This past weekend I was meditation retreating it up on the Upper East Side (not a Gossip Girl to be found!) with my fellow MNDFL meditation instructor trainees. It was a soulful weekend of sitting, mindfulness, and budding friendship. One of my biggest takeaways was how important it is to set intentions–as a meditation teacher (and writing coach), but also in our daily lives (and writing lives). I’ve been committing to doing that over the past week and I’m already finding that it’s a real game changer. Waking up and setting an intention for how I want to feel or be in the world for the day gives me structure and focus. There is no danger of overwhelm, since I am simply choosing joy or focus or openness or empathy or whatever I feel that day should be led by. I’ve seen a marked effect on my mood and how I interact with others and I’ve written way more words than I have in recent weeks. The to-do list, while still as mammoth as ever, doesn’t leer over me quite so much. At the end of the day, instead of assessing its value based on how much I did or didn’t do, I simply ask if I lived intentionally.
If I chose courage for that day, did I approach my scary new book with that in mind, sitting and writing even though the siren song of “speedy-busyness” was blasting in the background? Did I say that hard thing or look at that part of myself I’d rather not face? Choosing an intention for the day is a holistic, empowering effort and it’s a way of being firm yet compassionate with yourself. If you find that you’re all over the place emotionally right now, and/or if you’re struggling to sit down and write (or struggling when you DO sit down and write), setting an intention beforehand might be just what you need.
What This Looks Like In Practice
Every morning when I get up, I ask myself: What do I choose today?
For many of the days this week, I’ve chosen joy. I choose joy. It became a mantra. If I sit down to write and I feel overwhelmed: I choose joy. It’s hot as fuck and I have to walk across half of Manhattan to get to an appointment or class that I’m pretty sure I’m late for already: I choose joy. (And iced coffee). An editor passes on one of my books: I choose joy. I get the Death card in my tarot deck (yes, I did–cosmic timing never fails): I choose joy.
In my writing, it meant that I allowed myself to write what I wanted to. I let myself have fun–joy–in putting words on a page. I banished editors, reviewers, my Internal Critic (named Harriet – a total Victorian schoolmarm sourpuss), and all haters from my office. I was kind to myself and didn’t allow my worries and anxieties to take center stage. I fell into the story, into the character’s skins, and into the deliciousness of working from a place of personal power.
Choosing joy, for me, also meant finding ways to lighten the day’s load. I created a list of what I call “uplifts,” which are there for me in emergency FUCK I NEED TO CHOOSE JOY BUT I FEEL NO JOY situations. Here are some highlights from the list:
- have a spontaneous dance party
- make and send something to a friend
- read Shakespeare out loud
- play with my dog
- read a picture book
- write a poem
- 10 minutes of lovingkindness meditation
- make soup
- plan a wished-for trip that I will take some day
Intention is everything when it comes to writing. Why you sit down is almost as important as what you put on the page.
This led me to thinking about process and about how my process is currently all over the place right now, as I sort my way through transitions and artistic metamorphosis. I was experiencing a little anxiety over the fact that my old process wasn’t working (choose joy!), but also allowed myself to simply be curious. Curious about myself and process and how to do this writing thing. What were other people doing? Rather than go to my usual standby, the delightful and inspiring Daily Rituals, I decided to ask the ladies of the Pneuma Creative Facebook Group I run. My friend, authoress J.M. Rinker, wrote a lovely post on her own process in response, which can be summed up in my favorite line from the piece: “No process. I just do shit.” Ha! But, of course, her process is that she actually does the work, and finds ways to stay in it and return to it, no matter what life brings her way. A simple intention to choose the work goes a long way.
Homework: I haven’t actually read beyond the first few chapters of Danielle LaPorte’s The Desire Map (my TBR pile is going to kill me one of these days, I just know it), but I really love her idea that you need to focus on how you want to feel, rather than on what you want to do/be/achieve. This ties in with intentionality and what we choose. I think this is an excellent and healthy way to shift our focus. The truth is, the most unhappy I’ve been was when I literally had everything I pretty much ever wanted. So clearly the desire to publish a book or whatever isn’t necessarily going to be the key to one’s happiness–or, at least, not mine. Moving forward, I’m trying to focus on how I want to feel, not on achievements or other things that are largely outside my control and often far more empty than we realize. If I want to feel joy, then I figure out what brings me joy and I go and do that. This is really radical, especially if you’re a Type A Capricorn like a certain writer I know.
If you’d like to work a bit more in depth on this idea of intentionality, you can download a free preview of The Desire Map and the audiobook here – and hopefully I’ll have finished it by the end of summer and we can compare notes! Scroll to the end of her PDF sample to see her fabulous list of 150+ positive emotions. This should make setting your intentions easy-peasy.
Today, I’m choosing focus, which means that as soon as I publish this post, my ass will be on the meditation cushion and then back in the chair to work on my book for three hours before I do anything else: no exceptions.
What will you choose today? Let me know in the comments!
Happy Writing, Camerado.
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