MONTPELIER, VERMONT — As a creative writer, you know the importance of routine. Writing at a certain time of day, with a particular pen or inspiring sweater, anything that helps you find that quiet place where it’s just you and the words.
But how often does life really let you find that place? That’s the question Kurt Caswell asked in his lecture here at my MFA in Writing residency with the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Caswell–an award-winning author and essayist, as well as a lover of nature and my inspiring first semester faculty advisor–explained that when a writer has a contemplative practice in his or her life, it can be easier to rediscover that quiet place regardless of distraction.
What is a contemplative practice, you ask? (Well, I would have.) It is any repetitive habit, he said, that allows you to connect mind and body. Caswell walked us through the rewards of four such practices–meditation, yoga, walking and running.
Meditation helps you find a “beginner’s mind,” allowing you to pull out treasures of your subconscious for your writing. Yoga–which he said is at its core meditation–helps you find that quiet place. (Lisa Berman, a writer and instructor at Naropa University, told Caswell that yoga allows her to let go those distractions that otherwise would pull her out of her writing.) Walking can be a vehicle for you to actually compose your writing, a la Wordsworth. And running, he said, allows you to improve focus and endurance, both essential to a writer, who gets better the more he or she writes. Oh, and he threw into the mix a little matter of such practices helping build gray matter in our brains, leading to more memory, less stress, and increased empathy.
All writers struggle, Caswell said. But “your struggle is beautiful.” Embrace that reality, and find your repetitive practice that helps you emerge from that struggle with beautiful prose.
Just about anything can be a contemplative practice, Caswell said during the q&a, as audience members volunteered their own habits. Cooking, motorcycle riding, even dishwashing were offered. To the student who likes to do dishes–I’d love to have him as a dinner guest–Caswell said that if you approach it with the intention of washing dishes, it can work; if you approach it to get dishes washed, it won’t. I liked that way of looking at it.
Do you have a contemplative practice that helps you connect with your muse?