Reflections on the Benefits of Mindfulness for Teachers and Students: A Dialogue

Originally posted on AEPL's Blog:

Greetings, blog readers! This week’s Sunday Meditation is a bit different. Instead of being single-authored, Sheila Kennedy and I teamed up to offer a running dialogue about the ways we believe students and instructors benefit from learning mindfulness practices within our courses. We hope we can offer some gems of insight for any readers interested in integrating mindfulness practices in their courses, readers who may be wondering: why take the leap? Does our dialogue move you to mindful action? For readers who have already integrated mindfulness into their courses, we hope you’ll chime in and let us know your experiences in the comments below.

Today’s structure is just one of the many formats welcome on this blog. If you have an idea and would like to contribute to our Sunday Meditation series, posted on the last Sunday of every month, please contact Christy Wenger at cwenger@shepherd.edu.

Time-Mindfulness-020314-226x300Source

Christy:

Five…

View original 1,951 more words

Why do you Write?

Have you ever actually stopped to think about why you write? I hadn’t, until I recently read “Liberating the Tortured Writer,” from Mindful Magazine. The writer recounted his tortured writer years of rejection, poverty and uncertainty as he struggled to become a writer. He had amassed a lot of negative mental habits, including

  • A desperate need for some kind of approval: basing one’s self esteem on the opinions of others.
  • Over identification with my work—mistaking my work for my actual life.
  • A constant striving for a future moment that would be better than this one.
  • An image of what I should or shouldn’t be achieving at any one time of my life.
  • A clinging to suffering, an addiction to the highs and lows of it, including endless speculation on whether I was “good enough.”      (Ben Craib)

This list (and we could all probably add to it) sounded too familiar. Why do we so often find the word “tortured” side by side with “writer”? Ask most writers of they have ever experienced anything from this list, and it would be the exception if they had not. So why do we torture ourselves so?

In my own writing, I have often wondered what drives me to write, if I am really doing it for myself or seeking some kind of approval I’m not consciously aware of (mommy issues?). I’ve also had trouble separating my writing from my life. Think about it: what would you be if you didn’t write? Are you what you do? I’m not sure I can even answer that.

I have to admit, as a writer, I do find myself striving for a future moment that might be better than this one, like dreams of the major book tour or a book-to-major-motion picture deal. I suppose that’s grasping, a very un-mindful way of being. As writers, we inherently are attached to outcomes – publication, admiration, respect – another very unmindful way of being.

The writer of the article eventually learned through mindfulness practice not to attach to the hope of success or fear of failure, but to simply live in the present and let the rest go. For myself, it’s a daily struggle, but on the days I’m feeling more tortured than grateful, I know it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate why I’m writing. If I ever cannot answer, “I write for the joy of writing,” then maybe I’ll know it’s time to take a break to rediscover my motivations.

******************************

I’d like to hear from you.

  • Why do you write?

  • Who would you be if you didn’t write?

  • What would you do with your time if you didn’t write?

Front Porch Writing

 

L1050736

My front porch

My husband just built this beautiful front porch. We tore down the old rickety porch – more of a front deck really – and built this from the ground up. The view from the white rocker is gravel road and rolling cornfields – the perfect writing spot, a friend said. Yes.

I hadn’t even thought about the front porch as a writing spot. Since we moved to the country last fall, I’ve been so focused – overwhelmed might be a better description – on the  inside of the neglected 1905 farmhouse that I hadn’t given much thought to what the outside could offer. We writers need a writing “space” and that is different for every writer. I have always had the notion I needed what Virginia Woolf called a “room of her own” with four walls, a door, and all the writing amenities Office Depot could offer: computer, printer, file cabinets, bookcases, message boards, shelves of paper and notebooks and pens – so many pens!

The renovations have taken much longer than I anticipated. My “room of my own” has been a half-hazard mess, up the steepest flight of stairs imaginable, into the coldest (in the winter) to, in mid-July, the now  hottest room in the house. I hated it. Avoided it. My writing, along with my spirit, waned. How could I write without a room! I moaned to my husband.

One project finished, then another, then finally he began the front porch this spring. I wasn’t interested. I had become used to living without using the front door. What did I need it now for? I watched out the front window as he set the  posts, then frame. Tongue and groove boards joined together to make a floor, then white spindle railings and, finally, the hand rail. I had a porch.

I brought back an old white rocker from the Ozark home of my childhood, and knew immediately it was going on the front porch. Once home, I set the rocker down, walked off the porch and to the road in front of our home. I needed a wider angle view of the porch, a different vantage point. I needed to look at the porch in a different way.

L1050734

Then my friend, when seeing the white rocker looking out from the covered porch, said, “The perfect place to write!” Of course. Why couldn’t I see that? It didn’t have a computer or printer or bookcases or file cabinets or any of the amenities I thought I needed. It didn’t even have a flower pot yet. Just a simple front porch with an old white rocker. Simple as that.

Writing Prompt:

Do you have a favorite place to write? What makes it special?
Do you think you need a “perfect” place to write? Where do you think you’ll find it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quieting Distractions

shush_ideas_under_construction_flyer-p2440522827226949152mcvz_400

The 4th of July will soon be here, with all the booming noise that often lasts for days on end. Can you tell I’m not a fan? I can’t imagine how pets or war veterans cope. For me, the 4th of July is more an unsettling, nerve-racking distraction. My mother always told me to ignore things that bother me, like loud noises, but I always found that advice ridiculous. How could anyone possibly ignore fireworks exploding right outside their bedroom window? When I was young, my favorite “fireworks” were black snakes and smoke bombs. They didn’t make a sound!

We are surrounded by distractions every day. As I sit here writing, I am distracted by voices outside my work area, the phone, thunder. You would think a mindful writer would learn to shut out the noise, the distractions, but it’s not always so easy. I was just reading a blog post from a fellow writer who was complaining about losing early morning sleep from the loud cacophony of birds outside her window. I adore the chorus of birds, and for me, bird song has never been a distraction, but what is relaxing to one might be noise to others. Sometimes, even the most subtle sounds, the tick of the clock or hum of the refrigerator, are distracting for writers.

One way I have found that works to quiet distractions when I am writing is to actually concentrate on the distraction. It’s the same principle when you’re dieting, and all you can think of is eating that chocolate cake. A dietician will tell you to take just a bite of the chocolate cake to satisfy your craving and not deprive yourself; otherwise, you’ll drive yourself crazy thinking about that chocolate cake. Trying to ignore noise or other distractions will only cause the noise to consume you. Focus on the noise, or whatever distraction is sucking your attention. Once you give it a few moments of your complete focus, take a few minutes to refocus by breathing in and out slowly, do a quick body check, and give yourself back to your writing. Once you are back into your writing, the distractions may still be there, but hopefully it won’t consume your mental energy.

Writing Prompt:

Close your eyes, take a few breaths, and listen. What do you hear? Are the sounds enjoyable, or unpleasant? Do the sounds you hear recall any childhood memories? Focus on one sound, link it to a memory, and tell that story.

 

 

Writing the Past in the Present

Writers, whether they write memoir, fiction or poetry, often find themselves dredging up painful memories of the past. As mindful writers, we know we should focus on the present moment, but it’s difficult for writers to be present when we are through necessity, often living (at least in our heads) in the past. For some – if not most – of us, the past can be a painful place to visit. Sometimes the painful emotions – sadness, anger, sorrow – we felt in the past resurface as we compose our narratives in the present. So how do writers avoid getting stuck in their narrative past?

past-present-future

Be Fully Present

If you feel yourself falling into the emotions of the past as you write, take note of your body’s response to the emotions that arise. What are you actually feeling in your body? Where are those feelings coming from? What are you seeing, hearing, doing, right now, in the present? Don’t ignore the feelings, emotional or physical, or try to push them down. When the narrative of your past creates uncomfortable feelings in your body, take note, relax, then let them go.

Focus on the Present

It’s easy to get lost in the past when writing, especially when we’re writing memoir. Thinking how you could have done things differently or wishing things were different often serve to bring negative experiences into the present. As you write, remind yourself this is a story from the past. It’s not your reality now. No need to be a victim in the present or bemoan the past. For a reminder, place a big sticky note on your computer with the words, “The past is the past! Write on!

Write Through the Pain

If you have avoided writing on a subject because it is too painful, you may be actually creating anxiety for yourself. Research supports this theory. According to an article in Psychology Today, confronting your fear gives you evidence of your ability to cope. Avoiding the past out of fear that recalling it will bring up uncomfortable emotions will only maintain and magnify the very emotions you are trying to avoid feeling. Confronting your past by writing about it takes the power away from it. Writing will take you through the pain and to the other side where healing can take place.

Remember that even as you write the past, be fully present in the here and now. The past cannot hurt you now unless you let it. If painful emotions surface as you write, take note, feel them, then let them pass. Avoid the urge to avoid feeling. The only way out is through.

Writing Solstice

imagesCA4ARY17

The summer solstice will soon be upon us (officially June 21at 5:51am central time). According to astronomy, summer solstice is when the sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator, the longest day of the year. I’ve been looking forward to summer since last November here in Nebraska (and it’s been a bitterly cold winter here). It’s difficult for me to muster much energy in the winter when it’s blowing icicles, so I’m not usually at my most productive during the winter. But just when I’m looking forward to some heat, our Great Plains summers overdo it a bit, and it’s 95 degrees in the shade with a million percent humidity, zapping any energy I’ve mustered. Even when I try to schedule in a day of writing, sometimes my lethargic brain just doesn’t want to cooperate with my ambition.

But solstice also can be defined as a “turning point.” As practicing writers, sometimes we come to a solstice, or turning point, in our writing practice. This is a good time of year to reflect on our practice, to decide if it’s working for us, and to refocus if it’s not.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to motivating oneself to write. The first school believes you absolutely must write every day, no matter what, if you want to call yourself a writer. The other school of thought believes that trying to force writing can have negative consequences, possibly even writer’s block. I’m not sure I accept either. The more I attempt to instill mindfulness practices into my life, the more forgiving I have become of not living up to other’s expectations, and one of those expectations is that to be a writer, you have to write every day. However, I also believe that there is something to showing up.

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” ― Stephen King

Showing up means putting in the time and work, whether you are actually getting words down on paper or not. When I have a particularly bad day, feeling lethargic and uninspired, reading always works to motivate me. I love reading short stories or essays when I’m writing, as they are not too long to take me away from the work at hand, but long enough to inspire.

“I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”― Ernest Hemingway

I am also a planner, and when I get stuck, I have usually run out of plan and need to pause and regroup, before moving forward with my writing. And like Ernest Hemingway, who always stopped his writing at the end of the day in the middle of a scene where he could easily pick up the next day, try ending your writing day on an upswing of inspiration, so you’ll know exactly how you want to pick up the next day.

Trying to force yourself to write when you are tired or not feeling well might eventually lead you to hate writing, and we don’t want that. Take a break if you feel you need one – and don’t beat yourself up for taking a break! You might just need time to rest, refocus, and refresh the well, through whatever means that works for you.

Happy solstice :)

 

What Are You Afraid Of?

Fears-are-stories

“What Are You Afraid Of?” is the title of the first chapter in one of my favorite self-help books, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway. You may be living in fear, and you don’t even realize it. I’m not talking about spiders or snakes or vampires. I’m talking about fears that hold us back in our life pursuits, dreams or goals. I’ve come across many people who, when I tell them I write, say to me, “I’ve always wanted to write, but I don’t think I’m good enough, or smart enough, or young enough, or old enough, or educated enough, or – fill-in-the-blank enough.” Sound familiar?

All of these excuses for avoiding writing are based in fear. Fear can be powerful, and it can take some hard work to overcome. Let’s take a deeper look at some writers’ fear-based ways of thinking.

Kathy has always wanted to write, but she believes she is too old to start at mid-life. We could say this belief is based in ego – the fear of embarrassment. Kathy doesn’t want to risk being the oldest writer in a writing group, or the oldest student in a workshop. What Kathy doesn’t realize is that she might have the life experience and knowledge that younger writers don’t, but by avoiding writing out of fear, she’ll never find out.

Kevin has been writing for a while. He has mounds of finished essays and even book manuscripts, but they are all sitting in drawers and file cabinets. Kevin hasn’t submitted anything for publication or tried to get a publisher for his books because he doesn’t think his work is good enough. In the middle of writing, he’s optimistic and positive, but by the time he’s finished, his confidence ends with the final period. Kevin’s fear of failure is holding him back. He’s not willing to risk getting his work rejected, so he doesn’t put anything out there.

something-300x300

Everyone should be living in fear. Why? We are supposed to feel fear if we are taking risks and growing. We either risk and grow, or stagnate and rot. Fear isn’t a bad thing; it’s proof that you are reaching for something, that you have dreams you are working to achieve, that you are taking responsibility for your life and happiness.

Exercise: What is holding you back in your writing? Make a list of the obstacles you are facing in creating the writing life you desire.

What are some specific actions you can take to overcome these obstacles? How can you feel the fear – and do it anyway?

 

Click here to visit Susan Jeffers’ Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway.