PR Interns Hieu Duong and Juliana Borelli offer these ideas about writing and mindfulness, mixing meditative practice with the creative act, and about the value of working with a strong instructor such as PR Fiction Editor, John Wang.  

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Photo by Hieu Duong

 

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;

On purpose,

in the present moment, and

nonjudgmentally.”

–Jon Kabat-Zinn

 

     Mindfulness meditation originates from Buddhist practices, but has grown into its own, finding a niche in psychotherapy. Perhaps some of the associated terms include Yoga, relaxation, wellness, conjure up images of rolled up green mats with an Ohm symbol, people in various postures, and chai lattés…maybe not. We digress. But simply put, it’s keeping yourself in the moment, being fully immersed in the here-and-now. And this is completely related to our friend, Writing.

 

     In his book, Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness, psychotherapist and mindfulness author Arnie Kozak defines mindfulness in his opening statement as:

 

A process of self-inquiry directed at what is happening in the moment, often focused on how the body feels, on how we embody this moment. Mindfulness is an intentional directing of attention to experience as it unfolds in the present moment, one moment following the next—the very happening of experience as it is happening without inner commentary, judgment, or storytelling.

 

     Storytelling? But wait a minute—what we do is invent stories. We all have a tendency to invent what-if scenarios instead of seeing the actual. What if the day turns out lousy? What if my co-workers are talking behind my back? We do make up what-if scenarios, but a lot of it is rooted in the actual. As writers, we always hear, write what you know. To make our work believable, we build relatable characters and circumstances. Even a sci-fi story should reveal something about the human condition, that is, the imagined should reflect the actual.

 

     As part of the Creative Writing class taught by Professor John Wang, we (Hieu)  were given several tasks in order to broaden our perspectives and expand our experiences. Other than memory tasks such as “list the things that you’ve lost in the past year,” or “things that you really want right now,” or “write something using the following words,” Professor Wang also tasked us with some active tasks such as “for homework, go out and eavesdrop on a few conversations,” or “ask three strangers to tell you something interesting that other people may not know about themselves [and explain that it’s for a class].” He called this “field work.” While mindfulness can be about focus and introspection, remembering past events, recalling related words to augment a story, which requires attention and regulation of one’s own mind, it can also be about immersing yourself totally to your environment. It is deliberate attention that can be extended beyond the self.

      At the beginning of every class, Professor Wang would ask us if we had any interesting stories. If we were always preoccupied with our own minds, reinterpreting past events and drawing up fairy tales, we would miss the interesting things that occur all around. To apply mindfulness, a writer might ride the Metro, push out all thoughts that may pop up, in order to be immersed in the surrounding cues, paying attention to a passing conversation, for example.

 

     In the article “Nine Essential Qualities of Mindfulness,” clinical psychologist Melanie Greenbergwriting for Psychology Today, advises that the following behaviors be part of our practice:

 

  • Focus on the present moment
  • Being fully present
  • Openness to experience
  • Non-judgment
  • Non-attachment
  • Accepting things as they are
  • Connection

 

     Mindfulness means being able to separate yourself from the fear and doubts you hold about the future and try new things, which means many new experiences. Recognize that we may have reservations about approaching strangers, but often, strangers have the best stories to tell. Professor Wang’s “field work” is designed to get us out there, to gather stories, interesting bits that could fuel our writing, or heighten our prose.

 

     Terms that often accompany “mindfulness” include “attention” and “awareness.” This could mean “How am I breathing right now?” “How is my body positioned currently?” But it could also be paying attention to how the stones feel against your feet or how does the mountain air breathe differently than the city atmosphere. Writers rely on descriptions to give their work an authentic feel. Nature writers may have to pay attention to the migration patterns of birds or what genus of plants exist in a certain forest; sports writers may choose to pay attention to an athlete’s batting technique; and travel writers may pay focus on the unique culture of a place: how does this place feel? They have to observe this feeling in order to capture it for the readers. But it doesn’t stop there. Sight. Touch. Sound. Smell. Taste. All of which requires awareness and attention. This is the connection aspect of mindfulness.

 

Photo by Hieu Duong

Photo by Hieu Duong

     Fiction writers tell a story, but in order to make the story concrete, we ground it in details, and that requires “field work,” going out, and experiencing the world (usually with pen and pad handy), then we report those details. Sometimes we take an extra step though—and this is where the introspection comes in handy—we ask ourselves “How do I make these details interesting?” Sometimes we may write “The roses weep of morning dew.” It takes paying attention to the words to say “Is this prose too purplish?” This is also where fiction writers add a dimension of our own, we put our observations through a creative filter and let it do its thing. A writer tries to express to the world what they feel; a good writer reflects the world within their work; and a good writer uses their unique perspective and projects that upon the world.

 

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