I just finished reading an amazing book, 10% Happier by Dan Harris. Mr. Harris is the ABC news correspondent who had a nationally televised panic attack on Good Morning America in 2004. 10% Happier is the hilarious account of his journey as both skeptic and seeker. It centers largely on the benefits of meditation. (I can almost see the five people reading this page rolling their eyes simultaneously.) While there is a definite unearned stigma attached to meditation, I’ll leave that for the holy men and gurus to sort out. No sermon here. Promise. I just want to touch on the parallel between meditation and writing.
If there’s such a thing as A.D.D., I’ve got it. I have the attention span of a butterfly which makes the discipline of writing a daily battle. I’ll be one or two sentences into a scene when something hooks my attention – a bird on a window, a voice in the hall, the smell of food – and I’m off “chasing the wishes from dandelions” as my friend Sheena says.
As one distraction leads to the next, it’s sometimes hours before I remember the project, only to find it right where I left it, suspended in mid-sentence – sometimes mid-word – so I grab my pen, search for the mental thread of the story and begin again. It’s the coming back that’s the thing.
Meditation is similar in that you focus on the breath flowing in and out of your nostrils, the expansion and contraction of your lungs. When thoughts arise and you notice yourself being swept away on that tidal wave of mental chatter, you return to your breath. Every time. Notice and return, over and over.
I’ve mentioned before that the discipline of writing saved me. Up until the year I began writing Consider the Dragonfly, life was all about drugs, gambling and adrenaline. The tendency to drift toward the extremes is scribbled in the helix of my DNA. But the written word is my anchor. It’s what centers me. The words on the page are the meditative breath that I keep returning to. My om.
I’m not claiming enlightenment or even rehabilitation. The distractions still come like Craig Kimbrel fastballs. All it takes is a Sophia Vergara commercial, a Black Crowes song or Miami Dolphins breaking news and I hit the ground running. But once I regain awareness and realize that yet again, I’ve been lured down the hallways of always, I shake my head and return to my work, to the open notebook that awaits me.
It’s the coming back that’s the thing.
[This post originally appeared on malcolmivey.com in June 2014.]