Mindfulness in writing
As a writer it’s important to observe those around us, but I’d argue that it’s even more essential to be mindful of yourself.
While snippets of conversation, mannerisms and characteristics of other people enrich our written descriptions, an awareness of your own idiosyncrasies can make you conscious of how you are reacting to those observations. And what influences your reactions.
Think about a loud conversation overheard in a cafe. Someone outspoken and opinionated, sharing their thoughts with their coffee buddy and the world at large. How do you react? Do the muscles in your neck tense up? Do you avert your eyes? Want to tell them to shut up!? What are your thoughts doing – whirling in an attempt to make judgement on the speaker? Or doing the internal eye roll in sympathy with the person that has to listen to this moron?
Many of us have never thought about it. We’re caught up in the drama unfurling at the next table and are not consciously aware of what’s going on within our own minds.
Next time you’re in a situation like this, be mindful of you. Watch how your body reacts, bring your awareness to pockets of tension. Simply noticing is the point of the exercise. Watch your thoughts. Ask yourself what is causing your irritation with the speaker – does it result from a childhood fear of conflict, an outspoken relative, a fear that you will never be able to speak up? Then when you’ve had a wee think, let those thoughts go. You don’t need to engage with your observations, or bring judgement on yourself, you are simply the watcher.
In it’s simplest form, being mindful of your body, thoughts and reaction is a type of meditation.
You are learning to read yourself, much like you try and read other people, and in the process gaining insight.
How will this effect your writing process? I’ve found that being aware of my reactive, knee jerk response to situations makes me better able to let those go and examine whether there’s another way of thinking. In the same way, being mindful of how things work here, in my head, makes me question my observations about others. Dig deeper for answers, for the truth of a character, without the clouds of my own thoughts, influences of my upbringing, circling thought patterns and unhelpful judgements getting in the way.
On another level, mindfulness of the inner critic can help us silence our doubt, still our anxiety and power us up to simply write without constantly having to deflect unhelpful, negative thoughts. It’s a stress buster.
Being a mindful writer and being a mindful person isn’t easy. Most of us have to practice daily, hour by hour. Thich Nhat Hanh, a master of the idea, says you can be mindful in any situation: walking to work… feel how your feet move within your shoes as they hit the pavement. Drinking your tea or coffee… stop trying to multi-task and focus on how your lips approach the warm rim and brave a scalding to get their morning fix. Every time you breathe… observe how the breath scoots through your nostrils and back out again.
In what ways are you mindful?