canyon river

Meditation, Writing, Editing

A forum sponsored by the Arts & Culture Working Group at the Boulder Shambhala Center posed the question of creative production and the role dharma plays in it.  The forum ultimately got canceled when Xcel cut power to the building, but these are my thoughts.

When one is sitting with oneself, your intentions and your reality are always in play. You want to let yourself be, truly sitting doing nothing, but there’s always a little project going on, to do it right, to stay with the breath — in reality your mind cranks away all the time.  That’s what it does, you can’t fight it.  Therefore, you shape and balance the experience of just being, against a gentle but watchful awareness.  You have that interplay of resting and noticing yourself, and the more aspirational aspect of where you want to go.

It’s the same sort of thing when I’m writing, where I have to accept what I’m creating sufficiently for the writing to happen, while keeping a critical eye on it.   On the one hand you want to open the spigot and let the words come out, on the other you’re cautious about all the perils of writing.  Overwriting, over-complicating, unnecessary words, passive voice, section breaks, transitions, POV, voice, tense, coherence, the list goes on.

Especially in editing, when you’re winnowing the keepable language from excess, you’re of course not letting things be.  There’s an interplay between an ideal object, the perfect piece of writing, vs. the writing that’s in front of you.  In all there’s perfect freedom. In meditation there’s complete freedom, then there’s your purpose in meditation.  In all instances, you have to love it enough to work on it.

There are many correlations between meditation and writing, but all three — meditation, writing, and editing converge in confidence.

Starting a new blank page is an act of bravery equal to sitting meditation, and both take more than strength.  It takes complete confidence in the whole situation.  I have an old and very dear friend who had a nervous breakdown after he finished his first novel, and never wrote fiction again. In other words, you have to have confidence in what you’ve produced.

I’m talking about a very basic confidence, confidence that you are a writer and have a right to do it.  In writing, no matter what drives your writing, one needs that conviction and satisfaction in saying I am a writer. You need the confidence to claim that identity.

In meditation, at the best of times, you’re just hanging out in space.  You need a sense of what makes it meaningful to you, and conviction in that purpose or view. The view provides the roadmap for your meditation.  Are you today, in this session, interested in resting in space? Then do that.  Want to increase your concentration? There are techniques for that. So, in meditation confidence equates to view or purpose.

In editing, you have to trust your own ear for what is true and what says it well. There are blind spots galore, it turns out, so having a second pair of eyes is invaluable. Having people read your work is beneficial as it reveals your habits. But ultimately the decisions are yours, and you need to trust your judgement as well as the value of what you have written.

In meditation that very intimate relationship, of editor, is solely with yourself.  There is the recommended relationship with a spiritual friend, someone to talk to about your path, but that is secondary to your relationship with yourself as you meditate. There are always abundant reference points, I’m not claiming great accomplishment.

Writing uses the mental skills you learn in meditation.  The willingness and ability to look, for one. The meditative technique touch and go, notice and go back to the body breathing, is the tool you need to notice a repetitive adverb and cut it without looking back. And you develop in abundance the ability to face the blank page.

Writing and meditating and editing all have a limitless quality. Some of my friends who are writers crank out 140,000 word manuscripts with great love and affection, and just keep going, because that was part one.  You can write forever it seems.  Just tap on the keys. Go to a crossroads and kill a chicken, whatever appeases the muse.

Meditation encompasses an infinity of time and space.  There’s an infinity of space in your mind, I’m told.  There’s certainly an eternity in an hour of meditation if you’re uncomfortable.  There’s an infinity of meditative experience, as many as there are beings.

Editing is limitless because you can massage any one piece forever.  It’s always just abandoned, as Paul Valery famously said.  (In meditation there is no choice.  You correct in the moment and leave it.)

One odd correlation in my writing is an instinct to stop that I developed in meditation.  Just stopping the whole storyline, stopping the production of ego, stopping the social personality, stopping the habits and invectives and to-do lists.  In writing I love to stop the narrative in its tracks, bring it to a high point then throttle the storyline down to nothing by inserting straight exposition.  I find that funny, but I’m beginning to fear I am the only one who does.

For every similarity you can find ten dissimilarities.  In writing you have to take a sharply critical look, in meditation hopefully you can be gentler. Again, in writing you can and must claim your identity as a writer.  It’s good to feel purpose and meaning in your meditation, but proclaiming I am a meditator would be in contradiction to the teachings on egolessness or shunyata. Proclaiming yourself a writer does too, but at least it’s not right in the Buddha’s playground.  Likewise, the craving for an audience would be out of place in meditation.  You can sit there thinking everyone is watching you, but that is unnecessarily painful.

There’s lots more to say about communication and the Shambhala path, and other stuff, but four pages is enough.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *