The Practice of Creativity

Posts Tagged ‘writing and meditation

 “Meditation is push-ups for the mind.”- Rachael Herron

As some of you know, I’ve been a long-time advocate of meditation. I use meditation as a tool in my life and I have often taught secular meditative techniques to writers.

Clinical research supports the claim that meditation helps to strengthen the mind, increase concentration and slow our thousands of thoughts down. This is so helpful for writers!

Why do meditation techniques work? Because all human minds, despite their great diversity and capabilities feel and experience the same basic emotions that include joy, fear, rage, happiness, sadness, etc. We also tend to experience similar thoughts both positive (‘I’m great!’) and negative (‘I’m horrible!’). We all also get distracted, frustrated and irritated on a routine basis in relatively the same ways (though about different kinds of things).

There lots and lots of meditation styles and techniques out there from a variety of secular and spiritual traditions. You’ve probably heard a lot about a type of meditation called ‘mindfulness’, so let’s start there.

Mindfulness is a practice of maintaining an awareness of your thoughts, feelings and environment in the present moment. Slowing down and paying attention to the present moment allows us to be more available to what’s happening right now, instead of living in the past or racing ahead in the future. Mindfulness also involves getting some distance from your thoughts and mind chatter without judging them.

Cultivating mindfulness can mean focusing on one’s breathing and being quiet.

Mindfulness can support your writing in a few ways:

-Mindfulness can get us back in the body

“Whatever stories we have, they are organically connected to our physical bodies. Cultivating that connection—that pathway between our heads and our bodies—creates deep writing.”
                                                                    Larraine Herring

Ever have that experience where you don’t know where time went and not in a good way? Ever realize that you’ve been on autopilot and not in the moment? To write well, we have to be connected to the body, our experience, the pain and joy of being alive. Taking a few minutes to recognize we are in a particular place in time and space and we are actually breathing is quite helpful when writing. Sometimes I’m working so intensely, I have hunched my shoulders, clenched my jaw and have tightened up all my muscles. It’s good in that moment to stop, breathe and readjust my body. Mindfulness can open us up to sensations in the body that we tend to ignore. And, indeed in slowing down, we can connect as Herring notes we can open ourselves up to greater bodily knowledge in service of storytelling.

– Contributes to Writerly Equanimity

Mindfulness helps us stay the course. Bad writing day? OK, we all have them…tomorrow will be better. If we have cultivated equanimity, when we hit an impasse in our writing, we’re more likely to be open to tapping our resources (including connecting with writing buddies, groups, etc.,), trying out other techniques (like taking a walk, freewriting) as opposed to thinking we have to solve it all ourselves or because we can’t figure it out, or that we’re bad writers.

Don’t Worry about What You Can’t Control

Practicing mindfulness allows us to see when negative thoughts arise, but also let them go (especially helpful when trying to write!).  It helps us recognize what we can’t control. If we overemphasize what we can’t control, over time that leads to stress. The only thing we can control is what we create, how much we create and over time, the quality of what we create. We also have a say in how we show up and interact with industry professionals. We can’t control an audience’s response to our work, nor the shifting and fickle interests of the publishing industry.

-Quieting the Inner Critic

A practice of mindfulness helps keep us connected to our inner creative self. I don’t know about you but I have gone through cycles of having a very active inner critic. For me, I’m less susceptible to believing the words of my most upsetting and vicious inner critic if I’ve been practicing mindfulness. Also, if I start to have an attack of the inner critic, if I soften my breath and tell myself, OK, I’m going to take a five minutes and watch my thoughts. Do this can give me the perspective I need to return to the work after the five minutes is up.

Less Easily Distracted

Mindfulness cultivates a resistance to being easily distracted. Practicing mindfulness teaches us about distraction and keeping with something, even when difficult.  If we are to succeed as writers, we have to develop both our attention and our intention. Then over time, we become better able to resist the false siren calls of distraction that are always around.

Something to Try:

One easy way to start to practice mindfulness is to start with the breath. You can practice the following before you write. Breathe in and out a few times (breathe in through the nose and exhale through the mouth a few times to get relaxed). Then breathe in through the nose for a count of four, pause for a moment at the top of inhale and gently breathe out through the nose to a count of four (over time you can do a longer exhale to six or eight counts, which tends to relax the nervous system). Continue this breath cycle for a minute or more and then build up to 3 minutes or more.

Don’t try to stop your thoughts, notice them and then keep returning to the breath. Visualize thoughts as passing clouds over your mental landscape.

Another way to practice: You can place one hand over your heart and one hand on your belly and observe your breath. Ask yourself the following questions:

-Where am I breathing? (meaning where do you feel the breath the most—the belly, at the nostrils, in the expanse of the lungs)

-What’s the quality of my breath? (Slow? Shallow? Tight? Rapid)

Observe without judgement and then take a few more deep belly breaths.

You can also begin by pausing to notice your breath for a minute and then the next week, up it to two minutes and so on.

Interested in learning more? I particularly like Dr. Sara Lazar’s Ted Talk about meditation—she is a neuroscientist at Harvard who started studying the brain changes in people who meditated regularly.

There are lots of apps (many are free or at least free for 30 days) and places on line to investigate mindfulness and meditation.

I’d love to hear your experiences with mindfulness or meditative techniques in support of your creativity!

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“The fruits of the harvest are gathered and stored. The trees shed their leaves and reveal their true forms. The days grow shorter and darker, reminding us of how brief our time on earth really is.  It’s  autumn:  a season for reflecting on what it means to be truly alive, and for giving thanks for the gifts an authentic life bestows.”  Alan Jones and John O’Neil, Seasons of Grace: The Life-Giving Practice of Gratitude
Bountiful-Harvest-150x150

 

Yesterday was World Gratitude Day. Did you celebrate it? World Gratitude Day was officially started in 1977 by the United Nations Meditation Group. The idea for it was seeded some years before at a dinner with spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy. World Gratitude Day provides us an opportunity to express appreciation to others and reflect on what we’re grateful for in our lives. How nicely the reminder to practice and extend gratitude leads us into the marvel of the first day of fall.

Autumn requests our attention in a way that feels different than the other seasons. Autumn invites us to reflect on the nature of our harvest and make sense of a way forward. We know the fallow period of winter is not far away.

Here are some writing prompts to feed your creative impulses as you explore the gifts of fall:

-Look at the following two words—autumn and authenticity. What connections between these two words do you sense? (Authors Alan Jones and John O’Neil note that both of these words share the Latin root aut-, meaning “to increase or grow”.)

-When do you feel the most authentic? Alone? With others? At work? In nature?

-What is in your harvest?

-Write about what you’re most grateful for.

-Write about what you feel like you should be grateful for but aren’t.

-Write about a time when you felt bountiful.

-Write about the three most authentic people you know. What do they have in common?

-Write about the gifts from summer. What came to fruition? What didn’t? What are you letting go of for fall?

Creative Harvest Meditation:

Sit in a comfortable position. Rest your hands on your belly. Take several deep breaths noticing how the belly expands on the in breath and contracts on the out breath. As you settle into your body allow yourself to imagine (in your mind’s eye and through sensations in the body) a feeling of great warmth flooding through the stomach and low back. Breathe in the feeling of expansion. Let your mind’s eye experience the different colors associated with fall: blazing yellows, scarlet reds, pumpkin oranges, rusty browns and deep majestic purples.

Feel the richness of your inner landscape with each breath.

Slowly repeat the following phrases to yourself (in your mind or aloud, whatever feels right in the moment)—The harvest asks of me, the harvest intends for me, the harvest gives me…(you can also substitute ‘autumn’ for ‘harvest’).

Invite the energy that has gathered in your core to offer bodily wisdom. Repeat these phrases over a few times and then freewrite the first responses that come to mind.

 


Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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