Over the past several years I’ve learned the importance of living in the moment. The past is gone, the future is uncertain, and this moment is the only moment we have. I force my mind to stop thinking about what I need to do tomorrow or what I didn’t do yesterday and notice the “now” of my life. I tend my plants and gardens and celebrate every new leaf and bloom. I watch lizards on the patio and butterflies and birds in the yard with the awe of a two year old. When a breeze blows my many wind chimes, I stop and listen to them. Mindfulness is the awareness of not just the surrounding physical environment, but also thoughts and feelings and accepting them for what they are without judgment. I have learned to embrace mindfulness.
Except when it comes to my writing. Mindfulness can enhance creativity by helping us focus on something and see it in a new, inventive way. And mindfulness is invaluable while editing. But I have also found that mindLESSness often opens creative channels for me. Feelings, thoughts and words spring forth like underground water seeking the surface.
Not long after I graduated from college I took a data entry job in accounting. (My degrees in Psychology and Sociology were great but I needed to pay the rent.) I typed ninety words per minute and was no stranger to a calculator, but data entry was new to me and I wasn’t the fastest kid in the cubicle. This was back in the days when it was acceptable to drink at lunch, and our department manager took us out monthly on his expense account, alcohol included. Returning to the office after our first such meal, I think my boss assumed the rest of my afternoon was a write-off. But much to our amazement, I finished four hours’ worth of work in half the time and with no errors. I realized that the information went straight from my eyes to my fingertips without my mind getting in the way. Mindlessness at work.
I’ve always kept a pad and pen by my bed, and there were times in my younger days when I crashed after partying, only to wake up the next morning to find a complete, well-written poem on the paper that I didn’t even remember writing during the night. Occasionally hard to decipher, especially with a hangover, but good stuff! Mindlessness at work.
Sometimes I relax by playing puzzle games on a handheld Nintendo DSi. When I’m playing the ones that involve instinctive or repetitive actions rather than a lot of concentration, from time to time I get a whoosh of a happy memory from my childhood or teen or early adult years. Sometimes it’s a vivid memory. Sometimes it’s just a feeling that invokes a memory, much as aromas can transport you to your past. I finally realized that when I’m doing a relatively mindless activity, these feel-good ghosts escape the prison of my brain and bring me a moment of joy. Mindlessness at work.
This is why writers often have “aha” moments while in the shower or doing dishes or driving the same route day after day. Mindlessness allows our unfocused brain to wander where it likes, which is often exactly where we need it to go.
I’m learning to write as if my internal editor has stepped away and the words my fingers type are traveling via an express lane from somewhere deep within me. It doesn’t always work and even when it does, what winds up on the page is far from perfect. But the joy of the process, the whispers of happiness, the awe of creating something I hadn’t known was even there to be created, make mindlessness worth trying.
And when all else fails, on those days when my mind insists on being a Catholic school nun with a ruler in her hand ready to rap my knuckles, there’s always that bottle of tequila in the freezer.