Contemplation and Distraction: The Writer's Dilemma
On Tuesday morning, I read an essay titled, “Internet Mind,” written by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew on the Braided Way site. I met Ms. Andrew a long time ago when we were both MFA students at Hamline University in St. Paul. She was a lovely, luminous and contemplative human being whose kindness radiated everywhere she went. We were briefly in the same writers group that met outside of our classes; being a terrible group person myself, I left the group after several months. Writers groups have never really been for me.
But my impressions of Ms. Andrew lingered. So, I was happy to see one of her essays that I could read over my morning coffee. Her beautifully-written words got me thinking about contemplation and distraction, a common enough struggle for writers and anyone who practices meditation.
When I was a kid, I was pretty quiet. I regularly escaped into books and loved to write terrible poetry (I didn’t know it was terrible, but we all have to start somewhere). I was often lost in my own thoughts. And I still practiced prayer then, something all good Catholic kids are taught. Fast forward to years later when, as a young adult, I still escaped in books but not prayer. I missed that contemplative feeling, though, and sought it out in nature, writing, and, much later, in meditation. But distractions come much faster now than they did as a kid.
That I find myself more distracted now is not surprising. All the ways I have at my fingertips to see what everyone else is doing or see news at any given moment buzzes like an insistent bee. It’s hard to resist seeing what my friends and family post on social media, what my favorite writers and artists have created, or what events are coming up that I might like. It takes some good self-discipline to shut it all off and sit down with a physical book or go downstairs to my recently set-up painting spot. But after reading “Internet Mind,” I’m thinking again about these distractions and what is really accomplished when I give in to them. Mostly nothing. They aren’t relaxing for me. They just make my mind speed up a little.
It occurs to me that the feeling I get from glancing at social media is a lot like the feeling I used to get when I went to a writers group. Lots of talking back and forth, lots of comments that aren’t as helpful as they could be. Sometimes there’s something that resonates, but mostly there is the buzz of people talking because they like to hear themselves contributing to a bigger conversation. That’s one of the reasons I gravitate to posts that are images: artwork, photographs, pictures left there for viewers to respond to in their own heads.
This is not to say that I don’t like conversations. I do. Just not all the time, unfettered. I like diving into a place, a project, a book on my own in a quiet space. My mind goes all over the place on its own quite often and sometimes the connections are illuminating; at other times, baffling. This is the part that makes being a writer or doing some other kind of art really satisfying: having a playing field where I can put the bases in any order I want as ideas occur to me. And, later, having a quiet moment or two for just sitting lets whatever’s left bubble up and float away.
Then I can start again.
Find out more about Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew’s work here: https://www.elizabethjarrettandrew.com
Find out more about Braided Way here: https://braidedway.org
P.S. Happy Halloween!
images courtesy of Wix media.