I’ve mentioned this before, but I have a monkey mind. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it comes from Buddhism and basically means an unsettled and restless mind. In the west we often call it Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). The difference is that with ADD it’s a medical diagnosis and is treated with pharmaceuticals, whereas Monkey Mind is more of a metaphorical issue and is treated with meditation.
I’ve been meditating for over twenty years now. I’m not as consistent as I should be with the practice, but I try to do it at least four or five times a week. I’ve found that it helps to calm the monkey in my head, helps him to chill out for a while so I can get things done.
Before I started mindful meditation I had a hard time focusing when I was writing. I’d start working on a draft and after a few paragraphs I’d start thinking about another story idea or one of the other in-progress drafts on my hard drive. It was difficult to make any substantial progress on my projects. It was frustrating.
I discovered Buddhism when I was a kid, probably around nine or ten. One of my family members was in college and used to bring me the books they were reading in their literature classes, and one summer he handed me Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. It was a beautiful story and, although I didn’t fully grasp the full meaning of the novel, the essence of the philosophy spoke to me. Later, in my teen years, I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. While it’s not necessarily a Buddhism-themed book, his philosophical discussions incorporated a lot of Zen concepts. After that, I wanted to learn more.
To me, Buddhism isn’t necessarily a religion. Or at least I don’t follow it as a religion. I like the philosophy behind it, how we are responsible for our own state of mind, and how it can guide us into thinking the right way in order to better process the issues in our lives.
From the perspective of a writer, I was intrigued with the possibilities. Not only using it to calm that crazy monkey bouncing off the inside of my skull, but also to address things like self-confidence, self-esteem, and motivation.
And for me, it’s helped. It’s given me the ability to separate reality from the illusions in my head. For example, do you ever get so caught up in negative thoughts that you feel like you’re getting overwhelmed? Like the negativity is pushing in on you from all sides? I’ve felt that way myself. But with meditation I’ve been able to compartmentalize those thoughts, to sort of put them on a table and examine them from another perspective. When I do this I can see how wrapped up I was in the negativity. I can also see the reality of the situation.
To put it another way – say you self-publish a book, something you spent a lot of time on, something you’re proud of. Unfortunately, your book doesn’t get much love. Sales are slim to non-existent. You check your sales stats daily and see nothing change. After a few weeks you begin to feel down about it, frustrated. You wonder if anyone cares, if you’ll ever build up a reader base. Your mood turns sour, there’s a dark cloud over your head, you’re unhappy. That’s the negativity you build – or allow to be built – inside your own head.
The reality, however, is different. While you may not be getting the sales you want, you’re forgetting that you self-published a book. You wrote the damn thing, you edited it, you compiled it, you chose (or maybe even designed) the cover. That means you did something the majority of the people on this planet haven’t done. In fact, there are probably millions of writers out there who haven’t done this yet. That’s something to be proud of. And sure, sales and reviews would be nice, but that’s not the reason you wrote this book. You wrote it because you had a story to tell, something to say. And you said it. Now it’s time to ignore the sales stats and think about the next story you’re going to tell.
That’s how meditation works for me. I feel myself getting caught up in the negative thoughts, then I meditate and take a few steps back and see that I’m looking at the situation the wrong way.
With my fiction writing, it helps because I can focus better on the task at hand. I can pack up that self-doubt and second-guessing and put it on a shelf. I’ve been able to stop worrying about whether or not anyone is going to read my work. I don’t worry about whether or not my fiction is too weird. I focus on what’s important…telling a good story and having fun.
Writing is hard. It’s a struggle to get that story out of my head and onto the page. I never feel like I get it right, at least, not as I envisioned it. But that’s okay. I’ll get it as close as I can and be content with that. Mostly. I’m human and humans have this annoying trait where we get so caught up in our own little world that we lose perspective. I think a lot of our depression and anxiety stems from that. If we can reassess our situations rationally, see things from the right angle, then we just may end up a little bit happier than we were.
Meditation isn’t going to be for everyone, but it’s simple enough to get into and it doesn’t take too much time. There are dozens of apps out there that offer guided instruction. There are videos and books, too. Or if you’re up for it, there’s probably a Buddhist center near you that offers classes. I generally meditate for at least ten minutes in a session, but I’ve gone as long as an hour.
If you do decide to try it out, be patient. It’s not easy to calm that monkey and at first he’ll be resistant. But stick with it. Pretty soon, he’ll be napping quietly while you focus on the important things.