I have been doing something different lately…since about mid-2021. It’s meditation. And I feel (rightly or wrongly) that it has helped boost my artistic productivity. And may have also led me to a new field of creative activity entirely: poetry.
I don’t want to indulge in flights of fancy or metaphysical mumbo-jumbo here. I just want to give you the facts and let you decide. But before we get there. I want to tell you a little story. About how this came to be, how I got here…
It was as if…
…I bought a house in the country some years ago. It was a simple, clapboard house with four rooms: A bedroom, a kitchen, a bathroom and living room. It was an older house and needed some fixing up. There were gutters that needed cleaning, walls that could use some painting, plumbing in need of fixing. So, day by day, I worked on repairs and lived a simple life far out in the country, going into town once a week or so for groceries. The rest of the time was spent on maintaining the house and simply enjoying it.
One day, several years after having bought the house and gotten it into pretty good working order, a stranger came by. Sitting on the front porch, I offered him a drink but he politely declined saying he had to be getting on.
However, before he went, he offered a story. He had grown up nearby on small farm on this side of town. He remembered when the house had been built. He had seen it go up bit by bit, the foundation, the walls, then the rooms. The kitchen, the bedroom, the basement, the bathroom, the living room–all of it. They had finished with the roof and then added the orchard out back: cherry, plum and crab apple trees.
I stopped him there.
“There’s no basement here. Maybe you have the wrong house?”
The man blinked and stared at the high gables of the house, taking it all in, as if seeing it for the first time.
“No, no. This is it, the very house.”
“Well,” I said. “I’m sorry to disappoint. But this house has only four rooms—no basement.”
He removed his hat and scratched his head. “No, no, I remember now! It was one of the tricks of old man Stranham. He made a basement, but locked it all up. Made a key and kept it close. Oh, it’s good a basement alright, you just have to find that key.”
I half-laughed, “Well, sir, I can assure you…I’ve lived in the house for years now, decades, in fact…I’ve never seen a basement, nor a hint of it.”
I stood up and I could see he was visibly uncomfortable now. I turned to face the house and made my way to the threshold, about to go inside and continued speaking over my shoulder, “Yes, you can tour the whole house if you like, turn it upside down—you’ll not find a basement.”
I turned back to the man to see his reaction…And he was gone. But there on the highest post of the stairs leading up to the front door was a rusty old key. I scanned the horizon of wheat and soy fields—whoever he had been, he was gone.
I took the key and pocketed it. I put it away in a safe place inside my house I won’t mention—and forgot about the strange incident with the man. I went back to every day life: Working on the house, going into town once a week for groceries. I forgot all about the strange man and the supposed basement.
But one day, when I was working in the living room, I found something. Behind one of the big, built-in book cases on the floor behind the couch, I found a worn down piece of metal built into the floor. And in the center of this metal plate there was what looked like a keyhole. Suddenly, the memory of that long gone afternoon came flooding back.
I went to the secret hiding place and with a little bit of searching, found the key. I took it into the living room and approached the keyhole. I put the key in and it was a perfect fit. I turned the key ever so slightly to the right and there was a reassuring, soft ping as the key engaged. I pushed down on the floor and a door cracked open revealing a flight of stairs…
I turned the light on my phone on and slowly walked down the creaking, dusty stairs. What I found astounded me. It wasn’t just a basement. No. It was a whole other floor to my house—the same house I had lived in for decades. The strange man had been right, my house had a basement alright and I had never known it. I won’t go into details, but it was there—all there. A whole new level I had never suspected.
The Fifth Room.
So, that’s exactly how I felt when I got deeper into meditation. How could it be that my mind (brain), had this whole other section that no one had ever told me about? And how could I not have noticed it for decades? But there it was. A Fifth Room in my own brain.
Being able to go on even VERY SHORT vacations into this Fifth Room changed my whole perspective about creativity, human perception and potential, and maybe, a little about existence itself. I definitely feel that meditation practice (and by that I do mean the work or practice you put into it), has allowed me to enter into more freely and with greater consistency the “groove” or “flow” of creative (writing) work. I also think it has allowed me to sustain those “flow” sessions longer. It may have also allowed me to have the confidence and/or quietude to write poetry.
I know this all sounds a bit mystical and/or Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious for lack of a better term…but my writing stats tell a different story. Consider this…
During my the first year of the pandemic in 2020 (just before I started meditating):
- I had 0 submissions (granted, I was working on a longer project), and 0 acceptances.
And in 2021 when I started doing meditation, things started trending up:
- 14 submissions sent, 2 acceptances.
And for 2022 (so far) these are my stats:
- 92 submissions sent, 4 acceptances.
Something has shifted. It might be something OTHER than meditation. It might be the pandemic kicking my butt into gear and the dread/adrenaline ride that it has been. Of course, it partially is me shifting from writing longer pieces to writing poems and short stories. (You’ll just naturally have more submissions and acceptances that way). But I think it MIGHT be meditation and I present it here as a case study—nothing less, nothing more.
Here’s some SPECULATION on this topic by someone WHO HAS NO ACADEMIC QUALIFICATIONS TO DO SO. (So, you were warned!). I wonder if meditation (like some psychoactive drugs) could literally change the connection between neurons in the mind. Thus, allowing the person/artist to make novel connections between things and ideas that once seemed incompatible. I like to think my stories, poems, characters, plots, and settings are doing this more and more…And that that might be a reflection of the neurons connecting in novel ways thanks to meditation. But who knows? That’s just a speculation and way above my Science Pay Grade.
…Coming back to Earth…There is only one way to find out if it will work for you (more on this below). But as for me, I’m going to keep on doing it. I’m somewhat skeptical of some of the medical benefits of meditation. But I’m at a point now where it feels good and it seems to help productivity so much that I’m going to keep on doing it, unless there is a major study that shows it does actual HARM.
So, a tip of the hat to my friend, Matt H—, who happened to be “the stranger” in my case and nudged me onto a deeper exploration of meditation and my own mind. And now I can become “the stranger” to you and maybe nudge you (if you want to be nudged) to check it out. Read on below if you want to try meditation yourself.
I got started on this journey by downloading free “guided” meditations on my phone. These guided mediations feature instructions and a calm narrative voice to get you into your first meditation. I started off with a 5-minute mediation and slowly, day-by-day, worked myself up to 8-, 10-, and 12-minute meditations. I still do 12-minute ones now (once per day) and sometimes do 15 minutes.
One tip: the first meditations or two were almost IMPOSSIBLE for me and I almost collapsed into giggling or gave up. It’s TOUGH to turn off something that’s been on your WHOLE LIFE. And truly, you don’t turn it off, you just redirect your conscious thoughts in a new way.
Anyway, I felt that after about 10-15 guided meditations to get me started, I could go “solo” and just set an alarm on my phone and go into the meditation myself. If you want to give this a shot, these resources are a good place to start:
- The Headspace App. (I started with the their guided meditations. PS: I have NO financial attachment with Headspace and was not paid by them or given gifts to mention them).
- Dogen, the Japanese Zen master, has some great writings on building a daily meditation practice (in the Buddhist Soto Zen tradition). Really, you could read anything by Dogen to get you started on just plain sitting meditation (zazen). But I would recommend Beyond Thinking to get going.
Alright! Good luck! Dive in, try at a few times and see what you think. It might really change things up for you. Here’s to finding your own Fifth Room!
Until next time!