“I keep to this routine every day without variation,” author Haruki Murakami said in an interview with The Paris Review in 2004 about his writing process, “The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”
Some call it therapy and others use it merely as a tool for self-expression. Writing can be a powerful form of meditation, of being present and of being a witness to the sheer magic of the creative process. The process of bringing to life imagined characters; telling their story; or simply bringing to expression your inner world of thoughts, opinions, memories, desires, and ambitions.
How does writing relate to meditation? When does writing begin to be a meditation?
Meditation Can Make You a Better Writer
When you decide to write and you are feverish about having to write, you will almost always be unhappy with your work, and it is likely to be a struggle. To write well, you need a certain fertile state of mind that facilitates writing. That is the reason good writing can never be a product of deadlines. The more effortless, calm, and centered you are, the more likely you are to get into the ‘flow’ quickly. Meditation is a much needed tool to nurture this effortlessness in writing. It gives you clarity of thought and a new perspective of looking at an old familiar situation, something that adds value to your writing.
When you are so into it, when you are so absorbed into the act of writing, you may be unaware of your surroundings. It is as if the writer and the writing has become one. Lots of great writers and storytellers stay locked up in their writing cabins for days on end. They often emerge with stories that become timeless.
A Matter of Practice
The role of meditation is really to bring one closer in union with one’s highest self. Any practice, whether meditation or writing, done over a long period of time, can help one achieve that state where our base identities cease to exist, even if momentarily. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, one of the most elaborate and widely acclaimed texts on the science of yoga, mentions a sutra that explains how this union is achieved.
स तु दीर्घकाल नैरन्तर्य सत्काराअदराअसेवितो दृढभूमिः ॥१४॥
sa tu dīrghakāla nairantarya satkāra-ādara-āsevito dr̥ḍhabhūmiḥ ॥14॥
Success is achieved through
sound and continuous practice;
over an extended period of time;
carried out in a serious and thoughtful manner.
Journaling as Meditation
Now, mental health experts are touting the explicit benefits of journaling as a way of not just memory keeping but also as a cathartic tool. In this, one switches themselves off from everything except writing. It has deeper benefits from increasing memory to increasing immunity and improving sleep. Journaling helps you as a kick-starter if you have always been inspired to write but did not know where to begin.
In a groundbreaking study published three years ago, researchers found that writing about one’s emotions and stress could boost one’s immunity in those undergoing conditions like HIV/AIDS, asthma, and arthritis. Writing not only helped them get better, but also kept them from getting worse. Just writing and talking about one’s emotions is not enough. People must understand the mechanics of how our emotions work and learn from them.
In another study at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, researchers asked a set of people to write their negative life experiences. Tests showed that their lymphocytes—markers of immune function in the body—count increased after the sessions. Many experts have come to the conclusion that this may vary from person to person and their degree of involvement and nature of their writing.
Benefit of Writing Meditations
Some people are so used to ‘doing’ something all the time that meditation as we traditionally know it—sitting still—can become an arduous task. Writing meditation can be beneficial for such people. It is a therapeutic process which leads you to a meditative state of mind, once you have written for about 5–10 minutes.
Empty and Declutter the Mind. As you write your thoughts down without filters, it helps declutter the mind and eventually slows down the pace of incessant thoughts.
Know yourself better. Journaling helps you know yourself better, helps externalize it and be witness to your thoughts, worries, or aspirations, your strengths and weaknesses.
Increases self-confidence. Knowing your strengths and having clarity about oneself gives immense confidence to deal with situations in life.
Helps you let go. Journaling can be a cathartic process and helps you let go of negative impressions that no longer support your growth and well-being.
Increased Awareness. Once you know what’s on your mind, it leads to greater awareness about where you stand regarding certain life situations. This helps you move forward in life. This heightened awareness also helps one lead a well-thought life rather than a life of reactivity and haste. It helps you slow down consciously.
Plan better and achieve goals. Journaling is an efficient way to plan and prioritize for near-term or long-term goals. It is also known to be an important visualization tool.
Releases Stress and manages depression. It brings the mind completely in the present moment where there are no thoughts of the future or the past. The present moment is free from worries and stress gets released in such a state of mind.
Studies have shown that people suffering from post-traumatic stress have found help from journaling. A 2005 study by Koopman, Ismail, Holmes, Classen, Palesh, & Wales found that journaling improved symptoms of depression in women who had experienced violence in relationships.
Enhances mood. It is known to uplift your mood. Once you know yourself better, you feel closer to yourself and you are more open to accepting yourself as you are.
Increases focus and concentration. A significant outcome of such a meditation is increased focus. As mindfulness increases, the mind starts to calm down, restlessness is reduced and concentration increases.
Remove the writer’s block. A common impediment for writers is a mental block, when words refuse to flow. This can be resolved with writing meditation, where you gently navigate your mind to get into the groove of writing instead of judging. Rhythmic breathing practices like the SKY technique can also greatly help in preparing your mind to write for long enough without losing the flow.
Studies have further shown the following physiological and mental benefits of therapeutic writing:
- Reduction in symptoms of depression
- Better working memory
- Improvement in asthma and rheumatoid arthritis
- Better emotional control
- Reduced intrusive thoughts
- Better immune response
How to do it?
The whole idea is to catch your mind in its natural habitat and simply record your thoughts as they emerge and spill. Here’s a simple guide to a writing meditation technique to try.
- Sit comfortably in a quiet place. When you are ready, set a timer for 10 minutes. Make note of how you feel both physically and emotionally.
- Start writing about whatever is the first thought that appears in your mind. Maybe you can give yourself writing cues in terms of topics you would like to write about, to kick off the conversation with yourself. It may be a topic dear to you, or just something that you are familiar with. Make no judgments on what you are writing and no corrections, just let the words flow. If you run out of thoughts, take a deep breath and get back to writing.
- Continue writing until your timer goes off.
- Once you are done, close your eyes again for a few minutes. Observe the breath and thoughts in your mind. You may find more thoughts streamlining in your head at this point. You can choose to continue writing them down. Did you reach a point where the writing became easier, where you reached a flow? What were the difficult parts of the exercise? Do you feel differently emotionally and/or physically?
Tips for Better Results
- In this entire process, it is important to not judge the writing itself.
- Don’t make it appear as a ‘task’ that you must ‘perform’. The more organic it is the better.
- Don’t be too rigid about when you should be writing. Neither wait for an opportune time to start writing. Author E.B. White said, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”
If there are specific times of the day when you feel more creative and ‘in flow’, just do it.
- Keep a pen and a pad or writing apps on your phone available to you at all times. When your mind weighs heavy with thoughts of worry, anxiety, or you have repetitive nagging thoughts/memories, sometimes even traumatic memories, you can write it down to free yourself of it.
- Don’t worry much about the quality of the content. Here, it is far more important to empty your mind than writing Pulitzer-winning prose.
- Give it time. Take the help of breathing with awareness, if you find yourself thoughtless. We often do not get thoughts when we become all too aware of our thoughts. This process is meant to be automatic and not forced.
- Lastly, like everything else, writing as a form of meditation and therapy requires practice for you to feel the benefit and relief. It is important to write every day.