Creative Transformation Through Meditation
This writer goes from Meditation Skeptic to Mindfulness Evangelist
The writing life is hard.
(And beautiful, expansive, wondrous — all the good things, yes, but right now I want to talk about why it’s hard. Bahhumbug).
I’m a Californian by birth, a New Yorker by soul. Meaning, I’ve always been a Type-A hustler workaholic who has literally said the sentence, I don’t understand hobbies. And meant it. For so long, all I knew was striving. Working myself to the bone for my dream of being published. I wanted the gold star. I always want the gold star.
Fast-forward to my first book coming out, just a few months before my graduation from an MFA program, then the next book coming out. And the next. I was drowning in the incomprehensible world of publishing — what do you mean they don’t market the book they bought? Why do they get to keep the draft for nine months, then demand the revision in a matter of weeks? No one likes my tweets, I am invisible, I am worthless, I hate this, I don’t even like writing anymore.
Enter: the nervous breakdown.
Mine happened by degrees, preceded by a manic hustling for my worth (Love me! Love me!) followed by a deep, dark depression in which I was highly functional, yet growing increasingly panicked by creative blocks, decreasing advances (when they don’t market your books, they don’t sell — funny how that works), and a terrible fear of failure. Medication didn’t work and the thought of quitting it all was too awful to bear and seemed impossible, anyway, since I owed several major corporations novels I had yet to write, but had been paid money for, money which was now gone because I’d moved to New York City and quit my day job.
Then I went to the Cape, oh that magical land of sand and sea, wherea writer friend made me lay down on a couch and listen to a guided meditation. I was desperate, and me laying on this couch was proof of that.
Oh, I’d meditated before: on a cliff overlooking the sea in India, at a Korean monastery at dawn (in scratchy monk’s robes thankyouverymuch), in yoga studios at Venice Beach, and in way too many acting classes. I’m a spiritual misfit, a longtime seeker — this whole going inward thing wasn’t new to me. But meditation? Nope. I was convinced my mind would not be able to do it, and, in fact, the times I had meditated had been so awful I’m pretty sure I’d rather be forced to read the entire [redacted] series. To quote my first agent in an email she once sent me, “Wow, you are a whirling dervish on steroids.” Who else out there can’t stop the spinning, the ideas, the endless thinking, thinking, thinking? Because, I tell you, it’s exhausting.
But then I lay down on that couch and — the reeling slowed down. It didn’t stop. But it slowed down. More dance, less steroids.
I didn’t have an epiphany, or a major spiritual awakening. I just realized that this was good for me. That meditation wasn’t a way to check out, but a way to check in. It’s a tool for working with our minds, to understand them. To observe them.
I thought it was supposed to transport me to some non-thinking bliss state, but that’s not it at all (though some meditation styles go that route, that’s not the kind I’m talking about here). In this space, we release expectations. We let go. And, oh man, letting go for someone like me feels so freaking good. Sitting there, following the guided instructions, they seemed…manageable. Like something I could maybe do. And after I got up off that couch, I felt more grounded, more connected to myself.
And I wanted more.
The poet Mary Oliver tells us that, Attention is the beginning of devotion. And I suppose that’s what my meditation journey has become — a practice of attention. Which, if you really think about it, is all writing really is. For quite a while now, meditation — and by extension, mindfulness — has become a central part of my life, and my writing process. It’s been incredibly transformative, so much so that I got certified to teach it and became, quite unexpectedly, a meditation evangelist.
One of my clients told me that someone she knows glanced at her the other day and said, “You look free.”
Students tell me that they are flowing more, less blocked, don’t snap at their kids as much, and can handle the stress of agents / editors / rejection much better.
People, this WORKS.
Mary Quattlebaum, a faculty member in my MFA program, was the first writer who showed me that this practice could support my writing when she led our group in a series of guided meditations before our workshops that unleashed creative flow. In my own experimentation, I’ve found this to be true, as well. Of course, it is: the part of your brain that activates flow is the same part of your brain you’re working when you meditate. And it takes on your inner critic, too.
Meditation helps build our resilience muscles, so when those rejections and bad reviews come in, we have a bit more perspective when we handle them — they don’t rock our worlds as much as they once might have.
It helps us have better focus when we sit down to write, gives us more flow (seriously), and provides a host of other benefits.
Here are a few benefits I have personally experienced:
– The end of major creative blocks and surge of new ideas
– More flow
– More focus
– Depression management (No meds anymore; more on this later)
– Fewer migraines
– More perspective during tough times
– A healthier response to my inner critic
– Better attention to detail (craft)
– Deeper connection to self and others
– More awareness of how my mind works
– Greater emotional intelligence
– Cosmic perspective
– Less hustling for my worth, thus more focus on my creativity
– End of my nervous breakdown
In short: Breathe. Write. Repeat.
If you’d like to explore meditation and mindfulness for writers, you can find my guided meditations for writers on the free Insight Timer app. Sign-up for The Lotus & Pen, my newsletter, for downloads, worksheets, and more.
Heather Demetrios is an author, writing coach, and teacher for scribes. She lives in Durham, NC with her writer husband and very imaginative Devon Rex cat. Her novels include Little Universes, I’ll Meet You There, Bad Romance, as well as the Dark Caravan fantasy series. Her non-fiction includes Code Name Badass: A Feminist Pop Biography. She is the editor of Dear Heartbreak: YA Authors and Teens on the Dark Side of Love. Find out more about Heather and her books at heatherdemetrios.com and visit her on Twitter: @HDemetrios. Her newsletter, The Lotus & Pen, provides resources for the writing life.