By Martha Swiss
Many of us in GWA wear multiple hats—we may teach, design gardens, take pictures, host radio and tv shows, blog, and write articles and books. Some have “day jobs” in addition to communicating about gardens and horticulture.
I left corporate life in 2014 after a 30-year career in publishing to follow my passions of designing gardens, as well as teaching and writing about gardens—avocations I had been pursuing in my spare time for over a decade.
GWA and those I met through the organization provided support and inspiration as I made that transition. Today, GWA remains a key resource in my new career. I enjoy attending regional meetings and the annual conference, where I’ve met so many wonderful people with similar interests. Touring gardens during these events provides a gold mine of material to write about. And I love it when I have something to share that helps other GWA members—such as the wonderful resource I am going to tell you about here.
Like me, you may struggle to find time to write. My design work almost completely eclipsed the time I had available to write this year. I love designing gardens, but I also feel a need to write, so I am on a quest to bring more balance to my life. Winter, with fewer design clients, will help, but come spring I will again face the struggle to find my yin and yang. Thankfully, I have a powerful tool that is helping me focus on my path as a writer: a local group of kindred souls called Mindful Writers.
Mindful Writers was started in Pittsburgh by Dr. Madhu Bazaz Wangu in 2010. She based the group’s practice on her own decades of mindfulness meditation to inspire, remove blocks, improve focus, and increase the creative flow. She started with a small group of writers who met weekly to meditate and write together. Today there are four groups that meet in various locations around Pittsburgh, plus there are writers in other cities and states who follow the practice of mindful writing. These writers come from all walks of life and represent a wide array of genres—romance, children and young adult, science fiction, horror, fantasy, poetry, memoir, how-to, and inspiration. Some are very successful published writers. I am the only garden writer, yet I feel a deep connection with my writing friends.
You see, writing is the thread that binds us, no matter the genre. The Pittsburgh groups meet weekly to write. Each session begins with a 20- to 30-minute recorded meditation by Madhu. These meditations serve to clear the mind and connect us with our inner selves. After the meditation, we write for 3-4 hours. The time just flies, and there is a palpable energy in the room as we all write. Many of us have a hard time finding time to write, yet we know this writing sanctuary is available each week at Mindful Writers (if we can make it there).
What’s even better are the spring and fall writing retreats lasting 4-5 days in the Laurel Mountains of Pennsylvania. The days begin early, with stretching, followed by an hour of walking meditation. We have breakfast then write for four hours. After a lunch, we meditate then write until dinnertime. Most write for a few more hours after dinner, then we hang out and talk around the fire until exhaustion sets in. It’s a completely immersive writing experience away from the distractions of daily life. Like the weekly meetings, there is a real vibe in the room during the retreat with everyone working away. The added bonus is the beautiful surroundings where we can walk in the forests and meadows to find peace and inspiration. We have all experienced tremendous productivity at the retreat, as well as insight and even epiphanies. People have started and finished writing books during this time, overcome blocks, and tried new genres. I started writing haiku at my first retreat, something I had never written before and still enjoy.
If you’d like to give mindful writing a try—and I recommend it highly—Madhu’s meditation recordings (and books) are available at http://www.madhubazazwangu.com/publications1/. These meditations are beneficial to new and experienced writers alike. Who knows, you might just be pleasantly surprised with the turns your writing life takes, too.
Meet the Author
Martha Swiss is a regular contributor to Pennsylvania Gardener Magazine and her articles have appeared in The American Gardener, Fine Gardening, Grow (the magazine of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society), the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and publications of the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden. She is a garden designer, teacher, and master gardener, and her one-acre garden near Pittsburgh has been photographed for Organic Gardening, The Cottage Journal, Hobby Farms Magazine, and Pennsylvania Gardener Magazine. She blogs at plantsomejoy.com.