In order to unleash your creative thinking with meditation, you first need to find stillness within your mind.
This involves stripping away the layers of “noise” that cloud your view of the world—things like fear, anxiety, and rambling thoughts. As you get rid of these obstructions, you will start to see the world more clearly, the goal of every writer.
There are many meditation techniques, but mindfulness meditation is especially useful for writers. It involves observing the world without thinking about what you are experiencing. The three meditation exercises will prepare you to write more mindfully.
As you try each exercise, remember that you have spent a lifetime being distracted. It may take some time before you feel comfortable with this type of meditation practice. Over time, though, you will notice the subtle changes in your mind and writing. Eventually, your meditation practice will become your writing practice.
Breath-Based Mindfulness Meditation
Many mindfulness meditation techniques begin with observing the breath, what’s known in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition as Shamatha meditation. The term means “peacefully abiding.” Using the breath, you learn to let your mind settle back into its natural, peaceful state. In this type of meditation, you don’t force the mind to be calm, but learn to let go of the “noise” in your head.
To begin, find a comfortable seat, either on a cushion or a chair. Rest your hands on your thighs. Gaze—yes, eyes open—at a spot on the floor in front of you. Notice your breath. Gently observe the inhales and exhales. Don’t try to control your breathing.
Throughout this practice, you may notice thoughts popping into your head. Many times, you will be lost in thought for several minutes before you realize that have you drifted off. This is especially a problem for writers because they spend much of their time “daydreaming.”
Whenever you notice a thought, say silently to yourself, “thinking.” Labeling your thought in this way helps you to break free from your wandering mind. Don’t judge your thought. Return to noticing your breath.
Continue like this. Try for five or 10 minutes a day of mindfulness meditation in the beginning, increasing it as you become more comfortable. Don’t worry if you have many thoughts. We all do. With practice, the space between your thoughts increases.
Walking Mindfulness Meditation—Moving Into the World
Once you have spent some time doing mindfulness meditation on a cushion, you can start to practice mindfulness while moving around. This is the first step toward observing—and writing about—the world from a place of stillness. Creative thinking occurs more spontaneously when your mind is at rest.
The challenge with this meditation exercise is to be surrounded by sights, sounds, and smells without writing a story in your mind at the same time. For many writers, the senses are like ropes pulling them along, whether or not they want to go that way.
Find a quiet place to walk. This can be in a park, or even in your apartment. Walk very slowly. Observe each step closely. Notice how the earth feels underneath your feet.
Watch how the weight shifts from one foot to the next. Focus on where your feet meet the earth.
When you notice thoughts popping into your head, label them “thinking,” and bring your attention back to your feet and the earth.
Continue like this. Do five or 10 minutes a day. You can also use walking mindfulness meditation as a break from a seated meditation practice.
Mindfulness Meditation In Action
Now is the time to bring mindfulness to everyday activities. As with the breathing and walking meditations, you will bring your attention to one thing. In this case, though, your object of focus will be more complicated.
Choose a simple activity to start, such as washing dishes or painting a fence. As with walking mindfulness meditation, bring your attention fully to the activity. Notice how the warm water feels on your hands. Listen to the clink of the glasses on the sink. See how the paint fills the space on the fence.
The urge to think—and write in your head—about these activities will be even more strong than with the breathing or walking meditations. There are so many story opportunities hidden within our interactions with the world. Again, when you notice your mind starting to run away, label your thoughts, “thinking.” Return to observing your actions.
Continue like this, increasing your mindfulness meditation practice to 20 or 30 minutes.
After you have worked with these mindfulness meditation exercises for some time, you will be ready to start your writing practice—working from a place of stillness.
What thoughts come up during your meditation practice? Do you notice a difference in your writing after you have been doing your practice for a few days? a few weeks? Do you use a different kind of meditation (or other techniques) that help you focus during writing?
In the next post, I will outline three exercises that will help you move from being mindful to writing mindfully. By observing the world with a peaceful mind, you will be able to tap into an endless source of creative ideas.
Mindfulness Meditation Resources
There are countless mindfulness meditation resources available. Below are a few of my favorites.
- Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness for Beginners
- Lodro Rinzler, The Buddha Walks into a Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation
- Thich Nhat Hanh, Walking Meditation
- Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation
- Shambhala, an international community of 165 meditation centers led by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche; founded by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.