Have you ever tried to meditate and had a hard time sitting for longer than a few minutes? Perhaps you fidget and obsess over a pain in your leg or about what you’ll do later that day. Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Sitting for a long time and trying to quiet the mind can sometimes produce anxiety if we’re not used to it. As a meditator myself and as a writer and teacher I’m fascinated by how freewriting can serve to still the mind and act as a form of meditation.
Writing gives us something to focus on while meditation helps the mind of writing become more open and less critical or guarded. When we write freely, our anxious, judging selves may show up in our writing. Seeing these thoughts written down can help us release old patterns and beliefs and allow us to feel more energized.
Also, holding a pen rather than writing on a computer can make us calmer, tap into our creativity, and unite the right and left sides of the brain. When we write by hand, writing can take the form of meditation; we feel our hand holding the pen, notice the paper’s softness as we write. Both writing and meditation nurture each other and allow us to let go of past stories as we strengthen ourselves, our awareness and our writing.
I came across the expression “first thoughts” in Nathalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Freeing the Writer Within. In her book, she says to keep writing even when you feel like stopping to read what you’ve written. Allow the pen to continue across the page and don’t cross out anything. Goldberg’s “first thoughts” or what other writers might refer to as “freewriting,” helps you trust yourself and open to the creative process.
You might find it hard to believe that simply putting pen to paper to write could give you peace of mind, groundedness, and increased vitality. Yet it’s a fact. Through clinical research, James Pennebaker, author of Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions discovered that writing makes people happier, healthier and less anxious.
Writing + meditation
Combining writing and meditation can help people with anxious thoughts or ‘monkey mind’ to see these thoughts for what they are—just thoughts — once they get them out of their heads and onto paper. The truth is, most of us go around with a myriad of fantasies and worries running rampant in our heads. Rarely do we take the time to explore how these thoughts influence our mental health and general well-being. After all, who has the time?
Writing meditation draws on mindfulness and being present, uniting that with writing down thoughts, creativity, and witnessing what arises. It helps to unite our egoistic “doing” selves with our conscious “being” selves.
For just 5 to 10 minutes per day, writing meditation can bring us back to living and experiencing ourselves as part of the world. Sitting for a long time and trying to quiet the mind can sometimes produce anxiety if we’re not used to it. So while writing engages the mind, meditation keeps us grounded. When we write freely, our anxious, judging selves may show up in our writing. Seeing these thoughts written down can help us release old patterns and beliefs and allow us to feel more energized.
Also, holding a pen rather than writing on a computer can make us calmer, tap into our creativity, and unite the right and left sides of the brain. When we write by hand, writing can take the form of meditation; we feel our hand holding the pen, notice the paper’s softness as we write. Both writing and meditation nurture each other and eventually allow us to let go of past stories as we strengthen ourselves, our awareness, and our writing.
What you’ll need to begin
- Comfortable chair or cushion.
8 ways to curb anxious thoughts
- Pick a time every day to write freely for up to 20 minutes. You can begin with five or 10 minutes for a week or so, then add on the minutes until you’re more comfortable sitting for longer. It’s widely known that daily meditation helps people recognize destructive thought patterns. While you’ll be writing, you are going to approach it as a meditation. Some studies on regular meditation even show a reduction in areas of the brain related to anxiety and stress.
- Carve out a quiet area of your living space just for you. Add items, such as candles, pleasing photos of nature, flowers, and soft furnishings that help you feel relaxed and safe. Find a comfortable place on a sofa, chair or on a cushion on the floor, and make sure that the location is quiet and free from interruption. See that your back is supported and that you’re sitting upright. You may cross your legs if you wish or sit with your feet planted firmly on the floor.
- Allow your hands to rest on your thighs or knees, palms facing upwards. Take a few moments to sense the inflow and outflow of breath. Allow your awareness to follow the breath as it expands your lungs and abdomen and exits through your nostrils. With each breath begin to let go a bit more, releasing any tension or pain in your neck and shoulders, your arms, back, hips and legs. Observe your breathing a few moments more before opening your eyes.
- Open your notebook and begin to write down how you’re feeling at that moment, or what you’re experiencing as you take in your surroundings.
- Open your senses. Notice any noises either in or outside the room and write about them as they occur, not judging or giving them much importance, just recording how they appear to you. You might write, “I am hearing a bird outside in the tree, or I hear the sound of my hand brushing against the page as I write; the sound of the chair when I shift position.”
- Notice the space around and between the noises. Does it feel expansive or narrow? Allow your mind to rest for a few moments between the sounds you’re hearing. Then begin to pay attention to the quality and texture of the sounds. If there are birds outside, is the birdsong high pitched, melodic, repetitive or deep?
- Try not to judge what comes up for you, just record it and notice when it passes.
- Acknowledge the negative self-talk inside your head if there is some. The act of writing it down will gradually help you take away its power.
- Close your writing meditation by giving thanks for your practice, for yourself, for those you hold dear, and for all living things on Mother Earth.
When practiced regularly, writing meditation can help to calm the inner critic or perfectionist within us. Gradually, we become aware of our stories and have a clearer idea of negative thoughts as they arise. It allows us to come back to the present and to make every moment — every word — count.
Writing meditation helps to increase awareness and flow during the creative process. And with it comes joy. How wonderful is that!