Friday, December 7, 2018

Word Bells and Reminders to Be Mindful

One of the most important steps in a mindful writing practice is to find a way to "remember to remember." To remember to remember to notice the present moment. 

This reminder is the agenda of the word sati, an important term that predated even the term "mindfulness" in Buddhist texts. 

The ringing of a bell is one of the most common methods to return to the present. In mindfulness centers and retreats, practitioners are also trained in this remembering work by picking an ordinary object or activity to serve as a trigger to remember: crossing doorway thresholds, climbing stairs, or touching a door knob.

Writers also need a way to remember to remember in order to notice the present moment for the purposes of writing.

Ideally, this method should be practiced at the beginning of each writing session.

1. Formal seated meditation (even in the desk chair) is a tried and true method. Meditate for 3-5 minutes before turning on the computer or opening the notebook.

2. Something embodied, something you. This is different than the mindful breathing of meditation. Pick a physical sensation that always happens with writing. Examples: the sensation of sitting in the desk chair, the sensation of one's wrists resting on the laptop keyboard, the sensation of holding a pen. Whatever it is, draw your attention to it in the moment.

3. Focus on a writing object. Pick an item routinely on your desk. Start a writing session by observing this one object for 1-2 minutes while watching your breathing.

4. Set up a triggering action. Opening the laptop. Taking out your notebook. Pulling a pen from a holder. Opening a Word file. Whatever the action is, do it mindfully, while watching the breath.

The above are methods to remember the present when starting a writing session. 

We can also train ourselves to remember to remember when we're in the middle of a writing session. These methods are geared for more advanced mindful writing practitioners: people who can tolerate interruptions in their productive mindlessness. They're also helpful for all of us, no matter our experience with mindful writing, as occasional practice.

1. Set a timer for every 15-20 minutes. When the timer goes off, stop whatever you're writing and return to watching the breath for a minute. Then resume writing.

2. Pick a fairly frequent word, perhaps an article like "the" or a preposition like "to." Train yourself to return to the present moment each time you either write or read this "word bell." I recommend that this practice be used less frequently than the others. It's useful every now and then when you want to bolster your mindful awareness. Try it for 10 minutes every now and then.