How Mindfulness Infuses Creative Process

Emerging Form talks with poet, editor and mindfulness teacher James Crews

I bet we say it almost every episode—going to play outside is one of the best ways we know to feed the muse—and it’s even better when you do it with a creative partner! This weekend we had a chance to play in Christie’s backyard, Grand Mesa, CO—it was pure joy. Just what the stressed muse wants.

Preview: Episode 34 on Mindfulness & Creative Process with James Crews

Though it seems a paradox, one of the best ways to fuel your creative practice is to do, well, nothing. At least for a while. To be receptive, to be curious, and not try, not do, not write, not dance, not play. Guiding us through this fabulous realm of attentiveness on this week’s episode is James Crews, a poet, editor, and writing coach who uses mindfulness in his own creative practice and teaches mindfulness and writing classes. We discuss how mindfulness encourages divergent thinking, how it helps curb self-judgement, how by helping us engage more deeply with the body we can let our senses inform our creative practice. And of course, Crews offers how-to tips on how to practice mindfulness in a way that might benefit your creativity.

James Crews is the author of four collections of poetry, The Book of What Stays, Telling My Father, Bluebird, and Every Waking Moment. He is also the editor of two anthologies: Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness and Connection and How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope. His poems have appeared in Ploughshares, The Sun, The New Republic, The New York Times Magazine, and have been reprinted in Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry and featured on Tracy K. Smith’s podcast, The Slowdown. Crews teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Eastern Oregon University and lives with his husband on an organic farm in Vermont.

Things We’re Reading:


  • Perhaps apropos of this episode on mindfulness, I have been reading Sustaining Spirit: Self-Care for Social Justice. This thoughtful, insightful, provocative book by Naomi Ortiz arrived in the mail the other day and I thought, Yeah. That’s an essential book! I especially love the way that Ortiz offers reflection questions at the end of each brief section. It’s deeply grounded in ritual, nature, community and the self.

  • Also on topic with mindfulness—I was gifted a beautiful book, The Stillness of Winter: Sacred Blessings of the Season, and it is indeed a book that celebrates stillness, paying attention and showing up. By Barbara Mahany, it is a book of observations, invitations, recipes and faith. It’s written specifically for December, January and February—so you might want to buy it now and then have it ready on the shelf as a companion for next winter.


  • A friend gave me a rare English translation of In Praise of Shadows by novelist Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, an extended essay on Japanese aesthetics. Reading the book felt a little like meditating — calming, mind-expanding and serene.

  • I absolutely loved Lily King’s novel Writers & Lovers. The story is about a young woman pursuing a creative life while many of her peers go on to corporate jobs and other lives. The descriptions of the creative life are so true to life, and how could I not love a story that brings together two of my favorite things—writing and spatchcocking?

Entering a Moment

—James Crews

To embrace a moment fully,
surrender your thoughts to the grass
between your toes, let droplets
of dew kiss your bare feet
with innocence, like children.
Walk the path to the apple tree
planted a hundred years ago,
now supporting the shoots of a few
leafed-out branches that hold 
the sunshine like a basket.
Hold sorrow too, let it rise in you
like yeasty sourdough left alone
in a warm place on the table,
and relish this necessary grief,
the bread of which also feeds you.
But once you're finished feeling it,
be done. Find some other wondrous
thing to give your whole self to—
blue twine woven in a warbler's nest,
the seedheads of rye grass waving
in wind, the blades suddenly parting
like the sea for you to enter.

Two Questions:

(share your answers with us here on Substack or in our FB group)

  1. How have you noticed that a mindfulness practice (or even a practice in pausing) helps your muse?

  2. How do you practice mindfulness?