The Key to Finding Peace When You Sit Down to Write

Of the many challenges that come with writing, one of the most challenging is trying to write while dealing with the chaotic world around us. For instance, the turmoil that we witness on television or the painful images we see online can have a negative affect on us, causing us to feel anxious, panicky or depressed. The chaotic thoughts and emotional distress that these images create can interrupt and sometimes thwart our ability to sit down and be at peace with the writing process. Therefore, it is important to understand that the key to finding peace when you sit down to write is to establish a sense of peace and tranquility throughout your day and not just at the time you decide to write.

Now, the first step to establishing peace throughout your day is to become increasingly aware of what is causing the chaos in your life. Thich Nhat Hanh would say that whenever we feel worn out, anxious, upset or filled with turmoil then that means we have come into direct contact with toxins.

Toxins make us feel angry, upset, anxious, hopeless, restless, they make us feel bad about ourselves and worst of all they cause our mind to bound around in chaos.

Many of you understand the concept of toxins in relation to our food. For instance, there is a growing awareness that much of what Americans eat is actually not good for our bodies, and that many of today’s health problems originate from diets that are high in fat, sugar and chemicals. This growing awareness is slowly chipping away at the ignorance surrounding our understanding of the toxins that we ingest through our mouths.

Although many of us are aware of the toxins in food, not many of us are aware of the other types of toxins that exist in the world. These toxins have the same negative side effects that eating increased amounts of fat, sugar and chemicals can cause.

In general, toxins enter our body through all our five senses, and it’s important to protect each of these senses from exposure. We have to be like security guards protecting a one-of-a-kind treasure. This treasure is our overall sense of peace and well-being.

It is important to note that the concepts I am sharing with you are not new, but are my unique take on a very ancient concept that was first introduced to me by Thich Naht Hanh. I am only taking the concepts I learned from him and applying them to my specific situation.

Okay. Let’s take a look at each of our senses and examine what types of toxins may be affecting them.

Taste

I’m starting to learn that taste is something that involves the entire body, and not just our taste buds. If we follow our food from our tongue to our stomachs then that’s when we really know what we are tasting. For example, when you have a lot of greasy food your taste buds might signal to you that it enjoys the flavor, but if you keep on paying attention to the food as it drops to your stomach, you’ll notice the rest of your body will give you a different signal. You might start to feel sluggish, depressed, or lacking in enthusiasm. If you feel this way, then your sense of taste is telling you that you have ingested toxins.

On other hand, when you eat vegetables and fruits, you might notice that your body feels refreshed, energized, and light afterwards. This is why it is important to monitor your sense of taste by making sure you pay close attention to the way your whole body responds to what you are eating.

When you are eating well and avoiding toxins, you body will always feel at peace when you start your writing day.

Touch

Children teach us so many things we tend to overlook. For instance, children know the power of touch. Whenever children feel afraid, they’ll clutch to a warm blanket or cling to the warm body of a parent. Take a cue from these children, then, and wrap yourself in a warm blanket when you sit down to write. Touch the cool, chiseled surface of a paper weight on your writing desk. Crush a fallen leaf in your hand. Touch the stem of a live plant. Touch the objects around you that are at peace, and allow them to bring you feelings of warmth and tranquility.

Sight

In today’s world, our sight is bombarded with visual toxins on a consistent basis. Advertisements flash at us from everywhere, sending us messages that we’re not fit enough, lovable enough, rich enough, good enough, popular enough unless we buy their product. Then there’s the news, always telling us that on every street corner we are certain to meet with disaster. Television and movies repeatedly show us a world in which complicated problems are solved in just under an hour, giving us unrealistic expectations about the way life really works.

These visual toxins affect the way we feel and what we think about the world around us. Plugging into these images and pictures is like plugging into The Matrix. In that film, when you were plugged into The Matrix you were led into a fabricated world where everything is either way too perfect or way too chaotic. That’s what happens when you watch too much TV or stay too long on the internet.

If you want to find peace when you sit down to write, then, you need to unplug yourself from The Matrix. Start off by going without any news for two weeks, and see how much happier and lighter you feel. (Trust me, if there is something that is ACTUALLY an emergency, the people around you will let you know.) Instead of watching the news, go to the park and look around and ask yourself: “Is the sky really falling?” Then look up and check in with the sky for the answer.

You will discover that–unless you are living in a war-torn country–the sky is, in fact, NOT falling. Once you realize this, move your attention over to the butterflies in the park and let their flapping wings remind you that, in truth, the world around you is at peace.

Smell

We live in a modern world and, unfortunately, smog, gasoline, and grease is just part of the many toxic smells we have to encounter every day. If this is all we smell, however, we might forget the peace that arises within us when we smell air that is not toxic. That is why it’s important for a writer to take some time to go hiking and smell the freshness of the mountain air, or run by the sea and smell the saltwater. Or, if you can’t do this, then light some incense by your writing desk. Keep some flowers nearby and smell their petals. Allow their soothing smell to bring you to a sense of wonderful peace.

Sound

Too many unpleasant sounds can be toxic. Unfortunately, the engines of several cars roaring all at once is so loud it can overwhelm everything else. That’s why we need to frequently visit places where the jack hammers of the world cannot reach us. I already mentioned taking a trip to the beach, or to the mountains, or to the park, but if visiting these places is not possible then just tune into the soothing sounds that surround you. Take a walk in your neighborhood and try to tune out all the unpleasant noises. Then, tune into the birds singing, the wind blowing, the leaves rustling, the rain falling, the people humming, whistling, singing, laughing, whispering…

Along with becoming aware of the noises we hear, we also need to be aware of the words we hear. Words can also carry toxins. For instance, if you walk away from a conversation feeling more upset, angry, or worried than before, you know that the person you were talking to said something to you that was a toxin. It might have been a statement about the bad state of world affairs, or a backhanded comment about your appearance or lifestyle. Whatever it was, acknowledge that it was a toxin and then work to reverse its effects.

How do you reverse the effects of a toxin? I will discuss that next.

Becoming a Tree

(I’ve read a lot of books on meditation and although some of them provided some great methods, I’ve had to fashion out a unique meditation routine for myself. Nowadays, whenever I’m faced with a problem, I try to create my own meditation exercise to address the issue. The following is one that I created for myself and that has been working for me. I hope it helps you maintain a sense of peace throughout your day. Read my article entitled “Patience” to learn more about meditation and how to use it to help you in your writing process.)

I would like you to pay attention to a tree today. If you pass a particular tree every day, I want you to put all your focus onto that particular tree. If you don’t pass by a single tree on a regular basis, then visit a local park and examine a tree there.

Today, I want you to pass this tree as you usually do, but this time, I want you to notice your mood. If you are angry, notice that you pass this tree with anger. If you are sad, notice you pass this tree with sadness in your heart. If you are happy, pass this tree with your joy. If you are indifferent, pass this tree with your indifference. After you pass this tree, carrying whatever thoughts or feelings you might have, I want you to look back and notice whether the surface of that tree has changed.

If you passed the tree with anger, you might notice that the tree did not become angry. If you passed the tree with joy, you might notice that the tree did not become joyful. Whatever you brought to the tree, the tree still remained at peace and grounded firmly to the earth–in the same state it was before.

Now that you saw that nothing changed on the surface of this tree, think of what happened just underneath the surface. You might realize that when you passed this tree, you exhaled toxins across the tree’s leaves. The tree took these toxins you exhaled (carbon dioxide) and turned them into something that will not only help the tree live on and grow stronger, but will help you live on and grow stronger, too. What did that tree turn your toxic carbon dioxide emissions into? Oxygen, of course.

Now, as you go about your day, I want you to take on the habit of this tree.

Try your best to avoid the toxins of life, but if a toxin does arrive, inhale this toxin and meditate on it for a moment. Be present with the toxin. Give it your attention, your love, and your warmth. Then, focus on your breath, and watch as your breath begins to wipe away at this toxin. Once the toxin is completely wiped away, smile and go about your day spreading happiness, love and a sense of peace to those around you.

If you feel at peace and grounded after this cleansing process, then congratulations! You have successfully become a tree–a being which not only lives in peace but who takes the turmoil that passes by and transforms it into peace, turning poison into nourishment for others.

Remember:  those who want to cause chaos in this world may be powerful, but they are not as powerful as you are. As long as you turn their toxic outlook into pure oxygen, your sense of peace will be far too great for their chaos to overtake your tranquil world.

Now, with this sense of warmth and tranquility still within you, sit down and begin to write.

much peace,

Ollin

How do you bring a sense of peace to your writing routine?

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28 comments on “The Key to Finding Peace When You Sit Down to Write

  1. Marnie says:

    For my writing inspiration I do simple things like getting fresh air, taking a long shower or hot bath, or even just staring out the window.

    I love this post and how you went through all the senses. It’s so true that everything is connected to us.

    • Ollin says:

      Those simple things are most likely serving you well. Taking a hot bath does do wonders, doesn’t it? It’s so relaxing and yes, peaceful. Staring at your window is also a simple but magical thing. Last night I saw a beautiful purple sunset that gave me a sense of peace and awe.

  2. I love this post Ollin!
    I’ve just arrived at work, (shhhhh) after my walk in and I’m wishing I had read this before I left. I want to go back and pick a tree!🙂
    What a fabulous idea.
    A couple of nights ago I went for a walk to the park near my home. I haven’t been there for a while. It was empty and dark and surrounded by trees. I was somewhat lost in the noise in my own head at first, but as I stepped into the dark clearing I could suddenly hear crunching sounds all around me which of course freaked me out for a few seconds… then I turned to find a Deer with her two teen-aged daughters making their way through the bush.
    Time just stopped as did the noise in my head. Instant peace came just stopping and watching these magnificent animals.
    Thank you, you have reminded me to make the time to do that more often!

    • Ollin says:

      What a beautiful story, Jenny. I wish my nearby park had deer! I usually focus on the butterflies and squirrels. There is a park nearby that has horses and they have the same affect as deers. They are so huge and magical that you can’t help but drop all your thinking and stare at them. They carry so much peace.

      Haha, maybe just pick a tree during your lunch break?

    • wow!! you are so lucky. Maybe you can post a pic sometime.

      • LOL Ollin, I had to laugh. Some days, (like today when the temperature is around -15 degrees F) I would trade deer for butterflies and squirrels… but not usually.
        Keshav: I hope to get some pics this winter but the deer are usually out at night and it gets dark here around 5:00 PM, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for picture taking.
        I’m hoping to get on the river around sunrise this weekend to see if I can find any, but we’ll see. I sure will post anything I can get!

  3. Good one ollin. The tree idea was brilliant, I’ll have to try this out. Your examples make sense.

    I stopped watching the news a long time ago and as you said “if its important you’ll get to know”

    I was sitting at my desk preparing myself for tonight’s writing session and on an impulse landed here. Glad I did🙂

  4. This couldn’t have come at a better time. I am trying to do some rewrites today for my publisher and I am about to pull my hair out. My office door is constantly being open and closed by my daughter, my dog is barking about something and my husband is at the front door with the UPS delivery man. I am going to have a nice cup of tea, close my eyes for a minute and start again- at the library!
    -Emily Harper

    • Ollin says:

      Sounds like a great idea. If too much noise is causing chaos in your mind, a library is a nice place to escape from all that chaos. If the library is closed and a coffee shop is too noisy, you might want to try sitting and writing in your car. It might be a bit uncomfortable but at least you’ll get to focus!

  5. Great post. I try to be mentally clear as I can throughout the day, even when I can’t get away from the kinds of toxins that you talk about. Toxins can also come from our own minds, which will incredibly creative tools, can also begin to obsess about negative and unnecessary things, like whether a poem or story will publish or be liked even before we start writing it.

    I often forget to take a moment to clear my head of junk before I sit down to write. When I remember to, I like to take a few moments of silence, a brief meditation, to let go of all my day to day complications or stressful thoughts, as well as to set my intentions, before I actually begin writing.

    • Ollin says:

      Very good point Andrea. I didn’t mention that in the post but we are responsible for the toxins that we pass on to those around us. That’s why we need to take on the task of creating peace and harmony within ourselves so that we don’t pass on these toxins to others–and so that these toxins don’t affect our well-being either.

      Those are all great practices that we all should adopt. Thank you for sharing!

  6. erikamarks says:

    What a rich post, Ollin–thank you for sharing all of that. I couldn’t agree more that we are constantly bombarded–and I for one find one of my biggest challenges in life is to find a way to (to quote my gal, Carly Simon) “turn down the noise in my mind” on a daily basis, but that task can be even harder when we write.
    Somedays I’m more successful than others–somedays I give in and try to direct that “noise” into my writing–but yes, I try to be constantly aware of what I ingest (and I don’t just mean food!) into my body and being, and whether or not it is toxic or not.

    • Ollin says:

      That’s a good point Erika. Sometimes the noise can serve our writing. But when it doesn’t serve us, we need to find out how to shut that noise out.

      You’re welcome.

  7. Wow ! I think you just changed my life, such a lovely article, and so helpful, I’m certainly trying some of your peaceful suggestions out as soon as possible. Thanks Ollin, I’ll be reading many more of your posts now I’m sure. x M x

    • Ollin says:

      You’re welcome Mary! I’m glad you found my article so helpful. I definitely suggest reading up on the individuals I mention: Thich Nhat Hanh, John Kabit-Zinn and Mark Nepo. They do a better job of explaining this concept I think, and they provide more details and exercises you can use on a daily basis. Good luck to you!

  8. Nic Oliver says:

    I love this post and I love the work of Thich Nhat Hanh.

    On toxins, I used to believe that coffee and writing went together. The more I needed to write, the more coffee I drank at the same time. Recently, I have found that I write, and live generally, better if I moderate my coffee intake. Now it’s two cups in the morning and that’s it

    Have a peaceful, prosperous and fulfilling 2011

    Nic

    • Ollin says:

      Coffee isn’t very good actually. It is a big disrupter of a good night’s sleep. I’m actually going to dedicate a whole post to writers and sleep because I think getting good sleep really improves our writing, whereas not getting good sleep can really fry our brains.

      Best wishes to you, too, for 2011!

      Much peace.

  9. Ollin says:

    Yes, it used to be recommended to leave the country and be part of a peaceful meditation group, but the reality is we can’t always do that. And I think we are better served with being in a toxic environment and learning how to thrive in it, then isolating ourselves from it and hope to still learn how to live in modern life.

    Ooops! Thank you for catching the typo. Top Ten Blogger, eh?😉

  10. What a fantastic article, Ollin! I absolutely loved it. It’s true, it’s so hard today with all the different images, noises etc. to find an inner quiet and peace to write in.

    I think it’s important to remember, though, that while we’re trying to get rid of these toxins, we shouldn’t shut our senses off – our senses are a big part of what allows us to be writers. By acting as a kind of human sponge and taking things into our system, we’re constantly provided with new material from the outside world. That’s why I loved your ideas about touch especially – trying to describe what something feels like is one of the most challenging writing exercises I’ve done.

    • Ollin says:

      Great point, slightlyignorant! No I don’t think we should shut ourselves off completely. I think my point is just that we need to be AWARE of what we are ingesting. Sure, every once in a while I like to have cheescake, and that’s ok, as long as I know that it isn’t as nourishing as having some fruit. I think it isn’t good when we are not aware, because then we can overdo it and then we are left wondering how we got so lost in all the toxins of the world.

  11. Tammy McLeod says:

    Be a Tree! How simple that is and what a divine image to carry with us. I know just which tree I will be!

  12. An awesome, awe-inspiring and informative post as ever, Ollin (pardon the adjectives!). I am on the same page as you — there’s so much of toxic substance in almost every aspect like you point out. Having taken note of this myself, I pay special attention to my food intakes and surroundings.

    The TV has adverts that allure you into taking a sip of that soda or tasting that burger just once. The perfumes at the mall tempt you into buying them and allowing the chemicals a direct access into your body. Well, guess what? I have had enough. Also, I have included more soothing sounds in my daily routine and I can see the difference. Having said that, I do know that not every thing or product is “bad”. Yet. . .

    Something bothers me though — how can I reach the perfection w.r.t all my senses. Or, how can I totally rid the toxins that you speak of. Perhaps, there is no perfection. It’s all a part of the game. Nevertheless, I will strive.🙂

    Thank you for the share.

    -BrownEyed

    • Ollin says:

      Use as many adjectives as you want, Brown Eyed!

      No, I don’t think we can be perfect. I think the best we can do i strive, as you say. But I know Hanh would suggest going to visit a community where the whole group is striving for peace in all senses. I would love to do a retreat like that.

      You’re welcome Brown Eyed, and thank you for your always thoughtful and thought-provoking comments. Happy New Year my good friend.

  13. […] not because you are a bad writer or a bad blogger. Maybe it’s because you need to find peace or feel empowered. Or maybe you need to go for a run. Maybe you need to take a break from your work, […]

  14. wordbone says:

    Lao Tzu guides me. Thank-you Olin…any thoughts about toxic people that have a visibly draining affect on you? Avoidance is not always possible. wordbone.wordpress.com

    • Ollin says:

      Lao Tzu is awesome. That’s a great recommendation to other readers out there if you’re reading this.

      Mmm… What do you mean by “visibly” draining? I understand what you mean by avoidance not being possible. That’s why I came up with the above “tree” mediation. I found that some would suggest “avoiding” toxic people, but that is very difficult. Toxic thoughts and people are everywhere.

      I suggest using that tree mediation I mentioned, and when you come into contact with that person, as soon as you can get a way from them, or a soon as you leave them, do a really powerful and long mediation routine.

      You can read the other articles I wrote that I linked to in the bottom of this post. There I mention John Kabit Zinn and others who give some great meditation routines that I use daily.

      Any time you feel the toxins in you, you must meditate or be in nature. That always helps.

      Good luck.

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