Instrumental: Cultivating Mindfulness (Part Two) by Diana Raab

(Read Part One of Cultivating Mindfulness Here)

Mindfulness meditation, which originated in Buddhist circles, encourages you to focus on feelings, experiences, and internal and external processes in a nonjudgmental manner. It is about being fully present in the moment, thus making you more aware of yourself, others, and your environment. Mindfulness meditation is about paying attention to the thoughts racing through your mind, without obsessing about them or trying to fix them in any particular way. Meditation is one of the best ways to increase self-awareness, calm your mind and your body, and connect with what is happening in the present moment.

Many studies have shown the benefits of mindfulness meditation. Some institutions, such as the Mayo Clinic, have already integrated mindfulness meditation into many of their programs to foster healing in those dealing with mental and physical illnesses. When mindfulness meditation is used to help addicts in recovery, studies have shown that it minimizes the stress caused by the trigger to use alcohol or drugs. The results can be very effective when used in conjunction with other modalities, such as psychotherapy.

Mindfulness meditation forces you to sit with yourself and to accept and tolerate your feelings rather than medicating them. Sitting with your problems and recognizing them with curiosity and acceptance helps you better to diffuse any triggers that you may regularly encounter. One of the many wonderful aspects of mindfulness meditation is that you can do it alone and anywhere. You don’t need props, mentors, or facilitators. It only takes a few minutes, and the results are effective, long acting, and empowering.

Meditation may be practiced either while sitting still or, for those who have difficulty sitting, while walking. Other practices such as Qigong and Tai Chi are also good options. In mindfulness meditation, the idea is to sit still and focus on the breath—breathing in and pausing, breathing out and pausing. Full awareness is kept during the breathing process, even when there are outside noises—such as cars honking, dogs barking, trains passing, or people engaged in conversation. You will notice that, even while focusing on your breath, your thoughts might interrupt you, but your attention should quickly return to the breath.

Before beginning your meditation practice, it is important to sit still on a chair or cushion with your back straight. I like the metaphor one meditation teacher taught me of imagining your head being a helium balloon floating through the roof into the atmosphere. Then, as a grounding force, think of your spine sinking into the floor. This prepares you to anchor yourself in your meditation experience (for how to ground yourself, see step 2).

When I was recovering from breast cancer surgery, my meditation instructor taught me to imagine a ball of white light above my head permeating into the crown of my head and moving down through my body. The idea was to purify any negative energy or thoughts. I had to remind my body to relax. I dropped my shoulders, the part of my body where I hold a lot of my tension. Then, I focused on my breath and said, “Breathe in, breathe out.” I repeated this until I felt a deep sense of peace. Sometimes I even drifted off, but paying attention to the breath is important as a mindset.

For those who have struggled with addiction, mindfulness meditation is an important part of recovery. Noah Levine in his book, Dharma Punx, says that prayer and meditation became an integral part of his life and that it helped him find a sense of purpose in his life. “Being an addictive type, when I find something that makes me feel good I want to do it all the time, so I did, I turned my life toward recovery and spiritual practice.”

One way to achieve bliss through writing is before writing to engage in what Levine calls, “Appreciative Joy Meditation,” where after settling the body, you focus on breathing into the heart center. With each breath concentrate on appreciating all the joyfulness and happiness you’ve experienced in your life. This might be a good time to wear a slight smile on your face. Now offer some intentions to encourage your deep gratefulness.

The intentions you set can be ones you create for yourself or you may use the suggested ones provided by Levine, such as:

May I learn to appreciate the happiness and joy I experience.
May the joy I experience continue and grow.
May I be filled with gratitude.

Writing Prompt

After doing” Appreciative Joy Meditation,” consider writing a few pages on what you are thankful for, presently and in the past. What you are thankful for can pertain to certain individuals who have been in your life, belongings, experiences, feeling, and/or ways of being.

Hanh, a Buddhist Monk and also a mindfulness advocate, wisely says that the breath is the bridge connecting our life to consciousness. It also unites our bodies to our thoughts. When your mind becomes scattered, focus on your breath to get hold of your mind once again. In Hanh’s tradition, zazen, or seated meditation, is a part of everyday life. In Western living, meditating for fifteen or twenty minutes might be all that is needed to calm you, but of course you may do so for as long as you like.

I also like Bernie Siegel’s definition of meditation as a way to focus the mind into a state of relaxed awareness. Relaxation is the key here because, even though the mind tends to be less responsive to distraction during meditation, it can be more focused on certain images or feelings. These images are usually important to us, whether they are connected to healing or peace.

Writing Prompt

After your meditation, write in your journal about your experience. Did you notice any mood shifts or subjects that kept popping into your mind?

What thoughts kept interrupting your attention to your breathing? How did those interruptions make you feel?

Meditation and mindfulness go hand in hand and it’s good to practice both. Here’s a simple meditation exercise to practice at any time:

Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Sit as if you are a puppet and there is a string attached to the top of your head. Gently let your eyes close. Allow your body to become relaxed and quiet. Take a deep breath through your nose and let it out through your mouth. Repeat this a few times. Allow your mind to become peaceful and quiet. Let go of the emotional and mental chatter. Expand your awareness. Feel the silence within. Keep your eyes closed for about fifteen minutes; then pick up your pen to write about your experience.

About the Author: Diana Raab

Diana Raab, PhD, MFA, is an award-winner writer, speaker, and educator. She’s an advocate of writing for healing and facilitates workshops in writing for transformation and empowerment. She believes in the importance of writing to achieve wholeness and interconnectedness, which encourages the ability to unleash the true voice of your inner self.

Raab blogs for numerous blogs, including: Psychology Today, Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, Global Thrive, and PsychAlive. She lives in Southern California. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Instrumental: Cultivating Mindfulness (Part One) by Diana Raab

Mindfulness is an important practice for the creative individual, and mindfulness may be defined as being in the here and now. This practice is essential for the best writing, because it taps into the messages of your heart and soul. Being mindful entails awareness and interconnectedness between your inner and outer worlds. If we are more awake and alert, we can more easily receive the messages from within us and from the universe.

In her book, The True Secret of Writing, Natalie Goldberg (2013) reminds us of the importance of mindfulness as we move about our day, whether we are writing, doing errands, or engaging in interpersonal relationships. Some of the characteristics of mindfulness also include being nonjudgmental, being patient, being accepting, trusting, maintaining the beginner’s mind, and letting go.

When considering mindfulness practice or how to quiet your mind, try to sit for a minute and think about what calms you and contemplate how you can incorporate those things into your daily life. Even just a few minutes of walking meditation or mindful breathing can bring you into the present moment. In addition to incorporating mindfulness into your day, such as when standing in line at a store, it is good to practice it before sitting down to write.

My day always begins with a meditation, sometimes even before my coffee. Sometimes I do a shorter meditation later in the afternoon to give me a boost of energy.

Goldberg, in her Zen writing retreats reminds her students to anchor their mind to their breath by using paper and pen to write. This helps you stay in the moment, as does the mantra, “Sit. Walk. Write.”—which she calls the “true secret.”

Even though the mind is a wonderful thing, it can sometimes get in the way of creativity, mainly because the voices in our heads can get in the way of what our heart wants to say. In fact, sometimes the voice in our head turns to the dark part of ourselves. This voice can point to feelings of fear, guilt, anger, sadness, envy, and resentment, instead of a sense of lightness of being. It might seem like a nagging parent or spouse.

The ego has the ability to create false thoughts, which is the inner chatter we hear most often. In fact, it is the voice in our heads that we sometimes try to tell to “shut up.” Otherwise, we can become overwhelmed by these thoughts and lose touch with reality.

This is one reason why during meditation it is a good idea to let thoughts come and go, rather than becoming obsessed by them or focusing on any one in particular. If you focus too intensely on your thoughts, the chance is greater for you to lose touch with the here and now. On a trip to Maui for a writer’s retreat a few years back, I met with Ram Dass, who continues to relay his very important message of “be here now,” dating way back to the 1960s and 1970s.

Those who live in the present moment, often come across as being more grounded. As Ram Dass says, “When you meet a being who is centered you always know it. You always feel a kind of calm, emanation. It always touches you in that place where you feel calm,” he says. The more we bring our focus into the present moment, the more we experience the bliss and joy of that moment and what our true essence is.

I want to leave you with a couple of writing prompts to help you cultivate mindfulness for your creative life.

Writing Prompt

 Practice focusing on the here and now. Take a few slow, deep breaths and focus on your belly. What are you seeing, sensing, hearing, or intuiting at this moment? Ask inside your body what you are feeling. Do you feel discomfort anywhere? Does an image pop into your mind? This is body intelligence.

Writing Prompt

Describe the person your mind thinks you are. What do you look like? What do you believe? What is your connection with the universe or loved ones? Have someone else write about you. Is how they perceive you the same as how you perceive yourself ?

Check in tomorrow for Part Two, focusing on Mindful Meditation. There will be writing prompts for that, too!

About the Author: Diana Raab

Diana Raab, PhD, MFA, is an award-winner writer, speaker, and educator. She’s an advocate of writing for healing and facilitates workshops in writing for transformation and empowerment. She believes in the importance of writing to achieve wholeness and interconnectedness, which encourages the ability to unleash the true voice of your inner self.

Raab blogs for numerous blogs, including: Psychology Today, Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, Global Thrive, and PsychAlive. She lives in Southern California. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

How I Save My Own Life: The Healing Power of Words by Diana Raab

When I was ten years old, my mother gave me a journal to help me cope with my grandmother’s suicide. That seemingly benign gesture changed my life forever, and served as the groundwork for my life as a writer.

While I continued to journal over the years, I became much more regular after my breast cancer diagnosis in 2001. At the time, my husband, Simon, my three kids, and I were living in Orlando, Florida. My doctor suggested that I obtain a second opinion from a Los Angeles specialist in this type of breast cancer. Within a couple of weeks, my husband and I had boarded a plane to LA, and after enduring all the necessary tests, the doctor presented me with my options—either have radiation and chemotherapy, or undergo a mastectomy with reconstruction. After years as a practicing nurse, I knew that the best way to make a decision when given a choice by your physician was to ask what he’d suggest for his own wife. Because of how he answered, I opted for a mastectomy and reconstruction.

While in California, and a few days after my surgery, I sat in my hospital bed surrounded by orchids sent by loved ones from around the country. Tear-saturated tissues lay piled high on my bedside table, and the early-morning sun peeked through the large window in my room. The emotional pain of losing a breast had hit me hard. When my surgeon said he would soon remove the tight, corset-like bandage wrapped around my chest, I feared seeing what lay underneath—that is, what one of the breasts that had nursed my three now-teenage children would look like.

Just days after my surgery, my husband reached out across the sterile, white bed sheets to take my hand. Simon, an engineer and a “fixer,” had a difficult time watching me navigate the intense physical and emotional pain. He nestled up close to me and looked deep into my eyes, as he had years earlier on the day of my father’s passing.

“Right now,” he asked, “if you could do one thing that would make you happy, what would that be?”

Aside from transporting my children across the country to be with me, I confessed that I wanted to return to school for my master’s in writing. For years, this had been a dream of mine, and the recent surgery had forced me to confront my own mortality and my apparent race against time. I wanted to make this dream come true. “Well, then, we’ll make it happen,” Simon said.

It’s not that his offer healed the deep psychological wounds involved in having lost a breast, but the idea of returning to school gave me something to look forward to. After a fair amount of research, I applied to some out-of-state, low-residency programs. I was ecstatic to be accepted into Spalding University’s charter class, led by Sena Jeter Naslund. It was to commence on September 25, 2001, in Louisville, Kentucky, about a month after my surgery.

Ever since that day in my childhood when my mother had given me my first journal, I had always found solace in the written word. Journaling became a passion that I turned to during other turbulent times—whether my own adolescence, difficult pregnancies, or cancer. So, to meet the requirements of my graduate work, I decided to gather the journal entries, reflections, and poems I’d written about my breast cancer journey.

It took a full two years for me to compile all the information and journal entries into a book my mentor suggested I publish. The surprising part is that it took eight years for me to find the courage to actually write about my cancer journey.

I simply wasn’t sure whether its personal nature was something I wanted to share with the world. For me, revealing the intimate details of my story was akin to hanging my underwear on a clothesline outside my window. As someone who has always been a relatively private person, exposing myself seemed neither intuitive nor a good fit for my personality. In the end, though, after speaking with my mentor and some colleagues, we decided that the process would be cathartic and, most important, beneficial for others—particularly my two daughters, who would one day have to face the torment of possibly being affected by cancer.

In 2010, my second memoir, Healing With Words: A Cancer Survivor’s Story was published. It was a huge accomplishment for me and I was happy to be able to share my journey to inspire others to also write their story. The book is a narrative of my experience woven with my raw emotions. It also includes my journal entries, writing prompts, and poetry I wrote during my journey.

Here’s a sample:

To My Daughters

You were the first I thought of
when diagnosed with what
strikes one in eight women.

It was too soon to leave you,
but I thought it a good sign
that none of us were born

under its pestilent zodiac.
I stared at the stars and wished
upon each one that you’d never

wake up as I did this morning
to one real breast and one fake one;
but that the memories you carry

will be only sweet ones, and then
I remembered you had your early traumas
of being born too soon, and losing

a beloved grandpa too young. I have
this urge to show you the scars
on the same breasts you both cuddled

as babies, but then I wonder why
you’d want to see my imperfections
and perhaps your destiny. I cave in

and show you anyway, hoping you learn
to eat well and visit your doctors, but then
I wonder if it really matters, as I remember

what your grandpa Umpie used to say,
“When your time’s up, it’s up.”
May he always watch over you.

I’m so glad my husband inspired (and encouraged) me to get my master’s in writing. Since then, I’ve published two more books, Lust: Poetry and Writing for Bliss: Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life which is a culmination of my life as a writer. It was inspired by my doctorate research on writing for healing and transformation. I tell others to follow their bliss because that’s what life is all about.

About the Author: Diana Raab

Diana Raab, PhD, MFA, is an award-winner writer, speaker, and educator. She’s an advocate of writing for healing and facilitates workshops in writing for transformation and empowerment. She believes in the importance of writing to achieve wholeness and interconnectedness, which encourages the ability to unleash the true voice of your inner self.

Raab blogs for numerous blogs, including: Psychology Today, Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, Global Thrive, and PsychAlive. She lives in Southern California. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

A Portrait of a Writer’s Studio by Diana Raab

Empty coffee-imbued mugs,
remnants of tea leaves
in blue Chinese tea pots,

a dimly lit purple lamp,
stacks of crinkled purple file folders
busting with shreds of wisdom,

dusty antique typewriters interspersed
with writing manuals and memoirs
once alphabetical, photos of my loved ones,

both here and gone, faded artistry of daughters
now on their own, a reading chair
beside a purple orchid crowded by

a crooked pile of books laden with stickers
on their best pages, purple pens
and yellow highlighters

clinging as bookmarks, pads of notes,
boxes of dated journals,
tins of obsolete manuscripts

flipped open for ideas,
scented creativity candles,
a sunburst mirror with an image

the computer’s back screen
paned doors facing the outside
water fountain shared with hummingbirds

and rabbits nibbling at fallen rose petals.
An Oriental end table harbors
a pen collection beside a floor heater

to dry the tears which pour from me
as my gel pen negotiates its flow.

About the Author: Diana Raab

Diana Raab, PhD, is an award-winning author, poet, blogger and speaker and author of eight books. She speaks on writing for healing and transformation. Her book, Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life, is due out in September 2017 by Loving Healing Press and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon. More at