At a Shambhala meditation weekend, I sat with 30 other adults on floor cushions and focused on my breath. We breathed for hours, acknowledging any thoughts or feelings that bubbled up and releasing them. We bore witness to the processes of our minds.
It was a struggle for me, a writer, because I wanted to take notes. I wanted to write to the root of every memory or fear. But I sat and practiced, allowing the thoughts to pass and settling deeper into my breathing.
Post-retreat, I thought I would grieve my potential losses. How many seeds of how many stories had I missed? I write through the tough stuff—how much healing had I skipped out on by not diving into those whispers in my mind?
None, it turns out. I learned there is no need to turn the microscope on every scene the mind presents. The thoughts I let go on the meditation cushion? I either permanently released them or they came back to me with greater clarity.
That weekend changed the way I think about which stories I choose to tell. There is a practice in writing called “throat clearing”; those words we spend on the page trying to get to the words we want to write, that first paragraph we inevitably attempt to rework. The meditation I practiced was a form of mental throat clearing. My Shambhala weekend taught me to accept my thoughts without judgment, to release them without attachment. The experience gave me permission to delete that first paragraph…most of the time.
Several years down the road, I still employ the basics of what I practiced at the Shambhala retreat: instead of chasing the first idea that comes to mind, I let it go. If it returns, persistent, outside of meditation, I give it time on the page.
If you are inundated with potentially creative thoughts and have trouble identifying what you “should” give your attention to, try the following meditation-inspired tips to clarify your writing focus:
- Notice the thought or feeling that is presenting itself.
- Put a name to it such as “thought,” “feeling” or “fear.”
- Focus your attention back on your breath and let the thought go.
Repeat these steps as necessary for a fixed period of time without trying to hold onto any thoughts or feelings. When your time is up, write down what is most present in your mind. Continue from there.
Additionally, you might find that practicing some quiet sitting and deep breathing before or even after a writing session helps you center yourself for creative practice. Go with that. Even if it doesn’t directly impact your writing, the ability to reclaim calm in the midst of our hectic lives is a gift that will have long-reaching effects.
Will you try this meditative exercise to focus your writing? Do you meditate? Share with us in the comments!
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