Meditation and its benefits for visual storytellers

13 July 2018

I recently passed my 1,440th minute of meditation since I downloaded the Headspace app at the end of last year.

That’s a solid 24-hours spent sitting in silence trying to focus on my breath, putting my mind in a state of rest.

My biggest revelation has been discovering how beneficial a practice it is for those of us telling visual stories.

Here’s why…

Focus

Meditation asks you to focus on something - often the rise and fall of your breath - to access a different part of your mind.

At first I found focus by verbalising what I was doing: literally saying to myself (silently) “I am breathing in; I am breathing out…”

Only after several months of this did it occur to me to try focusing on the sensation of the breath…sort of just ‘experiencing’ the sensation, ‘feeling’ it happen, I guess.

Now, you’ll notice how difficult that last sentence was to put into words (the guy doing the Headspace meditations struggles to explain it also) - and that’s the key.

Pre-verbal thinking

The simple sensation of breathing is what you might call pre-verbal.

It lives inside a part of your brain where words do not exist; it is something that cannot easily be described.

And so putting your focus here forces your brain out of its chatty verbal place and into a place for which there are no words.

It feels like opening a door to a secret room - a big room! - in my brain I have never been inside before.

Pre-verbal cinema

The director Alexander MacKendrick said that to verbalise a thought was to rationalise it, and that film’s essential strength lay in the fact it could communicate ideas that could not be easily rationalised.

And that’s what great films, graphic novels, images and comics do at their best isn’t it: communicating, as MacKendrick says “at a level far more immediate and primitive than the spoken word.”

Despite the proliferation of television, smartphone cameras and online video, we still live in a word-centred world.

Reading and writing are taught in schools long after drawing and visual thinking has been sidelined as a hobby.

For me, in my practice as a visual storyteller, one of the biggest obstacles to overcome in any project is escaping my word-centred mindset.

Spending just a few minutes each day trying to access this pre-verbal part of your mind won’t bear any immediate fruit but, over time will, I think, help you to communicate in images more strongly.

Not to mention the other lovely benefits of a daily meditation practice of course!