The original post can be found on the Vermont College of Fine Arts “Wild Things” blog, the official blog of the Writing For Children and Young Adults MFA program (my alma mater), where I’ve begun doing a weekly Mindfulness Monday blog.
I like to think of beginning a meditation practice with the same sense of generosity towards self that Anne Lamott applies to the Shitty First Draft. If you’re not familiar with Lamott’s concept from her wise, warm, and foundational craft book, Bird by Bird, try this quote on for size:
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.”
There is so much to unpack here. I’ll be brief:
You need to start somewhere: A lot of people wait to begin a meditation practice until the conditions are just right. A retreat in Bali. The perfect meditation cushion. A class at the hip new meditation studio. Just. Begin. Sit down. Close your eyes. Follow your breath. It’s really that easy. Just as you don’t want to be one of those writers who’s always saying they are going to write, but never do, you also don’t want to be one of those people who keeps putting off meditation (More flow! More sanity! More of all the good stuff!).
Terrible First Efforts: What I love most about Lamott’s idea of the SFD is that it’s basically okay to make mistakes. To not be perfect. It recognizes that the point is getting to your seat and getting the work done. And quieting these voices means shushing your Inner Critic, who is all too happy to keep reminding you that you are doing it wrong and are, in fact, the worst writer to ever come from a human womb.
The way we do that quieting is by sitting. By working. By being kind to ourselves when we don’t feel up to snuff. By honoring our humanness.
In the same way, all good meditation begins with what will likely feel like terrible first efforts—though, in meditation we don’t put a value on a session as good or bad (it just “is”). When you begin meditating, you will probably feel like The Worst Meditator Ever. But, just like with the SFD, you stay in your seat, you keep meditating, just as you would keep drafting. You stay curious. You do it because you know it will reap great rewards. (For a reminder of the benefits of meditation, you can check out my last post).
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you do begin exploring starting a meditation practice:
- Your mind will race and that is totally okay. In fact, it’s normal.
- You will likely experience physical discomfort. Over time, this will go away. You’ll also figure out which positions work for you.
- You’ll fall asleep. (Totally normal and also okay—happens a lot in the beginning).
- You’ll be bored out of your ever-loving mind. Boredom, as I’m sure you know from your creative life, is extremely fertile ground.
- You might hear of other people having amazing transcendent experiences, realizations, or emotional upheavals…and not experience any of that. Also totally normal and okay. Again, in meditation, we don’t value those experiences above the ones where we’re just sitting and being because just sitting and being is the whole point.
Next week, I’ll be getting into the nuts and bolts of how to start a practice—time of day, styles, and the like—but I wanted to get into some of the psychic roadblocks potential meditators often experience first because these are the things that often keep us from ever dipping our toes in the waters of the practice in the first place.
If you’re curious about learning to meditate and seeing how that can help you as a writer, I’m running an online course this September, a Mindfulness Immersion for Writers. I’d love to see you there! In the meantime, I hope that you’ll remember as you begin meditating—and starting first drafts—that gentleness with yourself and the freedom to not do it “right” is all part of the process.
Breathe. Write. Repeat.
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