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The Writing Benefits of Meditation

Being your own boss is hard. As writers, we need to motivate ourselves, but there is a tipping point. My inner dialogue between my boss and my creative self runs something like:

‘I need to stay in bed and carry on dreaming to find out what happens’

‘You’ve got nothing down on paper damn it, get to work!’

‘But I’m not feeling inspired’

‘You’re a waste of space, call yourself a writer?’

And so on. Before long the pressure I put on myself can turn corrosive. Before I know it that inner critic is on my shoulder again, counting how many months beyond a self-imposed deadline I am; claiming my agent is going to drop me right now if I don’t get something brilliant to him; arguing that no story this hard to write can ever be good... And none of it gets me out of bed and sitting at my desk, or helps the writing process.

So again, what to do? Two things. Exercise releases some of the stress hormones that can build up (more on that in a later post) and provides endorphins to keep us positive. But what about meditation?

On Monday nights I sometimes practice meditation with a group of others. I don’t always go when I’m feeling stressed, but I do always notice a difference before and after the session in terms of the way I perceive the world. Walking there it’s just a normal day, thoughts running through the various to-do lists I carry round in my head. And of course, beneath all that I’ll be worrying away at a writing problem like a dog with a bone.

But in one and a half hours time, things look very different. On the way home, I notice things about the world. The vibrant folds of a rose. The green hood of a boy, the rhythm of his foot as he pushes his scooter. The sound of a plane crossing the sky at the precise moment I notice the boy. These might be little things. But as writers we need to be able to see and notice the world if we are to write about it.

Publishing Consultant, Jane Freidman has pointed out the huge benefits meditation can have for writers. For the full article, go to:

Meditation can open up our eyes to the world by bringing us into the present, and help perception and attention. But it also reduces the fear that often paralyses us.

Neuroscience shows that activity in the amygdala (the fear centre in the brain) is reduced. Regular meditators also demonstrate a shift in the way they think. There is a shift from the stress-prone right frontal cortex to the calmer left frontal cortex. Meditation actually seems to increase brain wave activity in areas associated with the creative.

Freidman also relates meditation to creativity theorist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s concept of flow, the ideal state creative people can achieve when working well, whereby they become almost unaware of themselves as their attention is so absorbed in the task they are engaged in. His fascinating Ted taught can be watched here:

Csíkszentmihályi suggests that worry, anxiety and apathy (which often results from stress) are the enemies of flow. If meditation can help us quiet the inner critic and ease artistic anxiety as Freidman claims, perhaps it can also help us writers enter and maintain a state of flow. Now wouldn’t that be nice?

When thinking about creating a Writer’s Retreat that would be the most beneficial to seasoned and new writers alike, mediation was very much at the forefront of my mind. So much so that I invited meditation teacher Daisy Swan, who has been practicing for years, and who has the calmest, most positive energy of almost anyone I know, to join us for the Writing Holiday in Greece this summer. Not only is it a beautiful place, with plenty of nooks and crannies to write in, but meditation is offered as part of the daily routine. I’m anticipating a week of flow. No pressure then. . .

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