We did a very helpful and revealing little coaching exercise during a recent Mindfulness for Writers course – I asked the writers attending to reflect on the obstacles they encountered to both meditating and writing. To make their reflections more specific, I suggested they thought about these blocks or hindrances in terms of external factors; such as family commitments, work pressures, social media distractions; and internal factors, such as confidence, procrastination, self-discipline or doubt. After some quiet time pondering, writers wrote down their main obstacles on Post-It notes and we shared them as a group. (See below). What this exercise reveals, is that the things that stop writers from writing, are pretty much the same things that stop them from meditating. And what I’ll be exploring in this blog, and in further blogs in the weeks to come; is how we can use mindfulness to overcome these obstacles and to get writing, get meditating.
But first, why don’t you do this simple exercise for yourself? Take a few moments to reflect on your writing and meditation practice. What factors, both internal and external consistently get in the way of you doing it? Be honest with yourself. Write each thing down on a piece of paper and spread them out before you. Read each one aloud, really take it in, think about how these blocks manifest, what behaviour, feelings, or thought patterns habitually accompany them. Now, take a look at the photos below, and see how many of your hindrances match those of other writers. The green sheet is for meditating – the blue, for writing.
These are just a selection of some of the answers writers gave, but consistently the same things appeared on both the blue and green pages;
- lack of time, finding time, time pressures
- distractions in the form of TV, internet, social media
- physical discomforts or problems finding suitable spaces for the activity
- disinterestedness, boredom, lethargy
- a feeling that making time for writing/meditating was somehow self-indulgent
- lack of confidence and self doubt
- too many other creative projects or work commitments filling up head space
It’s also important to note that every writer put more than just one Post-It on the green and blue pages – often returning with another and (sheepishly) another, illustrating how our blocks and hindrances are complex inter-related processes, rather than single blips on the creative radar. And it is because the things that stop us from writing (or meditating) are a combination of internal and external factors, that mindfulness practice works so well in overcoming them.
Mindfulness as a solution to obstacles and blocks
I don’t want to give the impression that mindfulness practice is a quick-fix to long term habits or beliefs, because it isn’t. However, practised over time, mindfulness meditation enables writers to become more aware of the things that stop them writing, and in doing so, frees them to make different choices about their writing life and their priorities. And even during the 6 week period of a Mindfulness for Writers course, participants do notice changes. One writer, ( a regular victim to #7 on the list above), sharing in an email to me at the end of the last course;
“I’ve not practiced meditation of any kind before, but I have begun to see some valuable changes in my ability to focus at writing (managing to do one thing at a time, rather than trying to do three things at once, and failing).”
I’ll leave you with a simple mindfulness exercise:
- Put your Post-It notes with your obstacles to writing up near where you write as a reminder
- Before you sit down to write, check in with yourself, notice how you’re feeling today about writing. Take a few moments to just follow the breath in and out, and to feel the sensations of sitting in the chair.
- Now just start writing, however, if at any point you feel restricted creatively, (don’t know what to write, uninspired) mentally (tiredness, distraction), physically (sore eyes, achy hands or fingers) – take another little mindfulness time-out, allow yourself to be aware of the thing that’s feeling restrictive, feel it, give it some space – let it be there. If there’s a voice in your head saying, “You should be doing something else, you haven’t got time” etc, just let it talk, but don’t act on it.
- Then return to your writing.
- In your everyday life, notice what practical things crop up and prevent you meditating or writing. Ask yourself are they really getting in the way, or are you just letting them. If you’re secretly creating or welcoming the obstacle, sit down, breathe, and see if you can discover the internal factor that’s really running the show.
- Remember, you don’t have to do anything other than become aware. Once we’re aware, then these habits of behaviour and belief no longer have the same power to run the show, and we can make different choices.