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Off the Cushion: Contemplative Writing in the Real World

We don’t meditate to become expert meditators, right? At least in the meditation practices I follow, we do eventually get up off the cushion and bring practice into the world.

But what about contemplative writing practice? How do we bring this practice into the world of “real” writing projects? (“Real” is in quotation marks because I’ve found, more often than not, that the germ of a “real” writing project has come out of my daily practice.)

Contemplative writing practice is about following your mind, with awareness and kindness and curiosity. The intent is to make friends with your mind, learning its habits and quirks, much like the meditation practices it’s grounded in.

Now, my ADHD mind is a tough thing to follow, let alone make friends with. Yet, over time, contemplative writing practice has actually helped calm the confusion and scattered-ness that are among my ADHD challenges, while also making me a better, faster, happier writer.

I’m the first to admit that this does seem counterintuitive: this practice calls for sitting still and focusing, either or both of which are often hard for neurodivergent minds.

My own mind, for one, is full of all the things, all the time, so many thoughts colliding at any given moment that it’s impossible to follow any one train of thought without great effort. And now you want me to capture whatever wisps of thought or inspiration might be floating by and actually write them down?

Actually, yes.

And right there, that seems to be the secret sauce. The practice of writing everything down, no matter how random, is what seems to have made it possible for me to translate contemplative writing practice into writing skills I use in “real” writing projects.

In fact, this practice has helped me adopt a new process of writing. Since this process turns out to be really nothing more than the tried-and-true advice to write a first draft, without editing, and then go back and revise, what’s the big deal?

It’s that I was never able to do it before. In fact, I actually taught this process for years without really being able to do it myself.

I simply couldn’t stop myself from editing at the same time as writing. I’d try to get every sentence exactly right, so it would convey exactly what I was thinking in just the way I wanted to convey it. This may look like perfectionism, but I think I was just so afraid I’d lose the idea altogether that I couldn’t see how to do it any other way.