Mindfulness writing exercises are great for the brain, offer copious health benefits, and help people connect with their inner lives.
It’s a way to get your creative linguistic juices flowing while marrying the conscious and subconscious.
The provenance of mindfulness writing is impressive, with ancient Roman academics, like Marcus Aurelius and 17th-century French Philosopher René Descartes finding the practice therapeutic.
So how’s it done?
Why is it beneficial?
We’ve got all the answers below, in addition to nine mindfulness writing exercises.
- What Is Mindful Writing?
- Why Writing in Longhand is More Meditative Than Typing
- 9 Ways to Use Writing as Meditation
- 1. Write a Letter to Your Past Self
- 2. Write a Letter to Your Future Self
- 3. Turn Your Life Into a Fairytale
- 4. Dream in Words
- 5. Write a Play About Your Life
- 6. Write a Letter to an Ancestor
- 7. Write a Letter to Your Higher Self
- 8. Pen an Apology to Someone You’ve Wronged
- 9. Create Your Own Meditation
- Final Thought
What Is Mindful Writing?
Is journaling considered meditation?
Everyday journaling may not qualify, but mindful writing is a meditative practice that improves concentration. Though it looks a bit different than traditional meditation — wherein practitioners sit in contemplation — conscious writing can trigger similar benefits.
The practice involves spelunking around the brain’s nooks and crevices. Behavioral patterns, limiting blind spots, hidden goals, and dormant passions are crystalized when we allow ourselves to explode onto the page.
The key to mindful writing is forgetting about…well…the writing.
It sounds contradictory, but it’s the crux of the experience. Instead of focusing on the mechanics of crafting sentences and paragraphs, try to let your flow state grab the wheel — or in this case, the pen.
Don’t think; record whatever pops into your head relating to the topic on tap.
Beyond that, what are some suggested parameters for writing meditation sessions?
- Time It: When you’re ready to write, set a timer. If you’re new to the practice, set it for 10 minutes. If you’re an old pro, go for however long your schedule allows. Anything more than two hours, though, is probably overkill.
- Write Poorly: Give yourself permission to write terribly. Ignore grammar, spelling, style, and penmanship concerns. Meditative writing is not about the technicalities of the craft.
- Write Openly: Don’t get bogged down with “right and wrong” or “good and bad.” The goal is to be as authentic and open as possible. You’re the only person who will read what you write, so don’t give yourself boundaries (outside of staying on topic).
- Go For Volume: Strive to keep the pen moving. If you feel the words aren’t flowing, power through and write nonsense until you get back on track.
Why Writing in Longhand is More Meditative Than Typing
When writing as a meditative exercise, is it better to type or use pen and paper?
The choice is always yours, but studies prove that writing longhand has benefits over typing, including boosts in intelligence and creativity.
According to a study published in Frontiers of Psychology, students who took longhand notes retained more and performed better than those that typed theirs.
Additional research shows that manual handwriting:
- Increases neural activity
- Keeps gray matter sharp and young
- Helps maintain and retain fine motor skills
- Activates regions of the brain responsible for memory, thinking, language, and healing
On a practical level, handwriting forces us to slow down and be more deliberate, which relaxes and resets the brain.
When typing, we remain tethered to the digital road, leaving less room for creativity and off-roading contemplation.
9 Ways to Use Writing as Meditation
What does writing as meditation look like? How’s it done? Is there a right or wrong way?
Like most mindfulness activities, reflective writing isn’t set in stone. There are as many ways to do it as there are practitioners.
But to get you started, we’ve created nine exercises to try on for size. As always, feel free to refine our outlines to fit your needs. However, make sure you stick to the spirit of each activity.
Also, remember that the point of mindful writing is keeping your head in the game. When you notice your thoughts wandering off, gingerly herd them back to the…pen.
1. Write a Letter to Your Past Self
Penning a letter to your past self is a great way to make peace with what’s come before. Plus, it’s an excellent way to explore your life so far.
Questions to consider include:
- Who were the biggest influences in your life? Did they have any issues? Did those issues affect you?
- What memorable moments do you cherish from that time?
- What big lessons do you remember learning? Why were they impactful?
- What did you love about yourself as a young child?
If, in your past, you did something you feel bad about or behaved in a way you now realize was wrong, forgiving your past self can be cathartic.
Pat them on the back for being the type of person that allowed you to learn and grow.
If you were traumatized or treated terribly as a child, write a letter praising young you for having the strength, courage, and determination to survive.
Tell them they did the absolute best they could with the situation handed to them and that you couldn’t be prouder.
2. Write a Letter to Your Future Self
Penning a letter to your future self is a way to clarify goals and work on self-acceptance. The aim is to detach from your motivating consciousness and write from a more objective vantage point.
Explain to your future self why you made some decisions. Ask them questions about what they’re doing and how they’re feeling.
If you need to apologize to your future self, do so. Or maybe it’s more appropriate to thank them. Whichever the case, self-reflection is the goal.
Thinking about yourself as two separate entities, isolated by time, can be a powerful experience that helps put things into better perspective.
3. Turn Your Life Into a Fairytale
Are you a sucker for fairytales? Then why not turn your life story into one?
The fairytale exercise is a way to zshuh up your story with magical forces in faraway lands. People can become fairies, monsters, and saviors — just make sure to cast yourself in the starring role.
This mindfulness writing exercise requires a lot of creativity. But don’t fret if, at first, your tale comes out like a rehash of a popular children’s fable. Writing on-the-spot fiction isn’t easy.
However, it forces you to operate outside of your mental comfort zone, which is the best way to work your brain and make it better.
4. Dream in Words
Dreaming in words is a wonderful meditative writing exercise for people who love to play with words.
Instead of writing linearly, pen prose in the scattered cadence of a dream. Write down whatever pops into your head, even if it’s the same word over and over again.
Try to pay attention to the picture or verbal instructions in your head. Note colors, shapes, and feelings that arise. Use outrageous words you normally wouldn’t break out in everyday conversation. Stretch yourself linguistically.
Add another layer by making your dream prose about your dream life.
5. Write a Play About Your Life
This is the most advanced exercise on the list. After all, screenwriting takes a lot more planning than free-form writing.
For this exercise, you must know a little about plotting a play. We suggest using the three-act model:
- Act one is the setup
- Act two is the action and confrontation
- Act three is the resolution
Concerning focus, you have options. Do an overview of your life or choose a small event that allows you to explore big decisions, relationship dynamics, or an overarching concept, like compassion or fear.
Throw yourself further into the role of screenwriter by adding fade cues and stage directions. And don’t be afraid to include fictional and composite elements. It’s your play — take it where your heart and spirit want it to go.
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6. Write a Letter to an Ancestor
Are you interested in your family’s past — your roots? Then penning a letter to an ancestor may be an exploratory, creative writing exercise for your meditation.
First, a little prep work is required: researching your family tree. With what ancestor do you want to connect with or contemplate? If you have the time, do a little digging to discover who they were and what motivated them.
Address the letter to the person you pick. From there, you can go in several directions.
- Write About You: Let them know all about you.
- Ask Questions: What questions would you ask an ancestor from 20, 80, or 200 years ago?
- Provide a History: Fill your relative in on what’s been happening with the family since their departure. Do you think they would be pleased?
- Explore Similar Attributes and Challenges: When researching, did you encounter any notable similarities or differences between you and them? Discuss those.
7. Write a Letter to Your Higher Self
This meditative writing exercise is for people who believe in the concept of a higher self — a cosmic version of ourselves that embodies our best selves in relation to the greater whole.
Talking to your higher self through the written word can be an illuminating experience. It helps us evaluate ourselves in the role of student.
Things you may want to discuss with your cosmic representative include:
- The journey and direction of your life thus far
- Ways to feel and express more gratitude for your journey
- Ideas for clearing unhelpful energy from your aura
- Goals and growth areas
8. Pen an Apology to Someone You’ve Wronged
A lot of self-help and -development advice is focused on patting ourselves on the back. And while that’s exceptionally important, it’s equally vital to do shadow work, stare down our faults, and apologize when appropriate.
But it’s not easy work. Acknowledging past mistakes and problematic belief systems can be downright painful because we’re taught to be ashamed of our blunders, errors, and lapses in judgment.
Due to our tendency to avoid self-retribution, penning an apology letter can be challenging. But it can be a cathartic, mindful exercise for those with the emotional courage to get through it.
And remember: You don’t need to send it, so don’t worry about saying the wrong thing.
9. Create Your Own Meditation
Follow in the footsteps of history’s great thinkers and write your own meditation on life.
An intensely philosophical undertaking, developing a comprehensive worldview requires serious reflection, curiosity, and experience.
As a mindfulness writing exercise, use each session to hyperfocus on a minuscule idea, like:
- The nature, connotations, and abstract definitions of a single word, like truth, faith, or harm
- Answers to philosophical questions, including the essence of existence
- The proper way to spend the first five minutes of every day
- One’s relationship to flora and fauna around them
The structure of the discourse is your choice. Like Socrates, you can use a question-and-answer format or do a direct dissertation.
Meditative writing has many benefits and is an effective tool for getting to know yourself better.
Moreover, it’s an excellent way to dissect and solidify your values and goals. Don’t be afraid to let loose; permit your imagination to fly.