I’m a neurotic writer.
Well, I’m basically neurotic overall, but my anxieties tend to come out most strongly in the areas of my life that I feel most passionately about…like writing.
A week or so ago I posted Secrets Your Inner Critic Would Kill to Keep and received such an incredible response from other writers. Many commented that they, too, worried about not being good enough, or struggled with the editing process, or questioned their writing choices. I realized that there are a lot of other writers out there like me. And I thought about the tools I’ve discovered in recent years to help me quiet my mind and dissolve fear.
The number-one, most powerful skill I’ve learned is meditation.
I didn’t start my meditation practice to help my writing. In fact, I had no idea it would impact me creatively at all. I sought out meditation because I used to frequently wake up at 3am with racing thoughts about the state of the universe and everything in it, and needless to say, it was not really conducive to getting a good night’s sleep. I was also attracted to Buddhism because it seemed so quiet, and for most of the past 15 years my life has been very loud and busy.
I started going to Zen meditation sessions at the San Francisco Zen Center, and then when I felt comfortable, I started meditating on my own. At first I tried to meditate for an hour, and when that didn’t work I aimed for 30 minutes. Now, I do 15 minute chunks in the morning and evening. I also skip some days. I am not strict with my meditation practice at all, and yet I still notice significant changes in my thinking patterns.
So what does this have to do with writing?
Meditation cleans out the brain clutter. It gives your mind space and energy to encompass a wider field of consciousness. And writers—as modern-day artists in an online world—need the most spacious field of consciousness they can possibly command.
Practicing meditation can…
Focus Your Creative Eye
Writers are never short on ideas. The difficulty is in picking one and sticking with it. An experienced writer knows that one little idea can stretch into months and years of writing, editing and promoting a book. It’s essential to pick the few solid ideas that you really want to work with long-term, out of the million crowding for attention inside your head.
Meditation trains your mind to let your heart speak up once in a while too. By strengthening your connection to your heart, your intuition will kick in more powerfully than ever before. You’ll get solid gut feelings about which creative ideas you should pursue, and the inner bedrock of spiritual confidence to support the follow-up work on them.
Clear the Path Ahead
Writers these days are constantly questioning. Self-publish or get an agent? Start with short stories or launch a novel? Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter or all of them? Asking for advice from other writers is sometimes helpful, but can also add to the confusion. Each person has an individual process that works for them. Part of discovering yourself as a writer in this modern world is figuring out your own unique process.
Meditation teaches you how to slow your mind down. Devoting more time to your thought processes results in more thoughtful choices. The rapid, and often frantic, pace of our online world can pressure us into making choices based on what we think of others in some idealized reality we’ve found somewhere on the internet. But you don’t have to make impulsive decisions stimulated by information overload. By thinking things through slowly and clearly, you take back your power to be a unique human being and find your own way.
Open Your Life to New Opportunities
Every successful writer has one thing in common: They can point to good opportunities in their past that they jumped on, and recognize how those opportunities shaped and fueled their career. Where are your good opportunities and how will you know them when they show up?
By slowing your mind and listening to your heart, you open the door for other little gifts to arrive. Like the re-framing of old perspectives. Regularly practicing meditation enhances your inner vision, and after a while you can “see” the opportunities to be found in new people, relationships, and situations, that you might have missed before.
Meditation practice teaches us about “taking the one seat” as Jack Kornfield calls it in A Path With Heart. This means you imagine yourself sitting in a chair in the middle of an empty room. People come in and out of the room, conversations happen, maybe someone opens the window, maybe someone crawls through it. Many things happen and catch our attention, but we remain seated, watching and observing and true to ourselves. If we apply this clear thoughtful energy to our writing life and our writing career the whole process becomes less overwhelming, more interesting, and a lot more fun.
You can look into going to practice sessions if you have a nearby Zen Center in your area, or you can Google “Zen Meditation” or “Zazen” to learn how to do it on your own at home. You don’t have to know what you’re doing, you don’t have to be religious in any way, and you don’t have to do it perfectly to start practicing and seeing results.
Take your one seat, open your heart, and grow your writing life.
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