During my career, both in industry as well as academia, I have experienced a constant stream of fads that came and went. When a new concept or idea comes onto the scene it either builds momentum until it eventually becomes part of mainstream practice or it fizzles out and declines. I confess that on occasions, particularly in my academic capacity, I have contributed to the creation of such ideas.
‘Mindfulness’ comes to mind (pardon the pun!) as an example. There was frenzied activity to associate mindfulness with many business activities such as coaching. For a while it became the next shiny tool to have in your coaching toolbox. Even leadership courses offered mindfulness for stressed leaders. As its star begins to wane the next ‘must have’ emerges to continue with the well-worn cycle of rise to fame, followed by decline.
Having opted to disassociate myself from the endless pursuit of the organisational Holy Grail, I was nevertheless once again drawn to mindfulness through a recent article. It was featured in The Psychologist, the journal published by the British Psychological Society of which I am a member. It started me thinking about what mindfulness might have to contribute to the process of creative writing. Before considering if such a contribution is not only a possibility, but also more importantly feasible, it is worth capturing the salient points of what constitutes mindfulness.
One of the gurus of mindfulness, John Kabat-Zinn, defines it as a way of being. It is much more than a clever technique or a good idea. However, for any behaviour or activity to be integrated to the extent that it becomes part of ones being takes practice. The essence of mindfulness is that of awareness. Our scientific, mainstream way of thinking has dismissed the conscious pursuit of awareness as a waste of time and such contemplation of ones navel as having no place in the ‘real’ world. Hitherto it has been viewed as an activity only indulged in by those who spend their time locked away from everyday life, such as monasteries and temples.
The awareness referred to by mindfulness is the ability to become conscious of what is unfolding from moment to moment without judgment, thereby being compassionate with yourself and others. The latter is important as mindful awareness without judgment allows us to free our thinking from a black and white mentality. This allows us to become aware of the subtleties in between such absolutes leading to an open mind willing to entertain endless alternatives.
That’s all very well, but what has it got to do with creative writing? Artists, including creative writers, can be harsh critics of themselves and their artistic output, striving and expecting perfection. Self-critical thoughts can be very powerful and once they gather momentum can be very difficult to stop, allowing us to become enmeshed in our thoughts and emotions. This can be a destructive downward spiral whereas mindfulness helps to create mental clarity. It provides us with the time and space to engage with our creative thinking and musings in a non judgmental way, accepting what emerges without the need for change or censoring. In an earlier posting I shared my thoughts on the tug-of-war between our creative and logical minds, both having equal value in the creative process. I am of the opinion that the practice of mindfulness allows us to transcend this combative state and allow both the logical and creative sides of our minds to work together harmoniously. It removes the need for either or and instead creates the space to approach our creative activity with clarity and a mental state of expectation.
Despite my cynicism of the mindless following of fad fashion, I have come to the conclusion that on closer inspection, all of the new stars that will either wax or wane draw on sound principles and years of research. The danger is that in our fast paced world we seek instant success or improvements and when it is not forthcoming the new idea is dismissed. We do not have the necessary patience and staying power to devote the time necessary in mastering a new skill or practice. However, mastery takes time and commitment and there is no such thing as a quick fix.