Over the past decade, meditation has become increasingly popular. For those who may not be familiar with this practice, meditation involves observing what is happening in ourselves and in our surroundings without judgment. In this way, we cultivate both self-awareness and self-compassion.
While many forms of meditation exist, the above definition encompasses the types of meditation that I most often use and which I have found helpful throughout the years.
One reason for meditation’s recent popularity is that it has been proven to improve both mental and physical health. However, I believe that meditation helps with much more than just health. It also affects many aspects of day-to-day life. For me, that includes my writing.
Specifically, meditation has taught me to be more focused, self-aware, relaxed, and patient — and my writing abilities have flourished as a result. Here’s a quick look at how my meditation practice has improved my writing craft.
Facebook. Texting. Tomorrow’s to-do list. Last night’s party. Our minds are always full of thoughts — that’s what they’re designed for, after all. But sometimes those thoughts can race on and on like a runaway train and leave us struggling to focus on the task at hand.
One particular type of meditation that I like to practice is called mindfulness. This form of meditation involves focusing the mind.
For example, I might focus on my surroundings, going through the five senses one at a time. What do I hear? Feel? Smell? Taste? See? Often, as I’m doing this, my thoughts drift, but I have learned to quickly recognize when this is occurring and to gently bring them back. This last part is an essential part of any meditation practice and has translated directly to my writing practice.
Sometimes when I sit down to write, my first instinct is to think of all the other things I should be doing instead. But I use the same techniques I’ve learned during meditation to combat this instinct: I gently bring my thoughts back to the task at hand. This way, I am able to clear my mind of everything except what I am working on.
However, as I have increased my focus, I have also discovered that focusing too hard on one thing for too long burns me out — and this causes my writing quality to suffer. Luckily, another skill I’ve learned from meditation equips me to deal with this: being aware of how I’m feeling.
We’re often so focused on what we’re doing or what’s going on around us that we forget to focus on what’s going on inside of us. While guided meditation can’t tell you what you’re feeling, it can help you slow down enough to notice your emotions — and it can also help you learn to embrace them.
Performing a quick body scan helps me embrace my immediate emotions and feelings. During this meditation, the meditator, starting with either the top of the head or the feet, slowly scans the body, paying attention to how each part feels without labeling any sensation as good or bad or trying to change anything. This practice has taught me to accept what is going on inside of me without judgment.
While body scan meditation focuses on physical sensations rather than on emotions, the emphasis it places on not trying to fix anything that you feel — such as soreness — has helped me apply the same technique to emotions.
For example, sometimes when I’m writing, I find myself struggling to think of where next to take my story. In the past, I would get frustrated with myself when powerful moments of writer’s block occurred, but because of my meditation practice, I catch myself and recover with the following steps:
- I consciously allow myself to not fix the situation. This is similar to body scan meditation in that I don’t try to change anything.
- I give myself permission to sit and not do anything.
- I let my thoughts go where they will, observing them without trying to control them. Again, this is similar to body scan in that I merely observe what is going on without trying to change anything.
- As I observe my thoughts, patterns of emotions start to show, and I realize what my brain requires in order to recharge.
Often, all I need is a short break from focusing so hard. I use another technique I have learned from meditation as I take this break. This technique focuses on breathing.
Breathing. Such a simple thing. Every living creature does it without conscious thought. But what happens when you do consciously think about it? What happens when you pay attention to how your in-breath feels, to where you feel your breath the strongest, to how your abdomen rises and falls with each inhalation and exhalation?
What happens? You relax. Your mind slows down. You stop thinking like a perfectionist and start living in the beautifully imperfect moment. And if you focus on making your breaths longer and deeper, you relax even more.
One easy way to slow down your breathing is to count: breathe in for six counts, hold for six counts, then breathe out for six counts.
You can also just focus on your breathing — for example, how it feels and where you feel it strongest — rather than slowing it down. Either way, the effect is the same: your mind can settle and relax if you give it something to focus on besides your thoughts.
So, while breathing isn’t the only method I use to recharge, it is one that has proven effective. The moment I start focusing on my breathing, my mind quiets and my mood lifts.
Soon, rather than running through a stressed-out flurry of everything I could put in my story, my mind feels clear and calm; I’m ready to trust my gut instinct about where my story needs to go.
It Takes Practice
Meditation is a practice. This means that I have to do it regularly and that some days will go better than others. However, it also means that whatever happens or doesn’t happen as I meditate is okay.
Writing is the same way. I have to do it regularly, and some days will go better than others. Whatever happens as I write is just fine — the point is that I keep practicing.
I started meditation as a way to de-stress. But as I have practiced it over the past seven years, I have learned that anything we do in life affects all the other aspects of our life as well. So while meditation has indeed made me a calmer person, it has also made me a better writer — something I never would have expected.
What hobbies have indirectly helped you improve your writing? Comment below!