Darkness: The Secret Gateway to Creativity

“Dive again and again into the river of uncertainty. Create in the dark, only then can you recognize the light.” ― Jyrki Vainonen

My dogs love little walks around the town once it gets dark. Streets are empty and quiet, aromas of flowers and plants become irresistible. No wonder some quiet time in the dark boosts our creativity!

Creativity - the good, the bad and the ugly

Have you ever wondered, if you could have some control over those times when your creativity comes and goes? If there was a way, to "call it", when you really need it?

Research showed a strong link between creativity and darkness. People perform creative tasks significantly better in a dim lit environments. Interestingly, research also linked darkness with dishonesty: not only unlit areas had at least 30% increase in crime: researchers also tested people wearing darkened glasses vs people with clear glasses, and the same with people in dimly lit environments vs people in bright lit rooms. Results showed increased dishonesty levels among the participants with darkened sunglasses and the ones in a dim lit rooms. 

You might see where this is going... 

Scientist also tested honesty levels between people in creative industries and the ones where creative input was low. Dishonesty levels were higher in the creative group! They went even further, and tried to find out a cause for this weird statistic. Apparently, creatives were a lot more likely to invent a good excuse for their behavior,  compared to the ones who don't use their creative abilities as much. 

OK, enough of funny research. Us creatives aren't that bad. Please believe me.

Darkness is a powerful tool for creativity, and as such, should be used sparingly

Albert Camus said “In order to be created, a work of art must first make use of the dark forces of the soul” . 

Darkness may be providing us with a huge boost for creative process, but like with everything in life, it should be used sparingly. Spending prolonged periods in the dark can damage your creativity or even bring you close to insanity.

From my experience, long time deprivation of daylight can be very destructive for creative process. I used to spend many hours in my studio which has no natural daylight coming in. I barely stepped foot outdoors, and my creativity suffered immensely. The opposite happened when I started taking long walks outdoors. I noticed, that sunshine was beneficial for both my focus and creativity. 

Wait, didn't I just say the darkness is meant to be good for creativity? Well, yes, but darkness does not work without light. The secret is always the same: finding the balance. 

While creative process itself works a lot better in the dark, your brain needs to be susceptible to it. If you spend long periods in dimly lit environments, I think what happens is that without sunlight keeping the balance, you descend into a permanent state of sleepiness, rather than creative thought.

Can there be too much light? Of course there can. People visiting North or South Poles during the white nights period will soon become aware of it. Many experience prolonged periods of sleep deprivation, some may even become insomniacs.

“The road to creativity passes so close to the madhouse and often detours or ends there.”  ― Ernest Becker

Star gazing is one of my favorite night time activities. Unfortunately, light pollution in England is very strong. Fortunately, you don't need to count ten thousand stars to get your creativity going!

Worse yet, prolonged periods of isolation in complete darkness may lead close to insanity.

Two cave explorers, Josie Laures and Antoine Senni, were subjects of one such experiment. Both volunteered to spend months in dark caves, isolated from the rest of the world, even each other: their caves were several hundred yards apart. The only contact they had to the outside world, was with researchers at the control point, who monitored their sleep and meal patterns. At the end of this little experiment, their sense of time was completely distorted, and they had to wear dark goggles to protect their eyes from harsh daylight. You can read more about this here - it's a fascinating article! 

Whilst I have not intentionally monitored myself for this process yet, I have noticed certain patterns. I have always known my most productive hours were after sundown, yet I didn't realise it was because of a darkness itself. And it was only recently that I realised, how much regular exposure to sunlight during the day affects that same productivity in the evening. 

Both light and darkness makes our bodies release different hormones: serotonin is triggered by sunlight and melatonin is released in the dark.  Serotonin is a mood boosting hormone, while melatonin is a calm hormone, that prepares your body for sleep.

For most of us, living in modern industrial environments, our hormone production is already pretty messed up. We don't get enough natural light during the day, and we're constantly exposed to artificial light after sundown. Not enough darkness, not enough light. 

Did you know, that hypnosis is actually a state between being awake and being asleep? That's where autosuggestion has the most power. That's where we connect to our subconscious mind. 

If darkness triggers production of melatonin, it makes us descend into this state before we go to sleep. Our alertness is only sustained by artificial light and electronics. What happens, when we start practising to turn off all artificial lights a few hours before bedtime?  If practised regularly, we would learn to quickly descend into the phase of total sleepiness, where we are not awake enough to have sufficient control over where our mind is wondering.  This does not mean, we can not make our mind to stay in the creative phase for longer. 

Walk in Darkness

This is the reason I recommend walks in the dark. Walking and fresh air keeps us from falling too deep into a sleepy phase, while outside street lightning is usually not bright enough to drag our brain out into a rational thinking zone. I wonder if this could be one of the best "right before bedtime" activities?

I love walking around my little town after midnight. I find darkness an invitation to create. Being lost for creative ideas often warrants a little walk in the dark, especially around the town where you're used to seeing things more alive and in motion during the day. Seeing your town, or your city asleep, makes your mind wonder to all sorts of places, and if you're short of ideas for a little project you're working on, you might be surprised what you may find after spending a few minutes looking at the reflections of street lights in the river. 

This is not just some romantic notion. Seriously: if you're stuck on something, go for a walk solely thinking about your problem and imagining yourself finding a solution to it. Ask yourself to find a solution to it, out loud if you can. 

Think about how it would make you feel if the solution is found, will it make you feel grateful? Relieved? Joyful? Try to really feel it, like it just happened. Then, go and find a water source. Forget about your problem, clear your mind. Watch these reflections. Be in the present moment.

On a way back home, try not to think about your problem. Carry that grateful feeling, as if you have already found the answer. Just that feeling, no thinking. If you must think, you can think about something trivial, like uneven pavement or a stranger walking his dog. It always comes, most often, when you don't expect it to. Learn to withhold your expectations. Give up for a second. 

It works for all sorts of problems, from finding an answer to a puzzle, to a solution for a work related project you might be working on.

When I used to live in London, I found walking on a bank of river Thames at night a great inspiration. Now I watch the near by channel, filled with boats quietly lulling on water, carrying a smell of the sea with it. Just feeling that scent, listening to the sound of the waves hitting a hollow side of a boat, has some kind of weird magic within it. It soothes your mind, relaxes your body. 

Sometimes it may not bring you the results you expected. You may find the answer to an entirely different problem. This happens when certain questions, which your subconscious mind considers more important, lurk in the back of our head without our practical brain recognising them as such. 

I would also recommend to take a notebook with you, I often find I need to jot something down, when I'm in a creative state.

Napoleon Hill wrote a great deal about the power of subconscious mind in his book Think and Grow Rich. He mentions similar method used by an inventor, who was payed to "sit for ideas" for big companies (I can't recall his name now). The inventor used to lock himself up in a dark room, and think about what he was trying to achieve. Then he would clear his mind, and start writing. What came out of it would often surprise him as much as it did others. 

I personally find water and reflections a great help for inspiration. I also find walking a great help for switching my mind to where I want it to be. There is research, comparing our brain activity while walking, and while stationary. It did not surprise me, that apparently our brain works a lot smoother when we're walking.

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Side Effects

You should, however, beware of the side effects of letting your creative brain run wild. Being a creative person all my life, I have always suffered with difficulties of falling asleep at night, even without using electronics before bedtime. I avoid listening to instrumental music past sundown, because I have a strange side effect of symphonies and piano sonatas being created in my head for many hours after I go to bed. It does not happen very often, but when it does, I feel like I would give a lot for it to stop. Sounds awesome, but it's a bit of a curse for me: of all the major art forms, music is the one I have practised the least. I don't play an instrument, and I neither read or write sheet music. Yet some nights, I may loose an entire nights sleep over this weird phenomenon. Crazy, right? It's also not like insomnia, as I would happily snooze throughout the day afterwards. 

Night time is when my creative brain gets going. How about you? What sparks your creativity?

“If a composer suffers from loss of sleep and his sleeplessness induces him to turn out masterpieces, what a profitable loss it is!” 

― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Night Flight

Shame I never wanted to become a composer :)

Next time it happens, I will try to put all that creative energy into ideas for more awesome articles. 

If your brain becomes way too busy shooting out the kind of creative ideas that you just can't or don't particularly want to use, it may not be a great practice to keep up. Not only can it completely mess up your natural rhythm, it can also become extremely impractical, considering most of the world runs on morning birds. It may seem unfair, but if we didn't have farmers, bakers and beer makers, world wouldn't be as much fun to live in. We can axe bankers and big corporations, turn them into creative people, and the world will be a better place. Doctors and nurses often work nights as well as days, and scientists are part of the creative circle (“I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking” ― Albert Einstein), at least the ones who don't work for corporations :) Yes, that's where my anti-corporation bias comes out!

Environment, that makes you more creative depends on many factors. Sometimes silent and empty room can be more of a creativity booster than a lively jazz bar. 

Alpha: The State of Creative Being

My theory is this: Darkness boosts creativity because our brain enters lower frequencies. 

Ever tried binaural beats? These are frequency generating sounds that change the frequency of your brain into frequency you're playing. There is some interesting science behind it, but despite what a lot of websites claim, studies of sound waves and their effects on human mind and body are still in baby stages. Few studies that exist, show some interesting results and so there is no surprise there that pharmaceutical industries are not going to be very keen observing such progress in chem-free drugs. 

Despite that, I encourage you to do your own research and experiments with binaural beats or isochronic tones. Be careful, and don't overindulge though! Make sure, that whatever you're listening to, does not irritate you, because if it does, it may give you very undesirable results. The sound should almost disappear in your head, become close to unnoticeable and cause no irritation. Do not, under any circumstances, listen to something that causes irritation. 

Some people may develop opposite effects to what they are trying to achieve: instead of helping from insomnia, they may cause more of it. Instead of peaceful sleep, they may cause nightmares. Some develop vertigo, for no apparent reason. These testimonials are often drowned in a sea of people happy with the results from their own experiences, but it doesn't mean negative side effects are non-existent.

No wonder darkness increases creativity! The world can be so beautiful at night, yet rarely anyone sees it...

There are records of some gamers using brain activity enhancing frequencies, to continue gaming without any need for sleep. As you can guess, this can be very destructive to your mind and body, so seriously: be smart, if you decide to use them, use sparingly. Remember: balance is the key. 

Know, that you can train yourself to go through desired frequencies through meditation and being in a present moment. It may take some time, but you'll become far more in control of your mind compared to sound wave induced states, where an untrained mind may get lost. 

Darkness is naturally sleep inducing, and therefore it forces your brain to go a few frequencies down, without any need for sound waves. Once we descend into deep sleep, our mind resonates in Delta frequency, which is considerably lower than our usual Beta frequency state during the day. When we sit in a darkness wide awake, it naturally lowers our frequency, but it most likely doesn't reach the Delta, required for sleep. So we're quite likely stuck somewhere in the Alpha. Alpha state is closely associated with increased creativity especially if your ego is under control. 

It would have been very interesting to know what brain frequencies did the two subjects of a cave experiment go through while spending their time in a continuous darkness. Did they spend most of their time in Delta? Is that what happens, when we spend too much time in the dark - we never rise much above sleep state? 

I suspect, that is the reason, why my creativity suffered after hiding from sunlight for too long. I was below Alpha - the creative frequency, and more in a sleep state of Delta than anything else. It sure felt like it. I also suspect, that the reason walking helped me with creativity, was none other than the fact that walking in nature also brings you down to the Alpha state. I will be writing more about this, on conclusion to my 14 Day 10 Miles a Day Challenge.

This link between creativity and darkness can also explain why the most creative cities in the world will have a great nightlife. As Mirik Milan (Night Mayor of Amsterdam since 2012) said, "Night is where a lot of creative people meet, and where a lot of cross-fertilisation happens. Nightlife has the most proactive, diverse, open-minded and forward thinking people."

 I am actually writing this article sitting under dimmed coloured lights in my local wine and Jazz Bar (The Grapevine, in Rye, East Sussex - highly recommend if you ever visit this town!) - I certainly have an overwhelming feeling that in this atmosphere I can create just about anything! And no, I don't drink when I write, I find alcohol makes your brain lazy, and wanting to socialise and be charming rather than write.

Balance is always the key, and manipulating lightness and darkness to benefit our creativity, has to be done smartly. I would be very curious to hear your results, if you ever try walks in the dark to boost your creativity. Any genius ideas? How does it go with painting, writing, composing? Let me know what you think! 

You can always reach me on thesenseofjourney@gmail.com, also, check out my Facebook and Twitter

May you have a productive, creative day! Or night :)


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