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Stewards of Our Senses
I was watching an IGTV stream of Elizabeth Gilbert this morning and something she said really struck me.
She said that she operates by the concept that we are the stewards of our senses, which means, our senses will do what we tell them to do.
The context of this was that she was talking about not giving in to watching the news 24/7, or our phones, scrolling mindlessly, etc. You can watch the video here.
Our senses can be somewhat distracting at times. We can hear something which will set our mind reeling, or see something that we feel like we need to tend to, crave something to taste, smell something that reminds us of years gone by, and so on. All of this can take us out of our creative practices and send our minds anywhere else.
Creativity as Sense
Of course, when we think of our senses, we’re looking at the basic five: sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste
One could argue that our senses are that which we use to experience the world around us, or, if you want to get quite rigid about it, our external world. But to me, this is quite limiting. I believe that we all have a whole other set of senses that are more internal.
The philosophy major in me wants to point out that how we define “the world” is important here. There are a lot of philosophical differences in how we define this. For one, it can be the solely physical world that we can touch and experience together. Another way to look at the world is through the concepts that are assigned to it (the economy, peace, war, seasons, science, culture, etc.). The interesting thing is that what we view of the world is meant to be a collection of agreed upon understandings of it. However, the perplexing and converse thing is that we don’t all experience the world the same, in part because not all of us experience our five basic senses the same, but also because our mind tends to influence our perception so drastically (This is of course just touching on the many reasons why we don’t all view the same world, but these are a couple examples relevant to this piece article).
If our perceptions alter the way the world “is”, then we each experience the world differently, and thus, we interpret our senses differently. Furthermore, these fives senses are how we take in the external world to experience it. But how we experience the world is more than just how we take it in. It’s how we interact with it. Thus, it’s how we project ourselves and our ideas.
If this is a topic you’re interested in, I highly encourage you to check out Markus Gabriel’s “The World Does Not Exist.” I was lucky enough to see him speak while I was studying at Durham, and the guy is truly fascinating. His TEDtalk is here and a lecture he gave at Radbound University is here. Be cautioned: this is dense stuff.
Because of this, I consider creativity to be a sense.
Creativity as a Sense
If our senses are how we experience the world, we must consider that we, ourselves, are a part of the world, and thus, how we experience ourselves (our thoughts, our feelings, our physical and mental discomforts and pleasures, etc.) is, in part, experiencing the world. Thus, internal experiences such as thoughts and emotions, should be considered senses.
The second reason is that I believe that creativity is an experience. It isn’t just what you put out, but it’s that moment that the idea is forming within you. It’s in every stage that you’re developing your thought, your idea, your project. It’s that internal bit of pleasure that we experience and reach for.
Think about when your mind gently caresses an idea and your imagination bursts into excitement because you’ve been struck by inspiration. Think about the last time you were struck by the muse and just about jumped out of your seat with enthusiasm, or that bubble of curiosity swelled in you and your fingers itched to pick up a pen or get to a keyboard.
My personal experiences in this realm tell me that these are the times where I experience every sense that I possess, known and unknown. I feel it, I hear it, I salivate, I feel my whole body tingle in anticipation, I feel excitement through every part of me, I experience a surge in my intuition, my brain releases those good-feeling chemicals, and my nose is filled with a scent that reminds me of being in kindergarten—don’t ask me why.
When I’m writing, and I’m in the zone, not just trudging through to get to finish line, but feeling the course of creativity running through me, I go into this all-encompassing experience, which is what pulses me forward.
Thus, if we are to take what Elizabeth Gilbert says, that we are the stewards of our senses, in theory, we should be able to have some reasonable control over our creativity.
Well, doesn’t that just sound like trying to herd a bunch of wet cats.
Meditation as a Writing Tool
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Meditation isn’t just what people do to reach enlightenment, or god, or access the Akashic Records. Meditation is a wonderful and essential tool that I truly believe every individual should be taught from childhood.
A Quick Word on the General Benefits of Meditation
I will just list a few scientifically acknowledge benefits of it before I go on. There are plenty of wonderful and more informed minds out there than my own who can express the beauty and importance of meditation.
However, just to list a few benefits, regularly practiced meditation can:
- Ease anxiety
- Ease depression
- Lower blood pressure
- Boost your immune system
- Help you think clearer
I’ll also leave you with a couple of links for further information:
- Forbs – 6 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation
- Healthline – 12 Science-Based Benefits of Meditation
- Psychology Today – 20 Scientific Reasons to Start Meditating Today
“Boosts Your Self Control”
One of the items listed in one of those articles mentioned above, states that meditation “boosts your self-control.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. Meditation enhances your ability to control yourself. Which is a much nicer way of saying that it’s self-discipline.
The act of meditation stills your mind to focus on one thing, or on no thing at all (not a typo, I certainly meant “no thing.”), which, if you have ever tried to hone in on just one thought or even an image for any length of time without any practice, you’ll find your mind gets pretty squirrelly.
And when you sit down to write when you’re not in the zone? Your mind gets pretty squirrelly. Are you picking up what I’m putting down?
Meditation for Your Writing Practice
Writing can be a difficult task when you’re trying to form the habit. We write because we love to write, because we have a story in us, and we want to get it out in the world. We write because it puts us in touch with our inner world and senses, and it helps us to experience the external world differently.
But that spark of inspiration and creativity doesn’t necessarily stay with us through the whole writing process. In fact, sometimes writing can feel like a chore. And when we feel like that, we experience some pretty severe procrastination, or, as Steven Pressfield calls in his book The War of Art, Resistance.
Practicing either mindfulness or meditation can keep you focused on the task in front of you, through regular practice. It will help you gain stewardship over all your senses, not just the ones bringing input from the external world.
Mindfulness vs. Meditation
Depending on who you talk to, these terms are somewhat synonymous. For me, personally, they are not, which is why I’ll share my take on these two terms.
Meditation is the practice of quieting the mind, and going into a specifically desired state through persistent practice. Meditation will usually be a structure practice for me, in which I sit in a certain way (though there is no “one right way”), breathe a certain way, and sit for a certain amount of time in stillness.
There is a plethora of books on various forms of meditation from different cultures, religious practices, personal practices, and from a corporate perspective. I won’t recommend any because there are far too many out there. Likewise, there are wonderful apps and YouTube channels out there that offer guided meditations. Other than the steps I offer later on, I can only suggest that you try a few books and channels and apps (but definitely at least a couple books) and find what’s right for you.
Mindfulness is the act of being present in the moment, no matter what you are doing. It is keeping a focus on what is going on right in front of you, and only thinking about that one thing, instead of thinking about what might be going on at the office, or wondering if you’ll be able to save enough money for your kids’ college tuitions, or thinking about what you’ll get at the grocery store next week for that potluck. Mindfulness is blocking all that out so you can be fully present in the current moment that you’re in. This can be useful in every area of your life, from your personal relationships, to your work, to your mental health.
Using Meditation and Mindfulness Together
While there are some slight differences between the two, I certainly recommend using them in conjunction with each other. Whether it’s to work on something specific, or to get you through your day, you can use these two as part of your regiment.
Starting your day off with meditation, can set you up for a calmer day, especially if it is followed up with a persistent practice of mindfulness. You can meditate as soon as your feet hit the floor out of bed, allowing yourself to sit up straight, and spend a minute, two minutes, five minutes, ten minutes—however long you want—in meditation before you completely get out of bed. You can set up a specific meditation space in your office, in your living room, wherever you are comfortable and won’t be disturbed. I’ve even meditated in the bathroom just so I wouldn’t be disturbed.
When you’ve centered your mind, it’s easier to keep it focused on what’s right in front of you when you come out of meditation, and hold that presence of mind, or state of mindfulness, throughout your day.
When it comes to creating, spend some time in meditation for a few minutes, or twenty minutes, however long feels good to you, and when you come out, remain present with your writing.
That’s it. That’s the simple formula.
That being said, meditation and mindfulness come with practice, and that does involve self-control.
Meditations to Try
There are so many different ways to meditate. There have been volumes written on the subject, and no doubt, there are many more volumes to come. However, I want to share a few ways I meditate, to show the diverse ways that it can be done.
A Simple Meditation
This is the one that I practice the most. It’s simple and doesn’t take much visualization. I can do it while sitting in the car (NEVER while driving, of course), in a lecture hall, in bed, at my desk—anywhere. Whenever I can spare just one minute, I turn to this one (though, of course, you can do this for longer than a minute).
- Sit, cross-legged or not, trying to keep your back comfortably strait, and your arms uncrossed. Crossing your arms can be a guarded position, and by uncrossing them and resting your hands on your lap, you’re mentally shifting to a neutral place.
- Breathe in through your nose, feeling the breath extend your belly.
- Breathe out through your mouth.
- Close your eyes, and focus visualizing a dot, or circle, or vertical line. Really, it can be whatever shape you want it to be so long as it is simple and unchanging.
- Hold that visualization for as long as you can, remembering to breathe.
Don’t get frustrated with yourself if thoughts come into your mind. Let them pass by like someone blowing bubbles nearby. Witness them, but don’t engage with them. They’ll pass through. Just keep focusing on the visualization.
Notice your body while you meditate. Try to keep it relaxed. Sometimes when we’re first starting out, we’re trying to hard to visualize that we physically tense up. There’s no need. I promise you that flexing your muscles will do little to keep your mind focused. When you notice tension, release it. Like your thoughts, witness the tension, but do not engage with it any more than releasing it.
With practice, the bubbling thoughts stop trying to infiltrate, and it gets easier. Like any exercise, it’s difficult at first, but is easier with practice.
White Light meditation
I usually practice this one at night when I’m going to sleep, but I’ve practiced it at all times of the day. It’s a variant of a meditation from Donald Michael Kraig, an author of various Kabala books. It’s been so long since I’ve read it that I don’t know if I’ve altered the meditation at all, but it has worked for me over the last fifteen years.
- Sit or lay down, with no limbs crossing. Your back should be comfortably strait. If you are choosing a sitting position, keep your knees as close to a comfortable 90-degree angle as you can. If you are laying, keep your legs comfortably straight.
- Breathe in slowly, hold the breath for a couple of seconds, then breathe out, slowly. When you feel like you have found a good rhythm of breathing, move on to the next step.
- Know that high above you, in the cosmos, beyond this solar system or even galaxy, there is a white light of infinity. Imagine a beam of it coming down to meet you. It gathers into a sphere of white light at the top of your head. The light is filled with peace, protection, love, and calm.
- Visualize this ball of light slowly moving over you, down from your head to your neck, over your shoulders, your arms, your torso, your hips, your legs, your calves, your ankles, your toes. Everywhere the light touches, you relax.
- Draw the sphere back up your body, sending it gently wherever you feel tension. You can do this in any order you’d like, sending the sphere down one side of your body then up the other side, or by expanding it so that it encompasses your width as it moves. Go with whatever feels natural to you.
- When you are completely relaxed, bring the sphere of light back to the top of your head, and hold it there. Remember to breathe through all of this.
- Stay like this for as long as you’d like.
If you’re doing this laying down, just be warned, you might fall asleep. This is why I do this meditation at night. It helps me get to sleep.
I find this to be the most creative meditation. I don’t mean creativity-inducing, but just a more creative visualization technique.
You can do this meditation sitting cross-legged, though I find it’s more effective if I have my feet planted on the ground. This meditation does require you to be sitting up, though.
- Sit, however you’re most comfortable, and put your hands on your lap. Keep your back comfortably straight.
- Breathe in slowly, pause for a couple of seconds, and breathe out slowly. Repeating until you find a comfortable and calm rhythm.
- Visualize a silver chord of energy from your core, traveling down through your feet (if you’re sitting cross-legged, down through your spine) and into the ground. It travels deep into the earth, moving like roots, wrapping around rocks, dipping into underground water reservoirs, until it reaches the molten core of the earth.
- Visualize bringing that earth and elemental energy up through the roots coming from you, drawing that energy into you and into your core. Feel it nourish you and fill you with connection.
- Now, send that energy up your spine, through the top of your head, into the sky, through the clouds, out of the solar system, beyond our galaxy, to the ball of infinite light (talked about in the White Light Meditation).
- When you feel as though your grounded energy has reached that sphere of infinite light, then draw down that light, down that chord and back into you.
- Sit, feeling the connection between above and below, the energies intermingling, and transitioning through you, their medium.
- Stay this way as long as you feel comfortable.
When I’m feeling down or disconnected, this meditation helps me to feel connected to my own personal source, however you want to define that.
A Walking Meditation
This is more of a combination of meditation and mindfulness. I read it in a book by Starhawk years ago, and unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of it, though I’m wanting to say it was Earth Path.
I suggest this meditation for while you’re walking through woods or some other place where you’re not on concrete or gravel, but are actually on dirt, or grass, or something else a little more natural. Also, somewhere that you’re not going to have to be overly focused on your steps, so probably not while you’re hiking along narrow mountain paths.
- Breathe in and out, slowly and deliberately. If it helps you, find a way of matching your breathing with a certain amount of steps. Three steps to breathe in, hold for three steps, exhale for three steps. This isn’t a requirement, but it is helpful.
- Similar to the Grounding Meditation, visualize silver chords of energy traveling from your core through your legs and to the soles of your feet. With each step, the chord dives into the earth, extending roots into it.
- That’s it, focus on grounding yourself through each step.
This helps you be present with your steps and the path you’re on. It helps you to feel the ground under your feet, and in a way, interact with it. This meditation can be awkward at first, and you might find yourself stepping like you’re trying to find couch cushions to keep you safe from the lava carpet, but eventually it feels more natural, and you can do it without much concentration, and far less noticeably.
Walking when we’re in a creative rut is a great way to clear the mind. Combining the walk with meditation and/or mindfulness can be very beneficial.
Meditation and Creativity
Meditation and mindfulness put us in touch with our inner senses. It silences our thoughts, judgments, worries, and distractions so that we can listen to what’s really going on within us.
Many spiritual gurus and practitioners will tell you that meditation will put you in touch with your inner calm and your inner voice. It will be what helps you rise above simply being human to being a spiritual being.
I have a background in Tarot, and as a result, I think of these things in term of Tarot. The Cups is a suit that is representative of the element of water. Water is essential to life, and it is fluid. It can be rough and give you a beating, but it can be soothing and cleansing. This is essentially what our inner workings are. Thus, the Cups represent our emotions, our subconscious selves, our intuition, and most importantly in this context, our creativity.
Meditation is a dive into our cups of water to explore our inner senses, and thus, to help stir up our creativity that might be laying on the bottom of our inner ocean floor. When we still the waters enough, then our creativity can rise to the top, unencumbered.
Furthermore, when we’re in the throws of creating, meditation can help to center our focus when our inner editor or inner critic pipes up while we’re just trying to get our damn first drafts done. Quell it by giving yourself a few minutes of silence and centering, and bring yourself back to a mindful state.
Your homework is pretty simple, though, debatably, it’s a difficult task. All I ask for is a few minutes of your time and for you to give it due process.. It’s a daily exercise for the next 28 days.
- For the first 7 days, spend one minute (or more) doing the Simple Meditation when you wake up (the sooner the better), when you sit down to write, and before you go to bed. You can of course do it more if you’d like, but make that the goal.
- For the second 7 days, spend 5 minutes (or more) doing the Simple meditation when you wake up, when you sit down to write, and before you go to bed.
- For the third 7 days, spend 10 minutes (or more) following this routine.
- For the fourth and final 7 days, spend 20 minutes following this routine.
If you find that you like this, keep at it. Play around with it, read books and articles on it, explore what works for you. But try, at the very least, to spend at least a couple days in meditation.
Keep a journal and record your findings at the end of the day. Was the practice difficult? Getting easier? Getting more difficult? Were you comfortable? Uncomfortable? Did it help your creativity? Did you feel better or worse throughout the day?
Let me know what you think and how you find the experience. I would love to know what works for you!
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