I have been quiet, working toward a looming deadline. A good friend across country is in a similar space, completing her doctoral dissertation. Earlier this week she asked how I do it over and over again, writing to a deadline and managing to keep my sense of humor and appear so relaxed and engaged with life. Hah! Maybe I missed my calling on the stage…. Another question she posed was how I work through snags in my writing. What follows is the meat of my response to her email. It’s casual, and I’m sure I could improve it, but when I reread it this morning I thought, hm, that’s it in a nutshell.
The deadline now looms so large in my mind, and dancing with that sense of urgency, how to use it but not let it overwhelm me, is my meditation practice. There’s a concept my meditation teacher talks about a lot, about noticing the space around me, around everything and all that I’m doing. This space is where I can breathe, it’s the pause between, it’s always there supporting me. So I keep bringing myself back to that space, finding ways to allow it. This is quite a challenge when the ticking clock is so loud in the room, but a powerful practice. It begins with taking three deep breaths. As Norman Fischer (another teacher, a Zen monk and poet) says, we need to breathe anyway, so we can certainly afford the time to take those three deep breaths. Often that’s all I need. I’m back in my legs, back in my power. Sometimes I need to move–yoga, walk, dance. Even just a few minutes of movement helps. It’s that close.
And as to writing through snags, I’ve been working with that as well, and they seem to happen when–ta da–I’ve become too aware of the ticking clock and I’m rushing. Sometimes it’s just a matter of relaxing into the creative process. Two steps forward, one back, three forward, two back, stall, one step forward. Maybe that’s just the rhythm of this work. That’s often all it is. Nothing. Is. Wrong.
Or I need to ask whether this is truly a fresh idea I might consider, which would mean going back and changing a lot, or whether I’m panicking and my mind is using this to stall me–oh no, I should have done this differently, red alert, red alert, disaster approaching, impact in 3 seconds!
I know that I don’t know all that I’m thinking until I write it out, until I’ve played it out; then I ask myself what else is “in the room” (my metaphor) if I shift my gaze just a little. What thread have I dropped? That’s often when I go off for a walk, or go out into the garden and work for a while.
Questions really work for me. Have I strayed from the tonal quality I was looking for? Have I veered off point? Is that veering something helpful that I just didn’t see until I started writing? Or am I avoiding something, skirting an issue? Do I have my hands over my ears as I hum loudly so I don’t hear what I need to do–like do more research?
Sometimes just randomly writing words in a “cloud” on a blank piece of paper reveals what I’m thinking.
My pep talk: “Remember, you have loads of support all around you. Everyone wants you to succeed. You are respected. Trust yourself. Look at what you’ve achieved. Take a moment to appreciate that.”
Nicely done, thank you!
I like the idea of focusing on, when meditating or just trying to calm oneself, the space around us. I’m taking that literally, although, of course, one could be thinking of “space” in a metaphorical sense…
But I like the idea of focusing on actual space. One thing I have been becoming increasingly aware of–not just in my work as a writer, but in many aspects of my life–is becoming more aware of what I notice, and what I do not, what I put my focus on, and what I ignore. So often what we focus on, of course, is what is not working, what is problematic and so on, and so it can be helpful to shift focus onto what is working, and what is present and available, and so on.
But it had not occurred to me to focus on space, especially when under pressure, and the way space allows us to pause, breathe, and stop!
Oh, yes, on noticing what is not working, what is problematic. It is such a habit, that critical focus. So much more skillful to appreciate what is there, and think how to build on that.
I do mean space both physically and metaphorically (or mentally–the space around ideas, the silence in stillness).
You’ve given me some food for thought. Thank you!
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