It wasn’t until I started practicing at Kashi that I began to understand how yoga impacts my professional work as a journalist and writer. The lightbulb moment was learning meditation and the “juiciness” (as Swami Jaya Devi calls it) that rises when we sit still in body and mind.
Do I need to meditate in order to write?
No. But I do think that meditation, especially as I’ve learned it at Kashi, helps me to write better and with courage.
Meditation also makes me happy. I don’t mean happy in a happy-happy all the time kind of way but in a realistic-happy kind of way. That’s because of the courage that emerges from the mat, to see (to really see) what’s going on all around us, compassionately. Rather than knee-jerk responding with anger or fear to all the pain and injustice, meditation teaches the practice of pausing. That pause usually enables me to see, eventually, the ways that I can help.
Writing is one of those ways. And it is a direct result of my meditative practice.
Since I started meditating in earnest, using what I’ve learned at Kashi, I’ve sent three different writing projects into the world – Writing for Seva, Hungry for Wine, and Shaky Compass.
- Writing for Seva, which is my karmic yoga project of donating 10% of my time as a writer to non-profit organizations who could use my services.
- Hungry for Wine: Seeing the World through the Lens of a Wine Glass, which was my first book. (For my day job I’m a wine writer for places like Forbes online and Decanter magazine.) Each chapter of the book looked at one wine and one theme that helped to bring that wine to the table. I wanted to shine a light on the difficult realities that make the wine world operate, such as migrant labor and making wine when your country is at war. It made for atypical wine reading! But not looking away from what’s hard is one of the lessons of meditation.
- Shaky Compass was a one-year project, where every day I wrote about what I was grateful for. I called this project “shaky compass” because I was looking for my true North, or God, or whatever “the divine” turned out to mean for me. I didn’t know what that was exactly (that’s why it was shaky) but I noticed that I felt closest to my sense of divinity when I remembered to be grateful and to write about those things. This was humbling but also empowering because I saw how, even when things were bad, I still had an amazing number of gifts in my life. I took that to mean that matter what, I was going to be okay. This was a pretty big shift in how I live my life out in the world.
So how does meditation, as I’ve learned it at Kashi, help with my career as a writer? Here’s how it’s worked for me.
Step One: Sit
As a writer, I see content ideas everywhere. When I first sit still, I notice the flurry of those ideas in my mind. I give them time and space to whirl away and to wear themselves out, like the ungrounded, energetic dervishes that they are.
At this stage all I’m doing is noticing these ideas – literally, just to take note of them, rather than jumping up to react. That’s where the physical act of sitting is useful, ideally with my hands resting on my knees or folded in my lap and not typing away chaotically or distractedly.
Sitting helps me to get in the practice of pausing before responding to provocative ideas. Sitting also helps me to not take the bait of every “shiny new thing,” or to get distracted by an attractive, though superficial, theme.
Step Two: Eyes Open
What’s left, after the whirl of idea dervishes tuckers out, are a few steady, substantive, level-headed ideas. Normally just one or two. That’s when I open my eyes, always a little bit surprised by the realization, and go, “Oh. So that’s what this is about.” That’s when I know I’m onto something. Those ideas are the naked and essential kernel of a thing.
Step Three: Stand Up
I stand up, then, with the gift of this essential kernel in my hands, which becomes my intention and my focus. I don’t have to write about every idea dervish; I only have to write about this one that’s now in front of me to write. In this way, meditation helps me to be efficient, to maximize my output in a minimal and condensed period of time. Suddenly there are more hours in the day because my to-do list of writing ideas has been pruned way (way) back.
Step Four: Engage
This is when my meditation practice moves off the mat. Most often, I need to go out and interview people in order to bring the story idea to life.
Since my focus is clear, so is my attention, both on the story and on the people who are in front of me. This ability to be present to what they say has been the game-changer, maybe more than anything in my work as an interviewer and writer.
Being present, for me, means communicating that “I am here now. I’m listening to you. I see you.”
Bonus! Doing this helps in my regular, non-writing life too.
Step Five: Trust
Truly being present for another person is disarming, partly because it is so rare. It gently lets down the guard of the person I’m speaking with; what’s left is a space of vulnerability and trust that opens up room for the more real story to emerge.
Communicating well, for me, is sharing what’s true rather than what’s sensationalist or clickbait-y. It’s refreshing for the person I’m talking to, and for myself, to be in a place where it’s safe to talk about what’s real. As a journalist, that’s important.
Step Six: Courage
Creating the safe space guides my content and the topics I cover, from migrant labor to alcoholism to gender and racial diversity. Kashi has taught me to go right to the stuff that’s hard.
I approach those conversations not with the intention to change anyone’s opinion, but with curiosity and humility. The desire is to see what’s happening and take it in and process it; a teacher named Rabia Roberts taught me that this is called bearing witness. Only after bearing witness, and only after a pause of acknowledgment, there may be a way to transform what we’ve learned into something useful.
But there may not be a way to do that, and that needs to be okay too. A related idea in my mind is Ma’s teaching on non-attachment (one of her Eleven Karmic Spaces) and unraveling from the ties of expectations and outcomes.
From the whirling dervish of ideas to intention and focus, to the space of vulnerability, to Ma’s teaching on non-attachment. Those are the stages of meditation that I’ve learned at Kashi. I’ve talked here about six steps of applying the practice of meditation to work as a writer, but the process is never this cut and dry. It also never happens all in one day. It is a dance. It is an ongoing, and very juicy dance and my life is better because of it.