People call sitting in a certain posture and doing some process ‘meditation’ but I call it ‘preparation’. Real meditation happens when liking and disliking arise during the day. Are you fooled by them or can you see through them and abide free? This is real meditation—the rest is just preparation. ~Ajahn Chah
Two men were chopping wood in the forest. One man worked continuously while the other rested for a few minutes every hour. At the end of the day, the first man was surprised to see that the other had chopped more wood.
“How did you manage to chop more wood though you rested every hour?” he asked.
“While I was resting,” the other replied, “I was sharpening my axe.”
Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, calls this preparation “sharpening the saw” and it is perhaps the most important among his seven success habits. “Sharpening the saw” includes all empowering activities such as planning, reflection, clarification of values and meditation.
The regular practice of meditation is beneficial to everyone. However, there are three specific reasons why writers and storytellers benefit much more from meditation than others.
Focus on the process, not the product:
In its simplest form, meditation is merely being aware of the natural flow of the incoming and outgoing breath. The meditator focuses all her attention on respiration and on nothing else. Whenever her attention wanders, and as soon she becomes aware of it, she brings her attention back to her breath. The moment she deliberately focuses her attention on anything else, she has stopped meditating and stops gaining any benefit. All the benefits of the meditation process such as awareness, concentration and tranquility are natural byproducts.
Similarly, most writing coaches such as Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron, and Anne Lamott advise writers to “keep the hand moving”, to “accumulate pages instead of judgment” and to “give yourself permission to write a sh*tty first draft”. In short, focus on the process and stop worrying about the results.
Development of the skills and qualities of a true warrior:
Meditation helps writers to nurture awareness, patience, persistence, and insight—invaluable allies for every storyteller. Writers learn to apply the lessons learnt in meditation to vanquish lethargy, doubt, boredom, anxiety, and the fear of failure.
Like writing, meditation is not easy, though the process is simple. By observation of the breath, the meditator learns the subtle ways of the mind and comes face to face with the internal critic. Steven Pressfield calls this voice “Resistance”. In his bestselling book, The War of Art, Pressfield describes Resistance as the implacable foe of all meditators and writers. He advises all artists: “If you want to succeed, you must defeat Resistance.”
The solution is simple. You learn to meditate and to write by doing it, whether you feel like it or not. In the words of Seneca, “As long as you live, keep learning how to live.” This applies especially to those who want to succeed in meditation and writing, which requires the dogged courage of a true warrior.
Interdependence between meditation and writing:
In Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Natalie Goldberg says that her Zen teacher, Katagiri Roshi, often referred to the writing process to explain Zen to her. After a few years, he told her, “Why do you come to sit meditation? Why don’t you make writing your practice? If you go deep enough in writing, it will take you everyplace.”
For some writers, going deep in meditation may help them to discover and develop their authentic voice (aka the Muse) and to distinguish it from the internal critic (aka the monkey-mind). At the very least, it will help them to silence the incessant chatter of the monkey-mind. Once the mind becomes still like a rock, it is free to flow in creativity like a mountain stream.
Meditation can be likened to a pilgrimage in the spaceship of awareness through the winding labyrinths of the mind. Anyone who undertakes this journey usually becomes a better storyteller because his words are imbued with knowledge and insight.
Rohi Shetty is a medical doctor, Vipassana meditator, writer, editor, translator and blogger. His short stories and articles have been published online and in print.