(cited in BAE 2015, 2016, 2020, 2022); PUSHCART poetry finalist

Meditation, Writing, and the Act of Deep Internal Listening

Managing Editor’s Note: In the following post, Jessie Benjamin asks, “What is calling for my attention right here, right now? ” Meditation encourages this question, requiring us to sit and engage in “an act of deep internal listening.” It isn’t difficult to see the link between the “internal listening” of meditation and of writing. We must pay attention when we write, dig inside of ourselves, search for truth, and get it on the page. Enjoy Benjamin’s exploration of her own practice–a blend of meditation and writing.


Creating the Space:

How Meditation Supports Writing

by Jessie L. Benjamin

Meditation creates the space, writing fills the void. I’m called to both.

Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

For twenty years, my daily sitting meditation practice has nourished me. It’s essential, like oxygen keeping me sane and, hopefully, kinder and more compassionate.

I came to writing a bit later.

Many of the qualities that are cultivated in meditation are used while writing – receptivity, attention, curiosity and truthfulness.

Meditation cultivates receptivity.

The space it creates within the mind opens the field of awareness and my sense doors open.

The creative process of writing is nourished by receptivity. I see a recurring image or hear a phrase that replays again and again. A theme or a title appears. A story is born. I catch it before it gets away. The empty page fills.Meditation is an act of deep internal listening.

What is calling for my attention right here, right now? I focus on body sensations, thoughts or emotions, which tethers the mind. I observe their impermanent nature.

I’m between essays and looking for a new topic. As I go about my day, I listen, observe, witness and am rewarded while reading a news article about a cowboy who refuses to pay grazing fees to the Bureau of Land Management. I think this guy would make a great character. I write an essay about him.

Meditation fosters curiosity.

Curiosity is cultivated and used as a key meditation strategy when working with difficult thoughts and emotions. Anger arises. Instead of thinking, I shouldn’t be angry, I’m curious what does this emotion feel like in my body, what images and stories are arising? I understand that anger is not solid, rather it is a composite of sensations, thoughts and feelings, which morph and change.

While writing, curiosity is the scent on the wind, drawing me toward the story. I investigate. A memory surfaces followed by a flare of emotion. What is this feeling – resentment from an old wound? Why is it arising now? I write into it and it becomes the central conflict within the story.

Meditation enhances observation.

In meditation, I sit on the cushion in silence and observe my inclination to turn away from pain, the disagreeable and the unpleasant. My knee hurts, it burns and aches. The truth is I want to move to avoid the pain. Instead, I direct my mind to another location in the body. I stay put.

Meditation encourages truth.

Writing non-fiction demands truthfulness. I’m writing a personal essay and reflecting on the loss of my altruistic ambitions. A wave of sadness surprises me, followed by a desire for a comforting cup of tea. I stay seated, not wanting to delve into the sorrow but the truth is insistent. It exposes my tendency to re-make life so it’s more palatable, my desire to throw color on the canvas to obscure an uncomfortable truth.

Meditation cultivates wakefulness.

Through sitting on my cushion, I learn how to be with what is. Watching the sunrise, I see the colors change, clouds form and pass away. I’m alive and want to share the preciousness of it. I paint it with words.


1 Comment

  1. Lisa McKenzie

    Your perspective was illuminating to me. I had always thought of meditation as a creativity killer, but I think that’s because I’ve been approaching meditation as a place where you say “no” to all invasive ideas, instead of a place where you say, “that’s interesting.” Which might be why I have a hard time sitting for twenty minutes, whereas you have been sitting for twenty years. Thanks!

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