Today we’re featuring a guest post from novelist, poet, and screenwriter Orna Ross (no relation, as far as I know). The post below will give you a taste of her most recent publication, Inspiration Meditation: A Guide For Writers Artists & Everyone, available online as an Ebook or MP3 audio.
If you’re a writer, artist or anyone who is trying to consciously create anything, you should meditate. That’s the conclusion of a flurry of recent brain research from the fields of psychology and neuroscience.
But what precisely is meditation? And how does it benefit conscious creators. If we haven’t experienced meditation, we can find ourselves asking the same questions often posed by those who haven’t experienced the creative process. Is it an activity or a state of mind? A approach or a process? Or all of those at once?
Like art, meditation is a doorway between our inner and outer worlds; between “reality”, the seemingly solid world that we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch and an elusive “something else” we sense beneath, between and beyond what those five senses can grasp. Like art, it is mysterious, nebulous, difficult to pin down.
When asked to explain one of his pictures, Picasso said: “A painting speaks for itself. What is the use of giving explanations?” Meditation too is its own explanation. The danger in trying to analyse it is that intellectual explanations can actually detract from our understanding.
So perhaps a description might offer us a better way in. Jo Devereux, the narrator of my first novel, Lovers’ Hollow, uncovering a tangled family history of insanity and murder here finds herself walking the beach, mired in misery and confusion:
Stop it, I order myself. Stop thinking. Feel the sun on your eyes and the breeze on your skin. Pull yourself out of your head, down into your body, the body that can’t be in tomorrow or yesterday but only here, where it is. Somehow, to my own surprise, I do it. In the very middle of my trouble, I manage to let it go.
And as I do, I feel a shift in perception that recomposes the scene before me, making everything in my sights seem more completely itself. The expanse of glistening sands, the knobbled fingers of rock jutting into the ocean, the sunlight pirouetting on the waves — each is more full of its own living presence yet somehow, simultaneously, more connected to me. I kick off my shoes, I slip out of my clothes, I walk into the sea. My skin is porous, no longer a boundary. Joy surges in me: the same molecules dance in me and in everything. I am melting into the water and all the world.
We give the same word – meditation – to both the meditative state (“I am melting into the water and all the world”) and the practices that take us there (“Stop thinking”; “Feel the sun on your eyes and the breeze on your skin.” “Pull yourself out of your head down into your body”).
Even if you’ve never formally practiced meditation, you are likely to have experienced the meditative state – perhaps, like Jo, when walking in nature. Or when relaxing in the bath. Perhaps during sex or when looking into the eyes of a baby. Perhaps even in the midst of a busy day, crowded with people or events. Moments when the thought traffic slows or ceases and your mind slips into stillness.
Such moments always bring peace and sometimes, intense joy. The Victorian poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson, described it as “a kind of waking trance” and used to induce the state by repeating his own name to himself silently, over and over:
“…till all at once, as it were out of the intensity of the consciousness of individuality, individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being. And this was not a confused state but the clearest, the surest of the surest, utterly beyond words, where death was an almost laughable impossibility – the loss of personality (if so it were) seeming no extinction, but the only true life.”
A few lucky people seem to be able to access this state of altered consciousness at will but for most, it’s a challenge. Like Tennyson, we need a method to take us there. A practice. The practice I use is Inspiration Meditation.
It all began in the summer of 2008, while I was going through a time of great change and challenge. Within the space of a few months, I watched as one event after another came into the life I had built myself and eroded its foundations. A work colleague I trusted was revealed, in full media glare, to have been unworthy of that trust, in a way that affected my livelihood and potentially, my reputation. A lump on my right breast turned out to be aggressively cancerous, requiring mastectomy, radiation, chemotherapy, antibody and hormone treatment. And two people I thought of as my closest allies dealt me what felt like a deep betrayal.
I had been meditating for some years at that time and I found myself holding fast to that practice as the shocks came, fast and fierce. Meditation allowed me to keep some solidity, to stay connected to all that was still good in my life and to know that what seemed so troubling probably, at some level I couldn’t yet understand, had value. And also to look deeply at how I might have contributed to these suddenly teetering relationships and remain open to what these challenges might be trying to say to me.
Together with F-R-E-E-writing, another supportive daily practice, meditation held me safe and steady through diagnosis and treatment. It allowed me to stay open, to trust that everything was probably unfolding as it should, to sit with the full import of what was happening without retreating into the tattered shelters of alcohol, overeating or overwork.
I was intensely grateful. So I had no intention of coming up with a new meditation method for myself, never mind for others. Not until one middle of the night, when I awoke with a phrase ringing in my head and a sense of how it should be used as a meditation.
It was quite unlike any other method I’d experienced at that time and seemed a little complex to me, who had only ever meditated on the breath, or a single sound.
It had three parts: a phrase of almost-random words, that seemed to reverberate with multiple meanings; a singular sense of the space between each word of the phrase; and another word, even more charged with meaningfulness. This was the “sacred word”, my mind announced to me. “The creative word. The generative word.” And it was to be sounded into the space between the other words.
Together with the method also came a name: Inspiration Meditation.
I’ve been a writer for 20 years so I immediately recognised what I was feeling – the sense of excitement that accompanies a noteworthy imaginative moment. Noteworthy, for a writer, is literally that so I found myself slipping out of bed, padding downstairs to my notebook and writing the method down. Then I went to my meditation mat and, in the deep three-o’clock- in-the-morning silence, gave it a try.
I got up half an hour or so later, feeling as I had never felt before: like I was rising out of what, in Burnt Norton, TS Eliot called “the still point of the turning world…neither flesh nor fleshless.” There I had been but I could not say where.
Since then, inspiration meditation has been my preferred meditation method. Once I noted its benefits, it wasn’t long before I was recommending it to interested friends and students, to other writers, artists, conscious creators and meditators. I soon found I was not alone in enjoying the specific qualities of this kind of meditation. The feedback I received led me to write an ebook, and record a podcast, about the method, which I offered to my blog subscribers and then for sale on my website.
And now I would like to recommend it to you.
As well as host of other physical and emotional benefits, I have observed from my own experience, the many people I’ve worked with and a host of recent psychological and neurological studies that regular meditation:
- Quiets the chatter of our surface mind, allowing us to hear the deeper insights and ideas that rise in whispers.
- Fosters a calm sense of solidity and connection to self
- Promotes artistic detachment – because we’re not swept away by emotion, we can observe more clearly.
- Quiets our emotional response to criticism, including the inner critic
- Slows us down and eases anxiety
- Induces the state of flow. Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, who has described it as “fully focused motivation,” flow represents the ability to harness the emotions into the service of making, doing, performing and learning.
- Gives the ability to observe what is being made in the moment of its making
- Makes us more inclined to express our essential self.
- Induces the active openness that is the hallmark of the creative response.
- Makes you more confident of your ability to create more of the things you truly want in your life (and less of the rest).
- Brings about an awareness of the dance between you and your own life, an awareness of creation as co-creation — something that happens within you and without you.
There is no greater way to live than this moment by moment awareness of creation unfolding. A daily commitment to Inspiration Meditation for 20-30 minutes a day is all it takes to develop this joyous, connected creative awareness in you.It’s yours for the taking.
Orna Ross is a writer — of novels, poems and now film scripts, as she adapts her last novel A Dance in Time (Penguin 2009) for screen. Her most recent publication is Inspiration Meditation: A Guide For Writers Artists & Everyone, which teaches a step by step meditation technique specially designed to cultivate creative flow. This guide can be downloaded as Ebook or MP3 audio HERE.