Last year, I was told to look into something called mindfulness.
“Don’t scoff!” said my therapist. It was too late. Mindfulness was some new age mumbo jumbo, right?
I had the good sense not to say this out loud, but she anticipated it even as she gave me my homework to explore the concept on YouTube. “Just move on when you get the videos that are basically just breathing exercises,” she said, waving her hand dismissively. “The point for right now is the idea of it.”
YouTube is full of videos on mindfulness and how to achieve it, including a whole slew of TED talks by anyone and everyone from high-powered CEOs to Buddhist monks. Well, there’s some authority at least, I thought, and figured it was as good a point as any to dive in.
On the face of it, mindfulness is about living in the present moment and being grateful for it. That means not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. (New age mumbo jumbo, just as I’d suspected!) But the method of getting into the state of mindfulness is making yourself aware of everything around you. And as I’m listening to this stuff, I’m realizing that the greater point of it – though no one says exactly as much – is connecting and feeling connected with the world, of being an integral part of something greater. Specifically if you’re religious, feeling like a part of God’s creation.
Oh, I thought. The point for right now was the idea of it.
Ignoring all the instructional videos and the advice of the TED speakers, I did my own thing. I made an effort to notice the detail of the vascular systems in each leaf on a tree; the texture of my car’s steering wheel under the soft pads of my fingertips; how every sky- and earth-bound thing textured and bent and changed the light in the sky. The more I practiced it, the more I realized it was a thing that I’d lost. What an awful thing to lose to your own mind – your own worldview, your own vision. And as I looked back at the writing that had stopped flowing out of my brain over the past two years, I realized that I’d lost that not only in my writing, but in large part with the characterization of the protagonist of my book-in-progress, whom I’ll call V.
Early V as I conceived of her was aware of everything. She took everything in, she had no choice, and as a theist she saw everything as being from the divine. Literally everything was a revelation. The wind was the breath of God revealing the hidden parts of the world. The passing of sun and clouds overhead was an inexorable movement forward that left her far behind. Her sister against the tall grass and the yawning sky was a reminder of how small she was. And this worldview is seen by others as magical. It’s very easy to ascribe magicalness to the other, particularly to the demonic, because of how relentlessly practical humanity tends to be at this stage in our evolution. But why should V ascribe her awareness of the beauty and majesty of God’s creation to the demonic? There is a magicalness in the mundane precisely because it was created out of nonexistence, and that’s as true of fiction as it is of real life.
My book in progress is set in an agrarian world, and so much of the external stimuli do come from nature. But even as I reviewed things I’d written pre-depression, I realized how much detail I’d lost in my writing. I saw that I’d noted anything from specific font size and type of an email on a physical computer screen to the specific image of a lost child with a red balloon to contrast to the enormity of something else. Details are how we make sense of the enormity of things. Details matter.
I was talking with some friends recently about practices surrounding personal spirituality, and mindfulness came up. Oh, yes, I thought, I should do more of that. I was thinking of V in her world and my own frustrated efforts recently to not just transcribe it into words, but to see it through her eyes. And it is a struggle, even when you’ve finally connected the loss of part of your worldview to not only your writing style, but your creative center as a whole. From what other source are you going to fill up your bank of imagery and figurative language? How else are you going to craft an emotion precise enough that your readers are choking on it when it fills up their head and their throat and their lungs?
More importantly – how else are you going to experience it in the first place?