Novelist Dani Shapiro Speaks Meditation and Writing

Photo by Jenna Bengvenga

The Krame Center for Contemplative Studies and Mindful Living at Ramapo invited Dani Shapiro, an acclaimed literary novelist, to speak on Wednesday. Her discussion was called “Meditation and Writing: The Stories We Carry” and was held in the Trustees Pavilion. The audience was made up of primarily self-identified writers, as well as faculty and students.  

Shapiro led an interactive workshop about the benefits of meditation for the writing process, as well as in everyday life. She also led the audience through a couple of useful meditation and writing exercises.

Shapiro opened her talk by asking, “Who is a writer?” and “Who writes?” According to Shapiro, based on her book tours, not many people permit themselves to be called writers. Therefore, a larger number of people in the room raised their hands to the second question, compared to the first question.

Shapiro went on to express her need and love for writing. She explained that when she is between books and is not writing, she is not well.

“Writing is how I come to know what is going on in my own mind,” she said.

Shapiro continued, talking about how she feels when she writes, and how she hoped to write a novel, but ended up writing a spiritual memoir, which was “very torturous” for her. Shapiro shared more stories, including how she came to enjoy yoga and meditation. Shapiro shared how she at first was uncomfortable with prayer during meditation and yoga, because she grew up as an observant Jew. She came to understand that you don’t have to be metaphysical about it.

“I’ve never been to a mindfulness event before, so it opened this avenue of thought. I was able to take away some valuable meditation techniques,” said senior Yancarlo Rivera.

Shapiro introduced two writing exercises to the crowd. For the first exercise, the audience was instructed to divide their pieces of paper into four quadrants. The quadrants were labeled “did,” “saw,” “heard” and “doodle.” Participants were to list seven things that they did that day, seven things that they saw that day, one thing that they heard that day, and finally, were told to just doodle in the last quadrant. Shapiro recommended that this exercise be done every day, as it is like a tuning device for oneself and is very low-threshold.

The second writing exercise was to simply make a list, writing sentences beginning with “I remember…” Shapiro likes this exercise because she finds it fascinating to see how much people can remember.

Students who at first did not expect to enjoy the event found it surprisingly interesting and helpful.  

“I thought that it was good, especially because I thought I would hate it because I really dislike meditation,” said student Jennifer Howard. “I just usually think that meditation doesn’t work for me. I can usually not focus enough. It was interesting. I liked the ‘I remember.’ I think it will be good for practicing on my own if I ever have time.”

When asked what her biggest advice for college students is, Shapiro recommended students make use of the Mindfulness Center that is on campus.