When I was 19 years old I discovered the power of zen meditation when I read “The 3 Pillars of Zen” by Roshi Philip Kapleau. For many months I made a regular habit out of practicing the zen meditation techniques I read about in the book becuase I wanted to reap the benefits of enhanced mental clarity and focus. After each meditation session I noticed a significant improvement in the my mental state: I was much calmer and more focused. I even felt physically stronger when I lifted weights at the gym. It seemed that regular meditation really had kicked my mind into a higher plane.
I lent that book to a friend and never saw it again, and I eventually fell out of practise in college. But I have always had the intention of taking it up again and recentering my cluttered monkey mind whenever life gets crazy. Indeed, these days I need mental clarity more than ever because I’m a professional writer, and a strong mind is a writer’s most powerful tool.
The process of writing is entirely cerebral. We depend on ideas and imagination to practise our craft, and you can’t develop good ideas and act on them when your mind is muddled from chronic stress, substance abuse, malnutrition, or lack of sleep. Over the last week I’ve been practising zen meditation again. I now spend 20 minutes meditating in the morning before starting the day’s work, and I’m noticing the same mental and emotional benefits which I noticed when I was 19. The effects of meditation are immediately useful to a writer, or anyone else for that matter.
Every morning, after I’ve eaten and had my glass of water and cup of coffee, I’ll sit down in a half lotus position, hands cupped beneath the pit of my stomach with thumbs slightly touching, and I will breathe–in through the nose, out through the mouth–and attempt to clear my mind of all thought, focusing only on my breath, counting them up to ten without thinking of anything else (this is a lot harder than you might realize). Sometimes, when urgent thoughts come up, I let them rise through the void and watch them as they take their course. It allows me to work things out when they’ve been weighing on my mind causing stress. Then, when I finally break meditation, I slowly stand up and stretch, ready to start the day with calm focus like a clear pond on a spring morning.
It’s empowering to attain enhanced focus and clarity by performing such a simple and ancient act. Meditation is more like non-action, really. In our modern lives where information is constantly bombarding us from every angle, and our attention is constantly pulled in every direction, taking time to just sit and breathe allows the mind to restore and regroup, and you emerge from it stronger than before. Anyone can do this in the privacy of their home, and it doesn’t cost a cent.
If a sharp and clear mind is a writer’s most powerful tool, then meditation is the whetstone we must use to keep it that way. I strive to have a sharp and clear mind, like a blade of glass, able to cut through to deeper truths and expose the still pond where wisdom is found.