Do meditation and writing go hand in hand? Yes. Are there any real benefits? I don’t know.
The general consensus is that meditation isn’t a silver bullet you can scrounge up in moments of need. Think of it as exercise, another tool that’s scientifically proven to benefit you, but it’s not as if busting out a hundred push-ups will instantaneously bestow you with a sculpted chest.
Both these practices have to be applied long-term before you’ll be able to see any benefits, and even then, you’ll probably notice an overall wellbeing versus a spike in mood of any kind.
I’ve had an on-off relationship with meditation since I started about two years back, and my recent stint involves an unbroken practice for five months or so.
So I guess a revisit is in order, and this time, we’ll be looking at things from the perspective of writing.
Sometimes you gotta just do it
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: actually getting around to meditating takes effort.
There’s nothing exciting about it, and every time you sit, you have to prepare yourself for at least fifteen minutes of nothingness. Not exactly the most interesting thing to do.
But I’ve learned that when it comes to doing beneficial things in your life, you have to just put your nose to the grindstone and just drag your ass through it. Go through the motions if you have to.
Some days it’s easy. Other days, not so. But that’s life for you, isn’t it? I, for one, have learned that if I dare use my feelings as a gauge, I’d never get anything done.
It’s the same with writing. I’ve read posts about how your some bloggers here like to keep their creative time sacred, only showing up at the blank page when their muse beckons.
You know what’s the best way of not writing the 80,000 words you need for a novel? Waiting for your muse. Because assuming said muse visits once a fortnight (which is very generous), and that you write three thousand words every time they arrive (also very generous), that would mean you finishing your first draft in slightly over a year.
I’d much rather pick a relaxed pace of 500 words per day and finish my drafts in five months. That’s because rewriting is also a thing, and while your muse works great with inspiration, they’re pretty shit when it comes to line edits.
So just do it. I know I have meditation to thank for this lesson.
The actual work is boring AF
Try googling ‘meditation’ and you’ll be graced with a plethora of how-tos and praise for the practice.
So nobody’s going to mention how five minutes can painfully feel like thirty, huh? Nobody’s going to talk about the aching back, the sleeping leg, the quivering thighs? Who knew that just sitting would qualify as a form of torture?
I went into meditation knowing it’d be boring, but nobody told me it was going to be painful. But you know what they say, success begins outside of your comfort zone, and sitting still is definitely way out of my comfort zone of mindless scrolling through social media and watching series on demand.
Because what do you do when you want to win a sport? Ace an exam? Learn a new language? You put in the time, and that time is never as eventful as you’d expect it to be.
Sure, in the movies there’d be a training montage, and the character growth you’d see in thirty seconds might seem inspiring, but boy does the daily work suck when you actually get to it.
Likewise, just because you show up to the empty page on Tuesday doesn’t mean you’ll have usable words by sunset. Even if you did churn out something beautiful, it’d take you months before you see how those pieces slowly made up the bigger picture.
Having a finished novel feels wonderful. Banging away at the keyboard, sentence by sentence, oftentimes feels the opposite.
Meditation has taught me that there’s no getting around it. I just have to get used to it.
Ideas are easy, execution is hard
When you really focus on your thoughts, you’ll realise that your mind is always on. Sometimes it may even seem like a separate entity. How else do you explain thinking about meditation one second, and pizza the next? No? It’s just me?
Okay then, let’s try this experiment. Close your eyes and imagine an object. It could be anything. Your remote control, your mouse, your pair of socks. Hold that image in your mind. Rotate it. Look at the details.
Now keep doing that for five minutes. Don’t tell me that pizza doesn’t intrude your image at least once. Or the dishes you’ve yet to do. Or how Kelly from accounting is always on your ass for your high paper usage.
That’s what I’ve realised through meditation. That I don’t really control what appears in my mind’s eye. But I can control what I do with said thoughts.
I can tell myself to be more patient when I’m stuck in a queue and feel the restlessness rising. I can stop seeing critiques as attacks on who I am as a person. I can choose to eat a salad even though my mind has this unexplainable craving for pizza.
How does this apply to my writing? Well, you guys ever heard of the shiny new idea disease? The one where writers will abandon their WIPs for the promise of a better idea?
Yeah, that’s never going to end. New ideas turn up every day, and they’re all going to sound much better than the one you’re currently working on.
But you know what’s more important? Actually doing the work. That’s where all the value and learning comes from. So write down your new ideas somewhere if you have to, but when it comes to your work, make sure you finish your shit.
Because if we’ve learned anything about writing (or meditation), it’s that it’s going to be boring AF.
Pain is a damned good teacher
Let’s go back to the backaches, the sleeping legs, and the quivering thighs for a minute. And for this analogy to make sense, I’m going to take you back to my muay thai days.
I used to drop my other hand when throwing a punch, despite my instructor’s pleas to ‘answer my phone’. But habits are hard to cultivate, and words can only sharpen my technique so much. So my instructor punched me in the head.
Yup. That’s why you always have your hand up when punching. It didn’t hurt per se, but the world definitely shook for a bit. You know how many times my instructor asked me to answer my phone? Probably a couple hundred. You know how many punches it took before I started actually answering my phone? Three.
Sometimes pain is the best teacher. That doesn’t mean we like it though.
So back to the meditation pains. When I first started the practice, I’d shift at the slightest sign of discomfort. I’d scratch an itch. Even yawn to moisten my dry eyes (I have no idea why my eyes always dry up during meditation).
But that’s only delaying the inevitable pain that follows soon after. Alleviating the pressure on my ankle? Now my knees hurt. Slouching because of the backache? Now my shoulders are burning. After some time, you start to learn that life is pain, and sometimes it would do us well to be with it, not avoid it.
And what has that taught me about writing?
Well, I know there’s a lucky few that actually enjoy the writing process (I envy you), and there are even people who love editing (you monsters). But me? I find it hard to enjoy the actual work. Yeah, I don’t even know why I write sometimes.
But going through the pain of just sitting has taught me that I shouldn’t avoid the uncomfortable feelings that come with a blank page. Instead, I should do what I need to do, and make sure that I make the most out of each day. And the less I resist, the more enjoyable things do become.
Goodness is a lifestyle
You’ve seen this type: the people who tell you how they’re trying to lose weight by asking for no whipped cream on their Frappuccino. Never mind the fact that they’re going home to gorge on a pizza (I still can’t let this go) and live out another sedentary day.
I’m not going to speak as if I don’t do the same either. Here I am, thinking I’ll find literary renown, but I know I’m underwriting every day, and I’m shortchanging myself in terms of true growth.
My kryptonite? Freaking YouTube videos and mindless scrolling through social media.
At some point, we need to view results as a byproduct and not an end goal. So instead of thinking that avoiding whipped cream would trim our waistline, we need to examine our lifestyle in general. It doesn’t matter what our goals are.
Is the Frappuccino really necessary? Or is it wasted calories? Which is the more beneficial choice? Going out for a walk, or watching Netflix?
So maybe I’ve sold you on meditation, and you’d like to give it a go. But that won’t really matter if you’re still drinking every other night and sleeping late.
In the end, we need to design the lifestyle that fits our goals. There’s no aiming to finish an Ironman while also keeping cocaine as a hobby. You can’t spend all your free time on YouTube and expect to publish novels on a regular basis.
Thanks to meditation, I now see it as part of my lifestyle, one that I’m constantly tweaking to best help me realise the life that I want.
Ultimately, it’s not what we achieve that really matters. It’s who we become through our habits.
There’s no magic formula, especially when it comes to meditation and writing
In the end, I think this is my biggest takeaway of all: We need to become, not attain. Once we realise that, it’s easy to keep grinding, and to shun the ‘life hacks’ that some gurus seem all too eager to sell.
Meditation has taught me that the present is where I have the most power, and even though my novel will take me months to write, what matters most is that I use this moment right now to bring me one step closer to my goals.
So I might go through ten manuscripts and still not write a bestseller, but that’s okay because I’ll be a much better writer—and hopefully, someone who’s gotten his pizza fix—by then. And you know what? That’s good enough for me.