Saturday, June 13, 2015

Repost of Loving Kindness Meditation for Writers

This meditation is an adaptation of metta or loving-kindness meditation. It's a variation of the loving-kindness meditation for non-writers described by Sharon Salzberg: a fundamentally imaginative practice leading to empathy and compassion for ourselves and others.

In my Overcoming Writing Blocks courses, this writerly loving-kindness meditation is one of my favorite activities, right beside showing students mindful eating and walking.

Writer's Loving-Kindness can be helpful in our interactions with audience. Recall from previous posts that we've discussed how all writing is at least initially private writing and how we've stressed the importance of recognizing our fundamental solitude while writing. The audience, to paraphrase Walter Ong, is fictional; what's real is the Present moment. (See earlier posts "The 3 Paradoxes of Mindful Writing" and "How-To Tip #1: Kicking Out the Reader-in-the-Head.")

What better way to take advantage of the vacancy of the writer's Present moment, what better way to make use of our imaginative inclination, than to use those capacities to develop a more reflective, more nuanced relationship to potentially tricky audiences or what Peter Elbow calls dangerous audiences? (Note, though, that Writer's Loving-Kindness meditation is also intended for more benign audience relationships.)

Here are the steps:

Sit in a meditation posture on the floor or in a chair. Begin watching your breathing. Breathing in, think to yourself, "Here." Breathing out, think to yourself, "Now." Do this for several minutes.

1. Think of someone who has been supportive of your writing either in the past or in your current work. On the In Breath, visualize something which would bring this supportive individual tremendous happiness. Try to think of something relating to this individual's writing, reading, or maybe even teaching life. On the Out Breath, visualize this individual receiving or this item (or experiencing this happy event, if it's an event like a literary prize). Continue for several minutes to think of this person in this fashion while watching your breathing.

2. Turn to yourself. What would make you happy in terms of your writing life? On the In Breath, visualize this item or event. On the Out Breath, visualize yourself receiving this item or experiencing this event. Continue for several minutes to think of yourself in this fashion while watching your breathing.

3. Turn to a neutral--someone who is not central to your writing life but plays a role. You might not even know this person's name. For instance, in the past, I've visualized an editor at one of the literary journals to which I submit my work. (I've never met him.) Follow the same steps as above for the In and Out Breath, focusing this time on this person.

4. Turn to a dangerous audience--someone from your past or current writing experience who has tripped up your writing, wittingly or unwittingly. Follow the steps for this person.

5. Turn to any writing group or class you are involved in. For instance, when I'm using this meditation in my Overcoming Writing Blocks class, we contemplate the whole class (students and teacher alike). You could also pick the members of a coffee shop writing group you belong to or the crowd who attends a neighborhood reading series, for instance. Follow the steps for this group.

6. Lastly, turn to the writers of your genre--all the people who compose the type of writing you do (poetry, short fiction, etc.). Follow the steps for this group. Wish them well.

From doing the Writer's Loving-Kindness Meditation, you might notice a softening of your outlook toward difficult judges of your work. You might also gain a sense of their perspective--the reason why they might have acted toward your work as they did. Most of all, this meditation provides a different sensation of audience. Instead of fighting with audiences in our head or even kicking them out in order to use our actual solitude, we can greet that audience and those fellow writers with calm and generosity.

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