The Mindful Age
There has been an explosion of mindfulness in recent years. Everyone has heard of it. It’s the first time anything of its kind has been embraced by the medical field in western society and it’s helping people of all walks of life.
To me, mindfulness is being in the present moment, deliberately, and accepting without judging my experience.
It’s Not Always Easy to be Present
You know when you are thinking about your writing, maybe you think about how badly or well it went yesterday or last week (the past). Or how it’s going to stink if you can’t get it published – or how wonderful if you do and it becomes a Booker prize winner (the future). That’s NOT being in the present moment.
Being in the moment is allowing yourself to be here. Right now. Just where you are at. So if you are working on something, that’s where you are. Notice how it feels and then attempt to let go of judgements. Good. Bad. Mediocre. We are always labelling things.
How Does the ‘Without Judgement’ Part Work?
If you feel anxious about writing you just notice that. Don’t try to change it or criticise yourself because of it. Simply notice. How do you know that you are anxious? Is it a physical feeling? Is it a thought? Where do you feel anxiety in the body? If you feel excited about your writing, observe that.
When You Notice Stress, Start With the Breath.
Being aware of your breath is a key step in becoming mindful. You take a lot of breaths. Most of the time you don’t notice you are doing it. While you write, you take lots of breaths too.
If you do nothing else in mindfulness only develop an awareness of your breathing, then that is enough. Here are some ways of practising mindful breathing:
- Focus on your abdomen. When you breathe in, deliberately push out your belly. If you find this hard, lie on your bed with a book on your tummy. Make the book go up and down with your breathing.
- Breathe in for seven and out for eleven. Counting in this way while breathing makes it easy to stay mindful of the breath, as you are busy counting and focusing on your breathing at the same time.
- Yet another technique is to simply focus on your breath for a minute. Set a timer if you want, so you know when the minute is up. This time, don’t try to change the breath in any way. Just watch the rise and fall, the way the in breath turns into the out breath, and back into an in breath and so on. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the breath.
The more distracted you are, the more the mind will wander. It’s alright. You get better the more you practise and it’s okay to have a bad day even if you’ve done it loads of times.
The Stories We Tell Ourselves about our Writing
What do you tell yourself about your writing? Practise being the watcher. If you get rejected, do you get an onslaught of thoughts interpreting why this might have happened? The judges must not like me. Those things are only won/published by people who have an MA in Creative Writing or have been writing consistently all of their lives. My writing is too meh. I don’t have time to be really good.
And what about winning or being published? Do they have the opposite judgements and if so what comes of those in the long run?
Thoughts as Leaves on a Stream
Ever stopped to notice your thoughts? One after the other. Where one finishes and the next one pops up. Experts estimate that we have between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts every day. That’s a lot. Many of these are repeated too. A lot of times.
We are very good at thinking while we do things. Such as driving. Ever wondered ‘how on earth did I get here? I don’t even remember passing through such a place.’ You didn’t notice, because your mind was so busy churning out thoughts that were not related to your surroundings or the experience of driving.
I like the process of imagining that my thoughts are written on leaves that are floating down a stream. On the first leaf it might say ‘hey, this is weird. I wonder if I’m doing this right,’ and the second one ‘I wonder what I’ll cook for dinner.’ Or in your writing ‘how come I’m finding this so challenging?’
Check out this link to see a more detailed guide to this technique, called ‘Cognitive Defusion.’ There are different ways to practise cognitive defusion. Other ways including imagining your thoughts are written on placards of a marching band, or on clouds passing in the sky.
What if you were to radically accept yourself just as you are and your writing just the way it is? Even if it’s not going well today. Ideas are coming like sludge (as in, not coming). The critic is gone amok. You think your writing is the worst lot of drivel in the world and that you are wasting your time. What if you could accept that all of those things might be true.
So what if my writing is not good. Today. Ever. Who cares if I never win competitions. If I never finish anything. If my spouse hates it. If my book can’t get a publisher. So…… what?!
Imagine if you were doing your writing for the very first time. There wouldn’t be all those stories about your writing, about this piece. Forget what you know.
‘…Beginner’s mind is what we must come back to every time we sit down and write. There is no security, no assurance that because we wrote something good two months ago, we will do it again. Actually, every time we begin, we wonder how we ever did it before. Each time is a new journey with no maps.’
– Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
Mindful of your Posture
Similarly to your breathing, take a moment now and again to be aware of how you are sitting. Again, this is not to judge yourself for slouching, rather bring a sense of awareness and, thus, space into the body. Better still, go for a mindful walk.
Mindfulness for Writers in Action
Struggling to write a scene in my work in progress one day, I wondered if these techniques could help me get through it.
I was feeling stressed. There was a deadline. The scene I was writing was pivotally important and I’d been running from it long enough. Writing anything but that scene. It was time to bite the bullet and just write it. My monkey mind was hopping around squawking about this and that. You’re not good enough to write this. People will hate it. It won’t come across how you want it. Who do you think you are? You don’t have enough knowledge. And so on.
First I tried breathing. I noticed that my breathing was high up in my chest and more rapid than I would have liked. The 7/11 breathing, as described above, helped me to slow it down, and I imagined bringing it down into the abdomen.
This calmed me down a little. So then I tried to accept that yes, maybe I am a terrible writer but I’m going to show up anyway. Yes, I might be unable to make this scene as good as I want it to be today but that’s okay, I’m still here. True, some people might hate it, even if I’ve edited it five hundred times to the best of my ability, but there’s not much I can do about other people.
I was radically accepting my writing and myself in that space trying to write that hard scene. And guess what? It got easier. I stopped fighting with myself. And after some further edits, I became not just pleased with but super pleased with the scene. Which is, of course, a judgement again but hey, you can’t win all of the time.
If you enjoyed this blog for writers, you might also like:
The Hero’s Journey by Siofra O’Donovan – Plotting
Ask the Right Question – powerful questions for writers
About the Author