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.