Today’s guest post is from Orna Ross, a bestselling Irish author.
Our creative intelligence is not accessed by effort in the conventional sense that you learned at school or work. We cannot try or strive or strain for it, any more than we can strive to have fingers or feet. It’s more about dissolving the internal barriers that come between us and our innate creative potential, so we can align with it and allow it to flow more freely.
Meditation is a doorway between our inner and outer worlds. Between “reality” (the seemingly solid world that we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch) and an elusive “something else” we sense beneath, between and beyond what those five senses can grasp.
Meditation offers enormous benefits for everyone, and a set of particular benefits for those who are engaged in a creative activity like writing.
1. Creates Conditions for Insight
Insight, perception, revelation: these are the qualities that mark out the good writer from the mediocre, the great writer from the good. Meditation creates the mental and emotional conditions in which they are most likely to flourish. For centuries, it was thought that such qualities were the innate gifts of a special elite—born not made. Now brain mapping shows them to be available to all who meditate.
2. Eases Artistic Anxiety
It’s not easy putting yourself out there, day after day, in words. It makes us a little crazy—vulnerable, edgy, raw sometimes. Meditation soothes those edges and creates a place of safety from where we can take risks.
Brain scans show that meditation reduces activity in the amygdala, where the brain processes fear. It allows us to become, as Flaubert suggested we should, steady and well-ordered in our life so we can be fierce and original in our work.
3. Claims the Essential Self
“Be yourself,” Oscar Wilde once said. “Everyone else is taken.” But it’s not always easy, especially if you’re trying to do it in words.
By consciously quieting the chatter of our surface mind, we claim our authentic and essential self—the indefinable essence that makes us unique, different from everyone else whoever lived. And as we claim this self more fully, we become more open to expressing it.
4. Connects Us to Creative, Imaginative, Artistic Space
The human mind operates at three levels: Surface (Intellectual/Ego) Mind, Deep (Emotional/Intuitive) Mind, and Beyond (Imaginative/Inspirational) Mind. Meditation has benefits with regard to all three, most particularly in how it allows us to tap the deeper, wiser dimensions of our minds, which tend to speak in whispers.
Neuroscience is showing, through brain mapping, how meditation affects brain wave activity. The most striking difference is a shift, in the meditator, from the stress-prone right frontal cortex to the calmer left frontal cortex. Regular meditation also shows increased brain activity in areas associated with the creative and the mystical.
This is the shift that Albert Einstein described as “the most beautiful emotion we can experience … the [underlying] power of all true art and science.” What it means for the writer is experiencing more ideas, insights and connections.
5. Quiets the Critics and Enjoys the Ride
Meditation makes us very much less vulnerable to critics, and to the pressures and persuasions of others. It also muzzles the meanest critic of ’em all: the great fault-finder within. By freeing us from the surface chatter of our everyday mind and the sticky grasp of emotion, meditation allows us to observe ourselves and others more clearly.
Because it awakens us to the present moment, meditation allows us to see, and appreciate, what we are making as we do it—to enjoy process as much as product.
6. Improves Attention and Concentration
Essentially, meditation is focus. Practicing it daily helps us to have it and to be able to draw on it when needed—an essential when negotiating the distracted and distracting online world.
Writing is a never-ending game. As soon as we finish one post, we’re thinking of the next. Regular meditation develops our ability to appreciate what we’re achieving and getting right, as well as what still has to be done. To enjoy what we are making in the moment of its making. To value process as much as product.
7. Fosters Flow
For writers, flow is that delectable condition where words seem to appear of their own volition, where all we have to do is turn up and take dictation. Analyzed in depth by creativity theorist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi and others, flow has been found to induce similar brain states as meditation.
Writers regularly cite one problem with meditation: they don’t have time. For all the reasons outlined above, it’s clear that for writers, meditation doesn’t take time, it makes time.
What’s your experience? Have you ever meditated? What effect did it have on your writing? Would you like to try? What’s stopping you?