I didn’t think meditation will have this effect on my writing until I felt the results myself.
This should be an easy post for me to write because I’ve been meditating daily for the past two years. I can talk long about the benefits of meditation itself but the tough task is to show you the direct benefit that meditation has to your writing.
Let’s start by defining the ideal elements for writing as far as I see them:
- Will power – You have to sit your ass down and just write
- Concentration – To eliminate any disturbance from unrelated thoughts
- Emotional clarity – Write from the heart or else you’re just typing
- Love – You need to love writing or else what’s the point
If you’re familiar with meditation you might see right away that meditation creates and nurtures each of these elements but In case you’re not – let me break it down for you.
1. When you listen to the great Buddhist teachers or read any of the more basic and traditional books about Buddhism you learn that meditation is a form of exercise. Meditation is not a way towards a higher state of consciousness. It is not a method to achieve enlightenment. It is just the practice of being in the moment.
This is not an easy exercise what so ever. Just try to close your eyes for only 5 minutes. Immediately, hundreds of thoughts will pass through your mind and your body will start to feel uncomfortable. This feeling will reinforce your wrong impression that meditation is a waste of time or just too hard.
Yes, it is hard to sit in silence but this is an exercise just like running or weight lifting. Trained people can sit for hours without breaking their posture or feeling useless.
Writers tend to talk about the “writing muscle” and the daily word count. I’m usually not In favor of quantity measures but you do need to be able to physically sit and write as long as you can if you want to be good at writing.
With practice you begin to slide in to your writing/meditation zone faster. You can also stay there longer. As long as you get more minutes of the Flow state you will see more creative or spiritual results. But don’t be mistaken, the practice and refinement never ends. It becomes your habit until you can’t go a day without it, making the goal less important than the practice itself.
2. Each Buddhist tradition focuses on different aspects of meditation and uses different techniques for practice but the main purpose is the same: stay present, stay focused and stay aware. Even the Buddha continued to meditate after reaching enlightenment.
It is one thing to keep quiet and sit for 15-30-45 minutes or an hour, but the core of the practice is to keep the mind focused. The common misconception is that you have to force yourself to think about nothing. This is impossible because the mind always changes. Thought and feelings flood you in high speeds and you just can’t possibly catch and tame them all. If you try to you will miss the point and get frustrated.
Your thoughts will flow endlessly and your only job is to catch these moments when you drift away and come back to the now. It might be that you will refocus on your breathing, on a mantra, on a sound, a count or a specific though – it is all the same. Go back gently and don’t try to force the thoughts to stop or else they will haunt you even worse.
The same goes for writing. You listen to the stream of thoughts that tell the story, set the voice and style of your writing but you might have some glitches. These may be thoughts about your daily chores, your relationship issues, the utilities bill or your annoying boss.
If you’re not focused on your inner writing voice you might quit and go deal with the “real world problems” that are keeping you from writing. They will still be there when you finish, you’ll be able to address them more calmly while knowing that your writing is done for the day. Writing can keep you sane within the hectic course of life.
3. Being focused isn’t enough. Cats can be focused on trying to catch a single fly for hours, a factory worker can be focused on a single manual task for hours but you are trying to make art, and art is supposed to make people feel something.
Usually you might try to convey feelings that you are not currently feeling yourself. You might transfer them unconsciously into your writing but if you’re trying to write a happy scene while personally feeling depressed, well you know how genuine it will turn out to be.
As I said before, being able to sit in meditation will help you sit and write, being able to focus while meditating will help you to focus on your writing. But it will do much more than that, because you will be able to pull yourself away from the inner vortex of thoughts, feelings and over analyzing every single thing. You will be able to contain your feelings.
If you can see your feelings only as feeling and your thoughts only as thoughts, you’ll be able to see that they are just particles of consciousness that flow inside your mind. They rise and disappear even without you paying attention and there’s no point of trying to control them.
You have the power to take those particles and create a coherent story about yourself and the way your ex makes you feel or how your parents let you down, or you can acknowledge their existence and move on with your writing.
I certainly don’t mean you should ignore your feeling or instincts but you should look at them as they are, just particles. You have a choice to deal with them now, later or not at all, but your choice right now is to keep writing. You need to keep this inner voice talking about your story rather than your life.
4. The last element I want to talk about is love. It is said that once you really get to know someone it is really hard to hate him. You might think someone is a horrible person or that there isn’t any common ground between you. But as soon as you really talk to someone freely and truthfully you start to see similarities, you start to understand his motives, you feel his pain and fear and you can’t really hate him. You might even start to like him.
Meditation is practiced within one’s mind. You sit quietly and you really get to know yourself from the inside. If you sit long enough on a daily basis your deepest and most secret thoughts will surface and you’ll have to deal with them. Also, your body will ache and you will have to deal with the pain. Your patience will be tested along with your abilities to stay focus and endure the practice. Your true self will show itself with all of the fears, flaws and wounds, than you will start to feel compassionate.
Religion and society teaches us to be compassionate towards others but we forget to be compassionate with ourselves. Self loathing, depression, eating disorders, addictions, isolation and violence are all of our modern day society’s problems. We all feel it when we try to write and lose self confidence. We all feel discouraged after receiving a handful of notes from our beta readers or editor. We all sit and try to write while asking ourselves “why do I even bother, what are the chances this will ever become anything of significance?”
We do not show compassion or patience for our own creative efforts and failures. In this case, after being alone with our thoughts and feelings during meditation, we slowly learn to love who we are, what we do and the qualities that make us human. We are writers, we make mistakes, we can’t be perfect and we can only do our best and hope it reaches the hearts of our readers.
To conclude my thesis on the benefits of meditation for writing I would like to connect the dots in a different order. The Buddhist way is never a linear process; it is always circular and parallel.
Loving what you do and who you are will allow you to control your emotions -> controlling your emotions will allow you to stay focused -> staying focused will allow you to sit down easily for long periods of time. Any way you put it, these benefits support and nurture each other during the writing/meditating process.
There are tons of meditation instructions online. You can watch lectures on Youtube, you can use guided meditations recordings and you can use music or join a meditation group. Start with 5 minutes a day and make it longer whenever you feel it’s starting to get too easy. Best to meditate before you start writing in order to clear your mind and make it ready. You’ll be amazed to see how many new creative thought you will start to have, and you can also meditate during a writing block period to ease the pressure.
I’d love to hear how meditation is beneficial to your writing process.