Category Archives: Mindfulness and Meditation

How to Clear Your Thoughts Before Writing

The idea for today’s post came from a comment from Elda:

First off I would like to say excellent blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your thoughts before writing. I have had a difficult time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out. I truly do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or hints? Thanks!|

 

An opened laptop sitting on a wooden desk. There is a blank notebook and pen sitting on the desk beside it.Thank you for asking this question, Elda! I always enjoy hearing from my readers.

Yes, it can be tricky to settle down into a writing session when you first begin one. I’ve had that trouble at times, too.

Here are some things to try in order to make better use of those first 10 to 15 minutes of writing time.

My first several tips will be for short term relief. The last few are focused on how to improve this issue in the longterm.

Short Term Strategies

Clear Out Distractions

I work best in a quiet, calm environment, so for me this means turning off music, closing the blinds, muting my cellphone, and reducing or eliminating any other distractions I notice as well.

Your mileage may vary there depending on how your mind reacts to music, birds chattering outside of your window, relatives or pets interrupting you, etc., but do try to create the ideal writing environment for your personal preferences.

Two overlapping speech bubbles that have orange outlines Talk to Your Characters

This can be accomplished by writing down your conversation or speaking to them out loud and imagining how they’d respond to your questions.

It might sound silly, but I’ve had all sorts of breakthroughs with my own stories when I take a few minutes at the beginning to chat with my characters and see how they’re feeling.

Write the Most Exciting Scene First

Endings are my favourite parts of stories whether I’m writing, reading, or watching them. Often I’ll write that section first and then backtrack to previous scenes that foreshadow or refer to it in some way.

What strikes me as the most exciting scene does vary from one session or project to the next, but this is a pattern I repeat until the entire tale is written.

Go Off on a Tangent 

One of my favourite techniques for those days when I’m having trouble getting into the the rhythm of writing is to work on a different project for a little bit. It could be a blog post, an idea for another story, a poem, or something else entirely.

There’s something about the act of getting into the flow of writing on one topic that can bleed over into other writing projects if you allow it to.

Asian woman holding up a drawing of a lightbulb while sitting next to a white wall filled with sketches of various ideas.Describe the Setting or Backstory in Vivid Detail

That is to say, write about things related to your story that you don’t actually intend to include in the final project.

You could describe every nook and cranny of the room the scene is currently taking place in, talk about your character’s first childhood memory even if it’s not at all related to their current conflict, or discuss what happened in that time and place five or fifty years ago.

While these adjacent writing projects sometimes do lead to the inclusion of details in my actual work-in-progress, I don’t consider it a waste of time if I write something that’s ultimately left out of the final draft.

The better you know your characters and their worlds, the better your audience will know them, too.

Longterm Strategies

A black and white drawing of a black fist holding a pencil Take Notes After Each Writing Session

You can take note of all sorts of things:

– An idea for a future scene

– A plot hole that still needs to be addressed

– Thoughts on how your session went. Does your environment need to be adjusted? Do you want to schedule more or less time for your next session?

If it’s something you’d be sorry to forget about, jot it down.

Plan Ahead

While I do tend to fly by the seat of my pants when I’m writing, there is something to be said for having a general outline of where you want to end up in case you get stuck if you’re not already the sort of writer who plots everything out ahead of time.

The note-taking and planning processes don’t have to be extensive. My outlines and notes are usually pretty basic, but they do leave room for me to know where to begin or what to alter in my writing space during my next session.

The more preparation you do ahead of time, the easier it will be to jump back into the rhythm of writing whenever you return to it.

Meditate

Black woman closing her eyes meditatively while standing in a forest. What does meditation have to do with writing?

This is a topic I should cover in full in a future post sometime soon, but for now I’ll say that how you respond to stray thoughts during the rest of your day strongly influences how you respond to them when you’re writing.

Meditation is sort of like strength training for your mind. The process of sitting down to write and struggling to clear your thoughts could be made a lot easier if you practice that skill regularly just like carrying a few bags of heavy things home from the store is easier if you’re already accustomed to lifting weights.

 

Respond

Readers, what other techniques would you recommend to Elda? What are your tried-and-true ways to centre yourselves and clear your minds before you start writing?

10 Meditative Virtual Nature Walks You Should Take

A paved road through a park. The sides of the road are lined by tall trees and other greenery.Lately, I’ve been feeling the effects of cabin fever. This is typically the time of year when I’d begin spending much longer periods of time outdoors each day now that the weather is warming up.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many of the outdoor places I’d normally be visiting now are closed. Torontonians have also been asked to only use public transit for necessary trips like going to work, buying groceries, or seeking medical care.

In addition, all of the amenities in our parks are closed. That is, no one is allowed to use their playgrounds, washrooms, basketball courts, tennis courts, swimming pools, or dog parks. Even the benches are becoming off-limits for most folks!

I’ve been very fortunate so far during this pandemic in many other ways, but I am sure am missing those nature visits right about now. Yesterday was a bit of an antsy day for me which lead to the compilation of this list.

Some of these videos last a few minutes. Others go on for a few hours. Feel free to pick the ones that best suit your time availability and interests. They are roughly arranged from the shortest to the longest walk.

Forest Walk Meditation

There was very little speaking in this video. It’s mostly first-person footage of someone walking through a forest. I especially loved the bird calls in the background. They really made me feel like I was there!

Mountain Stillness

Wow, this was a beautiful scene! It included background instrumental music.

 

Spring Awakening 

There was upbeat instrumental background music in this one. It was cool to see the birds floating around in the pond.

Beach Trip Meditation 

Like the forest walk, this one involved no background music. There was some guided meditation here and there, but the rest of it only included the sorts of sounds you’d hear at the beach. The gulls in the background were so relaxing. I could almost taste the salt in the air.

Walking in the Hoh Rain Forest

All of the sounds in this 20 minute rain forest walk were natural ones. I heard many birds chirping in the forest. Sometimes there were also the sounds of the camera person walking on dead foliage or of running water.

Relaxing Virtual Walk Around the Chilterns

I’ve never been to England, but this looks like a very relaxing place to visit. It was a 25 minute walk that only includes natural sounds from the scenery. Most of the sounds the microphone picked up were of the wind.

Zion NP Utah Riverside Walk Trail

Wow, these red sandstone cliffs were gorgeous! This 53 minute walk does include some narration by the camera person. The portion of the walk by the stream was my favourite.

Secluded Beach at Sunset 

Several years ago, my spouse and I went on a beach vacation with a few dozen of my relatives. Other than catching up with everyone, of course, the nicest part of it was walking up and down the beach when there were very few other folks out and about.

I’m a morning person, so for me many of those times were early in the day when the tide had gone out. What a calming experience it was to hear nothing but the sound of the ocean lapping against shore and the cry of seagulls in the distance. This one hour walk reminded me a lot of those ones.

Kruger National Park in South Africa

There was so much wildlife during this 90 minute walk! I liked the lions the most. Their roars made me shudder.

2.5 Hour Virtual Nature Walk in the Redwood National and State Parks

There was some classical music playing in the background of this piece. The scenery was stunningly beautiful.

What are some of your favourite virtual walk videos?

3 Things I Like About Yoga

women doing yoga

While I briefly dabbled with trying yoga once many years ago, I actually dove into it for real a couple of weeks ago.

With all of the restrictions on when and why we’re permitted to leave our homes in Toronto these days due to the Covid-19 epidemic, this seemed like the perfect time to branch out and try something new.

Here are a few wonderful things that have stood out to me about this form of exercise as I’ve been acclimating to it. I’m keeping this post short and sweet because I’m still so new to yoga in general. Perhaps I’ll write longer posts about it in the future!

If any of you have been doing this form of exercise longterm, I’d sure love to hear your favourite things about it as well.

The Focus on Balance and Flexibility

Black silhouettes of various yoga posts against a white background. All of my other regular workout routines are heavily immersed in cardio and strength training exercises.

Yoga requires my body to bend and flex in ways that are quite different from dancing or lifting weights.

Instead of bracing myself to lift a heavy load or pivot to a new dance move, I’m learning how to better hold my balance with a tricky position and gently stretch just a little bit further every time.

The Attention Paid to Breathing Patterns

Dandelion seeds being blown away from a mature dandelion plant. Breathing isn’t something I consciously think about with other forms of exercise unless I’m out of breath for them.

Even then, the only aspect of it that crosses my mind is generally how many seconds or minutes are left until my body can slow down and catch up on some of the air it requires.

The incredible thing about yoga is how much your breath matter even though I’ve yet to become out of breath with any of the poses I’ve done so far.

I’ve actually started to pay closer attention to my breathing during times of the day when I’m not exercising as well as a result of these workouts.

It’s so interesting to see how these sessions are affecting me in that way. This wasn’t something I was expecting to happen at all.

The Reinforcement of Mindfulness

White clouds against a bright blue skyYoga is the slowest type exercise I’ve ever discovered. Everything about it encourages me to pay close attention to what I’m currently doing and think of nothing but holding my current pose.

There is something incredibly relaxing about turning away from all of the distractions of the world we currently live in and existing in a moment.

The fact that I can do that while also getting a good workout in only makes it better.

On Mindfulness, Light Therapy Lamps, and Being a Human Houseplant

A desk lamp shining down on a houseplantMy name is Lydia, and I’m a human houseplant.

Or at least that’s what it feels like at this time of the year. You see, I get the winter blues. While other people are outside revelling in the snow, ice, and cold weather, I’m inside quietly counting down the days until spring.

If winter in Ontario included as many bright, sunny days as spring and summer did, this post might be quite different.

But our winters include months of long, dark nights that make me half-forget what it’s like to feel warm sunlight on my face.

And having access to enough bright light is important for my mental health. It boggles my mind that some people on this planet live in places that don’t see the sun for months on end. I wouldn’t be able to cope with that well at all unless someone invents a way for humans to go dormant for the winter like real plants do.

Luckily, there are light therapy lamps for wilted houseplants like myself. I’ve been basking in the glow of that artificial sunshine this winter.

Sometimes I sat there and surfed the Internet on my cell phone. It was an especially good way to pass the time when I first accepted the fact that I needed to use one of these lamps but was skeptical about if it would do any good.

If actual plants had opposable thumbs, they might look at cute animal pictures while soaking up light, too, so they didn’t have to count down how many weeks left until spring or how many weeks after that it will take the weather systems in Ontario to shift from cold, wet, and slushy to anything that bears the faintest resemblance to true spring weather.

Then it started to work.The sadness began to lessen. I could concentrate better, I felt less sluggish, my energy levels slowly began rising, and my quality of sleep improved.

Am I back to my old self yet? No, but I’m doing better. That’s something to celebrate, especially as we inch into the time of the year that is the most challenging for me to get through.

For now I sit next to my lamp and chuckle at the fact that I react so much to the lack or the presence of sufficiently strong light. I am entirely human-shaped, and yet somehow I still need to bask in light like a plant to function properly.

When that thought passes, others don’t take its place. In this moment, I am surrounded by light. I breathe in and out as it shines onto me, the desk, the chair, and the floor.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

It’s that simple.

Mindfulness and Difficult People

Five yellow, smiley faces are hanging down from little chains. A fifth red face with an angry expression is swinging down to hit them.
This is a topic I thought would make a great introduction to the beginning of December and the holiday season that looms before us, but the information in it is timeless.

I’m using the phrase difficult people as a shorthand term for anyone you find challenging to socialize with because of their behaviour.

Labels are useful but can’t possibly explain every nuance in a relationship. Your relationship with a friend will probably have features that aren’t present with a coworker, romantic partner, in-law, neighbour, or acquaintance. It was my intention to cast a wide, friendly net for this post and try to offer advice that can be used for as many different scenarios as possible.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s talk about how mindfulness can help before, during, and after the moments when you’re spending time with someone who you are not sure how to relate to.

Beforehand

A tree surrounded by perfectly still water at sunset. I’ll admit to being the sort of person who sometimes plays conversations out in my head before they happen.

The problem with this is that no one can predict the future.

That conversation might not ever actually happen. If it does happen, there’s no way to know in advance when it will pop up or if it will end the way you expect.

Spending as much time in the present moment as possible is a great way to avoid borrowing trouble.

One of the biggest benefits of mindfulness I’ve discovered for days like these is that it helps me to prepare for them without making assumptions about how they will go.

All you know for sure is that a certain event is on the horizon and that specific people are probably going to be there. Start with that.

During

Slow Down

There is something beautiful about intentionally moving slowly through these sorts of interactions.

Not every question or remark deserves an answer. If it does need to be answered, that could happen five minutes, or a week, or a month from now after you’ve had time to think it over.

Observe

I like looking at designs on silverware or counting lightbulbs in a room. There is always something to pay attention to that you might have otherwise ignored.

Reading body language is also a fascinating thing to do. You can learn so much about someone by quietly watching their posture, facial expressions, and gestures.

Breathe Deeply 

The beautiful thing about breathing deeply is how it encourages your mind to remain in the moment and what a calming influence it can be.

Focus on every breath as it enters and exits your body. Sometimes I’ll even count them silently in my mind.

Choose Your Words Carefully

It can be so relaxing to sit there and make small talk about the weather or some other innocuous subject when a tricky topic comes up.

There’s also the option of saying nothing at all. Silence is truly golden sometimes. As I mentioned earlier, not everything requires a response now or ever.

A well-placed dose of silence can give you a moment to think of how you want your words to come out before you say them.

This is a technique I’ve found especially helpful for people who have the urge to swoop in and fix the lives of those around them regardless of whether or not you actually wanted those things to be fixed. If they don’t know you adopted a new dog from the local animal shelter, chances are very good they’ll never tell you all of the things you’re doing wrong with that pet or why the breed you chose is the worst one ever.

Afterwards

Be honest with yourself. 

How did it go? What parts of this gathering did you enjoy? Which ones were not so helpful?

Release

I know it’s tempting, but mentally going over what anyone said or did at tricky events like these probably won’t be helpful.

As Elsa sang, let it go. Find something to take your mind off of what just happened. Taking a long, brisk walk through the park is a nice distraction for me when the weather is nice. Sometimes I even use that  trick on stormy days! It’s hard to ruminate when you’re also trying to avoid slipping on a patch of ice or stepping into a large puddle.

Think Longterm. 

The strategies I mentioned today have been helpful for me in the short term, but it’s also important to think about what you want your life to look like months, years, or decades from now in my opinion.

I believe in meeting people where they’re at and being understanding, compassionate, and supportive when they’re going through a difficult time.

Smartie Painted to look like a smilie faceBut I also believe in natural consequences and in putting emotional energy into relationships that are healthy and reciprocal. The only person I can control is myself, so there have been times in my life when I’ve reduced or  eliminated the time I spent with someone based on their behaviours and current level of introspection.

There’s a huge difference between using mindfulness to get through a difficult conversation that must happen and repeatedly agreeing to spend time with someone who chooses to be unkind… or worse.

It’s not my place to tell anyone how to arrange their lives, but I think there’s something to be said for finding both short-term and long-term strategies for dealing with these things.

10 ASMR Videos I’d Recommend to Beginners

As I said in my first post on this topic: Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a calm tingling sensation that some people feel at the back of their their scalp and down on other parts of their body after being exposed to certain types of auditory stimuli. ASMR is used for relaxation purposes…it’s similar… Read More

Put Down Your Phone and Pay Attention

Today I’d like to talk to you about mindfulness, brainstorming, and what house wrens are really capable of. (If descriptions of the non-Disney side of the natural world are disturbing to you, consider this a content warning). No, I’m not anti-technology, and this isn’t a rant. Smart phones have brought many positive changes to modern… Read More

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Why You Should Meditate on a Flight (and How to Do It)

I recently arrived home from an Alaskan cruise I went on with my spouse and extended family. It was a wonderful trip that I’ll talk more about in various posts over the next couple of weeks, but I have missed connecting with everyone in the blogosphere. So here’s an interesting thing about me. I enjoy… Read More

4 Reasons Why You Should Try Walking Meditation

As anyone who has followed this blog for a while probably already knows, I’m always on the lookout for new meditation techniques. Recently, I discovered something called Walking Meditation that was so interesting I felt compelled to tell my readers about it.  What Is Walking Meditation? There are several different types of walking meditation out… Read More