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)