“Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.”
– Khalil Gibran, The Prophet
This post first appeared on the Vermont College of Fine Arts blog, where I write a monthly mindfulness column. You can find that here.
The sound and fury of our modern world can sometimes make writing impossible. As if our phones and the constant streaming music and just one more video to watch on YouTube isn’t distracting enough, our very minds seem to be running on a 24-7 talk radio cycle. Our brains are shouting our To-Do lists and spinning the same tired yarns we tell ourselves—broken record stories about everything we fear, all our worries, each slight from so-and-so, and the refrain not enough time, not enough time.
Martha Beck, coach and writer, says:
When you hear or read a thought that is written from the stillness, it calls forth the stillness in you. It opens a portal between the questing, desperate ego and the soul that is always present; always there to comfort, instruct, inform, and guide us home.
It’s this ego that’s always trying to make itself known that’s so darn loud. Shrill, even. It hates being ignored. Thing is, in order to create, we have to banish our egos from the writing space. Why? Because the vein of gold we all access when we’re in flow is the same vein all artists in the world for all time have drawn from. And to get there, we have to go deep within ourselves, beyond the mundane of our daily worries and fears, as far as possible from the Greek Chorus telling us we’re terrible writers.
If you’re struggling to get words on the page, it’s time to cut out the noise and tune into the inner stillness inside you. Trust me, it’s there—it’s just that you can’t hear that beautiful quiet over the roar of your internal and external stimuli.
Ursula K. LeGuin said: To hear, one must be silent.
To hear what? Your characters, for starters. A muse, if you have one. The sound of the wind rustling through the trees in your very own Middle Earth. The cries of dragons or laughter of your protagonist, or the specific words for that spell your villain is casting. More than anything, getting quiet will give your own inner knowing a chance to whisper its secrets to you about what the next best step for your story is.
Eckhart Tolle once said, True artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, of inner stillness.
Are you a true artist? Do you want to be?
Then it’s time to do the hard work of getting quiet. But how do we do this in such a loud world?
We sit. We listen. We breathe.
Simple, but not easy. When you meditate, no matter how noisy your internal sound loop is, you are building the muscles that will help you swim your way to the calm, still lake inside you. Sometimes you’ll only get to visit the lake for a second. Other times, for minutes on end. The goal of meditation practice for you, Writer, is to just show up. Just like writing, the magic can’t happen if you don’t sit down and do the work. Even five minutes can open the door into that castle of quiet a crack.
Below is a guided meditation I created for writers to find your own inner stillness by meditation on—plot twist!—sound. When we tune into the world around us, when we direct our attention away from the constant inner chatter, we open a doorway into our own inner stillness.
All this meditation entails is sitting down in a comfortable position, closing your eyes, breathing naturally through your nose, and becoming aware of the sounds around you. All sounds are welcome—even your neighbor’s lawn mower. What we’re doing here is getting curious, a key ingredient of creation. You can follow a single sound until it disappears, or let the wash of wind and voices and dogs barking and cars driving by wash over you. Bonus points for going out into nature and doing this in the wild.
When you open your eyes, take this advice from Mary Oliver to heart before you put pen to paper:
Just pay attention, then patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.
Breathe. Write. Repeat.
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