THE SECRET TO OVERCOMING WRITER’S BLOCK: MEDITATE
As a writer, it’s those glorious, soul-igniting moments when the words are flowing freely from your fingertips, when your heart is pouring itself onto paper, when your mind feels open and expanded to create and produce, that kindle the passion for the art-form. In other moments, there’s writer’s block.
Every writer knows the feeling: like there’s a frog in your throat and a bamboo finger-trap locking your hands together. The ideas in your head have no way of making it out there into the world, no matter how much you beg and plead. It’s a problem of our over-crowded, thinking minds.
This is what the Buddhists call our “monkey minds,” the incessant chattering in our heads–the repetitive thoughts that contribute nothing to our happiness, well-being, or ability to create. And they know how to make them stop: meditate.
Countless studies show the benefits of meditation on work-place productivity, but the research also hints that meditation can help expand your imagination and creativity to help you push through those mental blocks to create new ideas and translate them onto paper.
Here are five meditations to try if you’re struggling with writer’s block.
1. GO OUTSIDE, AND MEDITATE IN NATURE.
Think of your writer’s block as an actual BLOCK: a square, a box, a cube. In nature, there are no right angles. And yet, we sit ourselves in box-shaped rooms, in cubical buildings, staring at square computer screens, all man-made, and wonder why we can’t write organically. To “think outside the box,” you must sit outside the box.
Or, you can guide yourself through it:
Step 1: Go outside. Sure, you can see the outdoors from your window, but this step is vital. Get your whole physical being out of the box and into nature. If the weather allows, go barefoot. (If the weather is truly unbearable, you can meditate with a houseplant).
Step 2: Choose a plant that draws your attention. You can stand, but if you’re able, sit on the ground in front of this plant.
Step 3: Look at one tiny aspect of this plant. Choose one pedal, leaf, or twig. And stare. In your head, describe this tiny piece of nature using as many adjectives as you can, until your brain gets tired of coming up with words. When no more words come to mind, then let the mind be silent, and just stare. Stare like you’re trying to figure out a Magic Eye puzzle. After a few moments of blurry-eyed staring, move on to:
Step 4: Breathe with the plant. Let your vision “zoom out,” so that your eyes are processing a larger piece of this plant—maybe the whole bush, or a whole branch. Acknowledge that this plant is part of a larger system, and anthropomorphize the photosynthesis process: this plant breathes in carbon dioxide and breathes out oxygen, just as you breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. Breathe in and out through your nose—deep, full breaths—and imagine the plant is breathing with you. As you breathe out, the plant breathes in. As you breathe in, the plant breathes out. Continue breathing like this for a few moments.
Step 5: Close your eyes. Mentally, let your vision zoom out further, like Google Earth. In your mind’s eye, visualize all the plants in the park, yard, or garden where you’re sitting. Imagine them breathing together, and continue breathing with them. Then zoom out further, and imagine all the plants in your town breathing with you. Zoom out further, until you see all the plants in your country breathing. On your continent. In your hemisphere. And finally, all the plants on the entire planet, breathing with you, as if they are the lungs of the earth.
Step 6: Get back to work.
2. WALK, DANCE, OR MOVE TO MEDITATE.
Energy and blood pool and stagnate in our bodies when we sit still for too long. In the same way, our thoughts can also stagnate in our minds when we are without movement. When writer’s block hits, take some time to mindfully walk, swim, hula-hoop, dance, or practice yoga. The key is to be MINDFUL—to remain present with the movement, and with your breath.
Or guide yourself through it:
Step 1: Change your scenery: take yourself either outside, or into a different room. Go barefoot.
Step 2: Begin taking VERY slow steps around the room or yard. Try to time these steps with your breath: lift your leg with your inhale, and place it down slowly, heel to toe, with your exhale. Repeat with the other leg. Inhale, lift the leg; exhale, place it down. Walk slowly around the room in this manner, in a circle. Observe every point of contact that your foot makes with the floor. Observe the feeling of the knee joint as it rises in front of you, and the ankle joint each time you step the foot down. When you’ve completed one circle around the room, move on to:
Step 3: Speed up the steps slightly, so that now, you are inhaling every time you step forward with the right foot, and exhaling every time you step forward with the left foot. Inhale, right. Exhale, left. Walk in a figure-eight shape. Notice how your arms sway as you walk.
Step 4: Speed up the steps even more, so now you are taking two steps with every inhale (right foot, left foot) and two steps with every exhale (right foot, left foot). Walk chaotically around the room, in any direction you feel drawn to. Let your arms and your shoulders be loose. You can even flail your arms, roll your shoulders, and let your head hang and roll. Let the movements of your body feel free.
Step 5: After a few moments of chaotic walking, find yourself in the center of the room. Stand completely still. Close your eyes, and breathe deeply in and out. Keep your mind with the physical sensations of the breath, in and out through your nose. Notice any warmth or energy moving through the body.
Step 6: Get back to work.
3. LET THE MUSIC MOVE YOU.
In the wise words of the poet Marshall Mathers, “music can alter moods and talk to you.”
Of our five senses, the sense of “hearing” is rarely the one that dominates when we’re in the writing flow. By flipping the “on” switch for that sense and focusing our meditative concentration on the sound of music, we give our analytical minds a rest and let our emotional minds take over. This can help greatly in becoming a more empathetic fiction writer.
Or choose your own music, and guide yourself through:
Step 1: Choose a non-lyrical, high-emotion song. Cinematic soundtracks and classical music are both great choices. Headphones are recommended.
Step 2: Lie down, close your eyes, and play the track. Focus on taking deep, full breaths. As the music picks up, let your mind be clear of anything but the sound. If your mind wanders to other thoughts (“What’s for lunch?” “Did I lock the door?”), simply acknowledge those thoughts, and send them on their way. Keep bringing your focus back to the music.
Step 3: Notice if emotions or sensations arise from the music, and if they do, FEEL THEM. Feel them deeply and physically. If some part of the song is making you feel sad, where in your body are you feeling sadness? If it’s making you excited, what does that feel like in your physical body?
Step 4: When the song ends, continue laying in silence for a few moments, just breathing.
Step 5: Get back to work.
ALSO TRY: ECSTATIC DANCE!
You can combine the moving meditation and the music meditation into ecstatic dance. Here’s my ecstatic dance playlist on Spotify. Let it play, and just let your body move, in new and interesting ways, without dogma or care for aesthetics.
4. CHANT MANTRA.
You know that phenomenon when you repeat a word too many times and it starts sounding like a foreign language? The repetition tricks your brain into seeing the word from a new perspective, and it appears unfamiliar. Think of it as a total brain reset. If you’re stuck on a piece of writing, you can use mantra or chanting to un-stick your mind in the same way.
Step 1: The Hindu goddess Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge, creativity, and the arts. She’s usually depicted sitting on a lotus flower, holding a veena (an instrument similar to a sitar). We’ll use her mantra for this chanting meditation. Memorize this mantra:
“OM AIM SARASWATI NAMAHA.”
Step 2: Look at the palm of your right hand. See how your four fingers have 3 distinct sections, separated by the knuckle creases? Touch the tip of your thumb to the tip of your pinky, then the middle of your pinky, then the bottom of your pinky. Then to the tip of the ring finger, middle of ring finger, and bottom of ring finger. Repeat with the middle finger and the pointer finger. This is how we count our mantras. In total, there are 12 sections, and we’ll repeat that cycle 9 times, for a total of 108, a holy number in the yogic tradition.
Step 3: Chant out-loud, keeping count using the finger method described above. Chant the full mantra on each section of your fingers. Notice how the mantra starts to change sound, and how with each repetition it sounds a bit different. Repeat until you’ve chanted 108.
Step 4: Get back to work.
5. USE VISUALIZATION TO EXPAND THE MIND.
Sometimes, it’s useful to boost your imagination and creative powers the old-fashioned way, through visualization, entirely unrelated to the story you’re writing. If you’re stuck with your writing, using visualization in meditation can help switch on more novel and unique lines of thinking in your brain.
Or guide yourself through it:
Step 1: Sit either cross-legged on the ground, or in a chair, ensuring that the spine is elongated, bring your full concentration to your breath. Simply breathing in, and breathing out. Try to maintain this awareness of the breath, with no wandering thoughts, for a few breaths.
Step 2: Visualize yourself walking down a path. Describe in your mind the type of path, the feeling of the path, and the surroundings of the path, in as much detail as you can imagine it.
Step 3: Continue this visualization by walking down the path. At the end of the path, imagine you see a house. Again, describe every aspect of the house that you can. Imagine that you approach the door. What does the doorknob look like? What does it feel like in your hand? You open the door, to a living room with a couch. Sit on the couch, and describe, in your mind, how it feels.
Step 4: Imagine that you hear a friendly knock on the door, and you get up to answer it. Who is it? Invite this person in, and have a conversation. Let the story lead the way.
Step 5: When the conversation has finished, say goodbye, and walk back down the path, back to the present moment. Become aware again of your breath, and the sounds that are present in your current location.
Step 6: Get back to work.
BONUS: TRY A WRITER’S RETREAT
If you’re a writer and these meditations help you access your creativity, join our Writers’ Workshop Retreat in Bali in January. We’ll provide a peaceful getaway in the mountains, where you’ll have tons of time to work on your creative writing project from the privacy of your own bungalow with a stunning view. Each morning, we’ll start with creativity-enhancing, writers’-block-busting meditations like the ones above, and each evening, we’ll meet as a group to workshop the day’s writing.
A daily meditation practice can boost your creative output in ways you never knew were possible, so get meditating, get creative, and get writing.