Remembering a project in a college design class when I was studying Architectural Engineering! The project was to create an abstract wallpaper design. Each student sat at his own large drafting table with a big roll of onion skin paper, an artist’s brush, and a bottle of black india ink. We were to dip our brush in the ink and then use the brush to make lots of marks on the paper playing around with the brush and making hundreds of ink marks on the paper, rolling out as much paper as we wanted. I felt like I was a kid in a kindergarten class, and this was college! Then the professor told us to stop making marks and put away the paint brush and ink. Then we were told to look over the marks we made, and tear off the section of paper with those marks, choosing the ones we liked, and throwing away the rest. Then we played around rearranging the abstract blots to choose which ones looked the best next to each other, and finally narrowing the marks we wanted to use on our wallpaper design, which would consist of repeated patterns of about 10 blots. We then used different colors of paint to fill up enough of a canvas to display what the wallpaper would look like. I was surprised at what beautiful works we students were able to produce using this creative process.
Much later, when I was attending a management workshop at General Electric, we were taught to use a similar technique for brain=storming ideas in problem-solving. The class was given a problem, and then we were given a period of time to blurt out whatever came to our minds, without any criticism anyone, but one person wrote on the blackboards each of the thoughts. Then, as in the design class, we examined each idea, discussing its value in a more practical way.
I could see the value of such a creative process. However, in actual practice in an office environment, the weakness was in taking too short a time period between the brain-storming and the decision making. Really good ideas sometimes come only after a my mind has had considerable time to mull over the possibilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Of course, the urgency of the problem and the costs of the solutions are a big factor. But often the slow thinkers have the best solutions, and there’s a tendency to think quick-thinkers are more intelligent, as well as under-estimating the importance of living with the answers.
Perhaps the best thing about mindfulness exercises are the “insights”, which don’t necessarily come during a meditation. The meditations are just the exercises needed to strengthen the mind’s ability to provide the kinds of “insights” needed. For me, they are most likely to occur in the morning just after awakening.