Writers: How to Gain Confidence with the Container PrincipleJanuary 8, 2014 | 13 Comments | Add to favorites
I was in beautiful Shambhala Mountain Center recently, teaching a writing and meditation workshop. As always, it was a wonderful combination of creativity, peace, and vulnerability.
I really don’t know why, but the act of writing produces a lot of emotion, regardless of the subject matter.
I’ve never known a writer who doesn’t do regular battle with these two issues:
1. Inadequacy: I’m not a writer, what do I really know anyway, I have no right, I’m a phony, etc, etc.
2. Unworthiness: Everything worth saying on this subject has already been said, I have nothing new to add, who wants to read what I have to say anyway, etc, etc.
I don’t know if painters are afraid of paint or musicians afraid of their instruments, but writers often begin with fear of writing.
Writing retreats can be surprisingly helpful (if the focus is on writing rather than talking about writing). Meditation also helps. After a few days of regular meditation sessions interspersed with regular writing periods with a clear beginning and end, we all began to relax into the groove. (It’s amazing how helpful it is to have someone other than yourself say: “Start writing.” “Please stop in two hours.” Seriously, that is all it takes.)
In our closing conversation about continuing the groove at home, one woman asked, “How can I find the confidence to keep going? When I’m here, it feels natural but when I’m home, I have all sorts of doubt.” Nods all around the room.
What I said: It’s one thing to try to source confidence from within yourself by telling yourself that certainly you’re good enough and you have something valuable to say and who cares if anyone else thinks so, your story is your story and you have a right to tell it.
That is fine. But it doesn’t really carry you very far.
There is a second source of confidence and it is often overlooked.
That second source is the environment you create around yourself. Yes, you can gain confidence from your surroundings. One reason writing retreats work so well is because the environment is strong and supportive. In Shambhala Buddhism, we call this the “Container Principle” which states that the environment in which an act occurs co-creates the act. The frame changes the picture. You are not the only force at work in any situation. The world you’re in is also a force and when you attend to that aspect, you are covering the bases.
A container can be created by a variety of things. At our retreat, meditation practice, quietude, the presence of other writers, and, most important, the schedule create containment. All the writer has to do is show up. The environment is structured to give confidence no matter what your state of mind upon arrival.
The container you create at home has a different foundation. It starts with uplifting the space itself. (This is in no way meant to send you on a search for the perfect pen, computer, desk, table lamp, task chair, and so on. God, if I only had a word for every second I’ve spent on such searches, I could have written an encyclopedia.) (PS The perfect pen, computer, etc is the one you currently possess…)
By uplifting the space, I mean things like keeping it neat and clean, having flowers or beautiful objects around, and/or surrounding yourself with pictures of people or places you love. These are indications that you take yourself seriously. When the outer environment telegraphs acceptance and doubtlessness, the inner environment responds.
Like many, I struggle intensely with self-doubt. Some time ago, I was telling a friend that I sometimes feel weird because I did not go to college. She said, “Have you framed pictures of your book covers and hung them on the wall? Those are your diplomas.” Wow, that was brilliant. Of course I hadn’t and of course they are.
What are your diplomas? Surround yourself with them. They could include a note from a friend thanking you for your kindness, a picture of a family member who has benefitted from your love, a book cover of something written by an artist you admire and whose spirit you too somehow embody…these are your real credentials. When you surround yourself with them, you create a container that longs to be filled with words.
categorized in: creativity