The Wisdom Blog: Classic & Contemporary Buddhism

Monday Mindful Morsel: The Mindful Writer

by Lydia Anderson
February 10, 2014
Mon, 02/10/2014 - 10:57 -- landerson

This week's morsel comes from The Mindful Writer by Dinty W. Moore. The Mindful Writer illuminates the creative process: where writing and creativity originate, how mindfulness plays into work, how to cultivate good writing habits, how to grow as a writer and a person, and what it means to live a life dedicated to the craft of writing. The two selections below look at how to harness your monkey-mind when writing (and meditating), and how to use mindfulness and examination as part of your creative process.

Catch yourself thinking.
~ALLEN GINSBERG

Buddhists have a term—monkey mind—that portrays the restlessness of our brains, especially when we try to deliberately slow the brain down. If you have ever attempted to meditate, you know how this works. The brain is likely to go suddenly hyperactive, leaping from notion to notion, idea to idea, like a caffeine-fueled monkey swinging from tree to tree. Just when you think the mind’s stream of thought has slowed down, that you can stop and lay a finger on a single notion, the monkey goes flying off to another tree, and then another.

In meditation, the goal (eventually, after many years of gradual effort) is to find the truth that is beyond thought. A useful exercise along the way, however, is to on occasion just forget the “no thought” idea—which can be distracting itself— and instead intentionally focus on the chatter of the mind. Just watch and listen as it runs its course.

It can be a fascinating exercise to take whatever insistent thought that pops up—be it serious or trivial—and let it swing on and on to as many trees and branches as it desires, until it—the distraction itself—is seemingly exhausted, run to the ground, out of steam.

Ginsberg doesn’t advise us to stop the monkey from his inevitable traveling, just to catch the moment, to pull out a single thought for an instant and really notice, be mindfully aware.

That thought is a line of a poem, the beginning of a story, an essay.

Catch it.


The truth you believe in and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new.
~PEMA CHÖDRÖN

A crucial aspect of mindfulness is becoming aware of what we cling to and recognizing the clichés in our own thinking or beliefs. There are notions that stick in our brains the way plaque adheres to the arteries of our heart, and neither of these is good for us.

If something has seemed to be true for as long as you can remember, it is easy to begin imagining that this belief is unassailably true, that it is incontrovertible, because it has always seemed so, because it has stood the test of time. But in fact, time is not much of a test. Ask Galileo, for instance.

The only true test is examination. Why do I believe that? Is it merely convenient to believe that? Is this belief comfortable because it lets me off the hook? Do I just believe this idea or truism because my mother, my father, my priest, my friend told it to me?

The mindful thinker is relentless, always challenging.

Read more from The Mindful Writer here.

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