Every now and again I mention meditation as a useful tool for writers.
My history with meditation is simple enough. For 25 or 30 years I attempted to meditate from time to time. I failed over and over again. I kept making the effort because I sensed the ever growing number of people suggesting one way or another that meditation could be a huge positive benefit were right. About 10 years ago I found out what I was doing wrong and began to develop a meditation practice.
What is meditation?
Meditation is one of those words that has innumerable meanings. It’s often associated with various religions which confuses things. That’s why, although I’m a practicing zen Buddhist, I like Wikipedia’s definition of best:
Meditation can be defined as a practice where an individual uses a technique, such as focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity, to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state.
Meditation has been practiced since antiquity in numerous religious traditions and beliefs. Since the 19th century, it has spread from its origins to other cultures where it is commonly practiced in private and business life.
Meditation may be used with the aim of reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and pain, and increasing peace, perception and wellbeing. Meditation is under research to define its possible health (psychological, neurological, and cardiovascular) and other effects.
It seems to me that the ability to achieve a sustained “mentally clear and emotionally calm state,” which is pretty much my experience, is desirable for any writer.
I think it’s worth noting that as near as I can tell that while meditating is taught in one form or another by probably all religions, it’s not strictly a religious or even spiritual practice. Google ‘secular meditation’ and you’ll find a ton of information. I am also aware that in some churches there are cautions expressed about the practice.
Meditation can be quite simple. Although most meditators sit, often cross legged on a cushion on the floor, that’s far from the only way. Some use chairs, some lie down, some stand, some walk and sometimes the intense focus we writers develop is a meditative state.
So, find a comfortable posture you can maintain for 10 minutes to an hour.
- Ideally the place will be quiet, or quietish, but that’s not necessary. Meditation can take place where it’s too noisy to talk.
- Settle in and relax.
- Start with your breath as the focus for your meditation. Just watch it as it moves in and out of your body. Let it flow as it will, in and out, in and out. One real advantage to using your breath as your object of meditation is that it’s always with you.
The mistake I was making for so long
So why did I have such trouble learning and using this? Somewhere I had picked up the notion that I should be able to clear my mind of all thought and keep it clear – that if my mind wandered, it didn’t count and I had to start over.
Oh how wrong I was! And I’ve discovered I’m not the only one who has been deluded that way.
Finally I heard someone say “When your mind wanders, just come back to your breath.”
When my mind wanders? Not if, but when!
Minds are meant to think. While my mind might be briefly interested in watching my breath, it soon begins with other ideas like:
- wonder if I’ve turned the iron off
- noticing that I’m getting hungry and start planning lunch
- complaining because someone else in the room is breathing too loudly, or moving to much.
- wishing the birds would sing more or shut up
- revisiting an argument
- remembering a love making session
- thinking up new article ideas
- scratching or not scratching itches
- altering my position or no to get more comfortable
The list is literally endless.
Now here’s the secret:
Just keep bringing your attention back to your breath. Over and over again.
One teacher I heard said it this way, “Even if you have to come back to your breath 10,000 times, it’s a good meditation.”
It is after all referred to many as a practice. And like piano lessons or exercise, or writing it’s hard to get worse at something you practice.
Start with 5 or 10 minutes every day at the same time. See what happens. Chances are you’ll begin to feel some positive results pretty quickly.
These instructions are deliberately simple. They work and you may want to explore any of the 10,000 ways to meditate. Go for it. A lot or a little. You’ll find what works for you.
Let us know your experience with mediation in comments.
Write well and often,