Friday, July 19, 2013

Writing Mindfully

We do not live in a mindful culture. Mindfulness is a state of being fully in the present. When you're in the shower you feel the water on your skin, smell the soap, feel your breath, feel your feet on the ceramic tub, hear the shower on the tile, your thoughts are focused on the here and now moment. That tape recorder of thoughts and worries, that constant stream of thinking, is silent for that moment you are being mindful. You don't have to meditate to be mindful. You can do it anywhere, anytime.

Mindfulness is a challenge. By day I am a mental health therapist and I work with clients on this skill. I think it's one of the foundations of health and tranquility. I remind my clients that everyone, including therapists, struggles with being mindful.

We're usually not aware of these thoughts because we are so consumed by them. The first step to being mindful is to be an observer of these incessant thoughts. I might be practicing mindfulness while washing the dishes, focusing on the task through touch, smell, and noise, and then I'll observe that I got off track for a couple minutes worrying about what I should make for supper and how I should really switch the laundry to the dryer. I might not catch myself for five or ten minutes. The key is to not judge yourself for wandering off with your thoughts, but to simply notice and redirect yourself to the present, again and again.

Mindfulness is partly a challenge because of the fast paced demanding society we live in. People get pissed when they have to wait in line. They multi-task, trying to text while watching the traffic light and listen to the radio. We go to sports bars that have 50 TVs and nobody can hear what anybody else is saying much less hear the TV.

We are an instant gratification culture, never satisfied, always wanting more, always waiting for the next pop culture/political drama. It's considered an asset when you say you're excellent at multi-tasking on your resume. And while not all of that is bad (in small doses), when it becomes the norm and a way of life, we ignore that human need for peace and stillness.

So I've become an observer of our society and how terrible it is at mindfulness. My biggest pet peeve is how the stores are a season (or two!) ahead. For example, school supplies is being advertised in many stores right now. It's irritating. Why can't kids just be kids and enjoy their summers? Why can't adults just relax with their kids during summer instead of compiling school preparation to-do lists? I realize a lot of that is driven by consumerism, but as the consumers, we fall for it. Trust me, I'm a big proponent of planning and being prepared, but why are we constantly living in the future?

Mindfulness is tough in modern day society.

Writing mindfully is a skill that takes practice, but I'm convinced it produces some of the best work. So instead of worrying about the next book in the series you want to write or the other story you're working on, you focus on the project you're on. Instead of worrying about whether your work in progress is going in the right direction and obsessing over it, stay present with the writing. Immerse all of yourself.

This might mean different things to different people, but for me it would mean few distractions, such as turning off my phone and Internet. It means not worrying about whether the writing is good. It means enjoying the very moment I'm in as I'm writing. I don't know if I've ever written a story mindfully. Usually there's a lot of worrying and critiquing going on. And of course, writing mindfully isn't any easier than living mindfully. It takes an amount of being an observer of yourself and nudging yourself back on course when you lose focus of the words you are writing.

When I think about my best writing, it usually stemmed from a deep passion and focus in which I fully poured myself into it. I was in tune with the emotions that fueled my writing. I was in the here and now. My mind did not wander into worrying about work or what's happening tomorrow.

"Nature is very un-American. Nature never hurries. Every phase of her working shows plan, calmness, reliability, and the absence of hurry. Hurry always implies lack of definite method, confusion, impatience of slow growth." William George Jordan, The Majesty of Calmness, 1898

If you'd like to read more about mindfulness, please feel free to check out another blog post of mine at Lynn Doezema.


Patricia Kiyono said...

Wonderful advice, Lynn! I have to work on being mindful when I write. I'm sure I would be much more productive. Thanks for sharing!

Lisa Orchard said...

Great post Lynn! Mindfulness is also a great way to relieve stress!