Powering up for a creative world

As an artist, young professional and a bit of a personal development junkie, I was excited to try Sensaflow to see how it would impact my creative practice as a performer as well as my performance overall. It felt like I was part of something on the frontier — a glimpse into a future where we could train our brains to bring us closer to a ‘powered up’ version of ourselves — for better or for worse, but hopefully for better.

The Xsensa Labs team got me hooked from the first session — in a bustling open concept startup space, my mile-a-minute mind (saddled in a brain-sensing headset) glided gracefully through the noisy clutter of phone calls, creaking whiteboard markers, and a hissing espresso machine. With the ‘carrot’ of music guiding my brain waves to a thoughtfully programmed mental state of creative flow, I was amazed at how the noise transformed into part of the score of a minimalist abstract film.

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After completing a digital ‘pulse check’ on questions including mood, sleep hours, diet and exercise (most of which I answered “so-so”), my headset was calibrated and the experience set to launch. The founder’s attentive voice and light eastern European accent introduced the session, which added a special touch to the experience. Some might call this a negligible bonus in the grand scheme of things, but I am willing to wager Sensaflow will find a keen audience in the growing online ASMR community among other markets including executives, creative industry professionals, artists and more broadly at individuals seeking to experiment with a non-invasive way to use neuro-tech for personal development.

The first couple of sessions may have been a short-lived honeymoon, as my instagrammable party trick quickly became a gruelling trainer. Self-judgement and frustration reared their ugly heads with almost every ‘workout’ — my ears getting shocked with static as I fell below the application’s programmed threshold of creative flow state. I sucked at this. The machine was broken. I wasn’t making enough progress quickly enough. On good days, my ego was boosted as I made it to the music (and even a gong sound, which is awarded for extended flow state and tabulated by the ap) through focusing my attention on passively observing the action behind my eyelids like a movie, as the founder’s introductory guidance offers.

As the daily struggle became familiar, and somehow gratifying, I felt my state of mind and attitude evolved — I noticed I could more readily control and almost palpably feel my brain easing into sustained flow. I grew more forgiving of myself when my efforts were met by harsh static, and less inflated when I managed to hear the validating ‘gong’ sound.

In my creative practice as an emerging vocalist I felt I made significant leaps in the short time I tested Sensaflow — my freestyles were flowing like never before and I managed to do a couple of things that scared me. For the first time I participated in the iconic (yet underground) Sunset Cypher, where Toronto’s aspiring rappers and singers showcase their improvisation skills on a range of beats. With some pressure from a collaborator, I also recorded my first singing track. I largely credit my newly cultivated creative confidence and performance ability to my month-long Sensaflow training.

In my professional role at the City of Toronto, advising on policy for economic development and arts and culture, I think a lot about the challenges with supporting creative industries and of the changing nature of work. Beyond helping along rap careers, Xsensa Lab’s product might hold part of the answer to some bigger questions facing Toronto, and the world — how do we prepare our minds for the rapidly evolving nature of work that requires creativity and agile thinking? With increasing automation of jobs, what can and should humans really be doing? And if technologies like Sensaflow can really give us a leg up on ourselves, who has access and who is left out of this powered up future?

For better or for worse, but most likely for better, technologies like Sensaflow have the potential to make a significant impact on those with the will to work through their mental battles toward a vision of a more creatively-tuned self.

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