When Bad Meditation Inspires Better Writing
I’ve tried meditation off and on since my twenties, and I love the concept: quieting the mental noise, clearing away the chatter for a period of time, inviting stillness. With four kids and their friends coming and going from our house like it’s a train station on the Green Line, meditation seems deliciously luxurious, like going to a spa for the mind.
But I am so bad at it.
I took it up again about two years ago when I started writing my newest novel, THE SHORTEST WAY HOME. One of the principal characters is a massage therapist who practices yoga and meditation. I wanted to get to know her better, so I took out a bunch of yoga and meditation DVDs from the library.
There is quite a range out there, from the childishly simple to the impossibly difficult, with practitioners who range from bouncy cheerleaders to bearded older men. There was even one guy who had two attractive women on either side of him for every pose. I starting calling them Tony Orlando and Om. Made it very difficult not to giggle, which I assure you, is not yoga appropriate. You may smile beatifically, but you may not titter derisively or the yoga police show up.
After sampling all of those DVDs, I bought the ones I liked best. My favorite is narrated by a lovely middle-aged French woman. She describes the poses in the most luscious French accent, occasionally mispronouncing words, which always makes me smile. Here I am struggling to get into proud warrior pose without toppling over, and she’s saying the word “soothes” in two syllables: “sooth-es.” It makes me feel just a little less hopeless.
After the yoga portion, she guides you through a meditation, murmuring in her blissfully peaceful Frenchness, about “sitting at the center of all things” and “wrapping your energy around you like a shawl.” Let me tell, you I am down for that. I am on board.
And yet I can’t hold it together for more than about eight seconds before my unruly mind wanders off like a squirrel contemplating the possibility of a nut buried in the next yard. My brain will not behave. There is all this lovely gonging music and soothing talk about blowing thoughts away like feathers, and I’ve got a whole swan’s worth swirling around me like a blizzard.
What I’ve found is that some of the thoughts are random and useless. Other thoughts, however, have purpose. Those purposeful thoughts are generally on the topic of whatever story I’m working on. And they are like fireflies blinking their little thought lights at me, illuminating things about the plot or characters that hadn’t been able to slow down enough to ponder.
Sometimes it’s something ridiculously simple, like using the word “ricochet” instead of “bounce” in that scene I wrote three weeks ago. And I’m sitting there in my darkened basement with the lovely French woman cooing encouragingly from the TV, and I’m thinking, “Of course! Ricochet is worlds better than bounce!” and wanting to write it in spit on my yoga mat so I won’t forget. I have actually considered bringing a pencil and paper to my meditation sessions. Yes, I am that bad of a meditator.
But I keep doing it and here’s why: first, it’s just so pleasant. I feel all mentally shiny and nice afterward. I’m better at not yelling when I find that wet bathing suit on top of the basket of clean laundry, or that teenager-pillaged pie I was supposed to bring to a dinner party. I’m naturally peaced-out.
Also, I am in the zone to write. I’ve got bits of dialogue and plot fixes and descriptions of clothing. I’ve got stuff I never even knew I needed. In fact, I try to schedule my meditation when I know I have at least an hour free afterward to capture all the little pieces of story that moved in when I was supposed to be mentally cleaning house.
Weirdly, there’s still a small part of me that thinks meditation is a waste of time. After all, I’m not actually experiencing what it’s supposed to be all about—the oneness, the quietude, the stillness—so does it even count? Did it even happen? Shouldn’t I be engaged in more tangibly beneficial pursuits, like checking to see if that fascinating link I posted got re-Tweeted? (Twitter. So important.)
A mind like mine needs all the quietude it can get—even if it’s only dull-roar-itude. So I’ll keep meditating. Feel free to join me. I promise not to smirk if you bring a pencil and paper.