Mindfulness: Harvesting Stories and Descriptions from the Everyday

My teachers nicknamed me Cathy Daydream, because if I wasn’t looking around me, taking everything in, I was imagining what I was going to write or draw that day. I certainly wasn’t listening to the teacher, because I was excited about the world around me. I couldn’t wait to get all I had learned down on paper. I was like that for a long time, until I started working full-time and pretty much stopped writing.

I found that before I started writing again, my curiosity about the world around me had waned almost completely. I was walking around in a fog of indifference. If I was alone in a public place drinking a cup of coffee or waiting for someone, I was glued to my phone. My little barrier to human contact, safely ensconced in my bubble. I mean, if I were to look around what was there to see, only other people looking at their phones, in their own little phone-bubbles.

I had tunnel vision.

Something magical started to happen when I began my writing practice. My sense of curiosity reawakened within me, and I began to have more and more ‘lucid’ moments. I wasn’t mindful of being mindful when it first happened to me. The fuzziness of apathy simply dissipated and the clarity just came to me.

I found that there were two major benefits to mindfulness in  terms of my writing:

  1. Mindfulness for Inspiration

One day, I was at Victoria Street Station, after getting the Gatwick Express. I’d just left my job to write my novel and I was spending the weekend with my sister in London. I was hungry and trying to kill time, so I had lunch in Wetherspoons. As I tucked into my avocado salad (*to be read as hamburger and chips), I noticed this old West Indian man standing by the door. He was dressed in a fedora and an immaculately pressed grey suit. He stood with a large box in his hand, wrapped in bright pink paper. He stood there for a good ten minutes, and kept glancing at his watch. Shifting on his feet. I began to imagine the person he was waiting for and why, and I found that my mind was flooded with stories.

One was that he was widowed and lonely for a number of years and his granddaughter had shown great patience in showing him how to use the internet.  Unbeknownst to him, she created a profile for him on a dating website, and found him ‘the perfect date’. This was to be his first romantic encounter since his wife’s death. Would she arrive and bring him happiness, or would she stand him up and if so, what would the impact of that be? This man who was tentatively dipping his toe back in the waters of romance again? Was his story a happy one, or a sad one?

He will make his way into a short-story in time, I’m sure of it. But he and his story came from nowhere. A simple moment. A nothing moment.  It was only because I opened my eyes a little more, and looked closer. It was like my mind had been a faulty camera lens, and finally I was able to focus and zoom-in again.

2. Mindfulness for Writing Emotion and Creating Texture

As babies we look around and notice and appreciate the novelty of everything and everyone around us. We are curious, we seek out sensation, we immerse ourselves in our surroundings. We want to listen to, feel, taste, sniff and examine everything, whether it be a live plug socket, or the pretty looking tabs for the washing machine, babies want to get to know it. Get to understand it. Of course, this obsession with examining stuff has to subside, or we’d never get anything done, and I’d be busy gumming my Mac to see how it tastes, instead of writing on it.

By the time we reach adulthood, we know everything, don’t we? Why should we pay any heed to the ordinary, the everyday?

I’ve smelled freshly-cut grass a thousand times. So have you.

I’ve seen thousands of sunrises. So have you.

I’ve felt an insect crawl along my forearm. So have you.

I’ve heard birdsong. So have you.

I’ve tasted lemonade. So have you.

We don’t even notice how these things make us feel any more.

Speaking of feelings, they are banal too, aren’t they? I know what it feels like to be afraid, to cry, to feel elation. To see others experience those things.

So do you.

There’s no unchartered territory to be found. Nothing new to feel.

But there is. And especially with books. Because feeling, or seeing through reading has the potential to be new and fresh every time. In reading a novel, a reader is interpreting letters on a page and converting them into images, into feelings, experiences. Just by virtue of that process, even the ordinary is rendered extraordinary.

So the writer must become curious again. A writer can inject magic into anything just by virtue of the words they choose. That’s why it is important that we avoid cliched or ways of describing the everyday, because that blunts the impact of the reading experience in the same way that everyday life blunts our real-world experiences.

A writer must learn to see past the banality of the everyday, and find the magic in it. And to do that, they have to learn to care again. Mindfulness helps me to do this. I find that by focusing on what I’m experiencing, it not only feels new to me, I also uncover fresh descriptions that I can use in my work.

When I first started writing my novel I decided to go to the beach, because a number of scenes in my book take place near the sea. Like most people, I’ve been to the beach so often that I didn’t think I’d get anything out of my trip. But I saw it differently that day. I walked its length and breadth in a mindful way. Scanning the sand, the water, the rocks. I closed my eyes, so that I could focus on the sound of the gulls, or inhale the sea smell. I plunged my fingers into the damp sand, and searched for the words to describe it. The words trickled into my brain, because I cared enough to look properly.

Conclusion:

Maintaining mindfulness can be difficult. Life is full of distractions, but I’m grateful that it comes at all. I’m grateful that I’m aware of know how powerful it is in terms of improving my writing.

I’ve downloaded the Headspace app, which is an app which trains the brain in how to meditate and live more mindfully. I’m persevering with it and hoping that with practice I can make these moments of clarity last longer, and become more frequent. Already, I am seeing benefits.

I hope that in being ‘in the moment’ more often, I can harvest even more stories from the simple moments that would otherwise pass me by. I now know that if I just remember to look, there is magic everywhere, just waiting to be captured.

Over to you: Do you find yourself lacking in curiosity about the world around you? What simple moments inspire you? Do you practice mindfulness or do you meditate, and do you have any tips for a newbie? 

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CatherineEDay

My name is Catherine Day. After practising law for many years, I’ve decided to take the leap, leave law temporarily, and write the novel I’ve always wanted to write.

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