Highly Creative people, obsessive-compulsives, teenagers in love and even gross despots in novels ruminate to distraction. There is nothing profound about out-of-control rumination. A pattern of brain physiology is simply stuck on re-play. We’ve all been mentally stuck at one time or another.
Martin, a highly educated agoraphobic OCD suffering character in Audrey Niffenegger’s novel Her Fearful Symmetry gets stuck sitting cross-legged on his bed all day. He can’t escape his intense ruminative thought cycle.
Martin put the phone down on the bed. The bed was an island. Around the bed was a sea of contamination. Martin had been crouching on the bed for four hours. Luckily there were survival tools there in the bed with him: the telephone, some bread and cheese, his worn copy of Pliny. Martin wanted very much to leave the bed. He needed to pee, and he was hoping to get some work done today. His computer sat waiting for him in the office. But somehow Martin senses, he knew, that there had been a hideous accident in the night. The bedroom floor was covered with filth. Germs, shit, vomit: someone had got into the flat and smeared this horrible slime over the floor. Why? Martin wondered. Why does this always happen to him? Is this possible?
No, it’s not real. But what can I do about it?
Martin creates crosswords puzzles for a British newspaper. He reads philosophy and loves math. But his attempts to find rational solutions to his irrational behavior falls flat.
The light in the bedroom was afternoon light, slanted. He had failed to escape from the bed. Once again, he had allowed his madness to rule him.
When he’s ready to cry for this lack of psychic control, an epiphany slaps him lucid. Martin dumps rational thinking and addresses his fear respectfully. Concentrating upper body force with focused movement rhythms, he moves his bed while still sitting on it across his room into the bathroom.
Martin was sweating, concentrating, almost joyous. He rode the bed across the bathroom, inch by inch, and finally, stepping onto the bath mat, he was free.
Patterned thinking makes characters in literature real. Shakespeare’s Romeo could only think of Juliet. Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment was stuck in-lust of absolute power.
Humans ruminate in novels and in reality, but Highly Creative people use obsession to Create. Creativity researcher Howard Gardner studied choreographer Martha Graham. Graham’s ideas drove her psychic patterns. Gardner says,
Martha worked intensively, late into the night, thinking through her dances, paring them down unceasingly: “I would put a typewriter on a little table on my bed, bolster myself with pillows, and write all night. ”
The difference in the re-play patterns of Martin, Romeo, Raskolnikov and Graham is the object of obsession. Obsessive rumination increases brain Cortisol levels and lowers Serotonin levels. This is the preparatory phase to Creation. Patterned brain activity precedes insight and leads to it when you release its centrifugal pull. Like Martin released rational efforts to get off the bed, you shoot off that endless cycle, rumination, with energy to see novel paths to where you want to go.