Therese here. Today’s guest is author Orna Ross–a Penguin-published novelist who has recently self-published a book called Inspiration Meditation: A Guide For Writers Artists & Everyone, teaching step-by-step meditations to help cultivate creative flow. When Orna reached out several months ago and asked about speaking to this subject, we jumped at the opportunity. Who wouldn’t want to become more creative–and more relaxed? Meditation doesn’t have to be something for just your enlightened friends; it’s all about embracing the why of it, and the how of it. Enjoy!
Why Writers Should Meditate
If you’re a writer, you should meditate. That’s the conclusion of a flurry of recent brain research from the fields of psychology and neuroscience.
Willpower, discipline, and good old-fashioned hard work may squeeze writing out of you but to produce words effortlessly, to connect with the joy and optimism and inspiration which makes it all worthwhile, to be as good as you can be, you need to know how to nurture abstraction and cultivate creative mind states.
For this, meditation is the best tool in your pack.
When we take silent time to meditate, a shift happens within. Our consciousness expands, our awareness deepens, we come into the presence of what Albert Einstein described as “the most beautiful emotion we can experience…the [underlying] power of all true art and science.”
This power – what I call creative intelligence – is in us all. We don’t acquire it by trying, any more than we acquire our fingers or our feet. It’s not about working harder in the conventional sense that you learned at school or work. Though effort is required, it is not the effort of striving, or stress, or strain.
It’s more about dissolving the internal barriers that come between us and our innate creative potential, so we can align with it and allow it to flow more freely.
Some of us can do this at will but most of us require regular practice to keep us open and connected to this deeper dimension of life. A meditation practice.
What Is Meditation?
When asked to explain one of his pictures, Picasso said: “A painting speaks for itself. What is the use of giving explanations?” Meditation too is its own explanation. There are dangers in trying to analyse it.
So perhaps a description might offer us a better way in. Here’s Jo Devereux, a character from one of my novels, attempting to describe a meditative experience. She’s been going through a tough time and her thoughts are driving her crazy:
Stop it, I order myself. Stop thinking. Feel the sun on your eyes and the breeze on your skin. Pull yourself out of your head, down into your body, the body that can’t be in tomorrow or yesterday but only here, where it is. Somehow, to my own surprise, I do it. In the very middle of my trouble, I manage to let it go.
And as I do, I feel a shift in perception that recomposes the scene before me, making everything in my sights seem more completely itself. The expanse of glistening sands, the knobbled fingers of rock jutting into the ocean, the sunlight pirouetting on the waves — each is more full of its own living presence yet somehow, simultaneously, more connected to me. I kick off my shoes, I slip out of my clothes, I walk into the sea. My skin is porous, no longer a boundary. Joy surges in me: the same molecules dance in me and in everything. I am melting into the water and all the world.
We give the same word – meditation – to both the meditative state (“I am melting into the water and all the world”) and the practices that take us there (“Stop thinking”; “Feel the sun on your eyes and the breeze on your skin.” “Pull yourself out of your head down into your body”).
Even if you’ve never formally practiced meditation, you are likely to have experienced the meditative state – perhaps, like Jo, when walking in nature. Or when relaxing in the bath. Perhaps during sex. Or when looking into the eyes of a baby. Perhaps even in the midst of a busy day, crowded with people or events. Moments when the thought traffic slows or ceases and your mind slips into stillness.
Like writing, meditation is a doorway between our inner and outer worlds; between “reality”, the seemingly solid world that we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch and an elusive “something else” we sense beneath, between and beyond what those five senses can grasp.
Why Writers Should Meditate.
1. Eases Artistic Anxiety
It’s not easy putting yourself out there, day after day, in words. It makes us a little crazy — vulnerable, edgy, raw sometimes. Meditation soothes those edges and creates a place of safety from where we can take risks. It allows us to become, as Flaubert suggested we should, steady and well-ordered in our life so we can be fierce and original in our work.
2. Makes Us Steady
With that steadiness comes what Buddhists call ‘solidity’, a calm acceptance of self (see also #5).
3. Quietens The Critics
This steady solidity makes us very much less vulnerable to critics, inner and outer, and to the pressures and persuasions of others.
4. Opens Artistic Space
The human mind operates at three levels — Surface (Intellectual/Ego) Mind, Deep (Emotional/Intuitive) Mind, and Beyond (Imaginative/Inspirational) Mind. Meditation has benefits with regard to all three, most particularly in how it allows us to tap the deeper, wiser dimensions of our minds, which tend to speak in whispers. It induces the active openness that is the hallmark of the creative response.
5. Claims The Essential Self
By consciously quieting the chatter of our surface mind, we claim our authentic and essential self – the indefinable essence that makes us unique, different from everyone else that ever lives. And as we claim this self more fully, we become more open to expressing it.
6. Fosters Artistic Detachment
By freeing us from the surface chatter of our everyday mind and the sticky grasp of personalised emotion, meditation allows us to observe ourselves and others more clearly.
7. Enjoys The Ride
Because it awakens us to the present moment, meditation allows us to see, and appreciate, what we are making as we do it. To enjoy process as much as product.
8. Creates Conditions for Insight
Insight, perception, revelation: these are the human qualities that mark out the good writer from the mediocre, the great writer from the good. For centuries, it was thought that such qualities were the innate gifts of a special elite — born not made. Now neuroscience is showing, through brain mapping, that such qualitites are available to all who meditate regularly, creating the mental and emotional conditions in which they are most likely to flourish.
9. Fosters Flow
There is endless and increasing evidence from the worlds of psychology, neuroscience and creativity that meditation creates similar brain states to what has come to be called ‘flow’. Analysed in depth by creativity theorist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, flow is described as “fully focused motivation” and represents our ability to harness our emotions into the service of making, doing, performing and learning. For writers, flow is that delectable condition where the words seem to appear of their own volition. Where all we have to do is turn up at the page and get ‘em down.
These are the nine most salient reasons why writers should meditate. There are many others. Held against this long list, usually, is one reason not to. ‘I don’t have time.’ To which I can only say: Meditation doesn’t take time, it makes time.
Go ahead, try it and see.