Be grateful for your crazy, active mind.

collie

This morning, as soon as I woke up, my mind started up. It went something like this:  

…It's raining! Oh, the peonies will be droopy today.
…but the garden does need the water.
…when I was in Indiana, the birds woke us up before dawn.
…ugh, the bathroom really needs to be cleaned.
…I want to talk to Catherine today.

(Note: this is a truncated list. These five thoughts came in an instant, and each new thought replaced the last seamlessly in a chain, with no noticeable pause.)

It was my first morning back in Toronto after a week visiting family in Indiana, and my mind was all fired up. I hadn't made time for writing practice during my visit – not even 10 minutes a day. My mind had become noisy with thoughts.

My mind is like a border collie.

When I don't give it work to do, it can become really annoying and neurotic. It gets into trouble.

But when I put it out in a field with some sheep (read: get a notebook and write in it), all of those active, festering, non-stop, sometimes anxious thoughts can become something else: Scenes!

Not that I'm going to write about cleaning my bathroom or waking up to birds at 5am or calling Cath to say hi or returning my library book (although all of those things would make fine character development).

But it works for me to use that active, neurotic thought energy to write.

Writing calms and focuses my border collie mind.

It's so much better to think, "Oh, good, my mind is so active, I can use this for my writing," than "Oh god, my mind is so active, it's driving me insane." Right?

Be nice to yourself when you catch yourself in thought-chain fever. Remind yourself that all your mind is doing is telling stories and making up pictures. Lots of stories, lots of pictures. And you're a writer, so you can use that power for good.

When you have an active mind, zero in on the pictures and stories instead of feeling harrassed by the noise.

In action, that looks something like this:

…It's raining! Oh, the peonies will be droopy today.
(mind picture: heavy, soggy flower heads dipping down towards the grass)

…but the garden does need the water.
(mind picture: all the potted plants on the patio getting nice and drenched, grass perking up, fresh feeling in the air)

…when I was in Indiana, the birds woke us up before dawn.
(mind picture: the big oak tree in my aunt Madalyn's backyard, and the sound of chirping robins in the dark)

…ugh, the bathroom really needs to be cleaned.
(mind picture: yellow rubber gloves, jar of borax with lemon and spearmint essential oils, dull film over the faucet wiped away by a microfibre cloth)

…I want to talk to Catherine today.
(mind picture: the sound of Cath's voice, her laughter, the last four digits of her phone number, her striped leggings)

Here's how to do it:

  1. First, notice that you're thinking. This might take some practice. Your chain thoughts can feel so natural, you might not notice them as thoughts, and you might actually start believing their stories. Meditation can help you sit still and watch your mind. Check out this app if you've never meditated before.

  2. Get to your writing desk. You won't feel like doing this, because your mind is pacing in its cage like a cooped-up border collie. Sitting still and not "doing" anything will feel like a waste of your time. Know that it isn't, despite what your mind is telling you. Use all of your willpower and get to your desk anyway.

  3. Before you start writing any scenes, take a moment to be present. Here are 3 things to try:         
    • Focus on something physical that's in front of you: study the edge of a piece of wood in the floor, or see what the tip of your pen actually looks like. Write down a few words to describe the thing-ness of the thing.
    • Close your eyes and listen. Write down every single sound you hear.
    • Write a list of words that start with the letter "P".

  4. Once your mind has stilled, you will find that you feel more in control. Your perspective has shifted. It's like you can now say to your mind, "Hey – I'm the one who's thinking, here!" Notice that you feel different.

  5. Now is the time to direct the energy of your thinking into your story. Start with a scene – something you're already working on, or something new. Allow your mind to picture something (not worry about something). And by "picture" I mean let your mind experience something that is attached to one of the five senses. Now, write it.

Your mind wants to work.

Your active thoughts are so good!

Be thankful for your border collie mind, and give it regular working spurts so it can herd the sheep and feel satisfied, not neurotic.

xo,

Sarah” width=

In the Spotlight: Susan Braley
Dispatch from Portland, Oregon.

21 comments

Thanks for the tips. Can use them in writing stories in my blog.
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Sarah, Excellent! Thank you for organizing your doggie thoughts into a post full of wisdom that I can't wait to put into practice. Yes, oh yes, I am so well acquainted with this... my left brain is forever trying to take over the world. I love your encouragement to be gentle on ourselves. I so agree. I used to get so upset that my monkey was always spinning donuts in my head, but now I decided that i love him and we are friends. I am excited that even better, I can call him my writing partner!! :D I am gonna keep sayin' it: I AM LOVING STORY IS A STATE OF MIND!!! I am gonna keep thankin' you: THANK YOU!! I love your style and your sweet, gentle spirit. xoKathy
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Thanks for your words of wisdom! I've been stressed these days and my mind has been on a continuous loop so that I have been feeling like a Border Collie with OCD. I will try to see my notebook as a big doggie treat laced with valium...
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Stacy Gardner

those are awesome thoughts, Sarah, for the often over-thinker, especially love the meditation link! your advice is always so practical, wise. thanks!
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David Anderson

Great advice, Sarah! Meditation does definitely help with "monkey mind", and I like the idea of focusing in on the pictures arising from the incessant thoughts rather than getting agitated with the thoughts themselves. (Though it's always a challenge...)
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Paige Baldwin

The metaphor of the mind as a border collie is so appropriate, and so useful. The mind just wants to help! It's in its nature to look for things to do, to get to work. Quietening it and applying it to something practical is the best way to get the most out of it (not to mention tire it out!). Thanks for this, Sarah.
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Thank you for sharing your tips with us. I think it is really good advice. I know mornings like you described them. When chains of thoughts will block my mind again, I will try to turn my thoughts into stories or secnes.
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Your email was a perfect writing prompt this morning. Thank you. I live on the Oregon coast and the weather feels like a cool fall morning, perfect for writing… And the feelings of the morning air as my creative juices begin to flow nudged my writing self to get to it! What a wake-up call. Thank you with blessings.
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Sarah Selecky

Yeah, Kathy, he's your writing partner! That's a fantastic way to put it! (And I'm so thrilled, by the way, that you're being sparked and fed by Story Is a State of Mind.) xo Sarah
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Sarah Selecky

Good luck Kristine. That continuous loop can be painful, I know. Small focused steps, and practice, will help. xo S
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Sarah Selecky

Thanks Stacy! :)
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Sarah Selecky

Yeah, David - it's like mental weight-lifting or something. It's challenging. I have to admit that it's also better for me when I get enough sleep and go easy on the coffee, too. :)
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Sarah Selecky

You're welcome! And thank you for your kind thoughts. Yes to tiring the border collie out! The good kind of tired.
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Sarah Selecky

Linda, I was just visiting the Oregon coast yesterday! Impossibly gorgeous. Thank you for your comment. :)
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Sarah Selecky

Thanks Steffi! Good luck + best wishes. xo S
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Sarah, thank you for your thoughtful post on meditation and being. Opening the mind and releasing clutter can help with focus and the generation of ideas. I feel blessed to live on one hundred acres in Bruce County, ON. At this time of year many outside chores beckon for my attention. It is tempting to permit those chores to become mundane and overwhelming. Take weeding the garden. Weeds respond in the same manner to favourable growing conditions as perennial flowers or vegetables. They leap from the soil. Many wrap around the roots of the other plants, thereby making it virtually impossible to budge them. Some send a tap line into the dirt twice the length of the plant. I could moan about them and often catch myself doing just that. Yesterday, a few hours after reading your post, I found myself in the tomato patch. Chickweed, a pretty yet persistent weed, was essentially choking out the tomatoes. That part of the garden is delightful to work in as it is composed of sandy loam. I took advantage of a few minutes to tug a few weeds. On the right was Maggie, a lab we rescued last autumn. I stood, stretched and, stood some more, garden grit embedded in my nail beds. I noticed the sweet voice of a rose-breasted grosbeak. I felt proud of my birding abilities as I often confuse the sound of a grosbeak with that of the American robin. A trickle of sweat rolled down my spine. I became aware I hadn't had a sip of water in hours. There wasn't a wisp of wind yet the smell of freshly cut hay made its way to my nose. My back remained limber and I felt generally well despite an arthritic stiffness in my left hand. Maggie contorted her body into various yoga positions such as a prone eagle and corpse. Weeding evolved into an opportunity to be present. In the evening, I had an urge to tweak a couple of story book manuscripts I'd been ignoring. Thank you for reminding me how I could return to creativity in such a fluid and non-threatening manner.
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Kristin Offiler

Such a smart post, Sarah! My thoughts feed into my anxiety (or cause it... one or the other!) so I've really been thinking a lot lately about trying out meditation to slow my brain down. Plus, I feel like there's a lot of resistance that comes along with frantic thoughts, too, and that's never good. It's like, you have an active, perhaps chaotic mind, and you resist those active, chaotic thoughts because they feel "bad" when really there's a better way to channel them -- your way! Brilliant. Going to check out that app for sure!
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Sarah Selecky

Cindy - this is beautiful. Thank you. xo S
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Sarah Selecky

Hi Kristin! Ugh, I know: it's never really easy to channel anxiety. The nature of anxiety makes it difficult to do anything, especially when you're aware of it and want to resist it, as you describe. Let me know what happens, and if the app is helpful. xo S
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I love this idea! It immediately kicked me into my visuals, which is how I typically write. ;~) Thank you! Hugs of Blessings!
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Ephraim Mallery

My favorite line: "And you're a writer, so you can use that power for good." Made me laugh out loud.
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