Tag Archives: meditation

Gappy New Year – if you make it so, Grasshopper

Candle party

If you find reflection difficult, make friends with a candle.

At the beginning of the year – so  long ago now – and for some time afterwards, a lot of my text messages began with ‘Happy New Year.’ But one such message began, ‘Gappy New Year.’ It was a hot day, letters swirled and jumbled and before I knew it I had a reason for a little article about giving yourself permission to take time out this year to smell the roses, or the Tanqueray, or to have a magnificent Mad Men boxed set weekend.  And by now, you’ve forgotten your New Year’s Resolutions, so try this instead, because…

Here’s the thing: gaps are good, gaps are you being generous towards the most important entity in your life: you. Think about it – without you – functional, healthy, purposeful or purposeless, charming you – where are you? Hmm? Answer me that, grasshopper. And no, it isn’t selfish to practise self care. It’s essential.

So enjoy a Gappy New Year with some of these self care activities:

.Meditation – 5 minutes twice a day at a time and place of your choosing, although if you have a house full of small people, or furry animals, or highly attentive (read high maintenance) spouses, you may have to be a bit sneaky. Get up just a little earlier, sit quietly somewhere and focus on your breath; drive to the station 5 minutes sooner and sit in the car – breathe; get an mp3 player, save some whalesong onto it and listen to it while travelling on your public transport limo, whatever it may be. When intrusive thoughts arise, or even timid ones, say hi to them and then let them drift off like Grandma on the ice floe, as you refocus on your breathing and those darling Southern Rights. You know the drill.

  • Meditate and create a little gap of quiet spaciousness.

. Gratitude – some people I know keep a gratitude journal in which they write down a few things they’re thankful for from the day just spent before they retire for the night. They’re not elaborate, but rather simple acknowledgements of positive experiences or valuable relationships. I don’t keep a gratitude journal but I try to remember on most days how lucky I am to live in a democracy, for instance, where blue skies are the norm rather than the exception, and where I can smell freshly mown grass most days of the week, listen to beautiful music whenever I choose to, and enjoy the company and love of my most beloved partner every day.  Also, I have the fixings for chicken enchiladas in my freezer and pantry, right here, right now.  Oh, frabjous day.

  • Be grateful for the things that count and create a cheerful gap of warm and fuzzy facts.

. Reflection – what I said about meditation, only add deliberate thought about specific subjects instead of letting said thoughts drift off on the mental ice floe with Granny. This is a way to consider what you’re doing and what you’re planning to do – perhaps we should name the forward reflection, projection. In both cases, you’re creating a little gap where you get to contemplate important issues and, with any luck, make worthy decisions about them, or defer decisions until a more fortuitous moment.

  • Do some reflection and create a gap of thoughtful, unhurried clarity. 

.  Distance – sometimes it’s best to simply get away from whatever it is that annoys, frustrates, irritates or otherwise aggravates you. Go for a walk, a run, a beer, a musical interlude, a dinner or breakfast, a visit to the art gallery, the museum, join a bank robbery in progress (if that’s what turns your widget, but keep your head down), the beach, a seat on the back steps where you can sip your tea or tequila and nibble your raisin toast, without the benefit of digital technology.

  • Keep your distance and create a gap of literal and/or metaphorical breaks in which to lose and calm yourself.

. Read – something new, or re-read a faithful old friend. I return to several books every couple of years to rediscover their gems. I’m never disappointed and I always find something new to consider. Here are a few I highly recommend: The Shipping News by Annie Proulx; One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Reaching Tin River by Thea Astley (an absolute disgrace to Australian publishing that so many of her titles are out of print or hard to source, or even sauce); The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler (come on, Anne, you can do it – just one more for the Tyler Trippers, pleeeeeese).

  • Read up a paper chase and create a narrative gap, or three.

So, grasshopper, how do you practice self care? Whatever you do, do it mindfully and with sincerity: the sense of calmness alone is a worthy reward.

Two for the Price of One: Mindful Meditation & Memoir


Sculpture by Ron Mueck – Drift, 2009

I’ve realised that sometimes you can effectively do two things at once and succeed at both

Research is increasingly revealing that multi-tasking isn’t necessarily the way to go, but here’s something that can kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, and apologies to the birds – who would ever think to do such a thing?  Not us grasshoppers.

The two things allow you to calm down, meditate on specific things, and create memoir if you choose to do so.

A Few More Blinks

Routine or Gay Abandon – It’s All in the Attitude, Toots.

Some routines are essential and unavoidable

I met a woman who wanted to write a novel. Let’s call her Reba.  Reba said she knew she had a book in her and she’d wanted to write it for quite some time.  She asked me what I thought of the idea.  I said it sounded like a wonderful thing to do – what else would I say since I’d written several novels myself at that time, and had managed to get a couple published?

I asked Reba how much she’d written so far, general notes, background research, character development, plot structure, and so on.  She told me she hadn’t actually started yet.  But did she write something every day?  She said no, she didn’t, she was very busy with everything in her life and she didn’t get time to write every day.  Did she write every other day, or a couple of times a week?  No.  In fact, she didn’t write at all.

I asked the obvious question: how did she think she might write a novel if she wasn’t writing, and had no plans to write anytime soon?  Reba looked puzzled, and didn’t answer for a while.  Then she said she hadn’t thought of it like that.

I decided to accept the notion that I’d been transported to Dali’s surreal world of the Writer Who Doesn’t Write But Expects to Have Written – one day, some day.

Here’s the rub: just because you know your alphabet and it’s easy to buy a computer or pick up a pen and notepad, doesn’t mean it’s easy to write.

People don’t make the same assumption about learning the violin, for example.  They don’t presume that once they’ve bought the instrument, they’ll be able to play like Nigel Kennedy.  They accept that there will be practise and lessons, and more practise and more lessons, and that they’ll learn all the time, and fail all the time, and get better and fall back, and get better again, and reach for bigger challenges, and work still harder.

But only if they actually do it.  And doing it is hard, just as doing anything worthwhile is hard.  Starting is hard, continuing is hard, but there are ways of starting and ways to keep going.

Most of the books I’ve read about writing, for instance, emphasise the importance of routine in achieving your writing goals.  One of the earlier texts, from which so many other contemporary publications have derived their writing models and guidelines, is Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer.

Dorothea published this seminal work in 1934 but it was out of print until 1981 when it was re-published with a foreword by John Gardner.  Gardner nails Brande’s approach when he explains that she addresses the root problems common to all writers of any era, whether experienced or beginners.

These root problems relate to the writer’s personality: the ability to get started (or not), getting started but then getting lost or losing heart; inconsistent writing quality; one-off brilliance unrepeated; excellent work during a creative writing course, for instance, and then nothing.  Gardner calls these issues, these root problems, “problems of confidence, self-respect, freedom.  The writer’s demon is imprisoned by the various ghosts in the unconscious.”

Brande offers various means by which writers can get in touch and deal with the ghosts and “cultivate a writer’s temperament.”  She is particularly strong on developing the routine of writing every day and to that end prescribes two exercises.

The first exercise is designed to get you in touch with your unconscious and develop the flow of writing.  Brande asserts that “the first step towards being a writer is to hitch your unconscious mind to your writing arm.”  Or in the case of most of us, to our writing digits and our keyboards.

The ideal time to do this, she says, is when the unconscious is “in the ascendant,” that is, when you first wake in the morning.  She suggests getting up half an hour, or an hour earlier than usual each day and devoting that time to writing.  If that seems too hard, and I must admit, I’m not a morning person, try starting with 15 minutes and build up by quarter-hour segments to an hour.

The trick is to begin as soon as you get up and not turn on the radio, or read the paper first.  Do it straight away while you’re fresh to the new day and your conscious state.

What do you write? Anything at all.  Describe your dreams if you remember them, or someone you met yesterday, what you’re planning to do today.  Or write a conversation you’ve heard, or whatever comes into your mind that allows you to fashion coherent sentences.

In this way, Brande explains, you can train yourself to write in the most basic, uncritical way.  Don’t censor yourself, and remember that this is for you alone, no one else will see it.  Do this every morning and don’t re-read the previous day’s work.  Simply write.  And keep this writing, because there will be ideas in it that you will be able to use without a doubt.

Gradually, you’ll write more in the same amount of time, and gradually, the task of writing will become less problematic and more natural.  Once the habit embeds itself, and you reach ‘on impulse’ for your keyboard or notebook when you wake, you’ll be ready for the next exercise.

The second exercise Brande prescribes to help develop the routine of writing, is to schedule writing periods into your day, apart from your morning writing.  A fifteen minute block is all you need at first, but you must decide on a time, 10am, 3pm, 7pm, and stick to it for that day without deviating – unless of course, God arrives to announce the rapture, in which case write about that while you’re waiting in the queue.

The important thing with this exercise is to vary the times at which you write each day, so that eventually you overcome the deep ‘inner resistance’ of the unconscious, which, Brande says, is ‘incorrigbly lazy … and given to finding the easiest way of satisfying itself.’  It prefers not to be bound by the strictures of schedules, so it has to be pulled into line by the conscious application of varying the times at which you write and sticking to them.  Eventually, if you keep it up, you’ll be able to attend to your writing schedule without resistance and your unconscious will be there and ready to lend its support.

Brande cautions that if you can’t keep up these two activities – early morning writing and writing by pre-arrangement, you should give up writing because your resistance is greater than your desire to write fluently at will.

However, I would add a note of consideration to this rather harsh conclusion for those of us who don’t perform well in the a.m.  While it’s an ideal to get up early every morning and write while your unconscious is closest to you, you might find that mornings aren’t for you – they really aren’t for everyone, believe it or not.

I suggest an alternative that may restore the link to the unconscious even if you don’t write in the morning, and that is to develop the habit of meditation.  You can meditate for 10 to 15 minutes by simply sitting quietly somewhere away from the chaos of life.  Choose the same time each day and stick to it just as the early morning writers do.  Have your notebook and pen, or your PC or laptop handy.

As you sit, eyes closed or open, follow your breath, noting each inhalation and exhalation.  Focus your thoughts on the sensation of air moving in and out of your nose.  Or count each breath as you breathe out.  If intrusive thoughts arise, simply let them come and go – watch them pass by, imagine them drifting off, and return to your breathing and/or counting.

After 10 or 15 minutes of meditating, stay in the same place and begin to write Dorothea’s morning writing exercise.  Do this every day and develop two skills for the price of one.

A routine may be hard to develop, but it is very rewarding and your level of satisfaction with your writing will rise exponentially.  Give yourself a gift and give it a go.

Next time with The Memoir Detective:  Angst for the Memories: what exactly do we mean when we say Memoir?