Continuing the extracts from Free Your Pen: Mind Training for Writers. In the last post we looked at the traditional practice of lojong and its teachings. Here we explore how to apply the slogans to writing and daily life in this extract from chapter three:
How to Practice with the Slogans
If you want to write well it makes sense to train your mind. You wouldn’t go for a run without warming up, and you wouldn’t run a marathon without training first. Writing is the same. You can’t expect your mind to work straight out of the box, as it were. So how do you go about training your mind?
First, you need to become aware of your mind and how it works from day to day. You function on autopilot much of the time, running unconscious programmes and automatic reactions. This is ideal territory for the ego to maintain its reign of control through fear. As we saw in Chapter One, the ego is a defensive structure that tries to keep you safe, but you often end up feeling disconnected from others and cut off from your own deeper Self.
The slogans disrupt the ego’s habits and undermine its structures. They work against your tendency to control everything and make every situation and problem about ‘me.’ They wake you up and force you to pay attention to what you’re doing and thinking about moment by moment.
Each slogan is a short, easily remembered phrase that you can use as the basis for meditation or contemplation. They’re not meant to be taken as instructions on how to behave, as in the Ten Commandments or Buddhist precepts. They’re not a stick to beat yourself with, but guidelines to be used with flexibility and commonsense.
All the slogans work together as a complete teaching, and you may notice some overlap between them. This is deliberate as it encourages you to approach the same problem from multiple angles. They’re also often contradictory in order to provide balance and encourage you to really think about what you’re doing so you don’t go too far in one direction.
Although you don’t need to be a Buddhist to benefit from using the slogans, the teachings provide an important context for understanding the ideas. While you can dip into the book in any order and use the slogans that resonate with you and your particular situation, I would recommend you start from the beginning for context first. Please don’t be put off by the philosophy in the first few slogans! These provide the foundation for the rest of the slogans, so if you skip them you won’t get the most out of the practice.
The foundational teachings in lojong are quite advanced and challenging, so take your time with the early slogans to be sure you understand. It will help if you already have a meditation practice. If you don’t, now is a good time to begin! You will find instructions for a basic meditation practice in Slogan 3.
Each slogan discusses the original teaching before going on to explore how you can apply it to your writing practice, and then finishes with some practical exercises so you can explore the teachings for yourself. How you do this is up to you. It might be a good idea to commit to a daily writing practice that incorporates the slogans, or perhaps you could integrate it into your existing routine. If you write a daily journal or do morning pages, you could pick a different slogan to explore each day, or set aside a special time to work with the slogans.
If you have a meditation practice, you could choose a slogan to contemplate, study the teaching and then sit for a time to meditate on what you have learned. After half an hour or so of contemplation, you could then write in a journal any insights that have come up.
You could also incorporate the slogans into a process of self-inquiry or therapy using free writing or journaling, or perhaps even use them as inspiration for crafted works, such as poems, short stories, novels, or non-fiction pieces like blog posts, articles or memoir.
To learn the slogans and internalise them, you might like to write them out on index cards or post-it notes. You could also spend time exploring the references and resources in the appendix, or use my slogan randomiser: Lojong for Writers.
Sometimes a slogan immediately resonates with you and you know exactly how to apply it and what you need to learn from it. But others may take a little more thought and time. I don’t want to give you too much direction because you will need to find your own way of working with them. This is about getting back in touch with your inner voice, so the process will be different for every individual. But here are a few suggestions:
Choose a slogan to work with over a period of a few days. You can do them in any order you like, but get familiar with the first ten slogans before you move on to the rest because these provide the foundation for the whole practice.
On day one, meditate on the slogan and reflect on its meaning
On day two, write about your experience with the slogan, explore its meaning, note any insights you gain, feelings that come up, and so on
On day three, choose another slogan and continue the pattern
Or you can work with each slogan over a longer period and apply them to various parts of your life, making notes in your journal as you go. For example:
- Day one: meditate on the slogan and its meaning
- Day two: apply the slogan to your spiritual practice
- Day three: apply it to your writing
- Day four: apply it to your relationships
- Day five: apply it to your family life
- Day six: apply it to your work
- Day seven: have a break!
You can do this however you like, and can even make up your own slogans. These can be based on the lojong slogans presented here, or you can create new ones that make sense to you and your situation. Keep them short and snappy, and make sure they’re positive. You probably already have some favourite phrases that reflect your own hard won wisdom and insight, and even clichés can be helpful at the right time, such as: “Let Go and Let God,” “Count to Ten,” or “It’s All Good!”
After you’ve worked with these slogans for a while, they get into your subconscious and simmer away in the background. Then one day, when you’re struggling with a problem and feeling stuck, a slogan will pop into your mind – like a reminder or an alarm going off – and prod you into realising where you’ve gone wrong. It’s a bit like having an internal GPS system – Buddha GPS – that nudges you back onto your true path.
However you approach the slogans, may they be of benefit to you and your writing. May your pen and your mind be free!
Continued in the book…
Extracted from: Free Your Pen: Mind Training for Writers (59 Slogans to Cure Writer’s Block & Free Your Voice). Available now!
To give you an idea how the slogans are set out in the book, in the next post we’ll explore the first slogan…
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