On my first meditation retreat in 2009, one of the Dharma talks was about the difference between pain and suffering, and I was NOT getting it. Pain and suffering. They go together like chocolate and peanut butter. To be in pain is to suffer. We suffer because we are in pain. End of story.
After the talk, I joined a small team of meditators in the kitchen for work duty. I stood, knife in hand, as the head cook poured out a box of onions and told us to start dicing. I wasn’t even done cutting the first onion when my eyes began to water.
By the second onion, tears were streaming down my face. I sniffed and heard the woman next to me do the same. The man on the other side of the table turned away and wiped his eyes with the inside of his sleeve. Pretty soon, I could hardly see for the tears streaming down my face. My eyes burned. They stung. The discomfort quickly edged into pain, yet I found myself giggling at the absurdity of us all standing there, knives in hand, sobbing over onions. The other veggie choppers began to laugh as well. I was in pain, and I was not suffering. I was, in fact, having fun.
This anecdote is among the first stories I share with aspiring writers who seek my guidance as a coach, because understanding the difference between pain and suffering was pivotal for me, both in my life and my writing. Back in 2009 I had only just begun my first novel and had no idea that, in the decade that followed, my mindfulness practice would be instrumental in my development as a writer.
Insight meditation allowed me to notice the devious little voice of my inner (literary) critic and invite her to pipe down while I wrote my first draft. As I became more mindful of my emotions, I was able to write much more complex characters with deep emotions of their own. When it came time to revise, I invited my inner critic back the metaphorical table and learned that she is a fantastic editor. Compassion practice helped me to recognize that my alternating self-doubt and imposter syndrome were probably here to stay, but I didn’t have to give them my heart.
Without a doubt, writing is a demanding endeavor. As writers, we struggle to shut out distractions and find our focus. We deal with writer’s block. We argue with inner critics who seem intent on shutting us down before we even get started. And we do all of this with the hopes of putting our precious work out into the world where someone (somewhere) will not appreciate it.
Yes, writing can be hard. It can even be downright painful, but with a solid mindfulness practice on your side, you don’t have to suffer. Now let’s get some writing done.
April Dávila is an award-winning author and writing coach. Publisher’s Weekly called her debut novel, 142 Ostriches, a “vivid, uplifting debut” and the book went on to win the WILLA Award for Women Writing the West. Writer’s Digest listed her blog (at aprildavila.com) as one of the Best 101 Websites for Writers and she is the creator of the Sit Write Here coaching program. She is a practicing Buddhist, a half-hearted gardener, and occasional runner. Her second novel is forthcoming.
Join April on Oct 29th 9-12pm, 2023 PT at Benedict Canyon and Online for The Scribbling Buddha: Mindfulness Practice For Writers
Sept 27-Oct 18th, 2023 for 4 consecutive Wednesdays Online for Mindful Writers: Finding Insight Through Flash Fiction