The Magic that Happens When You Mix Writing and Meditation
About a month or two into the pandemic I had a lot of difficulty falling asleep. I tried so many things: calming music, staying off my phone before bed (even though it had never been an issue before), watching relaxing videos. And then I turned to meditation. And, boy, did it suck.
Well, at first.
I'd tried meditation a few years prior to help me deal with a difficult situation. I was seventeen and didn't do any research on it, so I ended up just sitting with my eyes closed trying to stop my mind from wandering, and it didn't work. This time, I looked up some meditation sessions online. It took longer than I would have liked to find one that had, 1. a calming voice, 2. no rain sounds, and (if you believe it) 3. no ads, but when I finally found one I liked, I felt so uncomfortable I had to stop; it felt like my body was lying on several conveyor belts each going in a different direction and pulling my different body parts along with it.
Eventually I got the hang of it. I got a free subscription to MyLife, a meditation and wellness app, through my university, and fell in love with it. I experimented with different types of meditations and learned that meditation is individualistic: not every type of meditation will work for every person.
Then my cousin told me about Artist Morning.
Artist Morning is a free (I'm going to say it again, free) meditation x writing session hosted on Wednesday and Friday mornings via Zoom. What could be better than the combination of meditation and writing, two of the most spiritually authentic practices I have found? As it turns out, not a whole lot!
Meditation as a writing tool is not a new concept. With meditation, we gain the range of abilities from witnessing to controlling the mind so that we may better share our thoughts with others in writing (Moffett, 1982). Meditation allows us to access a part of ourselves separate from the external environment (Campbell, 1994; Moffett, 1982), draw upon our memories, experiences, and feelings, and discover more about ourselves and the world around us, all of which will shine through in our writing (Moffett, 1982). It can cement us more deeply into a subject so that we may write about it with more clarity and urgency, as if the words are flowing out on their own; visualizing a subject in realistic detail, specifically, has been shown to help high school students increase the amount and quality of their writing (Rohman, 1965). Meditation may even help writers overcome writer's block by increasing inventive creativity (Campbell, 1994; Rohman, 1965) and allowing writers to rediscover their passion (Campbell, 1994). It may also ease writing anxiety, such as that caused by receiving negative feedback, by helping writers find the physical manifestation of their fear (e.g. headaches) to more easily overcome it (Campbell, 1994).
"[...] helping [writers] enjoy the process of meditating and writing regardless of the outcome" (Campbell, 1994, p. 246).
And, boy, did Artist Morning deliver on practically all of those accounts.
My experience with Artist Morning was amazing, and it started before the session; I had reached out to the host and creator, Darius, to make sure it would be okay for me to write about his program. His biggest and only concern was ensuring that this session remained a safe space for everyone—people share personal and often painful stories about themselves and he wanted nothing to jeopardize that. His concern touched my heart. With the stigma of mental health slowly being broken down and people being encouraged more and more to share how they feel, with all the terrible things that occurred in 2020 and that have been leaking into 2021, and with us all having been separated from people we love for a year now, safe spaces are vital. If Darius wants to emphasize that, above all, then this session is going to be incredible, I thought. And I was right.
For me, the worst part of Zoom events is the silence; unlike in-person events, one participant has to lead the entire discussion, without any smaller conversations, and that leaves a lot of people awkwardly staring at the screen, afraid to speak. Artist Morning was nothing like that. From the very start, this place was warm and welcoming. Darius greeted people individually as they trickled in, and made jokes. He spoke in a calm, soothing voice (which, if you remember, was one of my three necessities). He encouraged us to chat with each other about where we are; there were 40 people in attendance from all over North America, and even someone from Central America.
He then moved onto explain what we could expect from the session, which I as a newcomer greatly appreciated. The meditation session would be 15 minutes long and we could leave our cameras on or off. He warned us that sometimes these sessions feel otherworldly and trigger a lot of emotions, while other times we struggle to reach that plane. And this is okay; whatever you experience, whatever you feel, whatever happens to you, is valid and accepted.
Two participants first led us through stretches, focusing on the shoulders. I shy away from physical activity, especially yoga—I'm not good at it and usually get really concerned that I'm doing it wrong and people are judging me, but I did not feel at all self conscious here, in my pajamas, in my bed, surrounded by kind people.
The meditation was pre-recorded with some calming music in the background (I love that type of mood music, by the way—it was something akin to Peder B. Helland's Soothing Relaxation channel, with soft crescendos and simple melodies). We focused on self-love, affirmations, and breathing out everything that doesn't serve you. Meditation is so individualistic, but oddly enough, this session was full of my absolute favourite themes of meditation: we placed our hands on our hearts and stomachs to check in on them, and I got a bit teary-eyed since I spend a lot of time telling my heart to be quiet. We were also reminded of our connection to the Earth; as we relaxed from the top of our heads down, we didn't stop at our toes, but kept going, far down into the ground. This theme resonates deeply with me because this past year I have strengthened my relationship with the soil from which we came, and to which we will all eventually return.
Following the meditation, we all journaled individually for 15 minutes. I have kept a diary since I was seven, so this was a welcomed task. As Moffett (1982) and Rohman (1965) suggested, having just meditated introduced an entire stream of consciousness to me, and the words practically came out on their own.
When we regrouped we participated in what they called "secret eye-gazing," wherein you find someone on screen who speaks to you and just look at them. We all take deep breaths together and then you send out a compliment to your secret person, from your heart to theirs. I didn't feel a specific compliment land in me, but I did feel my arms start to tingle, which was interesting!
The session ended with a break-out room. We had five minutes to discuss with one to three other people, "Where were you exactly a year ago?" For me, it was the last pre-COVID day. I was in school, in my second-last day of in-person undergrad, without knowing it. The school would be closed on Friday; I would pack up my room and move back in with my parents on Saturday; I would finish the rest of my undergraduate degree online and graduate via Zoom in June.
Following the session was a 15-minute lounge, for anyone who wanted to join and share whatever they needed to say. Participants shared what the meditation session meant to them and how important it was at this particular time in their life. I even shared the conveyor belt story, as the conversation had shifted toward how the individualism of meditation means it isn't always a pleasant experience.
This whole experience was very love-based: the love that Darius showed for his participants through his concern over their safe space; the love that he asked us to show ourselves and our hearts during our meditation; the love that participants showed each other through supportive comments in the chat. My personal favourite was what I called "twinkly fingers;" I've spent many Zoom open mic nights golf-clapping or clapping on mute, but here we showed love by fluttering our fingers at the camera, as if we were shaking fairy dust onto each other.
I'm looking forward to the next session, when I will be able to fully enjoy the meditation without my mind focusing on remembering everything so that I could write about it afterward.
Art is subjective. Meditation is individualistic. Combined, they create either an experience perfectly tailored to you, or one that completely misses the mark. So try a bunch of different types until you find one that sits with you. And if you're a creative, try this one.
Campbell, J. (1994). Writing to Heal: Using Meditation in the Writing Process. College Composition and Communication, 45(2), 246-251.
Moffett, J. (1982). Writing, Inner Speech, and Meditation. College English, 44(3), 231-246.
Rohman, G. (1965). Pre-writing and the Stage of Discovery in the Writing Process. College Composition and Communication, 16(2), 106-112.