In this second episode (season two) of The Mindful Writer, author Gabriel Constans, tells me how being mindful and finding balance in life has enabled him to achieve his life purpose.
Before I introduce you to Gabriel, let me update you on my writing journey.
I have just returned from a writing retreat with a wonderful group of writer friends. We have been meeting as a group for nine years. Everyone in our group of nine has developed as a writer and each of us taken very different journeys. One of our group became a best-selling Times author which made us all proud.
We celebrate each other’s success whether it is finding the emotional courage to continue writing despite feelings of self-doubt, publishing a debut, or having a short story published in a magazine. I would not have survived this writing journey without the support of my writing group. It is perhaps the best advice I can give any writer – find a group of writer friends. We have critiqued one another’s work over the years learning from the critique process as well as the personal feedback. We beta read each other’s work, talk through writing problems, and are loyal cheerleaders. When one of us succeeds we all do as we are invested in one another’s journey and share the excitement.
When I celebrate the launch of my 3rd novel The Forever Cruise on the 1st December, I know that my writer friends will be there cheering me on. I honestly could not have written this book without Ellie Holmes urging me not to ditch the idea because it was too difficult and then inspiring me to create a fantastic plot, and Janet, Catherine, Peter, Ellie, and Anita, beta-reading because they helped to make the book shine.
The group was formed when one of the group moved in to the area, leaving behind another writer’s group. This founder member put out a request on a local Facebook group and an advert in the independent bookstore. The rest is history. My point is, you can make it happen. If there is not an existing writers’ group in your area start one. It could be the best thing that you do to improve as a writer and to enjoy the writing journey.
Now, let me introduce this week’s guest.
In this episode Gabriel explains how writers can:
Find balance in life
Achieve writing goals with a calm and quiet mind
Fulfil their potential and purpose
You can spend more time with Gabriel by visiting his websites.
Videos & Film: http://www.gogabriel.com/videos.html
You can listen to the podcast here: Episode two (season 2) How to achieve your potential as a writer the mindful way, with author Dr Gabriel Constans
Or read the transcript below:
Deborah: Dr. Gabriel Constans has an impressive CV both as both as an author and a caregiver. His catalogue of fiction, nonfiction and short stories is too long to list here, but I will provide a link to Gabriel’s books in the show notes. Gabriel has served the community over the past few decades as a grief counsellor, a social worker, a massage therapist, a certified thought field therapist, a mental health consultant working with teams and ex-convicts on substance misuse, and as an advisor for the street children of Rwanda project. He has a doctorate in death education, a master’s in pastoral counselling, and a Bachelor of Science in Human Relations and organisational behaviour.
Wow, your achievements are breath-taking. What has driven you on this journey, Gabriel? And what have you learned along the way? I should say welcome and hello, first of all, before I throw the question at you.
Gabriel: Oh, welcome, and it’s a pleasure to be with you. And thank you for that question. I think in some ways, it’s interesting what started me on this journey was a couple things when I used to work – as far as caregiving, I worked as a nursing assistant on the cancer unit at the local hospital.
I saw a person in pastoral care, and how she interacted with people, and supported. And I decided, that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up.
So, I went back to school, and got all the degrees I needed to do it. And that’s why I about three years later, no, four or five years later, started working in pastoral care at the hospital. Before that I had already been involved with hospice for a long time. So that way, I was able to combine really a lot of what I did as a volunteer, with my work and vocation.
Deborah: Can I just ask you something there. First of all, how old were you when you saw that person working in pastoral care? And the other thing really is, do you think sometimes when we see something or hear something, it triggers something – a sense of purpose? I wonder if you could explore that with me.
Gabriel: Yes. I already had felt a sense of purpose. For other things I was involved with, such as hospice and in counselling and that I had been doing since I was about 16 in different formats. But this was the first time I saw that, and thought,
‘Oh, I can do this and have enough money to live on. And do something that is also perhaps the most helpful for other people at the same time. So, it gave me a purpose as far as my job, vocation.
The purpose as far as being with other people, and helping other people came before that. But this – when I saw Rosemary Helmer, who was the person who was in pastoral care at that time, that’s what inspired me to see it was possible to do both at the same time. I think I was about 20. See, we had one son, one daughter, one son we hadn’t adopted anybody yet. I was around 25. So, that’s what happened.
Deborah: So, where did you go from there in your life? You’ve had such an interesting life. Can you tell us a few of the milestones?
Gabriel: Well, I started actually, around that same time. I started writing again, a lot more. I hadn’t written since I did an alternative newspaper in high school years before and I started writing fiction again. That was a big turning point for me because I started realising two things, one that I enjoyed it, and that I have a lot to learn to make it better. And part of that started, in some ways, like you, when you were making up stories to a younger brother, and then to your daughter. When the children were little, I would make up stories and start just creating them as well as reading comic books but and then I realised there were stories that I wanted to start telling talking about. And I think it wasn’t. So, I started doing fiction and then after a while, I started doing a lot more nonfiction, doing profiles of people that I thought were inspiring. Getting things accepted in different newspapers, journals, and magazines in the US and around the world. Then, after some time, I started going back to writing more fiction. As the kids got older, the fiction changed.
Deborah: I was reading about one of your novels, the Buddhist’s Wife, and I wondered, do you have Buddhist beliefs yourself?
Gabriel: I do, although I don’t per se state that I’m Buddhist, because in many ways, it’s – for some people, it’s become a religion. But in other ways,
it’s essentially practising being mindful and compassionate to people, and to yourself, and finding out what works and what doesn’t.
So, there’s no – in its pure essence in Zen and Buddhism, there is no hierarchy. There is no church, or group. There are just people that are seeking what is true – what they discover what is true, in order to connect with other people.
So, I started going to a Zen monastery when I was 16. It was the only thing in the area where I grew up – a small town and a lumber mill in Northern California, that I really connected with. And it was about an hour away. So that was my first introduction to it. And actually, the first time I got married, that’s where we got married at the Zen Buddhist monastery. So, in some ways, I guess I have been a Buddhist – in quotes since then.
Deborah: How have your spiritual beliefs influenced your daily life and your life as a writer? Either / or?
Gabriel: I think primarily spiritual beliefs because through the years I went through different phases of girlfriend, a Jewish girlfriend who wanted to be Catholic, so I became Catholic. And we worked with Mother Teresa co-workers. And then at another time, I went to Quaker meetings for a long time.
I think primarily,
it’s influenced me by realising there’s something beyond myself. And that we all have a similar connection of being human.
I think those are the two primary ways it’s influenced me. I found that through different practices, by paying more attention to myself, I was able to let go of myself more. And so, in that way it has helped me to be more present and helpful with other people, as well, the more that I practice in my own life. So, in that way, spirituality, which can mean a lot of things I know to a lot of people. That’s what it means to me. A way to get out of myself and connect with others.
Deborah: It sounds simple, but it’s incredibly profound. And it’s a work in progress. I should think, for everybody.
Gabriel: Absolutely. It’s ongoing.
It’s like I’ve been meditating for over 50 years, and I feel as though I have just started.
Deborah: Really. I’m new to it then because I’ve been meditating every day for four years and it seems I’m very much on the nursery slopes compared to 50 years.
Gabriel: You have all the time to serve. The time is irrelevant in a way. Just now is now. So yes, I think the thing that meditation – actually with a lot of spiritual practices, that probably is the most difficult for me which is one reason that I learned over the years and wrote the book, A Brave Year (52 Weeks Being Mindful) to make it easier for people to do.
The thing that I forget the most is to just remember to be present, and to pay attention to what I’m thinking, feeling, and sensing with my senses.
Because it’s so easy to get caught up in what our mind is telling us. All the things we’re doing, or all the things we think we need to do, or what comes next, or what already happened. And that’s what our mind is, that’s for.
Deborah: It’s part of being human, isn’t it? Very hard. It leads me to talk more about the writers’ journey and the process for writers, because I know lots of writers and other creatives listening will really be wrestling with the wanting to control and the difficulty in letting go when they’re thinking about their work, and getting it published – getting their voice heard, getting it out there. So, what advice or help might you pass on to other creatives?
Gabriel: Probably what I learned and keep remembering is –
really be clear why it is that you are writing? What is your intention for writing?
No matter what it is, you’re writing – nonfiction, fiction, fantasy, regardless of the genre, what is your intention? Why do you want to write? Or why are you writing? I think that’s probably the most important place to start. And also come back to asking yourself that question. Because if it’s to have other people reaffirm you or to become well known, or to make money, or just to be creative – to create different worlds that take you outside of yourself. Or whether it’s journaling and writing something just about your own life and your experience as a way to take it out of your life and look at it and also to externalise it and let it be cathartic. All of those reasons are okay. Any reason as to why you are writing is okay. But if you’re doing it for some of those intentions, such as wanting to make money or being well known, or want lots of people to read what you write, or have people tell you positive things, ‘Oh, you’re such a good writer,’ or to reaffirm who you are, or to give meaning in your life, for those reasons, it can be very lonely and a long, long time. So, that’s why it’s important to look at why you’re doing it, and then doing it because you enjoy writing. And to continue doing that, regardless of the outcomes can be really life-saving as far as your energy, and your grief, and disappointment, and dealing with rejection.
Because the more secure you feel in yourself, the more okay you are with who you are and how things are in the moment. Then you don’t get as attached to the outcomes.
I still do sometimes. But it comes and goes more quickly. And it’s not so overwhelming.
I still get excited about screenplays accepted or, you know, after years of trying to get something produced. I get all excited and, you know, dance around and etcetera but the other times when three producers don’t want to look at it. One or two finally look at it and then months later say they aren’t interested – the feelings that that brings up, I’ll acknowledge them as well. Usually, sadness and disappointment. But it doesn’t last as long and doesn’t prevent me as much as it used to in the past from continuing to keep writing and keep doing it.
Deborah: I agree with you entirely. Really helpful. And hearing you say it in such a thoughtful way is really helpful. I think it’s something that people will listen to and find really calming on this journey, which can be very rough, and tumultuous? How do you self-care? Because you will have times, as we all do, when, as you say, when you have had a setback or disappointment, or just life gets in the way and it’s a bit overwhelming. How do you self-care apart from the meditation? Do you have other things that you do to keep your equilibrium?
Gabriel: Yes. I balance out the day quite a bit. And it’s easier since I work at home now with pretty much everything. It is more difficult when you’re out at a job, or working, or doing other things or with raising children. I remember those times. Even though I’m still like raising children as adults sometimes. So, it’s much more difficult but having a balance helped the most when I had a really packed day. All those things are pretty much the same things I do now. Just not as much as I do now. And what those things were, and are: doing yoga in the morning. Meditating every morning. Doing tai chi. I love being outside, and we have a small garden – I never used to be into gardening at all. And then all of a sudden one day it just became my thing. I don’t know why. So, being outside if possible.
Nature is something bigger than yourself, other kinds of living creatures being around.
You can do it in the city too, if you live in a city, if you live in London or a big city, and it’s pretty much all concrete. There are still little places you can go. You can find little parks. Just going for a walk, being out in the air and paying attention to yourself and not necessarily all of the people and things around you. I love watching movies and reading books which are all things that take me outside of myself – my own cares and worries and stress.
Deborah: Sounds like you have a similar sort of life to me. I wake up I do my yoga. I have a lovely walk by the sea. I do my meditation, and I write, and I spend time with my lovely husband. So, yes, is it’s a good life.
Gabriel: Yes, wonderful. That sounds really wonderful.
Deborah: Like you I did work hard before I retired. So, life brings different things in different seasons.
Gabriel: Yes. What was the work that you did? It was in health care, wasn’t it?
Deborah: Varied. I started off by training and then working as an occupational therapist. And then, my husband gave up work when daughter was born. She’s now 32. And he didn’t go back to work. So, I’ve been the main wage earner, which was great, because that propelled me to fulfil my potential, I guess. And I’ve always loved what I do.
So, I went into managing health services, and then into regulation. And in the latter years – the last 15 to 20 years, I lose count, I’ve had a management consultancy for health and social care. And I’ve been writing safeguarding adult reviews, independent inquiries, you know, domestic homicide reviews and chairing boards for safeguarding adults. So, I’ve been doing that in the latter years, but most of my career was working with older people. So, I did lots to do lots of work, both as a clinician and in informing government policy through national reports and things. So, my work also was very much writing before I was writing fiction, I was writing national reports, I was writing my safeguarding adult reviews. So, it was always writing, it’s just changed to writing fiction now. And I always say that now I write happy endings for people because they were never happy safeguarding reviews.
Gabriel: Yes, so many things are beyond your control. How wonderful. Thank you for the support and what you’ve done for so many people for so long to help them in different circumstances,
Deborah: And likewise, to you. I don’t know about you but I feel that it’s been a privilege and a pleasure, being able to work with people in health and social care. And I don’t know about you – you must tell me. But I feel that for so long, I’ve been listening to people who have experienced adversity, and have had to cope with incredible challenges in their lives. Perhaps feeling on the outskirts of society, and unheard. I’ve listened to them. And my paid job was making sure those voices were heard, and fighting for them, really. So now that I write fiction, those voices still kind of play out in my head. These characters come into my books, which are almost like the ghosts of the voices from my health and social care career. I don’t know whether you find that you carry a lot of that with you still in your work?
Gabriel: I do and actually especially with hospice because I went into homes and people’s families, as a social worker and bereavement counsellor for many years, and in all kinds of situations. A lot of those stories, and people have been reflected, not the same names, I changed the situations and stuff. But they had a big impact on me, and influenced how I write characters, as far as fiction. And then of course, with a lot of nonfiction I wrote. A lot of that is about death and dying, and trauma, and resilience, and how to live your life without – so obviously, those are drawn a lot from those experiences as well. But it has come out in fiction as well, in different ways. I think I learned a lot about, about people. And the variety of ways, the endless variety of ways, of how we comprehend and how we act. And what happens in our lives, and the beauty of how different people are. And yet also how similar in some ways so that we can all relate to a character. Even if it’s a fantasy that takes place somewhere zillion times in the future. I try to write fantasy. There are still certain characteristics about it that we can identify with.
Deborah: So why do you write? You were saying we should consider our purpose for writing? What is it that makes you feel you need to write?
Gabriel: For nonfiction, when I started writing a lot of nonfiction articles and books, there was very little about death and dying available to people. And it was still – it still is, but even more so – something people didn’t talk about or deal with grief and loss. It was the same with birth and midwives having it back in the home (home births). You’ve had it in the home a lot longer in UK, but up until the 70s it was still illegal in the US because the medical community pretty much hijacked it and said it was a whole technical thing that had to be done in hospitals. So, with hospice, and with people dying, it was very similar having it be in the home, as opposed to in the hospital. So, when I first started writing, I wanted to make it more available to people, what a natural thing grief and loss is. And reaction, and the differences between just grief and normal reaction to loss and complicated grief and how to get support.
So, I think for a lot of nonfiction when I first started writing, it was to help support people, and inform people, help them make a difference. And with fiction, I always came up with a story, with ideas for things. And stories that I hadn’t seen somebody else do exactly the same way. Even though all fictional stories are the same, in many respects. Just those little things and different combinations of stories or characters, I just felt compelled to write about. Actually, the first fiction book – this may sound weird, being a male,
I wanted to empower women’s voices in characters of women who have never been talked about – hardly ever in fiction, let alone nonfiction, for their experience to be available to people, or what I imagined their experience might have been.
So those are some of the primary reasons I think that I still write fiction.
Deborah: I’m sure that your stories are helping people in the same way as your work and caregiving did.
Gabriel: I don’t know if it is or not. It’s something that I love doing.
If it makes people laugh, or something touches them and gives them a break from other things going on, or something that was a bad they identify with. That’s wonderful.
Deborah: It’s a great thing as a writer, when you get feedback from readers that you’ve touched a chord and something’s meant something to them. I think that gives writers great joy, doesn’t it?
Gabriel: For sure.
Deborah: Well, you’ve shared many words of wisdom with us, is there a parting message you’d like to share?
Gabriel: A message I think that is probably the most vital is:
If you are clear why you write and continue doing that, then be consistent about it.
People with a lot of things, especially with writing, try it for a month or two and if they don’t have what they determine success, or people don’t say it’s ‘Oh, it’s wonderful’, then they stop. I think one reason that I’ve been able to have so many things published and produced etc. was not because I’m a fantastic writer. But because I’ve been consistent and kept getting better, as the years went along. In the first years, I thought, ‘Oh, this is the best thing I’ve ever written’. Now, oh my gosh, I look back and think oh, this is horrible, how could I have thought that.
So, being open to constructive criticism, getting somebody who’s willing to be really honest with what you write, I think makes a huge difference.
And then being open to changing things completely from how you thought they might go. And keep working on things.
Deborah: Have you taken any of your early works down of have you left them out there?
Gabriel: I haven’t taken any of them down but I think some of them aren’t available anymore, because magazines don’t exist. Some of the publishers of the players I first wrote, I think they don’t exist anymore.
Deborah: Thank you very much Gabriel. I really enjoyed meeting and talking to you. I wish you continued success.
Gabriel: Thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time and having this conversation. I hope it is as enjoyable to you as it has been to me.
Great words of wisdom from Gabriel. Why do you write? I write because it brings me joy. Of course, I love getting feedback from a reader that they have enjoyed a story. Entertaining a person, triggering emotions, or memories is a wonderful accomplishment. Connecting with readers through the written word is why I write.
It has taken a couple of years and a lot of hard work finding my readers but now, with my third book about to be published, I am reaping the rewards. I have found my readership and I write with them in mind. It may only be a few hundred people today but I value each one of them and I know that my tribe of readers will continue to grow. Be patient and consistent writer friends. And above all find joy in writing.
So until next time. Look after your beautiful self and trust the journey.
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