Use Zen to Fight Writer’s Block

All writer’s know the dread of staring at a blank page. The ticking of the clock and nothing gets written. Time is slipping away and we are producing nothing. It all seems like a waste. While we can’t always get the words to flow when we want them, we can flip our attitude and use Zen to fight writer’s block.

Yūgen is Unrealized Potential

According to philosopher and writer, Alan Watts, there are three key moods in Japanese Zen: Wabi-Sabi, Mono No Aware and Yūgen. The final is the most mysterious mood, literally meaning “dark” or “obscure”.

Yūgen encompasses the idea of nothingness. Everything is either evolving from this nothingness or dissolving into it. Yet this nothingness is not pure emptiness, but a potential energy.

Consider the sea of ideas a writer has swirling around in their brain. Yūgen describes the crests and waves of these ideas as they manifest in the world. Yet none of these are permanent. Each idea (just like each wave) must return to the sea. Also, there are no perfect ideas — waves simply form and exist on the ocean. 

At what point is a wave complete? Even when it peaks, it is slowly decaying and reforming with the brackish water that gave it birth. So too, our ideas are never complete or fully formed. They ebb and flow — a dynamic that we can appreciate rather than fight. 

We can’t stop time, but we can tune into its rhythm. 

The Transience of Mono No Aware

Aware in Japanese is a feeling of wonderment and Mono describes things. Put together, Mono No Aware describes the feeling of wonderment over the fact that nothing will last forever — the bittersweet melancholy as the passing of a moment of time. 

Instead of focusing on the fleeting nature of time, we should appreciate the beauty of the moment. 

As a writer, nothing is sweeter than being in the flow of a good writing session — where the words gush from your brain and onto the page. Yet this moment will not last forever. It quickly sinks into the past and is gone. Time marches on, leaving a feeling of emptiness for its loss. 

As a writer we need to appreciate the moments when writing captures our hearts. But also, those moments when it doesn’t. Writer’s block is also a moment in time that will not last forever. We don’t have to be happy with it, but it does contain beauty in its stillness. 

Buddhism promises that we can end our suffering if we only accept that life is fleeting. It is better to travel well than to arrive. 

As much as we hate the stale moments brought on by the blank page, it too will pass. The important thing is to journey well.

Tim Kane

Monthly Mental Kitchen

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