“Meditation and writing practice are coincident. The more we understand the human mind, our basic writing tool, the better, more secure we can be in our writing.” — Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
I’m a meditator. I practice vipassana (insight) meditation. When I first began, maybe about 10 years ago, I had such a hard time developing the discipline necessary to make any progress meditating. I would let days or even weeks go by without meditating and then wonder why it was so frustrating when I started again.
At a week-long silent meditation retreat one year, one of the teachers talked about techniques for developing a daily practice, and he said what worked for him when he was starting out was to just commit to “taking the seat” on the cushion every morning and every night. He didn’t commit to actually meditating; he committed to sitting on the cushion in the meditation posture. That’s it. Now he is an experienced meditator and teacher.
That resonated with me, and I tried his technique and found it also worked for me. Sometimes I would meditate; sometimes I would sit, wait a minute, and get up (because I supposedly had too much to do!) But over time, taking the seat developed my “mediation muscle.” I was already in the proper position, so why not meditate for a few minutes, and a few minutes more?
Writing is the same way.
Whenever I find myself not writing, or feeling frustrated because I’m not focusing enough on my work, I realize it’s because I’m not taking the seat. I’m not committing myself to that daily time to sit with the sole purpose of writing. Sometimes I find my mind is too all over the place, so I figure there’s no point in sitting. Why sit if I’m only going to stare at that freakin’ blinking cursor? Why sit when I have a million other things to do?
But that’s not the way to look at it. Taking the seat isn’t about being productive, at least not at first. It’s about developing a habit, a routine. It’s teaching your body and your mind to get into this practice, to create a space for writing every single day.
Just as with meditation, there will be good writing days and uh, not-so-good days. That’s the nature of things, and definitely the nature of writing! Accept it with not too much judgment; get used to it! Anyway, you will take the seat again tomorrow and see what happens.
Because, if you don’t take the seat — on the cushion or in front of the computer — you know for a fact that nothing, absolutely nothing, will happen.
Can you commit to sit?