‘A mind too active is no mind at all.’ (Roethke)
I have been practicing Buddhist meditation, on-and-off, for nearly twenty years. I was introduced to two meditation practices – the ‘Mindfulness of Breathing’ and the ‘Mettabhavana’ (the cultivation of loving kindness) – at the London Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green. I have also been on a number of Buddhist retreats here in the UK and went on a Vipassana retreat in Rajasthan, India, some years ago. And this week I attended Rigpa, the Tibetan Buddhist Centre in London to listen to two talks given by Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche.
In the last month or so, I have got back into the practice of meditating early each morning before I cycle into central London for rehearsals on Jim Knable’s play ‘Saltimbanques’. I feel calmer, have more patience and generally feel more at peace and happier. It has also given me the opportunity to reflect on how meditation can specifically help the creative writing process. Here are some of my thoughts…
1. Meditation encourages ‘divergent’ thinking. Divergent thinking, as opposed to convergent thinking, generates creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. It occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing, ‘non-linear’ manner. I personally find the post-meditation phase, the best time to write. I may have been puzzling over a particular character or part of the story for some time and meditation has provided the conditions that have resulted in mental clarity and that perfect gem! It’s always good to have a notepad handy!
2. Meditation can help with writer’s block and procrastination. After meditation, one’s mind is calmer and one seems to achieve one’s goals more effortlessly. Hindrances, such as restlessness, doubt or sleepiness will arise in any one meditation session. Overcoming such hindrances in meditation will help one overcome hindrances and difficulties in life generally and, if you are a writer, obviously in the field of creative writing.
3. Meditation will make you a better person and therefore a better writer. Compassion and the development of wisdom is at the heart of Buddhist meditation. As writers, we are, of course, dealing with the human condition. A person who is more empathic, wiser and more compassionate is better able to write about the difficult, challenging, and often traumatic situations we humans often find ourselves in. What is the point of art without much heart? Or art without much insight into the human condition?
4. In our daily lives we are saturated in narrative: films, books, gossip, newspapers etc. We are continually telling ourselves stories about our own lives. And even stories about those stories. As someone who writes stories, and tells stories as an actor, I find it refreshing, on a daily basis, to enter into a story-free zone! The spaciousness of Mind, baby! Paradoxically, I am a better story teller for it! Perhaps, in part, because meditation creates more space in your head and more awareness. A chaotic monkey-mind ,continually chattering away, is not really conducive to creating a story of any depth.
5. Meditation, particularly practiced in a Buddhist context, gives one perspective on the events in one’s life or the events one is creating in a work of fiction. I am currently working on a memoir and am finding that meditation and the Buddhist world view is helping me to see things from a more spiritual perspective.
6. Meditation can help with resistance to what Dorothy Parker calls ‘the art of applying the bum to the seat’.
7. There is a lot to be said for getting yourself ‘out of the way’ before you create anything. Buddhist mediation, slowly but surely, diminishes the power of our attachments and the clamouring voice of our own ego. Your voice, as a writer, will therefore be more aligned to what Jung refers to as the ‘Self’ and the overall vision for whatever you are writing will be greater.
8. Establishing a daily meditation practice requires discipline, particularly in the beginning. So does writing. If you meditate you are less likely to make up excuses not to write. And when you write, you are likely to be more productive.
9. Meditation can help to quieten that voice of the Inner Critic which can be so detrimental to creative writing, particularly in the early stages of a piece of work. We begin to feel more centred and confident in ourselves generally and are also therefore less likely to be adversely affected by negative criticism from others when our writing is eventually published. Or that’s the idea anyway!
10. Meditation develops focus and concentration but in a relaxed way. This state of ‘free-flow’ is likely to continue some time after meditation – so get writing!