The Zen of Writing

Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.  

Homer Simpson

From what I learn about Zen Buddhism (it’s been a long lockdown) it is incumbent on us as individuals to let our feelings in – be they negative or positive. We should welcome them, especially those unpleasant thoughts that grip us by the throat and won’t let go. If, for instance, a writer receives a knockback on her totally brilliant piece of work, how does she process this?

What to do when we know full well the earth is round, but are finding it to be awfully flat at the moment when an editor or publisher says ‘no’?

Fear of being rejected can apply to anyone: the job applicant, the lover, a teenager waiting for his party invite. In mindfulness philosophy, it’s what we do with these feelings that counts. 

Samuel Beckett famously advised writers to ‘fail better’. It worked for him. After years of struggling, he produced the acclaimed play Waiting for Godot. Now he is ‘waiting’ for the rest of us to catch-up and gather our work in our arms and turn it into a bouquet of beautiful roses.

Zen practitioner Joseph Goldstein explains that in meditation he can become paralysed with fear. Only when he allows space for it does the fear loosen its hold. ‘If I feel this fear [read: anxiety, sadness, disappointment] for the rest of my life,’ he says to himself, ‘it’s okay’. Once he’s ceased shoving the emotion away, the future looks less obscured.

Paradoxically, by seeking a state of equanimity in the face of acceptance or rejection, we writers are better able to find the purity in what we are wishing to say, and move on.

As a writer I work on being ‘equanimous’ every day. Sometimes the idea of failing ‘better’ can have a strangely illuminating and liberating effect.

2 thoughts on “The Zen of Writing

  1. How interesting, Margaret. I do so wish that I could be ‘equanimous’ — I’m afraid that my emotions get stirred up by rejection. When I receive a rejection notice, I do say to myself: okay, why didn’t they like it? And quite often I make some changes, then, as quickly as possible, I sent the piece off somewhere else.

    Liked by 1 person

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