10 WAYS THAT MEDITATION IS LIKE WRITING
(by Brooke Burgess)
Long time, no post! But rest assured, dear friends…I’ve been busy, albeit quiet.
And quiet is the operative term.
After receiving some helpful (and surprisingly glowing) beta reader feedback on my first novel, I completed a round of draft revisions in April and the work is currently under agent and publisher review. Then, struggling to exercise the patience of the proverbial saints, I felt the call for another adventure in Silence.
I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence that a strong first draft of a 230-page children’s fantasy novel was completed in less that ten weeks. I give a newfound commitment to meditative practice the lion’s share of the credit. So, with pre-publishing edits on the first book looming, the second book in the Shadowland Saga fully outlined (title TBA soon!), and following a slow recovery from some tropical nastiness (dengue fever and Giardia parasites = good times!), the twin batteries of intuition and mindfulness were in desperate need of a recharge.
The last meditation retreat in September stirred up some long-buried emotions. But it also rewarded me with renewed clarity, increased mental fortitude, and a powerful set of tools to apply to life and to the creative process. And with another block of 17hr days filled with deep sits, contemplative footsteps, and radiant Metta, it quickly became clear how many parallels there are between meditation and writing.
Off the top of my (currently empty) head, here are 10 that stand out:
1. IT’S ABOUT FOCUS
Strip away any religious dogma and spiritual leanings surrounding it, and it’s clear that meditative practice is chiefly about quieting the mind and improving one’s ability to observe. It’s not rocket science, my friends; just focus on what’s happening to your six senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and the Mind – watch it, accept it, and then allow it to pass. Rinse and repeat. And repeat. And repeat.
Eventually, with enough practice, you’ll reach the zone.
It’s the same with writing. Get your ass in the chair. Listen to your breathing. Sense your body in the space. Feel the pen in your hand, or the keyboard beneath your fingertips. Smell the air in your space. Taste your tea and cookies. Watch the storm of ideas rumble in your head. And then…?
The best work happens when you watch it pour from you, after you’ve quieted your mind by plunking away on a few paragraphs or pages of garbage, and gotten into the groove – the state of flow.
2. IT’S ALSO ABOUT SURRENDER
Focus will get you halfway there, but a lot of folks equate mental focus with control.
And that’s a mistake.
When you’re really in the zone with meditation, you aren’t trying to wrestle with the thoughts that inevitably bubble up. You don’t try to conquer them, or bend them to your will, or snuff them life errant flames. You simply let them be. With enough patience and surrender, they soon dissolve on their own…
And that’s when the good stuff is waiting for you. The clarity. The insight. The delight.
Same goes for writing. Stop trying to force the words. Stop trying to cram a clever phrase or plot beat into place. Stop trying to steer the course of the raging river across the page. Most pros agree – if you can just let go, the story will flow on its own, carrying you to unexpected and exciting new places that you could never have planned for it to go.
3. QUALITY vs QUANTITY
Many have argued – with meditation and with writing – that it’s purely about putting in the hours. More time spent sitting – either in pursuit of Nirvana, or the perfect character development – will eventually yield the desired results.
But just as many disagree.
Some believe that having a clear intention before you hit the floor/pillow/chair is far more important. That a completely realized 10-minute ‘sit’ is just as effective as several hours spent dipping in and out of mindful work. The same could be said of the rewards of a single, crystallized paragraph.
Each day will be different. Energies, limits, and capabilities are mutable things. Be adaptable, and know what’s there to give, and what the day is really asking of you.
4. SILENCE IS GOLDEN
There’s a reason monks and writers unite in their love of Quiet.
The better to hear oneself…and the better to hear the Story being told through oneself.
Ditch the coffee shop clamour. Kill the TV in the background. Seek solitude.
And then work.
5. ASS IN THE CHAIR
You won’t get shit if you don’t show up. That applies to most things in life, but doubly to mindful practice and the creative arts.
Sit and breathe. Sit and reflect. Sit and write.
Every day. No excuses.
6. PATIENCE, PATIENCE, PATIENCE
It can be daunting most days.
The meditation feels distracted and empty. The words seem jumbled and incoherent. You can’t help but lose morale. You start to doubt, and ask yourself:
‘Who the hell am I to be creative?’
‘Why do I deserve Enlightenment?’
It’s easy to give up. The easiest possible thing. But I promise you this – if you hold on, and stick with it? If you push through the hopeless days, and the distracted days, and the days where holding the space on the pillow or filling the blank page feels akin to taking a shit filled with shards of stained glass…?
That is when the rewards will come. After you’ve persevered. When you’ve been patient, stuck to your guns, and put your head and shoulders down to charge one more time into the Abyss.
You’ll take that one breath, and your body will start to tremble.
You’ll write that one sentence, and every hair will stand from the skin.
Then you’ll know it was worth it.
7. KILL YOUR EGO
That’s the whole point of meditation – to slay the reactive mind, subdue the Self, and allow the true Observer to see the world through you. No fears. No judgments. No loves, or hates, or cruel attachments. No You to get in the way of experiencing true bliss.
Same goes for the word game, people. It’s tempting to want to grab the reins, and strive for an outcome, and get attached to every clever idea that your Ego belches forth. Brilliance + Critical Acclaim + Success = ME.
It’s a trap. Because that side of you is not only desperate for recognition – it’s terrified of being judged. Which gives rise to an ugly, asshole of a sibling that you don’t want anywhere near your word processor: Perfectionism.
That shit will keep you from getting anything done. Believe it. It’ll judge everything you produce. Harshly. It will cling to things that make absolutely no sense to keep holding on to, and have aversion to things that could challenge you in a positive way, and improve the work in the end.
Kill it. Dead. On the pillow or at the writer’s desk. The only ‘thing’ that needs to breathe is the thing that you’re observing. The thing being created.
8. THE DEEPER, THE BETTER
One of my heroes – director/artist/weirdo extraordinaire DAVID LYNCH – says it best in his book on the usefulness of meditation and creativity in ‘Catching the Big Fish’, but I’ll paraphrase his main argument here:
Close your eyes, and it’s like you’re adrift in a dark ocean. And then you see things moving around. Little fish near the surface, darting about. Schools of them.
These are Ideas.
And the ones near the surface are fine. We all have them, swimming around us all the time. But, if you’re patient? If you’re willing to dive deeper, and into uncharted waters?
That’s where you’ll find the really special ideas. That’s where the big fish live.
It’s true for meditation, and it’s true for writing. Go deeper. Look into the core of what you feel and believe, and what shapes your experience of the world itself. Dive down, open your eyes, and don’t be afraid to reach into the darkness…
9. LOVING KINDNESS
There’s a form of meditation that’s quite popular, and it involves sending out ‘good vibes’. I know, I know…but bear with me for a minute.
When you’re doing a Loving Kindness (Metta) meditation, you’re told to imagine a radiant sun blazing in your chest. It’s your Heart. And from it, you picture every living being in Existence – every person, animal, and creature you can possibly imagine – and you wish them Happiness, and an end to all of their Suffering.
And where does it start? With You. With your happiness, and your suffering.
Sounds kinda like knowing a protagonist’s desires and obstacles, doesn’t it? Sounds like the basis for knowing any character, and understanding their motivations on the deepest, purest, most archetypal level.
10. IN THE END, IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU
It’s why you’re on the pillow.
It’s why you’re cross-legged, or in lotus, or kneeling.
It’s why you close your eyes and breathe, ever hopeful.
You want to Know yourself.
I can’t think of a better reason to write than that.