The Writing Mind

Thinking and reading on how the brain and mind work earns a seal of longevity at my desk. To say nothing of the many journal pages filled by said meanderings and challenges. The files, which I’ve been stuffing with random pieces of paper, are full of articles on same.

But my favorite and often reread is a book by Daniel B. Smith: Muses, Madmen, and Prophets.

I don’t know when I first began hearing voices. Pretty much, it’s been with me all my life. For many years, I’ve use my keyboard to record messages by putting my fingers on the keyboard, eyes closed, asking a question, and typing what I heard.

I didn’t even know hearing voices, or as I call it, The Voice, since there’s only one, could indicate schizophrenia, only learning that in Daniel Smith’s book. I must admit to being flat-out crazy from time to time, often when I’m overloaded with to-do lists or midway into something and discover I’ve lost an essential whatever to complete. And I’ve up and moved across the country, often on a whim (well, usually The Voice), with no idea where I was going to live or what I was going to do. Arriving where you need to be but not knowing what you’re supposed to be doing can lead to flat-out crazy. Those time, I usually go to the library and pull down books and smother myself with words as I seek answers.

But maybe I’m off topic.

What really prompted me to write today was, in cleaning up papers and shuffling things into recycling because once more I’m finished with the book and don’t know what else to do with myself, I came across an essay I’d saved from the February 21, 2016 New York Times Magazine. “Contemplation Therapy.” Obviously I’m not very far deep into piles since this was so recent.

In The essay, Gretchen Reynolds writes: “This month, a study published in Biological Psychiatry brings scientific thoroughness to mindfulness meditation, and for the first time shows that, unlike a placebo, it can change the brains of ordinary people and potentially improve their health.”

Mindfulness meditation, in short (very short) teaches the practitioner to pay attention to how the mind chatters or otherwise harangues its owner; i.e. mine and yours. Mindfulness also pays attention to the body, where it’s tense or grumbling or otherwise distracting oneself. It can also rewire your brain.

An interesting movie, several years ago, What the Bleep…Do We Know, showed a representation of how the synapses of the brain fire and how they fire the same way over and over to fear, disgust, anger, etc, deepening the connection. The task is to change the way the brain fires. When I taught speech, I showed the movie and helped students learn they could put down their fear of public speaking by silencing the chatter. Meditation works, and often I’ve used  word cues to stop my mind chatter. One of my early-early-in-my-twenties lessons was from “I’m Okay, You’re Okay.” I learned I could change the way my mind chattered.

For a writer, it’s a valuable skill. It clears the mind of I can’t do this I’m going to fail and all the other self-defeating lines and makes space for the lines you really need to hear.

“To meditate mindfully demands ‘an open and receptive, nonjudgmental awareness of your present-moment experiences,’ says J. David Creswell, who led the study and is an associate professor of psychology and the director of the Health and Human performance Laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University.”

The study used two different subject groups: one taught mindfulness meditation and one taught relaxation. At the end of the three weeks, both groups felt less stress, but brain scans found “more activity, or communication” in the brains of those who practiced mindfulness.

Here’s what was truly interesting: “Four months later, those who had practiced mindfulness showed much lower levels in their blood of a marker of unhealthy inflammation…even though few were still meditating.”

The researchers still don’t know why. No doubt, more research will be done.

But the bottom line says we can change the way our mind chatters and changing that chatter leads to better health and clarity. In truth, researchers don’t even know where the mind resides: brain? body? organs? heart? Well, the heart’s an organ, but a special one. But I wonder if that matters as much as knowing we can change the manner and ways we think? (or fear, as the case may be.)

Writing is hard work (which in part explains my exhaustion this past week when I’ve puttered and taken naps and not written and basically had an empty head), and finding clarity can be, well, we could say “challenging” or we could use any number of words not fit for polite society.

But wouldn’t being mindful of our mind be more effective?

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14 thoughts on “The Writing Mind

  1. I always feel a little emotional when reading anything you’ve written. You make so much sense. It’s always substance, and it’s always mind-blowingly clear. I’m taking a personal development course with Arianna Huffington right now that discusses mindfulness and meditation. I think that I’d always unconsciously meditated as a child – lying on the bonnet of my aunt’s car, trying to catch some sun. And I realize how much my mind is always a buzz because I don’t have the quiet (leisure) time that I had as a child.

    You should definitely read Thrive by Arianna Huffington, it’s especially great since she’s also a writer.

    I hope you’re doing well. I’m not sure why I don’t receive notifications of your posts anymore.

    1. Hi Robyn! How wonderful to hear from you. You are very kind. Perhaps you haven’t received my blogs because I haven’t been writing on it much. After finishing the memoir and getting query letters going, my mind has become rather blank. I think about things to write but don’t. I expect I’m in re-boot mode! But I did get some work done around the house and raked last winter’s oak leaves from the front garden. I’ve puttered and taken naps. I expect I’ll gear up again, but you might want to check and see if you’re still listed as “following” my blog. You probably are if you haven’t changed your email address. If so, you may need to sign up again. I expect I’ll gear up again soon (she says with less than enthusiasm). LOL!

      Hope you are well. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen your blog come through in a while either…maybe we both need to check connections….

      1. Hi Janet!Great to hear from you as well! You’re quite right, perhaps you hadn’t seen any posts because I hadn’t written much in a while. I fell in love. That kept me occupied. And now I realize I need to manage my time well or I’ll never reach my goals – I can’t keep pushing my ‘little hobby’ aside. I am still following your blog – I checked 🙂 if it means that I have to pop over to your blog every once in a while to check new posts, I’ll do that. Keep in touch.

  2. this is such great “food” for thought, Janet. I have heard that we inadvertently deepen the negative channels in our brains. The Ancient Greeks believed in contemplation, just sitting and thinking, which became the “state of mind” concept of leisure. There is a lot to be said for this science. Now I can’t get the Scarecrow’s song “If I only Had a Brain” out of my head, LOL!

    1. I agree. I’ve followed that voice for years. One of the things I wrote when I was leaving Hawai’i, sad at the leaving, believing I carried steel wool instead of Golden Fleece, was that at least the voice was coming with me. LOL.

  3. It’s good to see you, Janet. And the resources you referenced are interesting. I confess I don’t spend much time thinking about my mind any more — I’m much too busy thinking about projects, plans, and so on. The chatter and stress started disappearing about the time I started varnishing, so that might be worth thinking about, some day — but not now.

    I hope you’re seeing some spring. We have dandelions now, and a few of our spring birds. Winter visitors are heading north, and all is as it should be!

    1. “It’s nice to be seen,” my mother, who did not quite reach 5′ tall, always remarked. One of the reasons I like projects is that I don’t think; I do. The yard is my big not think project and the weather is finally getting to the place where I can venture out. I see crocus in the front yard and daffodil shoots, but they’re so covered in leaves, it’s, the leaf rake and bag time, this weekend. Tomorrow is supposed to be in the 70s. So springing forth!!

    1. Well, I’m not sure “finishing” is the right word — but I’m finished with the revisions until such a time as it sells, or an agent picks it up, or whatever the next step is. But for now, finished will work.

      Meditation: whew. Large subject. I’m not great at sitting still in the usual manner and meditating but I’ve done a fair amount, none the less. What I teach is to pay attention to thoughts and defeating mind talk and rerouting it. For years, when I beat up on myself for some mistake, I’d say to myself “I’m okay.” And then for another many years, when the defeating mind talk came up, I’d use the word “trust.” That finished rerouting the old patterns. More than anything, I’d say, is practicing noticing self-defeating self-talk and body tensions related to that mind-chatter and finding a word or words that reroute it. I expect that’s what the more familiar Oooohhhhmmmm does. It reroutes the chatter.

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