Neither Holding On nor Pushing Away, by Amber Foxx

A yoga teacher I studied with years ago gave this guidance for how to be with one’s thoughts during meditation: Neither holding on nor pushing away. It helps me now with writing in addition to meditation and life in general—neither holding on to my old normal nor pushing away the present. I’m experiencing writing now as a balancing act, both a remembering practice without holding on and a letting-go practice without pushing away.

My work in progress, book eight in the Mae Martin series, is pre-pandemic. My books are always set several years in the past because I want to get the context right. While I don’t write directly about current events, they exist in the background and have a realistic impact on my characters’ lives. Eventually, maybe in three to five years, I might set a book in the spring of 2020. It’s too soon to write fiction about what’s happening now, and too soon for anyone to want to read it.

I’m keeping notes, though, and making an archive of how we live through this in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, since my stories take place here. Maybe I’ll never write the book, but preparing as if I’m going to helps me process everything and stay focused. As well as saving copies of statewide public health orders and keeping track of the news, I’m writing down daily observations on life in our community during our present challenges.

I haven’t decided what the mystery in that distant future book will be. My books aren’t about murder, but other types of wrong-doing. I’ll have a better idea by the time I’m ready to write it, in whatever kind of world we live in then. Preparing the background for that book is part of releasing both worry and expectations. I record the full spectrum of events, and then I can let go of them for the day. I can’t plan the plot yet, because I can’t know what the future holds. Meanwhile, I’ve sketched out possible scenes with my characters in a state of not-knowing and uncertainty, of real loss and potential loss, as they struggle with the sudden change. So far, a lot of the dialogue in these quick drafts is humorous, as are many of my conversations—on the phone or six feet away—with my neighbors and friends. Dark humor at times, but it’s part of how we cope.

Meanwhile, my main creative focus is on a book in which people visit each other’s homes, go out dancing, meet for coffee, take aerobics classes and college classes in person, and share hugs. This is my remembering practice. Not clinging to what was normal once, but honoring it.

 

Writing as a Gratitude Practice

 

Every day is a story. We usually wake up in the world of our status quo from the day before and set goals, and then challenges show up on the way to those goals. We face them, and whether we overcome them, change course, or defer completion, by night we close a chapter. Unlike a chapter in a book, though, that day’s chapter ideally doesn’t have a hook that keeps us awake and wondering what happens next.

To get closure on those daily endings, I keep a journal, following a structure I learned in yoga teacher training as a method for developing self-awareness and which I’ve taught in many stress management workshops. First thing in the morning, I record my dreams, if I remember them, and reflect on their unique and personal meanings (Recommended reading: Mindful Dreaming by David Gordon). In the evening, I record the emotions I experienced in all their complexity and variety. I consider this detailed awareness of feelings to be a mindfulness practice, but it’s also a valuable skill for writing. The next part of the journal covers the day’s events. Some are mundane, and I can skim them in bad handwriting, while others call for exploration, discerning how they related to the emotional landscape of the day.

The final line in each journal entry is something positive. It may be small and subtle or enormous and worth celebrating. It can also be an intention for the night’s fiction writing hours (I’m nocturnal and do the journal before I settle into my work). I never want to wrap up a day feeling negative or pessimistic. The human mind is naturally drawn to what’s wrong in case it requires attention. If my whole body feels great except for a twinge in my left ankle, my mind will go to my left ankle even if the twinge is trivial. Attention to the big picture and its positive aspects is a conscious choice. On a day in which difficult or painful events dominated, this space for hope and healing is even more important than on the more ordinary days when it’s easy to find some light.

With this journal, I train my mind not only to the story line and emotional depth of each day, but to gratitude. Daily.

*****

You can read more of my essays on mindfulness in the collection Small Awakenings: Reflections on Mindful Living.