Meditation and I have had a love/hate relationship for years. I understood the benefits: higher creativity, improved immune system, lower stress, improved concentration. In spite of knowing the benefits, I resisted it consistently. While at a writing retreat with Natalie Goldberg, she strongly encouraged all of her students to get up early, gather in the main hall to meditate. now, I am a perpetual teacher pleaser but even with one of my writing mentors urging me to sit, promising all kinds of tremendous gifts especially to my writing, I never showed up. Not even once.
Flash forward twelve years and I find myself meditating, all on my own, without any outside prodding. It started the morning my daughters went back to school on September 7. I woke up at 5:30, went into my office, lit a candle, turned on the Sharon Salzberg CD and proceeded to meditate for twenty minutes. I then fed the dog, woke the girls up and proceeded to get them ready and out the door. You know, my inner mean voice chided, one day does not a meditator make. I knew this. But the next day I found myself repeating the exact same routine. And the next. And the next. It’s been almost sixty days and I have not missed one.
So, why now? What am I getting from this practice? I believe I am experiencing all of the benefits outlined above. But there is more. I am learning to be kinder to myself. There is no wrong way to do it. Your thoughts are going to wander. That’s what the mind has been trained to do. My job is to be aware of that, notice when I’ve stopped observing the breath and gently guide my focus back. I am learning how to be a beginner. Salzberg gently reminds me that I have to begin again a million times in the course of one sitting. That’s the practice. This has filtered into my creative life. Many published writers have said that each book makes them a beginner all over again. Being a beginner is freeing. I am trying to let it spill into my art as well.
There is one more benefit that I had never considered before but it came to me recently. So much of our time is spent not knowing. We don’t know if a new recipe with turn out. We don’t know if we have cancer cells invading our body at this moment. WE don’t know if our loved will come home at the end of the day. We don’t know where our country is headed. We don’t know where and when terrorists will strike again. We don’t know if the next flu will be the deadly pandemic. The list goes on and on. So why meditate in the face of all that? How does it help? For me, meditation is the one still place where I know. I know that I am sitting an the floor. I smell the vanilla candle. I know that my breath is moving in and out, in and out. I know my thoughts appear, I latch on, I remember to breathe and the thoughts dissipate, until they appear again. So sitting is the antidote to not knowing. Not knowing is uncomfortable. Especially in my writing. it’s hard not knowing why a new character has suddenly appeared. it’s hard not knowing what they will do next. Get comfortable with not knowing is crucial to writing. Ron Carlson likens it to pushing yourself out into the ocean until you can’t touch ground. That’s when something happens. If we are too scared of not knowing we will force our characters into our agendas instead of following them on their own journey.
On one of my workout DVD’s Jillian Michaels encourages us to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s when your body changes. Meditation allows me to begin to learn to do just that. Watching all the crazy thoughts that tangle across my mind is not comfortable. Sitting cross legged is not always comfortable. But the more I do it, the more comfortable I get with my body, my writing process, my mind and the unavoidable state of not knowing.
How about you? Do you meditate. Why or why not? Does not knowing inspire your creative process or stall it?