Meditation, in its many forms, has many benefits for the mind and body. While many mistakenly believe that meditation is the effort to cease thinking, in reality it is quite the opposite. When we meditate, we let our thoughts come and go, which helps us to understand what we think and feel. This relieves the pressure to act on thoughts and emotions.
Meditation, and other forms of mindfulness like Yoga and Yoga Nidra, are excellent tools for combating stress, anxiety, and fatigue. Surprisingly, as I’ve recently discovered, meditation can also be a great resource for writers. After participating in a five-day challenge which combines writing and guided meditation, I feel a new sense of dedication, playfulness, and community as a writer.
Dreams Come True
I dreamed of being a writer while I was growing up, and I am fortunate: that dream came true. Since graduating from college, I have published fiction and poetry, and I freelance for various online publications. This summer, I decided that in July I want to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo, a companion event to National Novel Writing Month. I needed a ‘reset’ experience to bridge the gap between the online journalism I customarily write and the fantasy novel I plan to embark upon.
I chose writer, activist, and writing instructor Nadia Colburn’s five-day meditation and writing challenge. During the challenge, participants have access to daily recordings of guided meditation exercises and writing prompts for five days. They can also interact in a private Facebook group for challenge participants. The challenge draws on meditation’s surefire efficacy at clearing the mind in order to improve one’s writing.
Many of our thoughts are not our own, and are not logical. We harbor doubts based on how much we want to accomplish compared unfavorably with what we think we are capable of. We compare ourselves to others, and their accomplishments. We repeat insults and judgements that others have saddled us with unkindly. So many writers are intimidated by blank pages, which they doubt they can fill with words as resonant and timeless as that of their favorite novelists.
Don’t get me wrong, I relate wholeheartedly: I gave up my very first guitar lesson because I wasn’t having any luck playing Iron Man by Black Sabbath. Perfectionism is just another form of discouragement.
However, the relaxation and clarity that meditation produces quickly erodes misguided thoughts like perfectionism, self-loathing, inferiority, and ‘imposter syndrome’. Left only with our potential and abilities, we become more carefree, spontaneous, and playful. The writing prompts, and the six prompting words that accompany them, generated ideas, images, and pieces of writing I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. I wrote personal musings, as well as scraps of my novel in progress.
One day’s list of prompting words included ‘papaya’, and I walked around all day feeling quite proud that I’d managed to find a use for it! I don’t typically write about papayas, so it was quite an unexpected accomplishment.
Meditation helped eliminate the pressure to perform as a writer, and I felt an expansive and open sense of curiosity and playfulness.
As a freelance journalist, I write in my spare time as often as I can while maintaining a full time job. However, agreeing to write every day, even for just five days, felt like more of a formal commitment than stealing time to write within a busy day. Honoring that commitment felt like making the choice to become a writer and marrying my craft all over again each day. It was a choice I was proud to make.
Each completed meditation and writing session I accomplished gave me confidence that I could also complete thirty-one days of Camp NaNoWriMo. The mental exertion of writing can leave writers exhausted. Being able to set and meet goals is an essential skill. The self-control and mental sense of ease that meditation encourages the more one practices it helps writers meet their goals, which leaves them with a sense of pride that reaffirms their love of their craft.
The Pali and Sanskrit word used in Buddhist scripture for the Buddha’s monastic followers is Sangha. It means ‘community’, and has been adopted to refer to any group that meditates together. Challenge participants in the accompanying Facebook group truly felt like a Sangha of writers. Writing is usually a solitary activity. Good writing days, when one captures that elusive sense of flow, can feel immersive and the hours pass effortlessly. Less successful days can be frustrating, exhausting, and dispiriting.
In the Facebook group, participants share their experiences and their writing for the day. Colburn is very active in the group, very responsive, and encouraging. The spirit of support and community, and openness to share, flows freely. Sharing struggles, accomplishments, and our work is not always natural for writers, because we have doubts. Sharing is not easy for anyone, really, no matter what their profession. We all crave acceptance and fear rejection.
It was a privilege to share and receive in a spirit of liberation with others who were embarking on the same quest to go deeper, to be inspired, to let go and grow in new directions, as myself. Being in an environment where it is safe and fun to share is precious and rare, especially in creative endeavors.
Final thoughts on meditation and writing
Combining meditation and writing helped me gain a new sense of clarity about what I want to accomplish as a writer. It helped cultivate a carefree spirit and a sense of commitment to my craft. Being supported by a community of writers was uplifting.
Any blocks that I felt in my writing were removed, any doubts resolved, as the challenge’s exercises invited me to examine my thoughts, and to even welcome being surprised by them. Colburn’s course helps writers find their voice and discover their vision by calming their minds.
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