I just went to the kitchen to put my coffee mug in the sink and the mesh drain filter was full of assorted debris: food scraps, a chunk of cat food, and something I can’t identify. Yuck!
As I knocked the filter into the garbage can to clear it out, it occurred to me a writer’s mind can get clogged with the junk of a day. News stories, issues at work, pending deadlines, stray lines and thoughts… Not so much “yuck,” yet about as useful as the junk stuck in the sink’s filter, since all this debris clogs our creative abilities.
How can a writer knock that junk out of their mental strainer?
Insight meditation, also called Vipassana meditation, may help.
I got through a dry spell when ideas for new poems would not come by using the basics of insight meditation, which helps free the mind of clutter.
I closed my eyes, then became mindful of how my body rested in my chair. I followed my feet, planted firmly, rooted to the carpet, the floor below, the earth below the house, down deep into the earth itself…
I then took note of my breathing, slow and deep: .in…out…in…out…and soon my mind went to a semi-dream state. From nowhere, on its own with no conscious coaxing on my part, a poem started to form around memories of something I owned as a child that had followed me through several moves, which I no longer own. The toy came to my mind, images and memories swam around it, details of this toy and my moves to different homes and then the structure of the poem all came to me thanks to the semi-dream empty-mindedness brought on by insight meditation.
I had forgotten about the toy, as it is no longer an active part of my life. It took my mind becoming empty to bring this once-cherished item forth, ready to be examined artistically. My poetic dry spell is ended and I got up and wrote down a first draft of the poem.
The meditation—the de-clogging of my mental filter, the uncluttering of my mind, allowed a poem to come forth, sprung by memories which were blocked by thoughts of work, writing commitments, events on social media, and stuff, like in the drain filter this morning, I’d rather not try to identify.
Now, a few finer points on insight meditation:
It is not chiefly a sleep aide. If you get drowsy practicing it, you’re doing it wrong. I use some of the techniques I learned to help me get restful, as well to help me become more aware and mindful.
We all may meditate for different reasons, but the results should be the same: calmness, a sense of peace with yourself and the world, and a greater awareness of you – your body, thoughts, and intentions, and again, the world around you.
A place of your own devoted solely to meditating is ideal, but you can use the techniques at any time in any setting. I just sit at my writing desk and close my eyes.
Noise is a part of life, so is a part of meditation. A loud truck goes by as you try to focus on your breathing. That noise became part of that last breath. Move on. Your cat rubs against your ankle as you become empty. Accept the rub and move on.
As you meditate, you are you and you are not you. You are one thing and you are all things.
People of all walks of life can use meditation to help them in many beneficial ways. We writers can use it for all the same reasons: to calm us, to lower our blood pressures, to center our minds, to let go of frustrations. We can also use it to bring forth ideas, to help us get into more creative ways of thinking, and to come to grips with emotions and memories we may have issues in dealing with and then bring those emotions to the page.
Here is a link to resources on insight meditation.
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Michael A. Griffith’s chapbooks Bloodline (The Blue Nib) and Exposed (Soma Publishing and Hidden Constellation Press) were released in fall 2018. He was nominated for the Pushcart Prize for poetry in October 2018. He lives near Princeton, NJ and teaches at Raritan Valley Community College. He is Poetry Editor (US/Canada) for The Blue Nib.