What is Zen?
We use the term as part of the English language in different ways and different contexts but I don’t think that most people really comprehend what the practice of Zen means.
First, the practice of Zen relates to Buddhism and is originally from the East. Zen is the practice of being here in the moment now. In Western culture we are always thinking about tomorrow or yesterday, but we rarely focus on the now, what is happening in this moment. Those who practice Zen on a daily basis are constantly working to stay present with what they are doing right now. So, how can the practice of Zen help you with your writing?
Imagine a day or really any block of time where you are completely, totally focused on your writing. You are not distracted by whether or not your book made the bestseller list on Amazon, or what you need to change about your marketing plan so your books sell more copies, or whether or not you remembered to take the laundry out of the dryer and fold it. This is what the practice of Zen can do you the writer.
So, how do you do this, how do you practice Zen so you can write more and better?
The first step is just sitting still.
The practice of Zen comes from Buddhism and includes sitting meditation. Many writers who practice Zen think nothing of just sitting for hours and watching their own thoughts. This can be particularly useful when you’re suffering from writer’s block for example. Sometimes we are trying so hard to write, and we’re pushing ourselves so hard to be a productive writer that we simply can’t write. When you take away the pressure to write and just sit and watch your thoughts, you can often pick up the thread of what you were trying to write. Sometimes you will even write something different or better than what you were “trying” to write.
Since we spend so much time in Western culture focused on tomorrow or yesterday, the idea of focusing on the present is a bit strange to us. We just aren’t taught to focus on what his happening now, what is happening in our thoughts. Or around us right now. The practice of Zen allows you the luxury of focusing on the now. Now can stretch out in many directions and can last for a very long period of time when you focus on it.
Writers who have a practice of sitting each day and just focusing on their breath, and their thoughts for a period can learn to find the words they need to write. The words are there, but unless you can eliminate all the other distractions it is can be hard to find them. Zen can help you the writer to focus on your story, article or blog post by helping you to eliminate and focus on the words inside you, and help you to get them onto the paper, or computer screen as the case may be.
Many writers practice Zen, like Natalie Goldberg for example. And they have found that in time their writing actually becomes their Zen practice. So, try sitting for a time each day and just observing your thoughts without judgement. You might be surprised at how much material you find there.