In this ninth episode, season two, of The Mindful Writer, I chat with wellness author Nita Sweeney, about movement, meditation, and creativity.
First, a quick update from me. I’m looking forward to going away for four weeks cruising the Caribbean, then a transatlantic crossing and Europe. It’s only a couple of weeks away, and so I’m trying to achieve my writing goals before setting sail. One of these was completing the first draft of my sunken village novel and I’m pleased to say I’ve sent a complete manuscript to my editor to review whilst I’m away. On my return, I will be doing final edits on another novel, The Last Act, before it. Goes to publication on 1st August. So, I am in that delightful stage of a pause between activity – a time for replenishment and renewal. Opening up space for new ideas, projects and inspiration to find me. I am always very much on the move, but sometimes it is just as important to be still.
Movement and meditation is the theme of our chat this week, so let me introduce you to my guest.
Nita Sweeney is an award-winning wellness author, meditation leader, mental health advocate, ultra-marathoner, and writer coach – so, an excellent guest for this podcast. I was interested in exploring the inspiration and learning from three of Nita’s books.
- Depression hates a moving target: How running with my dog brought me back from the brink (anxiety and depression)
- Make Every Move a Meditation: Mindful Movement for Mental Health, Well-Being, and Insight.
- You Should Be Writing: A journal of inspiration and instruction to keep your pen moving.
In this episode, Nita explains:
- How running saved her life
- How to appease your inner critic
- And why you don’t have to sit still to meditate
You can listen to the podcast here: How to Soothe and Silence your Inner Critic with wellness author Nita Sweeney.
Or read a summary below:
I asked Nita about her book. Running with your dog? This was your first book, but it took some time for you to find a home for it. Can you tell us about this book’s journey – how it came to be written, and then published?
Nita explained how she had written several works and tried to get published for many years without success. When her twenty-four-year-old niece died of cancer, followed by the loss of seven loved ones and a cat over an 11-month period, Nita expressed deep depression.
A friend posted on social media, ‘Call me crazy, but this running is getting to be fun.’ That message inspired Nita to try running. At first, just 60 seconds at a time. As she got into running, Nita found her mental health improve to the extent that she could stop taking some of her medications.
It occurred to her that there was a story in her experience. At first, she thought it was: Depressed, middle-aged woman starts running and eventually runs a marathon. But then she realised the story was: Middle-aged woman runs to save her life.
A friend who was also a writer and an editor, encouraged her to submit this story for publication. After previous disappointments pitching her memoir, Nita was reluctant. This friend said, ‘If you just wanted a book with your name on it, then you could have self-published by now. Be honest with yourself. If you want to be traditionally published, then that’s what you have to go after.’ Nita wanted what she called a gold star. For Nita, a publishing contract was an affirmation that her book was worthy. So, she set out with a plan to find an agent and if unsuccessful, find a publisher. Her last resort would have been to
self-publish. Not because she considered it inferior, it just wasn’t the publishing experience that she wanted for herself.
Nita pitched to 108 agents, 133 publishers who did not require agents, and entered 30 competitions. Her book was a finalist in the Falkner award and it was nominated for another award. These awards persuaded a publisher that it was worthy.
I remarked on Nita’s incredible tenacity.
We talked about the emotional impact of losing a parent. Until you have lost a parent, I don’t think you understand the depth of pain experienced.
‘It’s like a club you don’t want to be in,’ Nita said. Especially a 2nd parent. You become an orphan and despite being an adult you feel adrift – unanchored.
We agreed it doesn’t matter what age you are, when your mum dies, you feel like a little kid.
‘It was as if I knew there was a cliff over there, but it was hidden by a veil. When Mum died, it was as though someone had ripped away that veil.’
Back to running, Nita explained that the friend who inspired her to run was the same age and build as her at that time.
‘Looking back, that (social media) post saved my life. You never know who is watching. Who you will inspire, or whose life you will change.’
I observed that Nita would have inspired many readers through her books.
‘I can’t think of the person reading my books when I write. I have a coaster: Dance like no-one can see you. I need one that says: Write like no-one is reading. When I edit, I think about the reader but not when I’m writing.’
I commented on that inner critic who sits on our shoulder when we write. We have to learn how to silence them so the writing can flow.
Nita worked as an assistant to best-selling author of Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg, for many years and took several of her classes. The writing practice Natalie teaches is to set a timer and just write.
Natalie Goldberg talks about the Guardians at the Gate. She visited a Zen monastery in Japan. Huge, grotesque statues stood at the gates. Natalie says, Your inner critic is like the guardians. They roar, ‘How much do you want this? What are you prepared to risk?’
Our inner critic is trying to protect us. Nita says that she has a guardian on one shoulder and a little cheer-leader with pom-poms on the other, chanting, ‘You can do this Nita!’ The guardian is louder with its roar but they both want the best for her.
I asked how she makes her peace between those two voices.
‘I often think the guardian/inner critic is trying to keep me safe. So, I just think: I know you are trying to protect me, but it’s okay I have a plan. Let’s just see where it goes. You just have to keep moving. It’s like writing. The inner critic is yammering away at you, but you just have to keep your hand moving along the page. So long as you are writing, the inner critic won’t catch you.’
This is why Natalie Goldman uses periods of time for writing. You keep your hand writing, no matter what. That’s the key. If you don’t acknowledge the inner critic, it starts screaming. So, it’s important to acknowledge it calmly.
We discussed Nita’s other two books, both about movement. Make every movement a Meditation and You Should be Writing, which is about keeping your pen moving. There’s a theme here!
‘Let’s talk briefly about You Should be Writing’, Nita says. ‘I co-wrote this book with my publisher. We took author quotes and wrote about them. It’s to inspire creativity and can be used as writing prompts or a writing journal.’
We then discussed Every Move is a Meditation.
Nita explained you can meditate in any position, including whilst moving. You pick a time period or a distance/ activity and an object of meditation: thoughts or body sensation. Then, start moving and when your mind wanders from your object of meditation, take your mind back or choose another. You do this with the goal of being equanimous – trying to have a bit less preference about pleasant or unpleasant sensations. That’s the practice described in her book. Often the meditative state happens naturally when we are absorbed in an activity, for example, running or writing. The activity has a natural calming effect on the body. It’s about present moment awareness – where you become absorbed in the activity.
Nita had the idea for a book on daily mindful meditations but Mango wasn’t ready for this book from her as she had an audience of readers who were interested in running to manage anxiety and depression. So, Making Every Movement a Meditation was intended for that audience.
I enjoyed talking to Nita and, as always, the time passed far too quickly.
You can find out more about Nita and her books by visiting her website:
I had hoped to prepare one more podcast before going away, but realised that was a bit over-ambitious. I will be back with another episode of the Mindful Writer in June with guest Gail Aldwin.
I will be thinking of you whilst on my cruise, jotting down ideas and inspiration to share with you on my return. So, while I am away, take care of your beautiful self and trust the journey.
You can find all episodes of The Mindful Writer podcast here: https://themindfulwriter.buzzsprout.com
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2 thoughts on “How to Soothe and Silence your Inner Critic with wellness author Nita Sweeney.”
Thank you, Deborah! I find moving meditation much easier as I can’t sit still for too long! This is a really helpful insight into movement and meditation and the value of keeping the flow of ideas and inspiration.
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I find walking and running a great way to still my mind. You have the perfect setting where you live for mindful walks.
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