9 Months To Birth Your Play

9 Months To Birth Your Play is a new series designed for artists to explore well-being-centred approaches to their practice whilst gaining a more rigorous understanding of the psychology of drama. 8 Well-being Workshops by neuro-psychodynamic coaching psychologist Anna Webster run alongside Writing Workshops from 9 exemplary artists working in the wonderful world of new writing today.

The next workshop to be published will be Getting Started & Asking Questions by Nicola McCartney on Friday 17th May.

Well-being Workshop 1: Mindfulness

Welcome to Workshop 1, on Mindfulness. I’m Anna and I’ll be leading these 8 workshops to support you in your wellbeing and your playwrighting process.  

So why mindfulness for playwrights? Playwrighting involves a lot of internal activity. You are working with your brain and mind, emotions, thoughts, and fantasies, both conscious and subconscious. You are using these internal states and processes to imagine and create characters, stories and worlds which will be transformed into behaviour and action in the external world. You are also affecting the internal worlds of audiences. 

Something that enables this playwrighting process is to increase your self-awareness. More understanding and noticing of your internal world could make a big difference to your process as a playwright. It could mean that you have more awareness of your needs, sensations, feelings, thoughts, fantasies, and behaviour. This increased awareness could help you to understand and meet your needs and improve your wellbeing. It could also mean that you develop more understanding of other’s internal processes that can be applied to character and story development and audience engagement.  

Now I’d like to invite you to pause to practice one minute of mindfulness, led by Tara Brach:

1 Minute Pause for Presence – Tara Brach (youtube.com)

I hope you feel a bit more present and relaxed now. Mindfulness has become a bit of a cliché. It’s been marketized and monetised. But the history of mindfulness has its roots in ancient Buddhist philosophy, dating back thousands of years. Mindfulness is also a major feature of Indian religious and philosophical traditions.  

You may already practice mindfulness or have perceptions of it. Take a minute to think about what your perceptions and experiences are of mindfulness. Jot down any words that come to mind when you think of it. 

Why Mindfulness?

Now let’s look at some general goals of mindfulness practice:

  1. Firstly, mindfulness can reduce suffering and increase wellbeing. It can reduce pain, tension, discomfort and stress. And it can increase appreciation, satisfaction, compassion for yourself and others and awareness. 
  2. Mindfulness can enable more choice and the ability to decide how you respond rather than living on auto pilot and being reactive. 
  3. Mindfulness can enable you to experience reality more than living in virtual reality. Thoughts are just thoughts. They’re not ‘you’ or ‘reality’. 

Now let’s look specifically at how mindfulness can be helpful for playwrights:

  • Mindfulness increases awareness of the self and others. It builds the capacity for interiorization and atunement to needs, sensations, feelings, thoughts and behaviours of the self, of characters and of the audience. 
  • Mindfulness can give you greater awareness of subconscious feelings, thoughts and experiences. It can increase your ability to bring these more consciously into your writing and be aware of how both you and your character’s behaviour can be the acting out of subconscious needs, feelings, thoughts and fantasies. 
  • Mindfulness can give you the powerful ability to pause and get some distance and perspective on your writing. It can enable the ability to be less judgemental and attached or rejecting of your work. 
  • Mindfulness can enable anxiety and stress management. 
  • Mindfulness can increase compassion for yourself and others, including your characters and audiences. 
  • And finally, mindfulness can improve your attention, focus, and flow. The flow state can be oppositional to mindfulness, but flow can also be boosted by mindfulness and the two states can be mutually beneficial. We will explore ways in which mindfulness relates to flow later in the programme. 


So, what actually is mindfulness? Let’s consider 3 definitions from leaders in the field: 

“Mindfulness is the intentional process of paying attention without judgement to the unfolding of moment by moment experience” Tara Brach – Buddhist Psychologist 

“Mindfulness is the act of consciously focusing the mind in the present moment without judgement and without attachment to the moment. When mindful, we are aware in and of the present moment.” Marsha Linehan – Professor and developer of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. 

“Mindfulness is paying attention in highly specified ways to the entire landscape, inner and outer, of one’s experiences, including intense emotions. This includes intentionally suspending the impulse to characterise, evaluate and judge what one is experiencing.” – Kabat Zinn 

Mindfulness is not: 

  • Automatic, habitual or rote behaviour 
  • Rigidly clinging to the here and now as if we could keep the present moment from changing if we grasp and cling hard enough.  
  • Trying to escape from the here and now by rejecting, suppressing, blocking or avoiding or trying to change the self and experiences with thoughts, fantasies, behaviours etc.  
  • Tunnel vision, narrow focus, automatic pilot, judgement. 

We’re now going to watch a short animation about what defines mindfulness:

Why Mindfulness Is a Superpower: An Animation (youtube.com)

Did you notice the character in the animation talks about the buffer between the stimulus and reaction? This is important. Mindfulness enables the power of the pause. It allows you to stop and pause and have more choice over how you respond to thoughts, emotions, and behaviours, both your own and those of others. It enables you to respond more effectively, skilfully, and consciously and less impulsively, automatically, and unskilfully. 

Did you also notice the character talk about responding wisely? 

Your mind has three states. The reasonable mind, the emotional mind and the wise mind. Everyone possesses each of these three states, but most people gravitate towards a specific one most of the time. Take a minute now to look at the three definitions at the bottom of the slide. 

It is also important to be aware that you or the characters you create have different areas of the awareness of our internal senses and feelings which is something we will explore more in our next session.

Now read through the questions on states of mind in relation to your writing, have a think, and take 5 minutes to write down your ideas. 

Now take some time to read this poem:

Enough by David Whyte

Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
until now.
Until now.


One of the most well known ways of practicing mindfulness is through meditation.  

Mindfulness starts with noticing. Noticing is the beginning. Through meditation we can direct our attention to noticing a sensory anchor. One that is there all the time is the breath. Other sensory anchors could be scanning through our body and noticing the feelings or attending to sounds, sights or sensations, internally and externally.  

The aim is not to get rid of thoughts and feelings or judge ourselves harshly for getting lost and caught up in them. Through meditation, we can notice that we have drifted and got lost in thought about whether our friend hates us or distracted by an itchy leg.  

The going and coming back from mindfulness and bringing ourselves back to begin again with attention to the sensory anchor is the practice. And if we judge ourselves for being rubbish at meditation and getting distracted, we can notice that too! The noticing, observing and coming back to begin again in the here and now is mindfulness itself. 

One analogy for noticing our thoughts rather than getting too lost in them is like watching leaves floating down a river. We watch them float by rather than jumping onto a leaf and riding it down the river. 

Meditation can feel like yet another thing to try and fit into our lives. Not everyone will be suited to meditation but it is useful to have some experience of it so you can see if it might be helpful for you and even 5 minutes can make a difference. So let’s try that now. 

Guided Meditation [5 Min]: Arriving in Mindful Presence – Tara Brach – YouTube

How did you find that? Did you find yourself getting distracted and lost in thought a lot? And maybe getting annoyed at yourself for that? 

One of the reasons it can be difficult to be mindful is that it is a survival drive to control our experiences in all kinds of sometimes subtle and subconscious ways. This can include being in ‘doing’ mode.  

The following story illustrates how much more effective it can be to cling less to control. Take a few minutes to read it:

In the 1950s a few highly trained pilots in the U.S. Air Force were set a life-or-death task – to fly at altitudes higher than ever before attempted. Going beyond the earth’s denser atmosphere, they found, much to their horror, that the ordinary laws of aerodynamics no longer existed. Planes would start spinning and tumbling through the air. The first pilots to face this challenge responded by frantically trying to stabilize their planes, applying correction after correction. The more furiously they manipulated the controls, the wilder the ride became. Screaming helplessly to ground control, what do I do next? They would plunge to their deaths.  

However, one pilot inadvertently struck upon a solution. When his plane began tumbling, he was thrown violently around the cockpit and knocked out. Unconscious, he plummeted toward earth. Seven miles later, the plane re-entered the planet’s denser atmosphere where standard navigation strategies could be implemented. The pilot came to, steadied the craft, and landed safely. He had discovered the only lifesaving response that was possible in this desperate situation. Don’t do anything. Take your hands off the controls. 

Learning to stop and pause isn’t easy. Letting go of the controls runs counter to our basic survival instincts. Pausing can feel like falling helplessly through space – we have no idea what will happen and fear we may be engulfed by our feelings. We often have the urge to take action to defend ourselves. But the only way back to the here and now and to greater awareness is to stop. Interrupt the compulsion to control, consciously take our hands off the controls, pause and notice our experience.  

And here’s a quote from Tara Brach to illustrate this: 

What would happen if in this moment, you didn’t try to do anything to make anything different?” Tara Brach 

It’s important to recognise that letting go of the controlling mind isn’t being passive, giving up or necessarily approving of our current experience. It’s about accepting our current reality rather than condemning or resisting it. And paradoxically as psychologist Carl Jung said, ‘We can’t change anything until we accept it.” 

As well as meditation practice, mindfulness and mindfulness skills can be practiced at any time, anywhere, whilst doing anything. Intentionally paying attention to the here and now with acceptance is all that is needed. It could involve observing, describing and participating in your current experience. One approach is to just stop and pause. And then pause again, take a few conscious breaths. Let go of distraction and become more awake to our present experience. 

In this way, mindfulness could be incorporated into your writing practice. Think for a minute about your writing practice, the environment for that and how you could bring mindfulness skills and practice to it. 

Choose Your Mindfulness Exercise

Read through the following suggestions and pick one to do now: 

  • Scan through your body and notice sensations. It could be the feeling of your bum on where your sitting, the sensations of clothes against your skin, how your tongue feels in your mouth, tension in your back or shoulders, how your feet feel on the floor. 
  • Put words to your thoughts, sensations and feelings. For example, you could acknowledge when a thought arises, saying in your mind, a thought ‘I can’t do this’ has come into my mind or label a feeling – sadness, excitement, frustration. 
  • Bring your attention to your breath. Notice where it starts and how it feels to inhale and exhale. 
  • Observe something in your environment. Look outside and notice the sky and any clouds. Look at the detail of any plant or tree in your environment.  
  • Take a sip of a drink and notice the feel of the cup or glass in your hand and the sensation of the drink in your mouth and going down your throat as well as the taste. 
  • Close your eyes and listen to the sounds both close to you and further away. Notice them come and go. 
  • Practice mindful movement. Get up and stretch or walk around the room, noticing the movement and sensations of your body. 

Hopefully at least one of those can be helpful and you can try different practices and find which work best for you. 

Now think for a minute about what you do outside of your writing practice and how mindful activity could enhance your practice.  

Now take a few minutes to think about the following questions and jot down any thoughts:

  • How does increased mindfulness affect you? 
  • What benefits of increased mindfulness can you envisage for you and your writing practice? 
  • Are you surprised by this? 

Coming Up Next

Before the next session, try practicing mindfulness either in daily life, whilst your writing, through meditation or all three. Start to notice the awareness that comes up about your own thoughts, feelings, fantasies, sensations and behaviours and perhaps those of other people. Try to also notice any blocks to practicing mindfulness and think about how these might be overcome. 

In our next workshop we’ll be exploring how increased skills in awareness of ourselves and others means we are more able to identify, understand the emotions of ourselves and others. 

About Anna Webster…

Anna is a Coaching Psychologist, Wellbeing Coach and Psychotherapist in Training. She specialises in coaching psychology workshops and 1:1 programmes informed by emotion neuroscience, neuropsychoanalysis, and dialectical behaviour therapy.

Anna works for The University of Salford on SPECIFiC; a 7-session therapeutic psychoeducation coaching programme on the neurodevelopmental condition FASD, the first of its kind in the UK. She co-wrote the manual, co-delivers the programme and leads on Public Involvement. She was a member of the Steering Group on the UK’s first FASD prevalence study and was consulted as an expert by experience for the NICE Guidelines on FASD. She is also a Health and Wellbeing Coach for the NHS.

Published on:
3 May 2024


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