Sunday, May 24, 2015

Beginning The Path To Mindfulness

I have started exploring the concept of mindfulness as put forward by Jon Kabat-Zinn. The idea behind this philosophy is that we need to increase awareness of who we are in any given point or moment. We need to expand awareness. It is a Buddhist concept, but it is being used for stress reduction, depression, and pain management. And research has shown the practice of mindfulness can actually bring about changes in the brain.

One concept presented in Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness for Beginners is that "If you are preoccupied with what is already known, you can't make that leap into that other dimension of creativity or imagination." As a writer, that statement gave me pause.

In practicing mindfulness we must work in the here and the now and not allow the past to influence us. We must appreciate who and what we are without judgment. This idea sort of harkens back to one of the basic tenets one finds in the Twelve Step philosophy, mainly that we need to recognize things from the past beyond our control and move on with life. The Serenity Prayer goes: "Help me see the things I can change, accept the things I can't, and grant me the wisdom to know the difference between the two."

As a writer though, I live in the past. When I write, I conjure up experience and transform memory and sensation into something relatable for a reader. I recall being frustrated by the old tenet: "Write what you know." I always felt that so limiting. But what it meant was write based on your transformative experiences, write emotions and ideas familiar to you, and if you tackle new concepts, make sure they are grounded in the foundation of those already laid.

Looking at mindfulness, I ponder that if I live in the here and now, then how will that affect one's writing? It is the opposite of "write what you know." Or is it? Maybe not. Maybe we must first be aware of the present as writers, shedding the stressors and biases outside our work before immersing ourselves in the world created. Maybe our failure to do that is why so often our writing changes through the course of a short story or book. We don't see it in the short term, but how often have we returned to something written and seen passages or ideas that stand out as flawed.?

I have much to learn about mindfulness, and I'm still skeptical of the idea, but maybe I will try practicing meditating before writing this summer. I will try approaching my work by first shedding a skin that might block or affect the process. We'll see how that turns out. I'll report back and let you know.

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