Meditation practices can help writers capture a sense of place. This is the fourth article in a five-part series of articles about creating a sense of place in travel literature.
The various schools of meditation have enjoyed a surge in popularity of late. Terms like mindfulness, Vipassana, Transcendentalism, and metta meditation have come into common usage in our everyday lives.
While mindfulness, Buddhism, and meditation aren’t designed to be practical or to help someone become more productive, they can help us better experience the world.
I don’t pretend to be an expert in contemplative traditions. But I do know that one method of meditation involves focusing on sensations—the breath, for example—as a way to settle the mind.
Tricycle says that Vipassana meditation is “an ancient and codified system of training your mind, a set of exercises dedicated to becoming more and more aware of your own life experience. It is attentive listening, mindful seeing and careful testing. We learn to smell acutely, to touch fully, and to really pay attention to the changes taking place in all these experiences. We learn to listen to our own thoughts without being caught up in them.”
Some use meditation as a practice to control the wandering, chattering nature of the mind and to focus on the present moment or on consciousness itself.
How meditation can help travel writers capture a sense of place?
I lead study abroad programs and I often see my 18 and 19-year-old students in a new place distracted. But they’re not “distracted” by the new environment. Rather, they distracted by things unrelated to it altogether.
For example, I’ve overheard students visiting the Vatican for the very first time having conversations about so-and-so liking their Instagram photos and an American music video.
I often think about how meditating, focusing on the present, and being able to identify when the mind wanders and gets distracted would help them stay grounded in and focused on the experience at hand.
If meditation can help travelers focus on the experience of being in a new place—if it can help an individual focus on the moment and dispel the wayward chatter of the mind—, then it can help travel writers be more present and aware. It can help writers notice the details and nuances of place, which can appear in their writing.
Listening meditation, experiencing place
When I take work breaks, I often go for walks and pay attention to the layers of sounds around me.
I focus on what’s close: I can hear the sound of my breath in my body if the walk is strenuous, I can hear the sounds of my clothes rubbing against itself. I can hear my foot striking the ground, the crunch of gravel underfoot. I can hear a click in my knee as I walk up a step. I then listen to sounds that are a bit farther off: the squeak of the squirrel in the tree, the sibilant sound of wind in the trees, a distant laugh, the rattle of an air-conditing unit. Next, I listen to what’s far: the nearby highway and the low rumble of traffic, a plane roaring somewhere overhead, a car klaxon, the hydraulic hiss of a bus.
If an errant thought—about work, the past, the future, anything that isn’t the present moment of sounds—enters my mind, I cast it aside and refocus on the layers of sound wherever I walk to next.
It goes without saying that the exercise not just helps with focus and suppressing the overwhelming chatter of the mind, but this particular exercise helps with observation. It can help you focus on the unique characteristics of a place.
Techniques similar to listening meditations can help you pay attention to, focus on, and capture the spirit of a place. And what is travel writing that doesn’t convey a sense of place?
This is the fourth article in a five-part series of articles about creating a sense of place in travel literature. In part five of this five-part series, I share some book recommendations on cultivating and creating a sense of place in your writing.
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Last Updated on 1 January 2021 by Travel Writing World