What is mindfulness? What is meditation?
Mindfulness is awareness-- paying attention. This is very, very simple, and yet not so easy! Most of us tend to flit back and forth from present to past to future, unable to choose where we place our attention, and because of this, we’re often caught up in unproductive or even damaging ruminations about what could be, what should be, what should have been…
Anyone can develop the ability to be more and more mindful, and there are so many ways to do this. We can “wake up” in any moment that we choose to, and we can thread more and more of these moments of awareness into our days. It is often surprising what a change this can make, and how much more satisfying it is to be present, to be awake in our lives. When we are mindful, we are aware, we are present right here and now. NOW is when everything happens. NOW is when life happens, when change and growth happen, when writing happens.
Many daily activities can be described as “meditative,” activities that require us to focus on the task at hand and to get into the flow of it, such as running, swimming, knitting, or even washing dishes. By simply bringing full attention to whatever we do, we are practicing mindfulness.
Meditation is one very special type of mindfulness practice in which we simply sit and experience what is happening in each moment. We pay attention to what’s happening in our own bodies-- our breath, other sensations at play within the body, our thoughts passing through one after another, and our emotions which are always shifting. We pay attention to what’s happening externally-- sounds, vibrations, anything that can be perceived. Our attention drifts off, following a train of thought or a memory, and when we become aware of this drifting, we come back to the present. This is it. Over and over. We drift, we return. As we do this, we are training our mind to focus, to be right here, right now.
How do mindfulness and meditation support the creative process?
Being able to be in this moment and observe what is happening within and around us builds our powers of observation. How can we describe and put words to the way the light is slanting across the floor and the way a feeling of nostalgia is rising if we never notice what we’re seeing and feeling? As writers, we need keen senses, as well as the ability to notice and reflect on what we experience. This is the first step in having something to put on the page.
As we have heard so many times, writing can be difficult! How much more difficult it is if our untrained minds are all over the place, if we get distracted easily, if we drift away to social media every time we start to get bored! Meditation is mind training, and the “muscles” that are built in meditation can help us to maintain focus.
After a period of meditation, we often feel much clearer than before, and the mind feels more spacious, less cluttered. Imagine stepping into a pool of water-- the silt stirs up and the water becomes murky. Then, if you let water become still for a time, the ripples slowly fade and the silt settles. The water becomes clear. Sitting in stillness can have this effect on the mind-- things that have been stirred up begin to fall into place. When you enter into a period of writing after meditation, there is often such clarity that we find we can go right to the point, rather than having so many false starts and wanderings.
Attitudes of Curiosity, Openness, Acceptance
There are certain key attitudes that we cultivate when we are practicing mindfulness. As we are aware of the present moment, we are simply experiencing the moment as it is. We’re disentangling ourselves from all of the shoulds and should nots, and just being with things as they are, being with ourselves as we are.
There is acceptance of what is occurring, rather than judgement. There is openness to what what we actually experience instead of what we expected to experience. There is curiosity-- a willingness to see something new and unanticipated. All of these attitudes happen to be essential to the creative process. If we get caught up in comparing, judging ourselves, and being closed off, we cut off our creative impulses at the root, and we make it hard to even begin at all. In contrast, we we are simply open and curious, we let the writing flow, the wisdom of intuition is allowed to flow, and we write ourselves into new ways of knowing that we could never have anticipated.
by Katie Dutcher