Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. ~ E. L. Doctorow

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pennwriters Conference Series: #2 Connecting Spirituality and Writing

My favorite seminar during the three days I spent at the Pennwriters Conference in Pittsburgh was Madhu Wangu, Ph. D’s Writing MeditationMadhu created and trialed a 3-hour meditation program that focuses on mind, heart and body. The conference gave her the opportunity to bring the condensed practice to writers. We focused on body meditation.      

She began the lecture by listing the benefits of meditation (e.g., reduces anxiety, helps you focus and provides peace of mind), and explained meditation also allows an artist time to reconnect their mind and body to improve their process, focus and artwork.

Often when I sit down to write my mind is cluttered with errands, dates, story ideas, etc. that I need to remember. My body and mind move in different directions making it difficult to relax and focus my energy. So, I end up wasting time and pages getting into my writing rhythm. Madhu assured the group through meditation you could dive over the warm up and directly into your writing.

In preparation for the body meditation, Madhu asked us to focus our breathing. Concentrating on the air entering through the nose, filling the lungs and audibly exiting through the mouth. A few seconds of focused breathing and I already felt calmer. Try it!  

Madhu also believes in the importance of daily non-verbal activities (i.e., no talking, no reading, no listening). It allows the mind to relax.   

On to the demonstration of how meditation affects writing. Madhu asked the group to write about our bodies for eight minutes. It was like pulling teeth. It was early, I didn’t know what to say and my fragmented sentences stumbled onto the page.

Then, we spent ten minutes on body meditation (the abridged version), focusing on every bone and muscle, thanking each one for the job it does for us everyday. It’s amazing what we take for granted.

Once we finished, she asked us to write for another eight minutes about our body. I was astounded by the fluidness of my ideas and the effortless construction of full, complete sentences. It looked like two different people had written in my notebook.  

How does this meditation work for writers? Madhu advised us to come up with a concrete writing goal, preferably just one to avoid overwhelming ourselves, to focus on daily and during meditation. Thinking about your story is just as important as the actual writing process.  

DIY Meditation:

·      I know too many extraneous noises around you makes it hard to focus. My suggestion would be to head out to a store and pick up an instrumental CD (lyrics distract). I’m a fan of Asian Serenity from Target.
·       Set a timer, if need be, for 20 minutes.
·      Now sit down, either in a chair with your feet flat on the floor or cross-legged on the floor, hands in your lap, fingers intertwined and thumbs touching (see photo above).
·      Close your eyes.
·      Bring your writing goal to the forefront of your mind.
·      Focus on your breathing.
·      Use the entire 20 minutes to let ideas related to your writing goal float around your mind. Resist getting up until the end of the 20 minutes.
·      Once the meditation is complete, begin writing.


1.    Focus on Breathing
a.    All the time, not just during meditation
b.    It slows you down, allows you to focus and clears your mind
2.   Concrete Writing Goal
a.    Keep in mind
b.    Your constant companion
3.   Meditate
a.    Before you write
b.    20 minutes a day
4.   Non-verbal activity—Give mind time to rest
a.    Gardening
b.    Walking
c.    Dishes
d.    Laundry

What rituals do you perform before writing?

Check out Alex's Conference Post! 


Anna said...

That is a great idea. Now I just need to find time to do it ...

In all seriousness, I find that when I make time to relax, my writing improves (or at least my mood improves—almost as good!). Taking a walk to think about your writing goal might be an alternative for those looking to combine their exercise and meditation goals.

Michael Offutt said...

I'm going to give this a try when I get home. I've never meditated before and this "how to" may come in helpful.

ali said...

Interesting stuff. Made me think of The Artist's Way. I think I need to try this more. Thanks!

Theres just life said...

Great blog. I know when I am relaxed my thoughts flow so much more easily. I need to get back to meditating. The hardest part for me is the breathing...I am a very shallow breather. I also found some jazz and classical tapes that are instrumental only are great for relaxing. I use to use them when I practiced as in my massage therapy and pain management.

Thanks for the information, and thank you for you in put on my story.

Pamela Jo

heidi ruby miller said...

I wrote an essay a while back about Writing and Yoga because I have to balance all that time in my chair with some physical activities. Otherwise, I'd go crazy.

I also do daily cardio, bike, and weights--granted they're two pound weights, but I'm not looking to bulk up, just keep the arms in typing condition!

Anonymous said...

Dear Laura,
Thanks for posting your experience with my Writing Meditation Workshop.
The workshop, at this year's conference, was focussed on Body Meditation. However, the complete discipline includes Body, Mind and Heart Meditation. Those who practice it call themselves Mindful Writers. Those who regularly practice the discipline have reported amazing results in their writing. For their comments please visit my website: Spirituality-Sparks.com.

Laura, I also wanted to let you know that at the May 2012 Pennwriters Conference I plan to offer an intensive workshop of Complete Writing Meditation Practice and hope to see you there!

Best of luck with your writing projects.
Dr. Madhu B. Wangu

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