Writers Talk About Writing
Why I'm Meditating Again, And How It Helps My Writing
You may wonder why, shortly after waking up every morning, I head upstairs to my office and lie down on the floor and cover myself with a blanket. You'd think, after seven hours of sleep, I wouldn't need to lie down again.
But I'm not just lying down; I'm meditating.
I became interested in meditation about six years ago after having taken a course in it. For several months I meditated daily for 30 minutes, finding it made me feel calmer and more peaceful, and, significantly, more like a person who wanted to write. But, somehow, I'd fallen out of the habit.
Trust me, like exercising and writing you need to meditate at least five times a week for it to pay off. But I couldn't even remember the last time in my life when I meditated. I'd like to be able say months, but in my heart I knew it'd been years.
What got me started again was reading a story by ABC news anchor Dan Harris. In turn, this led me to his three-step description of the habit, including the clearest, most accurate set of instructions for mindfulness meditation I've ever read.
Here's what Harris said:
Every time you get lost in thought — which you will, thousands of times — gently return to the breath. I cannot stress strongly enough that forgiving yourself and starting over is the whole game. [my emphasis] As my friend and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg has written, "Beginning again and again is the actual practice, not a problem to overcome so that one day we can come to the 'real' meditation."
With a start, I realized this was exactly why I'd stopped meditating. I'd thought I wasn't good enough at it. I feared I was failing to clear my mind enough to become a "real meditator."
Doesn't this sound eerily similar to writing? Do you fail to write because you think you aren't good enough at it? Do you fixate on needing external proof — such as publication contracts or book deals — to prove that you're a writer?
Meditating is a useful habit for anyone to develop but I think it's especially effective for writers. Here's why:
1) It reduces our tendency to make excuses for not doing things. I like the way writer and meditator Natalie Goldberg (author of Writing Down the Bones) puts it. "We all have tremendously strong monkey minds that are very creative, that can make endless excuses,” she says. "‘I really can't write today because my daughter is having trouble in school.' ‘I really can't write because I have a stomachache every time I write.' Monkey mind will always think of new reasons why we can't write."
2) It improves our concentration and focus, allowing us to do subsequent work (such as writing) more easily. For me, a person who suffers from writing apnea, meditation's focus on breathing helps me remember to breathe when I'm writing. (Yes, I frequently forget!)
3) It helps quiet the voice in our heads. Even if we're not conscious of it, we're giving ourselves a running commentary about our inadequacies all day. Writers are especially prone to this, saying ugly things like: This article is no good. My editor is going to hate this. I have no business trying to write. I call this voice the Internal Editor or the Shoulder Devil. Writer Steven Pressfield (author of The War of Art), and also a meditator, calls it resistance. "Resistance stop(s) us from doing our work," he writes. "Even if there had been no abuse, no neglect ... if we had been raised on moonbeams and honeydew in the land beyond the rainbow, that same voice of Resistance would appear in our heads."
4) It helps reduce other negative emotions. So many writers struggle with fear and boredom. But the calm engendered by meditating allows you to put those emotions aside and focus on the here-and-now of writing.
5) It makes the unbearable more supportable. Lying on the floor, motionless except for your breathing, is simple but not easy. If you have a backache, a headache or an itchy toe you're supposed to note those facts and pay no attention to them. At first, this seems impossible but, over time, it becomes easier and then habitual.
Writing, too, is simple but not easy. Meditation will remind you of that in a way that "just telling" cannot.
If you want to meditate, read Dan's simple instructions. And be sure to use the Kaizen technique, beginning with a laughably small amount of time. I meditate for five minutes every day and I'm still working up to my goal of 30 minutes but I'm okay with that.
I know I'm happier and more productive writer as a five-minute-a-day meditator than a no-minute-a-day one.