How Creativity Frees the Mind

Hugh Delehanty embarks on a creativity and mindfulness retreat, where he discovers that the key to being creative is to strip away all but the essentials of who and what you are.

Getty Images/Thanasis Zovoilis

“I think I’m going to shoot myself,” I screamed in exasperation.

“Why?” asked art teacher Barbara Kaufman in a soft, melodic voice.

“Look at what I’ve done with that blue paint!” I replied, pointing to my sad painting of a Buddha looking like an emaciated Project Runway model. “It’s a disaster!”

I thought I knew something about painting when I signed up for this retreat on creativity and mindfulness at the Spirit Rock meditation center in Northern California. After all, I’d studied traditional figure painting at the Corcoran College of Art and Design and had even spent time in Italy learning from the masters. But none of that seemed to matter now. The brushes were terrible and the paint—a fast-drying, water-based tempera—was so bright and cheerful that everything I did turned into a kindergarten birthday decoration. My painting had started out as a picture of the Buddha on fire but had somehow morphed into a muddy purple-and-gray mess like something by El Greco on happy pills.

“Let’s turn this into a learning experience,” says Barbara, trying to calm me down. “Why did you start to paint over the gray?”

“I thought it was looking too dark,” I replied. “So that’s…

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About the author

Hugh Delehanty

Hugh Delehanty is a former editor for Sports Illustrated, People, Utne Reader, and AARP The Magazine and the co-author with NBA coach Phil Jackson of the #1 New York Times bestseller Eleven Rings.