Friday, June 22, 2012

Meditate to Get In the Zone

When you write, do you get into 'the zone'—a mental state where time disappears and you are one with your craft? You look up at the clock after a while, bleary-eyed,  and discover it's been hours since you started writing. Carl Jung called this sort of thing accessing the active imagination. Maslow called it 'Being Cognition.' Whatever you call it, it's fabulous and desirable. It's where we can produce our best creative work.

You can boost your ability to get into the zone through meditation. A daily meditation practice (even if it's really four or five days a week) can do wonders. You essentially train your mind to go deep and stay there for a while. It takes about a half hour a day, and can give you the energy to be productive for many hours at a time.

I think just about any kind of true meditation would work. It's the process of inner focus and letting go that we want to foster so we can develop the abilities we're after. 

But if you're like me you have a hard time making your mind go completely quiet. For those of us with stubborn, restless minds, an active-mind method works well. One that I think is really well-suited to the creative process is called Creative Visualization.  In addition to training your mind to go into the zone, you can utilize it to actively explore specific issues you may be having with your characters, story line, setting, whatever.

You may have heard of Creative Visualization. It was popularized by Shakti Gawain in the '70s and '80s. She wrote a book on it, and it's still available (CREATIVE VISUALIZATION, by Shakti Gawain). I came across the book in a used book store years ago while I was traveling. I was fussing and feeling pressured by my job in New York, and wanted something to read on my flight home to take my mind off my worries. And there it was. A book about using meditation to visualize success to make it happen. I no longer wanted to take my mind off what was bothering me. I wanted to fix it. I read the whole book (it's not long) between wheels up and landing, and started meditating the next day. The method was excellent for helping me effectively communicate my ideas at work. Years later, when I became a writer, it was the most natural thing in the world to translate that experience to a more deeply personal one that I could use to develop my novels.

Here's the process:
  • carve out a half hour for meditation each morning. I actually dedicate an hour, the first half of which goes to having a cup of coffee and letting my mind wander to get rid of busy, unimportant thought fragments. You may not need to do that. Fifteen-to-thirty minutes is a good amount of time for the meditation itself. Save a little time to make notes after meditating, too (see below).
  • have a dedicated place that you go to to meditate each day. . . a favorite chair, a cushion on the floor in a favorite room, etc. You can sit cross-legged with the backs of your hands resting on your knees, tips of thumbs and index fingers touching yoga style; or simply sit straight in a chair with hands on knees, feet on ground, and, if needed, pillows behind your back to support your lumbar region. How you sit doesn't really matter that much, as long as you keep your spine as straight as possible while still being comfortable. Once you get used to meditating, you should be able to do it almost anywhere and anytime, but when you're starting, ease the way by creating an association between where and how you sit with relaxing into a meditative state.
  • use Gawain's method for moving your mind into the meditative state. This involves letting your eyes and mind close to the physical world around you and open to an internal world; deep breathing; and focus. (more on this below) Don't worry that you will be 'out of it' in case of emergency. I used to meditate daily, very early in the morning, when my son was tiny and I needed to keep one ear open to hear him if he needed me. I simply told myself that while I would be in a deep meditative state I would be able to react to any physical need in my environment. It works like a charm.
  • once you feel yourself move into the meditative state (and you will. . . it may take some practice, but you will get there. . . to me it feels a little like the pressure inside my head changing like it does when I'm on an airplane that changes altitude), bring all your focus to where you are (a place that you visualize and inhabit), how you feel, and what question you want to ask. In this form of meditation, asking questions is key. I always go in with an idea of what I want to know, and I make it specific to the writing project I'm working on. What happened off-stage that created such-and-such a situation? What happened in my character's backstory that got her from point A in her self-perception to point C? My questions are often about details in the story that I know are important but am not satisfied with. The amazing thing is, even if you think you've got the story figured out and the answers to your question are quite clear in your mind, you're likely to get a take on the answer that you would never have thought of. It's coming from way down under the obvious.
  • make notes on any specifics that came up for you in the meditation. You might be surprised by what the answers to your questions are, and what ends up being useful. Deep meditation is an awfully lot like dreaming—you might feel sure you'll remember what happened, but if you don't write it down it can evaporate in an instant and you never get it back.
I wish I could give you the details in this post of how to learn Creative Visualization, but really the best way is to read the book and follow Gawain's directions. Warning: Shakti Gawain is very directive in her methodology. If you don't like being told exactly what to do, you may feel some resistance. Also, Gawain's method falls into the 'woo woo' category, in that she directs you to connect to and commune with a 'guide.' (Not a problem for me. I can accept a guide as either a spiritual being who visits me or as a cognitive construct from my unconscious. It's possible they're the same thing. :) The mind is a powerful tool.) If you can accept these conditions, you can use this process to open yourself to your deep mind, where hidden knowledge lies. 

Best of luck to you. I hope you enjoy meditation as much as I do. I know that if you like it, you'll find ways to use it that will enrich your writing. As a bonus, you'll feel calmer and more energized at the same time, too.


  1. Replies
    1. Almost exactly the same thing, LM! Only diff is that with creative vis. there are more shocking moments(in a good, enlightening way)—at least for me.

  2. Linda, this is a great guide on how to. I think teaching your mind to go blank is the key. But so many people are afraid to try, because they can't. But they can. Meditation is something that fuels the body and mind, and has great healing benefits, in addition to writing. Thank you so much for another great post.

    1. Thanks, Karlene. So, how do you do it? Make your mind go blank? And how long can you hold that?

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