Ryan Lee Wong Recommends...

For any writer who opens a blank document and feels a gnaw of anxiety or dread, maybe doubts whether to write at all, I recommend meditation. Zazen, the Zen Buddhist meditation I learned, means sitting there without expectations. This is perfect for writers. Eihei Dogen, who brought Soto Zen from China to Japan, said: “Do not think good or bad. Do not administer pros and cons…. Have no designs on becoming a buddha.” This is exactly how the critical mind torments us in writing: Is this sentence good or bad? This piece? Am I a good or bad writer—a good or bad person? Don’t sit zazen to become a buddha, an awakened being. Just sit. It’s the same for writing: Don’t write to win an award, to shatter the literary world with your genius. Just write.

I started meditating with an app. Two minutes, even with guidance, felt like a burning eternity. Gradually, I got to five, then ten minutes. Then my friend Googled meditation centers near us, and I ended up at a Zen center sitting for thirty minutes. Soon, I signed up for one-day and five-day retreats. Soon after that, I lived for two years at a Zen temple. I’d also recommend temple life, by the way, but if that’s not for you, try meditating for five minutes in the morning. I’ve seen over and over how a few minutes, right before sitting down to write, makes all the difference. Just don’t expect anything from it.
—Ryan Lee Wong, author of Which Side Are You On (Catapult, 2022)  

Photo credit: Beowulf Sheehan