“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way:
in the present moment,
This is the first of a series of posts about mindfulness and writing. In this post I want to take you through a beginners guide to mindfulness so you can have a go before we add the writing dimension. First let me explain why I think mindfulness is an essential skill for writers. I wonder if like me you sometimes sit down at your computer and it seems like there are no thoughts in your mind at all. You feel empty of ideas and easily distracted by social media or suddenly remember you need to get something out of the freezer or hang up the washing. Other times the thoughts come thick and fast but all over the place with no structure or meaning, just random ideas. In these situations your mind is taking control.
Imagine your subconscious mind is like an elephant and your conscious mind is a rider on that elephant. How difficult is it going to be to turn the elephant in a different direction? If instead we can train our elephant then we have more chance of having some control. The analogy is particularly real because our unconscious mind is far bigger than the conscious mind and is processing thoughts all the time, millions of them. It can be helpful to label them. Mine can be ‘worrying thoughts’ about my kids or my elderly parents, ‘planning thoughts’ what I need to do later or things I must remember, ‘happy thoughts’ as I think about something nice, can you label yours?
Some of these thoughts can be helpful, after all we need to remember to collect the dry cleaning or pick up some vegetables for supper. However, they don’t necessarily need to be in our mind right now as we start writing. Thoughts about the future or the past are also unhelpful. You can’t do anything about the past and the future is just that, the future. For your writing you need to be totally present with nothing else you need to be doing, nowhere else you need to be. Yes, in our non writing life we have things to sort out, fix, solve perhaps, but this isn’t what we need to do now. You just need to write. What I find helpful is to imagine I am at a bus stop and buses go past with destinations like ‘worrying about the kids’ or ‘thinking about what to give them for supper’ or ‘ have to clean the bathroom’ and I know if I get on any of those buses I will not write. I will have allowed myself to get distracted by thoughts. So I look at the bus and say “No I don’t want to get on that bus right now, you can drive on past because I’m where I need to be.” It’s about being aware of the distracting thought but waving it past because we don’t want it.
So here’s your first exercise. It’s a multi sensory one because writers like to be aware of all our senses when we write. It’s called mindful eating.
Take a raisin or a chocolate, something that has taste and smell.
Step 1. Visual. Hold the raisin in the palm of your hand and look at it with amazement and curiosity as if you’ve never seen one before. What do you notice? Look at it from different angles, from close up and further away, are there any features that take your eye? Can you imagine the country where it comes from? Can you imagine it growing, being picked, being packed?
Step 2. Touch. Turn it over in your palm and feel it on your skin. It may help to close your eyes so you can focus on the texture of the raisin. Use the finger of your other hand to gently touch the raisin. How does it feel? Does it remind you of anything?
Step 3. Sound. Put it to your ear. Does your raisin have a sound? If it did have a sound what sound would that be?
Step 3. Smell. Now raise it to your nose and smell it. What can you smell? Where do you feel the smell? Does it remind you of anything else? Smell can be very evocative, let the smell take you where your mind wants to travel.
Step 4. Touch. Put the raisin against your lips, what can you feel? Run it along your lip and then pop it in your mouth, on your tongue. What sensation do you get? Move it around your mouth. What is happening?
Step 5. Taste. You can eat it now! Slowly start to let your teeth bite into it and start to chew it. What is going on now? Where are you getting sensations as the saliva drips down the back of your throat. Where are you experiencing taste? How do you feel now that you have swallowed the raisin?
This exercise gives you the experience of living completely in the moment and becoming aware of your different senses as you do one single simple thing. It is mindful eating and you can apply this type of mindfulness to other things you do daily such as showering or brushing your hair, making a cup of tea and so on. That intense focus pushes thoughts from your mind but if you do find your attention wandering and find that thoughts are popping into your head then notice them and label them; worrying thought, planning, remembering or whatever they are. Then return to the exercise. There is nothing else you need to be doing. You are enough just as you are. There is nothing you need to fix or do.
Practice this every day and when you finish the practice, pick up your pen and paper and write. It doesn’t matter what you write, just write what you feel, what sensations you are experiencing in this very calm and quiet space you’ve created where you’ve found some room in your head because you’ve waved away those distracting thoughts.