It makes intuitive sense that a regular meditation practice is probably good for poets. We know that to write well, we need time to center our thoughts, time to observe and be attentive to the world around us, and a mind clear of the worries and to-do lists that compete for our attention. In an essay on the relationship between meditation and poetry, José Angel Araguz writes, “Meditation, like poetry, is about setting the intention to go let yourself be in a room simply breathing (or writing down words). Approached this way, both poetry and meditation offer answers to the question of How does it feel to exist?”
If poetry and meditation essentially ask the same questions of us, it also follows that taking time to meditate can help support a richer poetic practice. In his book on meditation and creativity, David Lynch writes, “Ideas are like fish. If you want to catch little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper. Everything, anything that is a thing, comes from the deepest level. Modern physics calls that level the Unified Field. The more your consciousness—your awareness—is expanded, the deeper you go toward this source, and the bigger the fish you can catch.” Meditation, as a tool for deepening awareness and consciousness, can help us deepen our writing, too.
But starting a meditation practice—or staying consistent with one once you start—can be hard. Making time for meditation, doing it consistently, and finding a practice that feels right for you takes time and energy, and many writers are already stretched thin trying to find the time and energy for their writing life. Here are four simple ways to incorporate meditation into your daily life or poetry practice; these methods can maximize your opportunity to connect with attentiveness and awareness without requiring a huge investment in time or money.
Take a sensory-focused walk
For those poets who are new to meditation practices, a meditation in motion might be the most comfortable and accessible way to start. Choose three or four of your own senses to focus on for this exercise. (For the sake of this example, we will use sight, hearing, touch, and smell, but we recognize not everyone uses each of those senses; feel free to work with the senses that you have access to and are comfortable using.) As you take a walk outdoors, slowly and intentionally take mental note of five things you see, five things you hear, five things you feel, and five things you smell. Then, as you continue walking slowly, take note of four (different) things you see, four things you hear, four things you feel, and four things you smell. Continue “counting down” as you mentally list your observations of the world around you. Later, when you are writing, notice which of these observations stay with you in your memory. Can you recall any of the smells you noticed on your walk? Can you recall any of the sounds? If so, which ones?
Five deep breaths, five times a day
For this meditation, you will take five slow breaths in a row, trying to extend the exhale as long as you can. When you take these five breaths, all you need to focus on is the breath itself: how it feels in your body, and how it sounds in your lungs, coming in, going out. Try taking five deep breaths five times a day: when you first wake up, right before you start work for the day, at lunch time or midday break, after work when your workday ends, and finally, right before you go to bed. This daily attention to the breath can assist in consciousness and attentiveness, even though the time commitment is relatively short. And, if you forget a five-breath meditation, it’s ok, because you will have four other opportunities during the day to get back into your practice. Breath, and the natural rhythms breath creates in the body, is the life force of poetry and meter.
Try a five-finger meditation
This is a great meditation to do right before and after you write, clearing the energetic space in your mind for your writing. Noted by New York Times writer Tara Parker Pope, this exercise is a quick and easy way to clear your mind and focus your attention. To do this meditation, use the index finger of one hand to slowly trace the outline of the opposite hand. As you trace a finger upwards, breathe in; as you trace a finger downwards, breathe out. Keep your breaths—and your finger tracing—slow and intentional. After you’ve traced your hand in one direction, reverse direction and trace back to your starting point, remembering to breathe in on the upward motion and breathe out on the downward motion. For poets, as people who often use their hands to create their art (through typing or handwriting), taking time to meditate around the shape of one’s hand is particularly meaningful and apropos.
When all else fails, this Jellyfish Meditation is amazing
Take five minutes before you write to let your mind relax by watching these jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium pulse and flow with their watery habitats. The gentle visual repetition of these beautiful creatures can have the same calming effect that more complex forms of meditation might have—with much less commitment or practice to get there. After you let yourself watch these flowing creatures, let your own words flow through a calmed, attentive mind.