what I should do with this attack of guilt. Albert speculated that the g uilt was connected to my feeling of exhilaration. “On some level,” he said, “ you probably don’t feel as if you deserve to be so exhilarated.” Meanwhile, Anna suggested that I have a conversation with my father, which could be tricky since he died years ago. “Give the guilt back to him,” she said. “Tell him you don’t need it anymore.” Both of their comments made emotional sense. When I returned to the art studio, Barbara asked what I was going to do next with my painting, and I mumbled something about adding a simple beach scene in the background. “I guess you could do that,” she replied, dis- appointed. “But what would be the dangerous thing to do?” “I could put a man in the picture,” I answered. “Doing what?” “ Whispering in her ear? Reaching out and touching her breast?” “ That’s it.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Bar- bara was daring me to go somewhere I’d never ventured before. None of this surprised Ellen Langer, a psychology professor at Harvard who’s often referred to as the “mother of mindfulness” because of her seminal research on the sub- ject. “ When we think of creativity,” she said, “we tend to think only of the final product, but mindfulness is all about the process.” And her research showed that the more mindful the process the better the final product. The main roadblock to creativity, according to Langer, is our relentless self-evaluation. “People know that they don’t know [the answer], but what they don’t know is that nobody knows,” she added. “If we knew that nobody knows, we’d be confident in our uncertainty. That’s how artists and anyone else involved in a creative endeavor have to act. If you know where you’re going, then you live your life painting by the numbers. But it’s hard not knowing when you think you’re going to be judged negatively. So people pretend and withdraw.” In one study, Langer and her team made an interesting discovery when they asked people to draw a picture of an animal, then forced them to make mistakes. Of the three groups they studied, one was encouraged to incorporate the mistake into their work and keep going, another was told to forgive themselves for the mistake, → PHOTOGRAPHBYBEATRIXBOROS/STOCKSY 62 mindful June 2017 creativity