Another ‘River’ post by Kaspalita, with more advice from Ted Hughes. The river of stones is our mindful writing challenge. Properly notice one thing each day, and write it down. Click here to find out more.
Kaspa writes: Last week I wrote about how Ted Hughes compared writing poems to catching animals, and how when you put your attention on what you are writing about (instead of on the form of the poem) the right words will appear.
I found that advice in his book Poetry in the Making, which I’m still reading. I’ve just finished the chapter Learning to Think, and was struck by how close his advice there was to instructions in single pointed meditation.
Hughes writes about learning this kind of attention whilst fishing. He would just watch the float, and keep bringing his mind back to the float… and with this an awareness of how the fish were moving (or not) just beneath the surface of the water.
Alongside this kind of attention on the object, Hughes describes ‘awareness of thought’ as another useful skill. One is able to fish into one’s mind and make conscious whatever has been moving about there.
Bringing these two kinds of thinking together is immensely valuable for a writer. Often when we put our attention on one thing we have an association with something else, and something else, and something else… and end up with a thought so far away from the original object of attention that we have forgotten where we started.
Hughes, with admitted exaggeration, suggests it should be possible to think about one’s uncle for weeks on end, continually collecting all ones thoughts/feelings/experiences about that uncle. You can try that out, if you like…
Or try it out with your small stone practice. Give yourself five minutes and just focus on one thing. If/when your mind starts to wonder bring it back to that one thing. You can either write during this time, or do your timed concentration first, and then write afterwards.
For poems and prose, you can start to cast your net wider, and allow in more and more associations. Both skills are important for good writing; being able to fix on one thing, and being able to move creatively between things… Tell me about the oak tree… tell me about the lovers who meet underneath its branches… and so on.
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.
image: Ted Huges by Reginald Gray, public domain.