For years now, I've been banging on about the wonders of a mindful lifestyle and how parenting, in particular, has turned around for me since I welcomed mindfulness into my world.
Also for years now, I have been having the most kick-ass conversations with even more kick-ass mums on the school run. You know the kinds of conversation I mean . . . when you put the whole world to rights just outside the Spar despite the driving rain, the flurry of sausage roll wrappers flapping around your ankles and the forgotten school trip permission slip still stuck to the inside of your coat pocket with yesterday's confiscated lollypop. With topics like relationships, finance, ambition, health, career, feminism, spirituality and more, there's so much conversational work to be done. And do you know what always comes up?
It seems I simply cannot give a single ounce of advice without slipping in a sneaky, 'Have you tried mindful breathing?', 'Have you considered sitting still for five minutes' or 'Can you like, really, feel your feet on the ground?' Considering the social circles I move in are made up of overworked, underpaid, relentlessly exhausted maternal miracle-workers, it is a damn wonder I have not yet been slapped in the face.
So, whilst I still have my faculties about me, I wanted to share with you another area of my life where mindfulness has done its fair share of the dirty work. My writing.
First, let's look at a definition of mindfulness:
See? No mention of rugged mountain tops, serene lakes, beachside waves or sitting in an unsustainable position where your legs feel they haven't just gone to sleep but vacated this earthly plane. You also do not have to have your hair done or come within a mile of ridiculously baggy trousers. Mindfulness is something so innate, once you start practicing it you may well feel like you're finally coming home.
I know I did.
It took some doing though. A hella lotta Body-Scans, Breathing-Spaces and perusing of dodgy meditation apps before I finally found my groove. But then, like a tree's leaves unfurling in the spring sunshine, I finally let mindfulness brush my soft edges.
And whilst I'm not mindful every single second of every single day (I'm good but I'm not that good), I'd say mindfulness has shone its lovely light on just about every aspect of my life. So it figures that my writing wasn't going to dodge it.
But has it actually made me a BETTER writer? Let's see . . .
By being more present and patient with myself, it's definitely edged into my social connections too. Those school run chats next to the Spar that I mentioned above? There's a reason why we get so quickly to the juicy stuff. Because I'm less distracted by my own worries and fears, I'm much more able (and willing) to be focused on the person in front of me. That's better for my kids, my husband, my friends, the insanely chatty lady behind the Spar counter AND it's better for my stories. I'm ending up with fuller, more riveting and relatable characters. You're welcome.
Stress is a pretty standard mode for most writers. Whether it's a publication date looming, selling more books or finding the actual time to write, our stress hormones are raised as default. And because I couldn't, no matter how hard I tried, stop writing, something had to happen. What happened was mindfulness. There's a tonne of research on how practicing this ancient method has an outstanding impact on our neural pathways and balancing body chemistry . . . I'm no scientist but I can tell you from personal experience that when I'm practicing meditation daily (no matter how short or simple) I am a calmer, happier being. And that's regardless of what particular shitshow my life might be at that time. And a calmer, happier writer has got to make for a better writer, yes? (if you don't count Edgar Allen Poe, that is)
There's an approach in mindfulness called 'Beginner's Mind' where you view or experience something as if you've never encountered it before. Think of a baby discovering its feet for the first time. Or the way a toddler jumps in muddy puddles. Asking ourselves, 'What if this was new to me?' is a great place to start to fill your life with more wonder, curiosity, surprise and spontaneity. After a while, you're even able to do it with feelings, no matter how shitty. Because of Beginner's Mind, in my stories, I can really imagine the depth of feeling of my characters and create physical and emotional reactions that, I hope, are properly authentic. And I can fill their worlds with colours, textures, sights and sounds that engross the reader. Here's a quote to give you an idea . . .
Contrary to popular belief, when undertaking a mindfulness meditation, it's not all about 'emptying your mind'. Our minds are outstandingly good at being busy. In fact, they're not designed to be emptied. they're designed to keep us alive, to help us experience the world and figure out our place in it. It makes sense then, that we experience seven shades of shit when it comes to meditation. It happens to ALL of us. Even Zen Buddhists. The practice actually lies in being aware of that and bringing your attention back to the in-the-moment experience e.g. your breath, sounds or sensations. What I do love though (and this is a cheeky little side-effect that isn't always evident), is that sometimes meditation unlocks ideas for books and stories. It's way cool when it happens and the ideas are usually pretty good. Call it zoning out, call it divine intervention, call it madness if you like. But I call it mindfulness. Or a gift thereof.
Once you learn what it is to be mindful of things like eating, touching, listening and seeing, those skills start to spill delightfully into your inner world. Before mindfulness, I used to barrel through life doing all the things I thought were expected of me, never really stopping to question if they were any good for me, if they were actually enjoyable or useful. I was a real 'Yes Woman' which is nice to an extent, because everybody likes you, but I can tell you now, it's not sustainable. Becoming more mindful of my own values has helped inform my choices and if I say yes (or no) to something, I know why and how those reasons underpin the lifestyle I need to lead. This has unfurled in me a glorious confidence that allows room for error as well as growth. And if error and growth aren't two MAJOR things you need as a writer, then I don't know what are.
When you're stopping and checking in with your thoughts, feelings and body on the regs, you get really good at noticing how you're actually feeling. And in this frantic world, that quite often means: knackered. It's not a bad thing to notice that, despite what virtually every voice around us will tell us. We don't need to be on the move all the goddam time, and, as I once read somewhere, 'we are human beings not human doings'. I've got really, frighteningly good at just 'being', to the extent that my kids will wave their hands in front of my face until I finally face up to the fact that we have no Super Noodles left and they need money for the shop. As a writer, this is a good thing. Writing cannot flow out of a person like a machine - at least, not all of the time. I've learned through many years of writing, and mindfulness now, that the times when I am resting are just as valuable as the times when I am writing. Honestly. Rest is the new busy. You'll see.
So you see? Mindfulness definitely makes me a much better writer as well as a much better mother, friend, partner, colleague, sister, listener and more. Have you ever tried mindfulness? I'd love to know what it's helped you get better at.
If you fancy dipping into mindfulness, I'd recommend the apps Calm or Headspace to get started. You can even visit my You Tube channel to hear me leading my own short meditations (suitable for kids too).
And it'll be no surprise to you if I tell you that mindfulness is a theme that runs throughout the entire Life Is Yours Trilogy as Jess, the main character, unwittingly uses it to help her navigate heartbreak. You can buy the books on Amazon, or get signed copies direct from me. Or, if you fancy reading the first book, Life Is Yours, you can get a digital copy for FREE by signing up to my readers list.
Thanks for allowing me to bang on about mindfulness yet again on my blog. I can't wait to hear if you've dabbled in it and what areas of your life have been enhanced as a result.
P.S. If you enjoyed this blog post then make sure you sign up to get ALL Abigail's bookish news as and when it happens. You'll also bag yourself a FREE copy of Life Is Yours - the first book in the Life Is Yours Trilogy. Sign up here
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