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Thursday, 30 September 2010

Meditation and Writing

My second book is waiting for the editor's verdict and I am in the glorious research period of the next. Nothing is set in stone yet, so my mind can range free over a multitude of possibilities. It's a great excuse to curl up on the sofa with a pile of good non-fiction books, a cat (hopefully) purring on my lap and a cup of tea on the windowsill behind me.

During this phase I seem to do a lot of daydreaming and free-thinking, writing down ideas on a large spider diagram, looking for concepts or characters that seem to fit together. I use my intuition in this "fitting together."

Research I'm doing at the moment is based around Spain at the turn of the sixteenth century, as I am fairly sure some of the next book will be set there, but I also have books on Stuart Cookery, The Lives of the English Rakes and The Book of the Sword on the go, as well as a great Taschen picture book on Alchemy and Mysticism. And that is only the top of the pile. So how does all this input become output?

For me, one of the answers is meditation. I have been a meditator for more than 30 years. Those of you who are thinking I have this meditation-thing taped after all this time would be mistaken - it is still a discipline to sit, and to still the mind every day, and not to jump up going "I must get on with the writing/washing-up/filing/whatever else needs doing."

But the length of practice means I know from experience that it is the antidote to the chock-a-block mind, that it provides a creative space for the less obvious to appear. Whilst the thinking mind is working out things on the surface, the meditative mind perceives the undercurrents, the subtleties, maybe not even the things I can instantly put into words, but the sense of direction of the ideas I am working with, what I sometimes call the "true north" of where I am going and what I am doing.

Many other writers have a repetitive activity such as running or swimming that they use to quieten the mind. Others use the process of writing itself. There must be thousands of people writing the recommended "daily pages" of The Artist's Way, in order to put themselves in touch with deeper aspects of themselves. For most writers, writing itself uncovers the self, and because of this it can feel as if you are baring the soul.

I am lucky that I know a group of other women who meditate and once a month we get to each other's houses to sit in silence together and then have tea. We are of all different persuasions, christians, buddhists, quakers, atheists, not-quite-sure's, yet we find a value in this silent coming together. When we sit in silence it is as if we contact all the other silences - for silence is silence, is the same silence.
This is one of the reasons I chose to write about the Quakers, as sitting in silence is their core activity.

The picture shows some of the women's meditation group at the launch of The Lady's Slipper outside Townend. I'm the one in the middle!

For those beginning writing and interested in meditation and the process of writing I can recommend "Writing Your Way" by Manjusvara and "Writing Down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg.  These books contain a wealth of ideas and exercises to get you started, and are a great resource for Creative Writing tutors.


  1. That's really interesting - I'm a newbie to meditation but am already finding it very helpful in calming my always restless mind that can very easily turn self-destructive. Will take a look at those books! Thanks Dee.

  2. Hi Aliya,for a book actually about meditation I can recommend "Moon over Water" by Jessica Macbeth, subtitled "meditation made clear with techniques for beginners and initiates" it raises lots of questions and explores lots of byways. Always nice to hear of someone else who is meditating!

  3. I've often thought of meditation as a relaxing techinique, but shied away from it for fear of failing. As a seasoned insomniac, I feel that my failure to sleep might just seep into meditation, causing me to fail at that, too. But I'll have a look at the book you recommend, Dee. Thanks for the idea.

  4. Meditation usually does not quiet my surface brain enough, but I have found similar benefits through playing the guitar and practicing martial arts (when I did that more reliably). I might check out the books and see if the exercises translate to more active forms of brain-disengage, as well.

  5. Hi Frances and Nevets,
    I practice Tai Chi which is sometimes called a "moving meditation" (You can check out my Tai Chi website at sort of martial arts did you do Nevets? I think anything where you are deeply absorbed can be meditation,such as your guitar practice, but at the outset meditation is a training for the mind. (Which is sneaky and resists being trained) I suppose you have to want to train it for it to work for you. But you can't fail at it - the only way to fail at it is not to do it. As long as I'm sitting there, even if I've spent the entire time wondering if I switched off the oven, then I've still sat for meditation, and in the end the mind gives in and quietness comes of itslf I think.

  6. Deborah,

    My art was aikido, which has a strong focus on ki and energy and one-point concentration, so that's part of what helped it be meditative.

    I will definitely check out the tai chi web link. I know a bit about tai chi, but I think I've only glanced across the surface of its potential.

  7. Hi Deborah - I walk as a centring technique as well as trying to meditate every morning but I really need to be more disciplined with it.

    I envy you your group of women who meditate together - I always find group silence really helpful - I think I'm a bit of a Quaker-manque.