So, already I feel like a fraud just typing those words. Because who am I to talk about meditation? Or mindfulness? I use both in my writing – I *believe* in the power of both – but it’s not like I’m a Tibetan monk or a Mindfulness Guru.
(^^the crazy that plays in my head sometimes^^)
The following is my experience with using meditation and mindfulness in writing and life. My experience is as “true” as any other – for me – but your mileage may vary (and I certainly hope it does).
I’m inspired to write this by Dede Obasun Nesbitt‘s question: “Susan, have you ever written a post about your meditation practice as it relates to your writing routine/ writing output? I’d love to read it… that’s if it exists.”
Well, now it exists!
Meditation and Mindfulness are two separate but interlinked things. Meditation is a deliberate practice that I think of being my “on tap” mental exercise. It takes place in a defined space and time. Mindfulness is an ongoing practice of greater awareness of the world and your place in it. It’s slowing down to notice the details. It’s being present. It’s immersion in your work.
These are very incomplete definitions, but they’re how I separate the two in my mind.
There are several ways you can meditate. Guided meditation has someone talking you through a series of visualizations or body-focus exercises or mental-focus exercises (or a hundred different things). Chanting or mantra meditation usually focuses on a saying or idea. Most meditation involves focus on breathing in some way – either natural breathing or some kind of altered/controlled breathing.
I’ve tried lots of different kinds. Guided was too much interruption for me, and I have an Om-Mani-Padme-Hum meditation I really like, but chanting is too repetitive after a while. For me, simple natural breathing works best.
I have a chair that faces a window to my backyard. I sit in it, contemplate the natural beauty for a moment, close my eyes, and focus on the inflow and outflow of my natural breathing. I try to immerse myself in that focus. When a stray thought comes through, I gently nudge it aside and come back to the breath, knowing that the act of doing that – the nudging and the coming back – is precisely what the meditation is about. It’s exercising my mental focus. When I’m able to immerse, I’m rewarded with a sense of release. Of being completely in the present. When thoughts intrude on that, I let them float by, returning to the breath.
It’s not easy. But it’s not supposed to be. Like going to the gym, you don’t lift the easy weights if you want to get stronger. You also don’t lift 1000 lbs. So don’t start out with meditation thinking you’ve failed if you don’t keep perfect focus or achieve perfect bliss for the full time (whatever you’ve set – I often only meditate for 10 minutes, 5 when I was starting out.)
So there’s no “failing” at meditation, there is only practice. In fact, practice is the entire point.
I have a Japanese “bong” timer for my meditation sessions (because why not?).
Afterward, the jitters in my body are calmed. My mind is refreshed. I’m ready to tackle the next thing with my thinking brain. I often use meditation as a 15 min break when I’m struggling with focus for my writing. It’s the single most effective thing I’ve found to get me back on track.
This is something I practice in an ongoing way. I’m no more “perfect” at mindfulness than I am at anything else in my life – which is to say “not much.” I strive to fold a mindful awareness of my life as I live it. I see this as an enhancement to my life, moment-by-moment, but also as a way to develop a stronger “observer” – that dispassionate state of mind wherein you’re observing your own reactions to the world… and thus having more control over them.
It’s not that I want to have a Vulcan-like detachment from my life – it’s that I want to *choose* my actions in a way that’s in concordance with the things I value and believe. Things like being more empathetic and sending more love out in the world. Things like valuing the people in my life and supporting their fulfillment as individuals.
So what does that look like?
Mostly it looks like “immersion.”
THE PRACTICING MIND is one long study in how to immerse in any activity, whether repetitive or creatively challenging.
Immersion is when I’m folding laundry and focus on the feel of each towel, the fold of each shirt, the position of my body as I go through the motions. It’s not allowing thoughts to intrude, coming back to the focus on folding. It’s… turning everyday acts into meditation.
Immersion is paying full attention to my 14 year old’s long-winded story about Jawaese role-playing. It’s having an open heart and *hearing* him as well as engaging fully in the conversation.
Immersion is diving deep into the scene I’m writing. Feeling the character’s emotions with them. Wielding my craft like knitting needles, taking the yarn of my imagination and creating a narrative with meaning and heart and thrilling story.
This immersion is what brings the joy of writing as well as the productivity. The meditation helps develop the mental focus skills to make it happen. All of it reduces my stress.
A lot of what I believe about these practices has been informed by books I’ve read, but the “true” parts come from my own individual practice. This is how it must be because this is the most interior of practices. This is your unique mindscape that you’re crafting. This is your becoming… and only you can do it.
Dede Obasun Nesbitt, I hope that helps!