A pile of old cars dumped in a cave.

Unpublishing

Over the last two weeks, since returning from my fourth meditation retreat, I've written three or four blog posts, of which I've published precisely zero.

The pace is a bit more frenzied than typical, partly owing to meditation. After this last retreat I began sitting twice a day. And the mind will always find ways to rebel against the activity of meditation.

When I was first starting out in meditation, every time I sat, I would remember that I had left the water heater on. Dutifully, I would get up to turn it off, only to find out that it already was. This happened two or three times in one week before I wisened up to it. After that, when I sat and my mind reminded me about the water heater, I ignored it.

"I'll turn it off when I finish," I thought, "if it even is on."

It never was.

My mind abandoned this particular trick, but this tactic remains prevalent. The mind rebels when you try to still it by trying to distract you. I maintain this blog and I'm currently outlining a novel. What better way to divert my attention from meditation than to provide me with fodder for writing? Few things are more seductive in meditation than pleasant thoughts. But you have to try to set them aside and concentrate on the work at hand.

I experienced this often during my recent retreat as well. But there I had determined that I would concentrate on meditation. My resolve worked about as well as you might imagine. My mind kept going off track all the time and down writerly rabbit trails. But at least I didn't encourage it.1

Back in my regular life, it's hard to be so determined when words pour out of me. Even so. Though the pace of my writing is untypical, the lack of publication is not. Most of what I write for this blog, and in general, I end up not publishing.

I've written about perfectionism before, but more recently I've been plauged by something else: self-importance. A lot of my blog writing happens to be about creativity, mindfulness, and so on. In other words, I will often write here about myself and my internal experiences.

The more I've been meditating, the more clearly I've come to see the need to dissolve the ego, and not to celebrate it. It is only harmful to praise attachment to that which we identify as ours, including our own self-concept.

Yet my writing here, and especially my most recent unpublished writing, feels dominated by a self-centered, even self-congratulatory tone. But that might just be the fear talking: the fear of exposing one's thoughts in public, of being found out a fool -- or, worse yet, an imposter.

When I try to revise such writing, I end up going around in circles. I take what I wanted to say and obfuscate it with so many qualifiers and provisions that it's impossible to see what I mean.

When you speak plainly, the self shines through. How could it not?

In my own writing, it is difficult to gauge where I stand in the continuum of "talking about the self" and "being self-important", especially as I intend to publish things quickly. Because if I wait to revise my writing carefully -- forget it. I will start noticing everything that is wrong with the text and abandon it.

This is where you come in. If you happen to read this blog, send me some feedback, in private or in public. A short note will do: what you liked, what you didn't, if anything. After years of claiming I only write for myself, I realize that I need to hear back from you. Yes, you!

Thank you for reading.


  1. A more established meditator told me at the course that if he needs to work on a speech or writing project he will sometimes sit and observe respiration, as you do to concentrate the mind, but allowing the mind to wander away to the creative topic he wants to explore. But he would do this only after completing his meditation. That's something I have yet to try, but it seems like a promising idea. ↩︎

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