Susan Piver on her upcoming writers’ retreat in New York

Shambhala Sun Foundation friend and contributor Susan Piver will be leading a retreat at the Shambhala Meditation Center of New York from December 7 to 9, entitled “Authentic Inspiration: A Weekend Retreat for Writers.” Open to writers of fiction and nonfiction, published and unpublished, the retreat offers “plenty of personal writing time, quiet, and the supportive (but non-intrusive!) presence of other writers” while showing how “meditation can help synchronize mind and body in a way that truly supports the creative process.”

Buddhadharma caught up with Susan for a couple of questions about writing and meditation. Click through to read the interview.

The advertisement for the retreat says, “meditation can help synchronize mind and body in a way that truly supports the creative process.” Would you say more about that? What’s different for a writer with a meditation practice?

The long answer: One of the most interesting things about writing is how hard it is, how much focus it requires. You can only write one word at a time and no matter quickly you do so, each one is chosen. But focus is only one half of the equation. The other half is knowing what to say. This “what to say” comes from a very mysterious place. “What to say” cuts through your mind chatter. In order to find it, we have to let go of our concepts and simply see what arises. And what arises next. And next. The “what to say” arises from space and means letting go into something unformed in order to create something formed. This, I believe, is why every single person on earth (no, I don’t think that’s exaggerating) fears writing.

I’ve heard that when asked what our biggest fear was, Chögyam Trungpa said, “space.” I can see that.

So to write, we need one-pointedness. We need a panoramic view. We need to cultivate cutting-through. We need to feel comfortable with not-knowing. We need to make a fearless relationship with space. Our mind and body need to be in the same place. To me, this is an exact description of meditation practice.

The short answer: Both writing and meditation are simultaneously one-pointed and panoramic.

How has your practice served you specifically as a writer?

I think the above says it. Practice has helped me to be less fearful and also to hang in there when the whole thing just seems like shit. Or hogwash, if you prefer.

The late composer Peter Lieberson said in a talk I attended that the most important moment in the creative process is the one before you begin. This has proven to be a major contemplation for me. Opening, allowing, softening happen in the moment before you start. When you open, you can make art. When you don’t, not so much.