When I was in high school, my neighbors believed I worshipped the devil. It was the mid-1980s. We lived in a rural upstate New York town obsessed with Geraldo Rivera’s exposé “Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground.”
It probably didn’t help that:
- my brothers and I blasted Mötley Crüe’s “Shout at the Devil” from our stereo whenever our parents weren’t home, or
- that I frequently wore black to protest the many international conflicts our president started, or
- that my brother had told a few neighborhood bullies we were Voodists with magical powers. “Mess with us and Lisa will chant at you. Then you’ll get bad karma and die,” he frequently said. Often, this was followed by “Lisa, show them.” Sometimes, I did.
My mom converted to Buddhism when I was eight. I loved the exotic sounds and smells of this religion that promised a better, more peaceful life. Plus, the Buddhists smiled a lot and fed us candy. Our practice consisted of twice-daily chanting meditations for world peace.
I was fifteen when the devil worship cries began. A friend on my school bus asked what church I attended. I proudly said I was Buddhist and asked if she wanted to know more. A few days later, her mother gave me a pile of books on the follies of evolution and the dangers of cults. Two weeks later, I returned her unread books. When I politely declined her church invitation, she responded with the stink eye.
At the time, I chanted with my mother every evening from 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM. This was common knowledge. For years, neighborhood kids had listened to our voices on hot summer nights.
After my church refusal, the neighbor invited all the nearby kids to her house so she could warn them about the evil lurking in our duplex village. The evening after her meeting, a new ritual began. When Mom called me in for our evening mediation, neighborhood kids morphed into little town criers.
“The devil worshiper is worshipping. The devil worshiper is worshiping,” they yelled.
Kids gathered on the curb across from our house. A few minutes into our meditation one of them yelled, “Devil worshipper, are you worshipping?” His young voice pleaded for some kind of satanic action.
I responded by chanting louder and ringing our meditation bell. (I was 15. What did you expect?)
Soon boredom set in and they scattered.
A lot has changed since the 1980s.
Information about Buddhism abounds. Meditation has been scientifically validated as an activity that reduces stress, increases a sense of focus, and improves mood. How I practice meditation has changed over the years, but its importance in my life remains the same.
I teach meditation in all of my writing classes. The techniques I offer are simple, mindfulness-based meditations with no connections to any religion. They are designed to prepare writers for specific writing tasks.
So, why do I teach my students to meditate?
Mindfulness meditation helps writers in three ways.
1. Throat clearing: ‘Throat clearing’ is akin to starting a car built before 1980 on a cold morning. You have to run the engine before setting off down the road. Writing requires a similar warmup. You have to clear out the disconnected, convoluted ideas before you can get to the good stuff. Pandemic-filled newscasts make throat clearing essential.
2. Accessing internal wisdom: When your mind is clear, you’re better able to judge what you have the emotional energy for working on. You’ll treat yourself with greater kindness and work on challenging material more effectively. Also, your B.S. meter is more likely to go off when your work is inauthentic. Practice regularly and the real story you’d like to tell will bubble to the surface.
3. Brain priming: When meditation is part of your regular writing practice, it can prime the brain for creativity. Over time, you’ll experience less resistance when sitting down to write and have an easier time accessing your ideas.
There are many ways to develop a mindful writing practice. Here are a few suggestions.
Before you write:
- Set a timer for five minutes. If that feels impossibly long, try one minute.
- Sit in a comfortable position. Generally, this means placing your feet securely on the floor. Rest your hands on your lap.
- Close your eyes or develop a soft gaze toward whatever is in front of you.
- Now you have some choices:
- You could focus on the breaths coming out of your nostrils,
- repeat a mantra in your head like “my creativity matters,”
- count your breaths, starting at one and ending at ten and then repeating this process, or
- listen to a guided meditation on an app like Insight Timer.
- Write as you normally would.
Here’s my best meditation advice: Find a practice you love.
Ideally, this practice should align with your views and tolerance for sitting still. This month, I’ll share a few meditation techniques for various stages in the writing process. Try the ones you like and disregard the rest. There’s no need to convert to Buddhism or any other religion. I promise, no one will stand outside your door and ask if you’re worshipping the devil.
Have you ever been falsely accused of something?
How did you handle it? Leave your answer in the comments.