Mindfulness is the ‘in thing’ for relieving stress right now. There are courses available everywhere, even in schools, to help people deal with anything from depression, low mood or anxiety. There are even adult colouring books to promote mindfulness. Mindfulness doesn’t stop a person from worrying – that’s not possible – and it doesn’t teach you to put your problems to one side because a problem will always require a solution, but it does teach you to learn to live in the here and now and not to dwell too much on whatever is troubling you; sort of taking each day as it comes, but not quite. Mindfulness, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, ‘means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.’ It has its roots in Buddhist meditation and yoga and focuses mainly on breathing. By focusing on the breath you can gather your thoughts on you and you alone, and it influences how you think, training you to direct your thoughts in a more positive kind of way.
Sounds all very hippy and tree-hugging, doesn’t it? That’s what I thought when I embarked on an eight-week course I finished two weeks ago, but I soon changed my tune. It was suggested I took the course following a few 1-to-1 counselling sessions I had earlier in the year. I won’t go too much into the ins and outs of why I went to counselling, but let’s just say that last year I reached a landmark birthday, one I didn’t want, but which I knew full well I couldn’t do very much about. It was a bit of a mid-life crisis, if you like. Suddenly, I’d reached that time in my life where people around me of a similar age were becoming grandparents and it hit me that I would never become a grandparent because I’d been unable to have children (thought I’d got over all that, but I obviously hadn’t; should really have had counselling about that back then). All that, along with my mother’s recent deterioration and continuing frailty (she’s got months left now not years) the fact that I’d divorced my dysfunctional family, and my husband taking ill made me angry with the past, discontent with the present and afraid for my future: I have been, in short, a bit of an emotional mess these last months, full of anxiety and hate for my fellow man, who seemed to have a much better life than I had, and all I could see was my life thirty years down the line, stuck in a home with dementia like my mum, but without a son or daughter to give a monkey’s. In my Mum’s life right now, I’m that monkey. At least she has that; I won’t have it.
Aaaaaand breathe! Can you see now why I’ve been so fecked up?
So I went for the mindfulness, and the meditation practices I’ve learnt in my course have helped to focus on me in the here and now and my needs for a change, and that includes writing my stories and putting them into book form. It has, in fact, taught me to be oh so a little bit more selfish. I can now crack on with my writing without worrying or fretting about anything else, or feeling depressed about the negative things in my life. The meditations have chilled me out. I can particularly recommend the three minute breathing space practice; you can do that anywhere. Great in the office before you feel the urge to punch someone in the face!
Back to the question: can mindful living make you a better author? Maybe not, but it can help to focus your mind into your writing or into other pursuits, not to come home from your day job and worry and fret about someone the office who got on your wick that day, or think about the endoscopy your husband is having, or anything else that might be troubling or hacking you off. It teaches you that you have to think about you, to be kind to yourself, that you have a purpose in life, even if it hasn’t quite turned out how you wanted or how you expected. You get a worrying thought, you accept it, you let it go; you have regrets, you accept them, you let them go; your life has been a bit of a disappointment, hey-ho, been and gone. You have no control over the past and the future, though you still have to plan for it; it may not turn out the way you want it to, but maybe it’s not supposed to.
Since I finished the mindful living course I’ve been writing an average of one thousand words a day, which is a much, much better average than before I started the course. Instead of coming home from work and stewing over my miserable lot – not that miserable, actually, I do have some blessings, though before I learnt about mindfulness I realised I’d overlooked them – I’ve been opening my laptop and I’ve been writing. I’ve been focusing on my chapters, on my characters, on my new book Episode. I find I can now concentrate more easily on the story and my characters, focus on them, and if my mind does drift to the idiot at work that day, I’ve learnt to bring it back to the task in hand.
Have I still got problems? Yes. Do certain work colleagues still get up my nose? Yes. Have I still got a mother who is a constant worry? Yes. Do I have a life of my own I have to live, hobbies and a husband to care about? Yes.
Will I finish Episode by the middle of next year? YES, because it’s what I want to do and what I want to focus on!
My life, my here and now, and yeah, if you like, my Episode!