In order to unleash your creative thinking with meditation, you first have to find stillness within your mind.
By stripping away the layers that cloud your view, you can see the world more clearly. These obstructions come in many forms, such as rambling thoughts, anxiety, fear, or habits.
Before you try the three meditation and writing exercises below, spend some time doing mindfulness meditation using your breath, walking, or a simple activity like washing dishes. After you feel ready—it really is about how comfortable you are with these meditation techniques—you can learn to write from stillness.
Using your newly discovered peaceful mind, you can start to observe the world more clearly. Observation is the work of writers. Clear observation is the work of creative writers.
In this writing exercise, you will use your peaceful mind to observe the world around you. As with washing dishes or painting a fence mindfully, the challenge is to observe without letting your mind run wild. Many writers quickly become lost in daydreams. This can sometimes be a good thing, but you may become so entangled in your own thoughts that you miss the sights, sounds, and smells that are outside your head.
Choose a location where you can sit comfortably. You can try doing this creative thinking exercise while walking, but it’s easier when you don’t have to think about your feet. If you like motion, hop on a bus or a train. Looking out the window as the world passes by offers plenty of sensory opportunities.
Observe carefully what’s going on around you—the people, the cars and trucks, animals in a tree or scavenging on the ground, the smell of oil on the road or hot dogs grilling nearby. Observe, but don’t let your storytelling mind take over.
If you notice yourself writing a story in your mind, or drifting to other unrelated thoughts, label your thoughts, “thinking.” Return to observing the world around you.
Do ten or fifteen minutes of this in the beginning. As you become more comfortable, you can expand this to longer periods. You can also try being mindful during your commute to or from work.
Narrating the World Mindfully
Now that your mind is more calm—and you can observe the world without a story always running through your head—it’s time to mindfully narrate what you observe.
As with the previous creative thinking exercise, pick a location where you can sit comfortably, whether in one spot, or on a train or a bus. This time, though, as you observe the world, start to narrate in your mind what you notice.
Don’t get sucked into a storyline. This is like writing a scene, except that you have no control over the actions of the characters. Your goal is to capture the essence of the world—using words—without losing track of what’s happening around you.
You may find that you can’t keep up with the action. That’s okay.
Let things go. It’s like watching colored fish swimming by in a river. As a blue one passes by, you think, “blue fish swimming slowly,” and then “red fish chasing the blue fish” when the next one swims along.
Nothing fancy. Pure essence.
Unleash Your Creative Thinking—Learn To Write Mindfully
Finally, it’s time for your first real writing exercise. On paper, or a computer, whatever works for you.
If you jumped to this writing exercise without trying any of the others, I suggest going back to the beginning. In order to learn to write from stillness, you first need to develop a certain amount of peacefulness in your mind. Spend as much time with mindfulness meditation as you need before picking up a pen or keyboard.
It’s useful to spend a few minutes doing breathing meditation before starting to write, whether for this exercise or during your regular writing.
There are many ways to apply meditation and mindfulness to writing. I will give you two.
Go back to a location that you observed previously. As you sit there, notice the world. Let the sensory input—not your thoughts—feed your writing. This is very similar to the previous creative thinking exercise, except this time with writing. It almost feels like you are transcribing the world.
What you are capturing, however, is only the essence of the scene. You can’t write everything down, so your mind has to make decisions about what to keep and what to let go. Your goal is still to keep up with the action. You can also add in your impressions and thoughts, providing your narrator with a personality.
You can take a similar approach with observations you have made in the past. Sit at your writing desk. Think about a place or an event that you have observed recently. Start to write your observations as if you were still there. Let your mind run through the scene. Again, your job is to keep up with the action. Don’t stop for too long to analyze your writing. Let it flow continuously. If you miss something, skip it, and move on.
“The very act of putting [words] down—getting them out of the beehive of the head and onto the objective reality of paper—is a form of clarification.” — Pico Iyer, Shambhala Sun
Meditation is often referred to as a meditation practice, because no matter how often you sit on a cushion, you are still learning to let go. Like meditation, writing is an activity that you return to day after day. In time, it becomes your writing practice. This is why writing and meditation fit together so well. Every time you come back to the blank page, you let go a little bit more.
After playing with these writing exercises for a few weeks, what do you notice about your writing? Are you starting to catch glimpses of being able to write in flow? Are you still struggling with writer’s block? Does meditation help you get past that? Let me know how these work for you. We are all different people, with our own personality and past history, so our experience with meditation will be unique.
Mindfulness-Based Resources For Your Writing Practice
- Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
- Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Shambhala Library)