Mindful writing activities can train the mind and improve your writing at the same time. Here’s how…
It is a most beauteous relationship, that between mind and pen.
Of all professionals, writers are the ones most likely to practice the mind-training exercises mindfulness and meditation.
Take a look at this list of 31 meditation techniques.
If you’re a writer, it’s a safe bet you’ve practiced several of those techniques. Somehow, writers just seem naturally drawn to meditation.
Perhaps it’s because writers inherently recognise the beauty of the present moment. After all, many writers spend their lives striving to express the beauty of certain moments. Little surprise, then, that we are drawn to exercises that put us in closer contact with those moments.
Mindfulness (read: our guide to mindfulness) makes us live in the moment. Writing allows us to express those moments.
And on those occasions when we don’t seem to be able to connect with the present moment, those times when we are consumed by thoughts, feelings, and other mental phenomena, we can use writing to pull ourselves back into the now.
As a meditation teacher, author and journalist, mindful writing is my life. I spend approximately 70 percent of my waking life either writing or practicing various forms of meditation (along with yoga, Tai chi and other healing arts). And I’ve had the pleasure of teaching both practices to others.
But what thrills me most is teaching mindfulness and writing side-by-side.
Put together, these two pastimes create a powerful transformative experience that can boost both writing skills and mental health.
Here are 8 mindful writing exercises to try.
- Let it all go with stream of consciousness writing
When starting meditation, it can be helpful to spend ten minutes or so letting go of thoughts. Writing can help.
Stream of consciousness writing (spontaneous and unguided writing) offers an opportunity to let all those thoughts and feelings come pouring out onto the page. This can be an immensely cathartic practice, and all it takes is ten minutes.
Remember, the key is to not judge the writing but rather to let it flow freely.
- Describe the beauty around you
Psychologists have proven that the ability to appreciate beauty is vital to happiness (*1). The appreciation of beauty and excellence is one of the twenty-four character strengths defined in positive psychology, the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals to thrive. (*2)
One of the ways to appreciate the beauty in the world is to write descriptions of it.
Perhaps there’s a beautiful flower with rich colours. If so, describe the colours. Maybe it’s a sound, like birdsong. If so, describe the tonality and melody. This simple practice helps train the mind to recognise the beauty of every moment.
- Describe thoughts and feelings
Mindfulness meditation involves non-judgmentally observing our thoughts and feelings (*3). This has been scientifically proven to help control emotions (*4). We can take the process further by writing down our observations. Simply scrawl observations of the thoughts and emotions that occur in the mind. Doing so heightens self-awareness and enhances mindfulness.
- A journey through the body
Another excellent mindfulness exercise is to consciously observe the sensations in the body.
Imagine that consciousness is the character in a story. Chapter one begins with the character in the toes. From there, the character (consciousness) gradually journeys up the body all the way to the crown of the head. As the character moves, describe the sensations and experiences it comes across, the physical phenomena occurring in the body. This is an alternative take on body scan meditation, which has been shown to help ground us, to help us to let things be, to remove the stress of negative physical sensations, and to increase appreciation of the body (*5).
- Imagine you’re a character in a story. Describe yourself
Another important area of mindfulness pertains to the way we observe our physical form.
It is best to have a non-judgmental view of the body. This liberates us from any issue with body image, and makes us more accepting and more compassionate of the body.
One of the best ways to create this state is by imagining we are a character in a story. To do this, we describe ourselves objectively, in a non-judgemental fashion. This improves self awareness. Plus, as an added bonus, by describing ourselves objectively we learn to write more detailed and more realistic characters. (Read: Writing great characters in your fiction).
- Try this writing prompt
“The light touches…”
The key to using this writing prompt is to become conscious of light in an environment, and then write about how the light moves, the objects it comes into contact with, and how those objects change it.
This writing prompt increases mindfulness of sight. As we follow the light throughout the room we become mindful of objects, of their shape, colour, texture, and all their visual qualities.
This one writing prompt is a powerful way of quickly regaining mindfulness.
- Observe and eliminate distractions
Distractions are funny things. They’re only really distractions when we’re not fully conscious of them.
If we’re at work but really texting, the text is a distraction because it is preventing us from being fully conscious of our work. But when we fully focus on texting (the distraction) it stops being a distraction and becomes a task that we are mindfully doing.
We can take advantage of this by writing about those distractions. This makes us more conscious of how we are being distracted. After writing about the distractions, tear up the paper (or delete the text if typing), and throw it away, imagining that the distractions are being thrown away with it.
- Transcribe your own mind
This technique is similar to stream of consciousness writing but with some important differences.
The gist of it is to transcribe whatever runs through the mind. Not only do we write our thoughts, we write the quality of the thoughts, the loudness, the feelings of the thoughts, everything.
There are many ways to go about this. Feel free to experiment. Or try the following:
- Change the colours of the writing (for instance, if it’s an angry thought make it red)
- Use different letter sizes to express loudness
- Experiment with different fonts.
The end result of this process will look something like a piece of modern art, an artistic expression of the mind. And the process of creating it will not just increase mindfulness, but will illustrate the mind in a way most people have never seen. This one has to be experienced to be believed.
Remember to use these important mindfulness activities too.
These writing exercises offer a new way to experience mindfulness, and anyone with a penchant for writing will absolutely love them.