“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn)
If you think about it for a second, it’s no surprise that the practices of meditation and mindfulness are growing in popularity. Life is going approximately ten thousand miles per hour, our tech is making us busier instead of freeing up time, and we’re losing touch with tangible experiences, which are too often traded for virtual ones. We are growing increasingly desperate to find pockets of time and space to take a freaking knee. To wit: you claw through the deluge from Hell that is your inbox while fielding texts from your spouse about dinner between reading the Times on an app while walking to your lunch break spin class while listening to a podcast…No wonder sitting down and doing nothing for ten minutes sounds like a slice of heaven. But because we’re Human 2.0, we have to turn an ancient spiritual practice into something that has measurable dividends backed by neuroscience and the latest issue of Psychology Today. Articles and blog posts abound about how meditation results in better sleep, better sex, better productivity, increased creativity, decreased depression and on and on. So you start thinking you’ll meditate not because it’s really good for you to just hang out with yourself and BE for a few minutes each day, but because it will make you even more efficient at juggling everything in your life–so you can add a few more things to your plate.
For artists, living in the 21st century proves to be especially challenging. In order to do what we do we need everything the modern world doesn’t want to hand out: quiet, the ability to focus, a mind that can go on adventures instead of chanting the To Do list as though it were the names of God. But we’re Human 2.0 too and so, again, we only turn to the cushion because someone said something about how it helps you be more creative and being more creative means more book deals, more words each day, more productivity. And we’re back on the merry-go-round with all the other poor bastards that have bought into our modern obsession with doing it all.
In keeping with our bite-sized attention spans, I’ll tell you right here, right now:
The only way you’ll know if meditation can increase or enhance your creativity is if you try it out for yourself.
I know you want statistics and science and links and I was planning on laying all that out in a glorious, confident display of meditation know-it-allness, but then I realized that my motivation for doing so was to somehow convince you in the same way that someone convinces you to go Paleo, like it’s the answer to everything. And I am exhausted by everyone having the Answer, like if I go gluten-free or get 10K steps a day or have my chakras realigned then all the problems in my life will be fixed. And that’s just not so. Nothing is the Answer. Who the hell even knows what the Answer is? Still, some things move you closer to the good, juicy bits of life and some things move you further away. In my experience, meditation and mindfulness brings me closer to the deliciousness and that’s where the art is.
There are so many articles out there that will tell you meditation increases creativity, some more legit than others. Studies have been done, of course. Some are convincing and some are not. The only thing you can trust is your own lived experience. And if a lot of people are saying, Hey, this thing works for me and you feel a tug, a little quickening like, Hey, I’m curious and I think maybe this might work for me too, then honor the tug. Try it out. In her excellent introduction to meditation, Start Here Now (my number one recommendation for anyone curious and wanting to read a bit more), Buddhist author Susan Piver has a short chapter dedicated to the intersection of creativity and meditation. She cites the phenomenon that many, many artists and writers talk about: how when they’re walking or showering or driving or dreaming, they find unexpected inspiration. Piver suggest this:
When we stop striving–even to become more creative, relaxed, or intelligent–moments of clear seeing arise. Our meditation practice teaches this exact skill: to relax our minds while resting attention on the breath–without agenda…When we are able to let go of traditional agendas, our brilliance is unleashed. This is how creativity works. I don’t know why.
The act of being fully present, fully in your body, fully aware of yourself and the world around you somehow triggers the creative impulse. There is science to this: the same thing that happens in your brain when it’s meditating is very similar to what happens in your brain when it’s experiencing creative flow. And, no, I am not providing a link on purpose because then you’ll go down the rabbit hole of the Internet, likely unmindfully, and totally forget to go sit down and meditate for a few minutes. We all know how to use Google, so Google that shit if you want. Other posts I write will get deep into the neuroscience–promise.
Meditation is a way to train yourself in awareness, to learn to slow down, to really see things, to meet life with eyes wide open. The poet Mary Oliver says, Attention is the beginning of devotion. Read any of her poems and you can see mindfulness at work. Artists are observers of both the internal and external world, so it stands to reason that a practice that trains in that has a good chance of helping artists to improve that skill, which, it would also stand to reason, can only help their art. So that’s one reason to give meditation and mindfulness a try (meditation is the sitting and meditating part and mindfulness is bringing that awareness into your daily life).
Perhaps what I’ve found to be most helpful, though, is how meditating supports my mental health as an artist. When we’re on the cushion, we cultivate gentleness toward ourselves, moment by moment. When our mind wanders, we don’t beat ourselves up. We tenderly bring our minds back to the object of concentration (the breath, a mantra, sound, what-have-you) and begin again. As one of my favorite meditation teachers, Sharon Salzberg says:
If that isn’t an important lesson for writers to know, I don’t know what is. I remind myself when a book is sucking really hard and I have massive revisions ahead of me. I remind myself this when one of my editors rejects a new manuscript I’ve submitted, or one of my book’s numbers are low. The act of sitting on the cushion is a daily training in accessing flow, self-compassion, and the ability to skillfully deal with whatever shit life throws your way.
I could write reams more on the subject – and I suppose I will – but for now, why don’t you go sit and see how that feels for you?
Here’s a couple ways to get started:
- I have guided meditations designed specifically for writers on the Insight Timer app. And/or, if you sign up for my newsletter, you’ll get access to my Inspiration Portal, where you can download them to your device.
- I teach a seasonal online meditation course, the Mindfulness Immersion for Writers, which is a great intro to the practice. I teach this same course for individuals all year long.
- The Headspace app is a really good way to begin a practice, as is checking out a local meditation class. You want to aim for sitting every day, even if it’s only for five minutes. Better a little time every day, then only once or twice a week for a longer period.
- If you’re looking for tips, book recommendations, helpful articles, and other ways to go down the rabbit hole of mindfulness and meditation, here is the link to my resource page, which I update regularly.
Keep in mind:
- Most importantly, know that you absolutely can meditate – you’ll just need to search for the style and tradition that works for you.
- You don’t have to be Buddhist to meditate.
- Start slow – five minutes a day for a week. Ten minutes a day the next week. And so on. Don’t get overzealous. Starting small and practicing every day is much more effective than meditating for longer periods only a couple times a week. Aim to get to 15 or 20 minutes a day.
- Be gentle with yourself.
- Your mind will race all the time and that is totally normal.
- Falling asleep is normal too. That won’t happen after a while.
- You won’t likely have crazy transcendent experiences on the cushion. What will happen is that you’ll start to notice little (and maybe big) shifts that happen gradually and unexpectedly in your life. You realize you’re less angry when someone cuts you off in traffic. You’re way more focused in your writing sessions. You’re nicer to that guy at work who bugs you. You hate on yourself less.
- Like all habits and practices, it takes time to find your groove.
Breathe. Write. Repeat.
As usual, you can sign up for my newsletter to get your free download of my Mindful Social Media for Writers worksheet (life changing!) and a sneak peek of my Expressive Journaling Workbook.
The newsletter = special downloads of guided meditations and worksheets, discounts on my courses, creativity and mindfulness hacks, and access to my Inspiration Portal.
If you’re a lady writer, please join us on the Pneuma Facebook Group for daily inspiration, motivation, and community. If you’re interested in working with me as a writing coach, don’t be shy: email me and I’ll get back to you ASAP. You can also check out the Pneuma Creative site for coaching, editorial, and course info. Happy writing!