Monthly Archives: May 2014

On Mindful Writing

I first came across the concept of mindful writing many years ago when I was anything but mindful as I surfed the internet, enjoying the sheer pleasure of mindless distractibility. Clicking first on this link, then on that, I eventually landed on the web site of a Zen teacher who was offering classes (not online unfortunately) combining the art of meditation with that of writing. Instantly I knew I had hit upon something both important and exciting.

The concept of writing as a spiritual practice is not new. Christina Baldwin’s book ‘Life’s Companion’ had been my own companion for some years. It is still a book I recommend and use. But the difference between Baldwin’s approach and the class advertised, was that while Baldwin encouraged the use of deep writing to explore feelings and thoughts about spirituality, the Zen-like approach I had alighted upon, quite by accident, appeared to be advocating that the act of writing was a meditative discipline in and of itself. Both approaches entailed a vastly different focus and intent.

I wanted to find out more, and so what followed were years of picking up gleanings and bits of information, suggestions, hints and clues on what exactly a mindful writing practice might consist of. Most important of all, I needed to figure out how to create a routine which would adapt comfortably to my daily life as a busy mother, and a Very Bad Buddhist.

In the end, what I discovered could be summarized very simply, though the stacks and piles of books since published on the subject might belie my claim, but I shall state it anyway – in mindful writing, the writing is enough in itself; no aim or goal required except to turn up to the page and write exactly what you see, hear, feel in front of you right here, right now. Actually even this is to overstate the case. In terms of Zen, or mindfulness, if you write, you write. If you are a writer, you are a writer. Just write. That is the practice. Turn up and write. Or as Gail Sher in her book One Continuous Mistake puts it:

If you are a writer, you have probably noticed that when you are writing, it feels correct and that when you are not writing (when there is no room for writing in your life), it feels incorrect. When you write, you sit down with the intention to be. If you are a writer, writing and being are the same. Of course we bring, each according to our temperament, more to it. Though each of our “mores” has a different flavour, all are somewhat extraneous to the practice aspect of writing. Only “intention” is essential.”

Fair enough, I hear you say, but isn’t this what writers do anyway, and isn’t this exactly how we feel whether we are writing mindfully, or penning our novels, or memoirs? Well yes, and no. Of course as writers we need to write, and when we don’t we get grouchy, antsy, uneasy. The difference between mindful writing and other forms of writing is that, when writing mindfully, we consciously let go of our ego mind, our over-thinking and conceptual mind, and instead learn to go with the flow. We literally follow our river of words wherever they take us. And it is usually a heady ride! Furthermore mindful writing is directed towards process rather than product, although you may discover much rich material for use in your other writing, especially for memoirs and creative non-fiction. The key mantra here is to “trust the process”!

Over the next few months I shall be offering reflections on what it means to be a mindful writer, as well as suggesting ideas and prompts to help get you started writing mindfully. One caveat is important – while much of what I write here might be more or less influenced by Zen Buddhism, mindful writing is bigger and wider than any particular spiritual orientation, so that while elements may overlap, mindfulness is not co-extensive with Buddhism, or any other form of spirituality. Thus mindful writing can be part of a spiritual practice, or not. Incorporating a meditation element will be an individual choice and decision, though over time I shall touch upon some of my own personal experiences combining these disciplines.

Next month I shall offer a few practical suggestions on how to approach your mindful writing sessions. Until then, namaste.


This I Believe: The Power of Mystery

Image and essay by Janet Grace Riehl, copyright 2014

The Power of Mystery

Something’s happening. We can feel it. From the furthest reaches of the galaxy to a sub-atomic particle. That something is the constant, organic, mysterious change known as life.

And it’s happening faster. So we’d better get used to it,  and we’d better get good at it if we want to survive as a species and a planet. The big bang has come home. The bumper sticker “Think globally, act locally” might be expanded to: “Think galactically, act molecularly.” From protozoa to protean space explorations life is on the move. The times call for us all to become creators—to cooperate with the larger mystery and to co-create our lives in concert with something so vast and so deep we can never encompass it. We can only learn to be held and enfolded by it.

Transition has its seasons of darkness, shadow, and pain. We honor that. Life takes time with unexpected turns. We honor that. And in honoring that, strangely, burdens lighten. Then the meandering path through change yields rather than greets us with roadblocks.

The pace of change explodes as life reorganizes itself for the next mega-cycle. We are being made ready. Because ready or not, here it comes.

Luckily, we’ve been given longer lives. With this longer span of productivity comes the luxurious necessity of giving ourselves time to regroup. During the in-between times we prepare for the next act. The intermission and the entire act become a creative space. There’s time to digest information taken in during the first act, time to stretch, get a cup of coffee, and greet friends while we feel around on the inside to glimpse who we are in this moment as we prepare for the next ones.

So let’s get good at transition.

Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity—serendipitous coincidences—is part of the mystery. Reading these synchronous events is one of the skills in transition. Ordinary living becomes a source of magic with many messages. Things as simple as fortune cookies and the daily horoscope hint at our heart’s desire if we are open. Everything becomes an oracle to lead and protect us. We come to realize that we are surrounded by signs, symbols, and portents. We ourselves are ciphers in the eye of the sacred storm.

There is choice within destiny. Sometimes destiny speaks in a thunderous voice and we know we are being chosen rather than doing the choosing. Events come into our lives that beg to be used, and that beg to use us. And, sometimes, destiny speaks in an off-stage whisper.

In order to slip and dive through transition we must improvise. We must learn to live as a jazz artist plays, as a great chef cooks, as great lovers exchange pleasure.

The map of mystery limns the Terra Incognita beyond the edge of the world. If only we can appreciate and cooperate with the mystery without getting lost in it!