Click here to read everyone else’s replies to this week’s question and here to see the full list of topics for the year.
Not everything in our world is poetic or beautiful by any means, but my unique talent is finding the poetry and beauty in situations that at first glance do not seem to have a silver lining in them at all.
I’ll give you all a few examples of what I mean.
Years ago, I needed to go through some medical tests for a potentially life-threatening health condition that I was ultimately found not to have. While the technician was performing the ultrasound and taking notes of what she was finding, I quietly came up with pleasant thoughts about how the thump of my heart on the monitor sounded like something you’d expect to hear in a submarine as it dove deep into the calm, blue sea.
When my spouse and I went through financial trouble many years ago and had no money to spare for frivolities of any sort, I made taking long walks my chief form of entertainment and imagined that all of the trees were whispering delicious forest secrets to each other as the humans passed by unobtrusively below. It was honestly just was much fun as going to the movies or buying junk food and other things we couldn’t afford!
More recently, there were some protests here in Toronto earlier this year that clogged up some of our most important streets in the hospital district of the city. I imagined the sound of their angry voices on megaphones and the incessant beeping of their vehicles passing down the street while on their way to their destination were a warning from some future version of Toronto where such things were now commonplace.
This isn’t to say that i ignore the very real troubles we all go through or expect other people to think about scary life events the same way I do by any means. I simply find it easier to deal with them if I can make up whimsical stories about them in my head once I’ve done everything I can to change the situation.
Why worry excessively if there’s truly nothing else you can do in the moment? I think it’s better to look for the good in those moments if you can.
Thank you to Iniverse for giving me the idea for this response post. Go read about the subreddits this blogger enjoys before continuing on here.
Reddit is a site filled with a massive series of message boards on every topic you can imagine and then some. Each topic is separated into its own page there in something called a subreddit.
Today I will follow in Iniverse’s footsteps and share some of my favourite subreddits from that site that fit into the scope of this blog. All of the links in this post are safe to browse at work or if you have a small child looking over your shoulder, but do be warned that this isn’t true for every subreddit out there!
A well-balanced diet can make it easier to reach many different fitness and health goals. This sub is filled with (generally) healthy recipes and support for anyone who is trying to live a healthier lifestyle. There is also r/1200isplenty, r/1800isplenty, and r/cico for people with different calorie goals for each day.
This is a fitness sub specifically for and by women. Unfortunately, some of the biggest fitness subs are not always welcoming to us. While I read many of them, I’m cautious about which ones I comment on and recommend in general.
I promise this link is safe for your boss, child, or pet to see if they walk past your screen. It’s fascinating to observe how buildings change after humans stop using them and nature begins to take over.
This is excellent source material for anyone writing about ancient ruins, abandoned cities, and the like.
There are many other AskA subreddits out there for various countries, continents, and minority groups if you need more advice while writing characters who are different from you in some way. I picked this one specifically because it has such a diverse and knowledgable set of users.
Most of these photos were taken between the 1940s and 1980s, give or take a few decades. They can be a good reference for anyone writing about the 1900s who wants to get their fashion and hairstyles right.
This is a good place to discuss writing LGBT+ characters and finding books featuring these characters. There are also plenty of LGBT+ authors poking around there, too, if you’re one of us and want to make some new friends.
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.
Writing this post took longer than I expected, but I’m ready now.
Let’s talk about the connection between meditation and writing.
What does meditation have to do with finishing, or maybe even starting, that blog post, poem, short story, or full-length novel?
Think about all of the mental prep work that goes into creating something. I don’t know about your writing processes, but the things I write rarely slip out of my mind fully formed. A flash of a character appears here and a line of dialogue there. On a different day, the perfect blog post title might show up or I may jot down a funny anecdote that I hope to work into something when I eventually figure out where it fits and whether it should remain nonfiction or be fictionalized instead.
Among its many other uses, meditation is a method for responding to stray thoughts and determining which ones, if any, are worth jotting down.
As one of my relatives said recently, “don’t believe everything you think.”
Not every thought that pops up can or should be entertained. This is as true whether someone is mediating, writing, or was just cut off in traffic and is feeling a sudden flash of anger at the person who made them slam on their brakes.
If you can train your mind to see a thought bubble up without feeling the need to chase after it when you’re sitting or walking quietly, it becomes easier to do over time when one is in any number of other situations.
Silence Your Inner Critic
I’ve been through multiple periods of writer’s block over the years. In retrospect, some of them were caused by my inner critic speaking so harshly about what I was working on that I was no longer sure where to go next.
By learning to turn away from unwanted thoughts through regular meditation, it slowly becomes easier to write without listening to your critical thoughts about what you’re working on.
I’ve never read a perfect first draft of anything. The further away I move from the expectation that I somehow magically do it right the first time.
That’s just as nonsensical as it is impossible. First drafts always need to be corrected and improved upon. The important thing is to create them in the first place.
A Quiet Mind Is a Creative Mind
It’s been my experience that quieting the mind does wonders for creativity.
Brainstorming is easier when one can stop and focus on the task at hand. Everything else can wait while you make lists, free write, or use any number of other techniques to get the ideas flowing.
Sorting through ideas is easier when you have plenty of experience gently releasing the unwanted ones as they pop up.
Writing in general is easier when your inner critic’s voice is quiet enough to ignore.
I’ve even found that revising is easier with a quiet mind as well because I’m better able to remember what it was I was intending to say before I compare it to what I’ve actually typed up.
Live in the Moment
There are so many things that are out of our control as writers, creative people, and human beings in general.
All we can do is release our work out in the world and see what happens.
One of the most beautiful things about meditation in my opinion is the way it encourages its practitioners to experience what is happening at this very moment instead of worrying about what might occur in the future or ruminating on the past.
Pay attention to what your five senses are currently detecting.
Focus on what you can control, and don’t fret about the rest.
Life slows down here quickly once this month begins.Not only have the majority of the big winter holidays have passed by, the weather itself isn’t terribly conducive to driving anywhere even before this pandemic began.
The overnight temperature can dip to -25 Celsius (-13 Fahrenheit) or colder, and we often have sleet and snowstorms taking turns making slippery messes of our roads and sidewalks.
There is nothing like sitting next to the windows in my home and watching the snow blanket everything on those days.
Sometimes it falls so quickly that buildings on the other side of the street have been transformed into dark blurs of colour behind a shimmery white veil of snow. Anything past that point is so smudged beyond recognition that I wouldn’t know what it was at all if I weren’t already familiar with it.
My mindful approach to these days is something that started early in life. Let’s meander for a while.
Quiet Snow Days
These storms remind me of the years I spent growing up in a small town in Wyoming. Sometimes it snowed so heavily that all of the highways and other roads going into and out of town were closed. Residents were asked to only use local roads for emergencies, so almost everyone stayed home and waited out the weather.
I was a slim, petite kid. For a while I remained just barely light enough to walk on top of snowbanks that had partially melted and then frozen again.
Those moments were pure magic and required no thoughts flitting through my mind at all while I carefully walked without leaving a trace in the snow.
These snowy days of the present also remind me of a massive blizzard many of us on the eastern half of North America experienced in the late 1990s.
It happened as my family was moving across town, so I had many opportunities to see the snow as my parents were driving and in the yards of both our old and new homes.
My siblings and I had our typical two weeks off from school for the Christmas holidays that year. It began snowing heavily right before we were scheduled to return to school. For the next two weeks, school was cancelled one day after the next.
Sometimes it would be delayed by an hour or two before being cancelled. Other days were so stormy that everything was cancelled immediately. I remember waiting quietly for the news each morning with no expectations since our superintendent was normally so reticent to cancel school despite how much time it took the county to salt and plow all of the rural roads that would bring students back to class eventually.
Once the announcement was made, there was often a moment of silence as I wondered how I should fill my time on yet another unexpected day since we were between semesters and I’d finished the homework we’d been given before Christmas break began.
Then a few of the members of my household would either drive across town to our old house to take another van full of stuff to the new one (if the town roads were cleared and salted recently enough for this to be safe), go shovel off the roof,* or put a previous load of stuff away.
*It was an old, flat roof in some places. That snowstorm was so heavy and never-ending my parents were afraid the roof would be damaged if they didn’t clear it off.
Snow Encourages Mindfulness
Even beyond these personal experiences, snow itself encourages silence. It dampens sound as explained in this post.
Have you ever taken an outdoor walk during or after a big snowstorm? Whether you live in a big city, a small town, or miles away from the nearest neighbour, the world becomes a much quieter place after a storm like that.
All of that snow acts like insulation. Everything from bird chirps to the roar of a river (if it hasn’t already frozen over) to the rumble of a truck driving down the road is quieter than it normally would be.
Even the soft crunch of boots walking on fresh snow is quieter than normal.
If you’ve never experienced this sort of moment in time, I hope you’ll have a chance to try it someday.
The world is such a quiet, solemn place then that I find it easy to walk without thinking. Nearly all of the familiar landmarks in my area will still be recognizable during or after a big storm, but their edges are softened and muted.
I live in an urban area where it is pretty safe to walk outside even during the heaviest snowstorms, so sometimes I’ll go stand on the sidewalk (far away from the road) and watch the snow cling to everything from skyscrapers to my glasses.
In those moments, there is no need for words or thoughts. The snow will end when it ends. Until then, I sit indoors or stand outdoors and marvel at the feeling of snowflakes coating my hair, coat, boots, and every other surface they can possible reach in this corner of the world.
If you have snow where you live, how do you react to it?
As I mentioned here, the idea for today’s post came from numerous hits my site has gotten over the last year or so about mindfulness exercises for bad moods.
I purposefully narrowed down this list to a a few exercises that are quick and easy to do because that’s exactly what I need when I’m down in the dumps. Complicated instructions and lengthy lists are best saved for more cheerful days, I think.
If you know of other quick and easy exercises like these, do jump into the comment section below and share. There are many other visualization techniques out there, and they range from simple ones like I’m about to share to much more complex routines.
A Gratitude Challenge
Time commitment: 1 minute
Best for: Reframing your thoughts
Step 1 – Close your eyes
Step 2 – Make a list of three things you’re genuinely grateful for. Literally anything counts, and there are no wrong answers. Sometimes I count the friendly pigeons who live in front of my building as one of my answers. They’re also so curious to see what the humans are up to when we wander by.
Step 3 – Open your eyes
The Balloon Game
Time commitment: 1-5 minutes
Best for: Letting go and interrupting rumination
Step 1: Close your eyes and make a list of the things that are currently bothering you. They could be anything: unresolved conflicts, regrets, old conversations that keep replaying in your mind, and anything else that can’t be fixed right now or ever.
Step 2: Visualize as many balloons as you need for your list. I like to spend at least a minute picturing their colours and shapes in detail before imagining my problems listed on them.
Step 3: Imagine releasing each balloon into the sky on a windy day. (I once lost a balloon this way as a kid. They escape so quickly you can never chase them down again!) If or when that thought pops up again, remind yourself that it’s been blown away now. There’s no way to chase it down again.
Big Deep Breaths
Time commitment: As long or as short as you want it to be.
Best for: Living in the moment and calming racing thoughts.
Step 1: Search for breathe calming gifs like this one. You’ll want to keep your eyes open for this exercise.
Step 2: Synchronize your breathing so that you inhale when the image expands and exhale when it contracts. Some of these gifs are specifically designed to slow down the breathing cycle a little for users. That in and of itself can distract you from thoughts that stubbornly stick around.
This has been an unusually hot summer so far here in southern Ontario. Our current heat wave has lasted over two weeks and is showing few to no signs of letting up. With temperatures hovering around 35 C (90 Fahrenheit) every day and soaring into the 40s Celsius range (100+ Fahrenheit) regularly, my air conditioner… Read More
Disclaimer: This post is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any medical conditions. Please consult with a medical professional if you need medical advice. I’m simply writing about my own experiences here. The first multi-day tension headache I remember experiencing happened at age seven or eight soon after my family moved to Wyoming.… Read More
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… Read More
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… Read More
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… Read More