Author Archives: Edith

Loss and Grief as Mindfulness Practice

Glendalough Mist 6[Author’s photo]

Many years ago, distraught and devastated after a miscarriage, I turned to literature for solace and comfort. So when my dear mother died just six weeks ago, I went searching for memoirs written in an attempt to decipher the overwhelming effects of death on those left behind. Consequently when I stumbled across the memoir, H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, the story of a woman who struggled with unbearable grief after her father died, it sounded just about right, albeit a little too close to the bone, my flesh still flayed raw by funeral corteges, my soul seared by heartrending hymns singing my mother’s soul back home. Was it too soon to try to understand, to unveil one of life’s greatest mysteries?

Bereavement. Or, Bereaved. Bereft. It’s taken from the Old English bereafian, meaning ‘to deprive of, take away, seize, rob.’ It happens to everyone. But you feel it alone.”

Wham! A gut-wrenching, heart-piercing, bolt of fire hurled from the gods above, hit their mark with absolute precision. I was winded. My spirit felt as if it had been severed from my body, arms and legs and, oh so heavy head, drowning, submerged, pushed, held under water, limbs like rocks dragging me down to the depths. Such heart pain leaves its mark; scar-faced channels of grief cut, sliced, engraved into deep, barren ravines.

Mum’s gone.”

“Gone where? It’s midnight!”

“No, you don’t understand. [How could I? It didn’t make sense.] She’s had a heart attack. The medics have stopped trying to revive her.

Since that horrendous night, it feels like I’m stuck in that moment, the phone call playing out repeatedly in my mind, over and over again, like a wound up gramophone which won’t shut up. Like Groundhog Day. Time seems to have altered, its shape and sequence forever changed. But not just time, meaning too. Before that night, Mum was an anchor, a force, a raison d’etre.  I have lost the one person in the world who was always, without reservation, on my side. My advocate and principle cheerleader is gone from this world. This vast, empty space where the bitterly cold Arctic winds blow without ceasing, will never feel the warmth of early morning sun again. Standing in this abyss of grief I feel not just lost and lonely, but as if my very moorings have come undone. It is simply inconceivable that life will go on. And yet it must.

What does one do when one is left drifting, floating on a river of despair which seems to follow no known pathway, meandering in and out of gloomy gullies and desolate deltas, pursuing its own course with a reasoning and logic all its own? I can neither control nor outmanoeuvre its trajectory. But I can give it room to roam. I can open a space within and without which would allow the force of this overwhelming grief to flow, not just in tears, but in memories too, remembrances of times past.

There is a place I go to whenever the world and my walking in it threatens to overcome me with its bustling busyness, too noisy and wearisome for a fragile soul. An ancient monastic site where the earth continues to hold in safe keeping the memory of its distant past. Steep slopes, deep lakes, and dead trees dot the scrub hillside surrounding the lakes. The veil between the natural and the supernatural is thin here, in this place where monks lived and moved and had their being, where they prayed in the darkness and again at dawn, and many times throughout the day, in the ‘big hours’ and the ‘little hours’ too, shivering in the damp and cold which seeps up from the sodden earth below. They must have stood by the edge of the lake and stared out over the still twilight, reflecting the sky and clouds above, just as I do when I return here to think about my mother. Their robes would have blown in the wind which always sweeps down from the gap between the mountains, the valley left behind when the glaciers moved through, sculpting the land aeons ago. I crave the spaciousness, the vast openness which only this landscape can offer.

Here in this numinous space, walking on this sacred earth, I can feel my mother hovering close by, as if the very air I am breathing is filled with her presence. The cold wind blowing down the valley makes my eyes well up, tears fall, dropping black stains on the grey stones by the lake shore. My gaze embraces the wider landscape, the white blasted trees which have all the appearance of sentinels, or mummified centurions keeping watch over all that lies below, including not just the monks’ graves from long gone, but me also, and my mother’s spirit joined now as one with the voices of the wind and the water, all the  ancient ruins, cells and chapels, stones too, still carrying traces of chanted psalms from long ago – nothing can drown out the songs of the past. The past and the present, and the future too, are all of a-piece.

This is the womb knowledge I carry back home with me when I return to the suburbs where I live and where my mother lived her entire married life, after moving up to the city from the country. And so when I stand at an opened kitchen window, or stroll out into the garden, I hear her sweet tones in the breeze which caresses my cheek, I feel her tender kiss in the first fall of a gentle summer’s rain. She hasn’t left me after all. I simply need to learn to adjust my vision, to recognize the new shape of her being, hovering as it does between heaven and earth.

-Writing this has almost been unbearable, a heaviness in my chest like someone has punched me so hard I am left winded, flying backwards through the air, back and down, down, down, down, free falling into a bottomless pit of despair. And just when I think I can’t breathe anymore, a little wisp of air blows gently from the blackened crevices, and I breathe it in gratefully, knowing that yes, I can go on.

Writing prompt:

I asked above what one can do in the attempt to make some kind of sense of death and loss and grieving. The only answer I can offer is, as Rilke tells us, “to live the questions now”, and if you are a writer, to write. For if you are like me, and I presume you are if you are reading this, then you make meaning of your life through the practice of writing. While the subject of death is far too enormous and mysterious to ever be encapsulated, codified and tamed through the act of laying words upon a page, like letting a diaphanous shroud drape gently over the embalmed body of our loved ones, still words are all we have at our disposal in the attempt to somehow understand. And maybe they are enough. At least for now we can practice seeing “through a glass, darkly.”

Write about the death of someone dear to you. Approach it any way you want – begin with the facts, if that is your best path into the mystery, the agony of your tangled memories. Be prepared for the onslaught of emotions which will surely take you by surprise. Be kind to yourself. This is mindful writing in its rawest form. Witness well to what emerges from behind the veil.

Edith Ó Nualláin lives with her family in a small village on the east coast of Ireland, snuggled between the mountains and the sea, where she reads, writes, and sits at her spinning wheel, spinning dreams with words and fibres. Some day she hopes to learn how to spin straw into gold. Her poetry is published in Crannóg, an Irish literary journal, and her book reviews are published in Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women, as well as online at Story Circle Book Reviews. She writes occasionally on her blog, In a Room of My Own

At Seventeen

For a long time I have kept and maintained, admittedly sometimes sporadically, two very different kinds of journals – the first the repository of my daily writing practice, the other a kind of on-going commentary outlining my thoughts and musings about everything to do with writing, both my own and that of others, a writer’s diary if you will. Recently I have turned this practice into something a little more focused. I begin by choosing an event in my life, something from the past which shimmers a little around the edges, the light reflecting upon the waters of my sometimes still, sometimes turbulent mind, and while all that glitters may not be gold, still it is usually worth exploring. And so I dive in and mooch around a little, first in this spot, then in that, and if I am lucky, if it is a ‘good’ day for writing, I might discover something new, something that might reward sifting through the sieve of mindful interrogations. Of course ‘good’ by its very definition is a relative thing, so what might be treasure today may, on the morrow, be nothing more than sand slipping through spread-eagled  fingers, offering no gifts worth grabbing on to. But that is tomorrow’s problem. Today, this moment, is all that concerns me now.

That this moment extends beyond the limited expanse of my habitual quotidian and paltry vision, stretching the eternal now upwards, and inwards too, to the furthest frontiers of space and time, transforms the experience into time beyond time; it is all there ever was, or can be. Herein lies freedom, the spaciousness of mind which carries me above and beyond the petty shenanigans of a life hardily lived. Even my dreams are beggarly in comparison, for I fail to dream big enough! But if I dig and delve, if I am not afraid to dive in, take a deep breath and jump, trusting that there is something much bigger and grander and a whole lot more powerful than me out there ready to catch me, call it what you will, who knows where my curiosity might take me?

To prepare myself for these big adventures, first I sit and meditate for 15 or 20 minutes, just breathing, following the breath however it is in the moment. Then I take up my pen and start writing. When I am done, and I always know when I have said all that needs to be said, for now anyway, I walk away from my writing desk for about 10 minutes, just enough time to make a cup of tea and carry it back to my desk, sipping it as I re-read my own words. Next I pull out my writer’s diary, and I begin to ponder what it was I was trying to express. What exactly was I trying to say? What did I mean here? And what of this word there – is there another which might better express, more accurately, what I am attempting to articulate? I become my own first reader.

Invariably this part of the process opens up multiple possibilities, an almost endless stream of themes to consider and explore. I pick a few, the ones which appear most pertinent to me in this moment; they would be different at another time – it is this specificity I believe which makes this kind of writing ‘mindful’, for here I am focusing upon the treasures, the gifts of this moment in time without thinking about the future, or worrying about the past; I am simply open and receptive to what lies in front of me now, unfurling, unfolding at my feet.

Today I wrote about an incident that happened to me when I was 17, desperate to escape from the shackles of a life I believed was slowly strangling me. I wanted so much more than what I had, but the wanting itself, the yearning was the impetus, the motivation, the trigger to do something, to change. All I knew was that I wanted to run as fast as I could, believing that the freedom I experienced in my fantasies would be borne out by lived experience far away from home. Sometimes I still hear the siren call of this dream of another way, something different and new, something elusive and ephemeral, beckoning to me, whispering my name, calling from across vast swathes of time and space, inviting me to walk on from the mist of memory into the sea of possibilities, to not be afraid, or rather to release the fear, to breathe deeply and to feel that breath seep down, lower and lower, slipping past shoulders and chest, tight with unresolved pains, down, down, dropping down, behind my belly and it’s fluttering knots, sliding across sore sciatic nerves of dis-placed hips, the price of a rushed birthing a very long time ago [what was the hurry?], slithering over sore knees and swollen ankles, too painful to take any weight. But the breath itself is magic, and as if I am swooping downwards in a kamikaze leap, I leave my fear behind, and become all breath, until by the time I reach my toes I am free, utterly free. Feeling my feet, I am flying!

So why couldn’t I then, and why can’t I now, just be happy, content with this, just this? Why must there always be this yearning for something more? What is this yearning, this burning desire to find something anyway? What, for God’s sake, do I think is out there? And why is it always writing, only ever writing, which seems to touch upon this inexplicable impulse to stumble upon meaning, to track down and ferret out the significance of the events set down and laid out like the living dead upon the slab of the microscopic gaze?  What is it precisely that draws me back so relentlessly, eating me up and spitting me out, and still I crawl back, over and over again, incessantly chasing the dream that this time, today, I will write my way back home, wherever home might be? And just for the record, it wasn’t where I landed when I was just 17! Still, though that soon-to-be young woman didn’t get it all right, she did intuit a thing or two worth re-visiting. Good to know my writing can take me back any time I feel inclined to mine her-story again.

Edith Ó Nualláin lives with her family in a small village on the east coast of Ireland, snuggled between the mountains and the sea, where she reads, writes, and sits at her spinning wheel, spinning dreams with words and fibres. Some day she hopes to learn how to spin straw into gold. Her poetry is published in Crannóg, an Irish literary journal, and her book reviews are published in Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women, as well as online at Story Circle Book Reviews. She writes occasionally on her blog, In a Room of My Own

What’s in a name?

Cherry blossom

As long as I have been writing I have struggled with the challenge of defining what exactly it means to write ‘mindfully’. In this post I thought it might be useful to attempt to tease out some of the differences between writing practice, mindful writing and journaling. At various times I have appended any one of these labels to my writing process. At various times I have been perplexed as I have tried to figure out which label best described my practice. My mother always said I liked my ducks in a row, and when I was younger I had no idea what she meant. Now I know! Perhaps it’s a touch of OCD, perhaps it’s an attempt to pin down and force meaning upon the chaos of words, or perhaps it’s simply an attempt to understand and grasp what exactly it is I am trying to do when I sit down to write; in other words, why I write.

One of my favourite personal essays is “On Keeping a Notebook” by Joan Didion. In this inspiring work of creative non-fiction, Ms Didion muses upon her reasons for writing in her journals, the explanations not always readily evident when re-reading past entries, many of whom remain a mystery to the author herself, as she wonders what on earth she meant by words and phrases which obviously struck a chord when first she wrote them down. In the end Ms Didion suggests that it’s not what the words recall in themselves, but rather what they evoke in the author’s imagination, the memories they stir, the associations they generate. The words we write bring it all back, so that it is as if we had returned to times past. With our words we can re-live previous experiences, not always in a direct relationship to the facts of the event per se, but rather as conduits of their emotional undercurrents, traces of shadows still lingering, echoes of the past. Keeping a notebook is one form of journaling, that is, a method of capturing moments in time, painting life as it happens in the raw with, hopefully, the sensuous imagery of richly evocative words. Is this mindful writing? Yes, if it is written with attention, and a deep listening with the inner ear, lingering languidly over the nuanced newness of the moment as it unfolds. Of course, some journaling is a simple noting of a few pertinent facts and no more. Then the only mindfulness required is in the initial noticing.

So much for journaling! What then of the difference between it and mindful writing? Mindful writing incorporates more than the seizing and word-capturing of an event, the apprehension of an episode or an encounter. When we write mindfully, we don’t always have a thought, (though we always have an intention, more about that below) initially anyway, with which to begin. So the writing itself is the practice, the words spin out from the initial desire to sit still, in silence and solitude, and simply write.

But what do we write? Ah, now at last we are coming closer to the heart of the matter. Herein lies the difference between writing practice and mindful writing. Though they are related, they are not quite synonymous. In writing practice we open our notebooks and set down whatever is stirring our minds at that precise juncture. We don’t edit or re-read; we just keep writing until the timer goes off, usually 10 or 20 minutes after starting. And then we stop. Writing practice, like mindful writing, is best embarked upon after a period of sitting meditation, for then the mind is open, spacious, and free; thoughts, ideas and sensations have latitude and license to rise up from the murky depths below. All of which sounds very similar to what we might reasonably expect from the practice of mindful writing.

But still there remains an important distinction. Mindful writing differs from both journaling and writing practice in one essential element – intention. Thus, before beginning our mindful writing practice, we have normally decided what our focus in any particular session is going to be, that is what the bedrock of our writing shall be, where we shall direct our concentration and attention, whether we plan to pen a haiku, or respond to a specific writing prompt, or some such other.

Is this splitting hairs? Perhaps. Perhaps too it doesn’t matter what we call it, nor even what our particular approach might be on the day, so long as we write. For it is the act of writing, the process of transferring our wild thoughts to the page that generates the alchemy, playing with the elements which serve as the foundation for future creative works, whether these manifest as transformed and transforming works of creative non-fiction, memoirs, short stories, novels or personal essays.

Each form shares one important detail in common – raw writing which awaits transfiguration through the alchemical shaping of craft. As Alice LaPlante writes in her seminal book ‘The Making of a Story’, first “immerse yourself in the intuitive creative process. That you may then take these raw, early pieces and shape them into something meaningful…”. [p. 25]

Journaling, writing practice and mindful practice then are the ‘process tools’ through which we discover what it is we wish to say. Which brings me back to the beginning – why I write. Ultimately I write to discover who I am. Mindfully.

Why do you write?

Edith Ó Nualláin lives with her family in a small village on the east coast of Ireland, snuggled between the mountains and the sea, where she reads, writes, and sits at her spinning wheel, spinning dreams with words and fibres. Some day she hopes to learn how to spin straw into gold. Her poetry is published in Crannóg, an Irish literary journal, and her book reviews are published in Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women, as well as online at Story Circle Book Reviews. She writes occasionally on her blog, In a Room of My Own

Mindfully Mining Memories

Memoirs are a strange, unpredictable beast. They cover the gamut from straightforward linear autobiographical writings, to carefully crafted works of creative non-fiction, where impressions are gently set in shimmering juxtaposition, like grace notes, suspended between intermediary paragraphs of glistening prose. Memoirs such as these necessarily border fictional re-creations of past events hardly remembered, except perhaps, in the lingering echoes of the lithographic pressings which weightless remembrances lay down, like feathers, upon the susceptible sub-conscious mind. The best memoirs, or at least those I favour, combine a sense of truthfulness not always co-extensive with actual factual events. Sometimes there is more truth to be found in the lies, or imagined re-constructions, than in the quotidian details of the happenings themselves.

Is it not precisely this which we do when we dive in deep to the subterranean depths of our murky memories? I mean, of course, that we lie, if lying it is to try and understand, to impose meaning upon the unfettered chaos of the past. The best, the most potentially fruitful of these reminiscences are the ones we cannot quite grasp or understand immediately. Before we can even begin to penetrate their meaning, we must first wipe away a little muck here, a dirty mark there. We brush and burnish, shine and polish, until the insignificant stone reveals its precious bejewelled kernel, irradiated with suggestions of symbolic significance.

Mining memories takes time, lots and lots of what Brenda Ueland called ‘moodling’, resting in the moment, sitting in silence and solitude, waiting and not-waiting, still, yet simultaneously alert to the inner rumblings of possible internal volcanoes. Mindfully mining memories demands oodles of time from its devoted practitioner, what the ancients called ‘kairos’ time, the non-ticking clock of eternal time, that ever present moment which our most assiduous words transport us towards, allowing us to hover above the chasm, an invisible border between perceived chaos and imposed order. Now and then, mindful writing simply drops us into the furnace, that place of mystical burnishing from whence we re-surface altered, a little transformed, not enough that anyone might notice, but carrying traces of another way of being, of see-ing, shifting our vision just a little off-centre. Yes, we might forget what we experienced, but never really fully. We always emerge from our pilgrimage through the meandering, labyrinthine corridors of our minds a little different from before. Bit by bit, like snails and mosses and the soft, contemplative contours of Japanese bonsai , in ever expanding circles of slow time, we begin to intuit the way back home. We follow the path we knew, and not-knew, was always there. And in our knowing, and even more in our not-knowing, we begin to understand what it means to write mindfully.

Edith Ó Nualláin lives with her family in a small village on the east coast of Ireland, snuggled between the mountains and the sea, where she reads, writes, and sits at her spinning wheel, spinning dreams with words and fibres. Some day she hopes to learn how to spin straw into gold. Her poetry is published in Crannóg, an Irish literary journal, and her book reviews are published in Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women, as well as online at Story Circle Book Reviews. She writes occasionally on her blog, In a Room of My Own

Writing True

Mindful writing is not always easy. Sometime the mere thought of sitting down and trying to find words to express the inexpressible, is impossible, a task beyond our very human, utterly broken capabilities. I am not talking beauty here, I am not referring to those moments of near mystical experience when we try to capture a glimpse of the ineffable in rarefied language. No, I mean when we really cannot write. Those moments and hours, sometimes running into days and weeks, and G*d forbid months, when the words simply refuse to come, when language is like a sea of stormy waves roaring in our ears, a tsunami of terror threatening to overwhelm and drown us. How do we write then, when one word clangs as loudly and as meaninglessly as another? And if the words do come, they come crawling from a heart heavy with fear and dread, arriving stilted and still-born. Lifeless images collapse in a heap around us, burying us in the signs of our own ineffectuality.

So what do we do on those days when we feel as if we cannot write anything, when the Muse refuses to grace us with her presence, when in fact the Muse seems like nothing more than a silly daydream, the fantasy of former imaginings? Is this what is known as ‘writer’s block’? Perhaps it is, though it feels more like trying to scale a frozen wall of ice, no foothold on which to hoist ourselves up.

These walls, which seem to rise spontaneously, relentlessly, coming and going as they see fit, are part of who we are, they are those sides of ourselves we like to try and forget, or at least ignore, and our best attempts are our most favourite mindless distractions. Depth psychologists call these shrouded parts, our ‘shadows’. If we are writing mindfully as a daily practice, it won’t be long before we are forced to face these scary and hidden sides of our natures.

But how to write them into being if the words refuse to come? How do we acknowledge their presence if we can do little more than sit, stuck, staring at the blank page which blinks back at us accusingly, mocking our feeble attempts at openness and truthfulness?

Perhaps this is the point where our practice of mindful writing truly becomes a practice. Certainly it doesn’t feel like we are playing a game anymore. The veil of pretence is lifted. Now the work grows serious and deep, and scary too. The gloves are off. And so we do the only thing we can do. We go to our writing desk, pull out a sheet of paper, lift our pen, and begin.

Can we listen to ourselves in the silence? Can we sit and wait for the whispers of our souls to come creeping, slowly, falteringly, letter by letter, through our pens? Can we allow our truest selves to tell their stories through the gateway of broken language, a stuttering love poem to our deepest being, that part of us which we feel most intensely on the other side of feeling nothing, numbed by the weight of existence? What a paradox this life we wander though is, what a charade, a carnival of masks, a ballet where the dancers laugh and mock at us, and yet just there, just beneath the surface, pick at it and it will start to bleed, and in the bleeding will come the words, the agony, the truth, but only for now, only for what it is in this moment of mindfulness. Catch it before its gone, capture it in a jumble of letters, and when you’re done, screw it up and throw it away. Another day of practice is over.

Edith Ó Nualláin lives with her family in a small village on the east coast of Ireland, snuggled between the mountains and the sea, where she reads, writes, and spins exotic fibres into yarn. Some day she hopes to learn how to spin straw into gold. You can visit her here:  https://inaroomofmyown.wordpress.com/

Tell Me What You See

Rose

The full experience of a rose requires that we see with our minds the inner energy, the hidden origin, the radical form, and not simply the manifested colors, shapes, and proportions.
– Thomas Dubay

Let’s begin this month with a little experiment. Sit comfortably, back straight, feet on the ground. Allow your gaze to settle upon a single object right in front of you. This can be anything, your pen, the mug of tea you carried with you to your writing desk, the flower you picked this morning and placed in a vase upon your table, the tree outside your window, the rain dripping from your leaking gutter. Picking up your pen, describe exactly what you see.

When you have finished, put your pen down and sit comfortably again. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths, settling yourself into your body. Continue breathing slowly, gently, allowing your breath to breathe you into a space of stillness and quiet. Continue for however long it takes to let go of the world around you, to sink into the depths of your quietened mind, to become one with who you really are. When you feel fully rested and relaxed open your eyes and look again at the object. What do you see now, in the very moment when first you see it again? Can you try to describe what it is, what it looks like, not just its appearance, but its essence too. Try to see how its inner reality, its inner being, what Buddhists call its “suchness”, shimmering around the edges.

The purpose of this exercise is to encourage you as a writer to identify and understand the essential difference between writing as descriptive writing, and writing as mindful writing. There are not just worlds of difference between them, but universes, whole galaxies of intuited meaning, and not meaning as ‘truth’, but as spaciousness, vast landscapes, the vision or seeing of which can only be grasped by the inner eye, the quietened mind, the ‘weaned soul’.

Learning to see how things really are, not just from a superficial glance, but what they are beneath the surface of their appearance, takes time and practice to cultivate. Still you may be wondering, how do we capture this experience of the ineffable, that which we intuit as present but cannot find the words to describe? How often have we pulled back our curtains, still sleepy and warm from our night time dreams, only to be stunned into wakefulness by the beauty of an early morning sunrise? How do we even attempt to capture that immediate sense of shocked wonder, the sharp intake of our breaths as we are jolted awake and aware by the vision of beauty which we almost missed, and would have if we had lain on a few minutes more? Yes, we can describe the physical contours of what we see, but can we catch in words the way we felt when first we were surprised by this superfluous gift from the skies above?

Our presence to the moment means something; we feel it in our bones, in our guts, that this vision is more than a random array of colours brushed across a pale grey and icy blue canvas. We may feel a vague sense of frustration as we succumb to the silent muteness which accompanies some of our almost ‘religious’ experiences of the ineffable, what Nina Wise calls “the realm of sensed reality that refuses to be reduced to words.” [‘a big new free happy unusual life’]

Return to your writing desk and look again at the thing-as-it-is-in-itself. Breathe deeply into the present moment and take this thing-in-itself into the depths of your own being, until you reach a point where it and you are no longer subject and object, but all of a-piece, something single, unified, one. Peter Levitt in his marvellous book Fingerpainting on the Moon tells us that “the Sanskrit language came into being when the essence of each thing first made its sound known to human beings. When people heard these primordial soundings they realized they were witnessing the self-naming of the physical world, and so the sound each thing made became the word by which it was known.” The tree whispers to us that its name is “Tree”, by which it means “I am This.” And the stone tells us that its name is “Stone” meaning too that “I am This.” And so we listen to everything and we catch the whispers of the world as it tells us, one thing at a time, that it is This, that this is its name, its essence. And then, because we are writers, but most especially mindful writers, we pause long enough to look, listen and hear what the thing-in-itself is telling us, and we write it all down.

Mind, Give Me

Mind, give me
the exact name of things!
…that my word may be
the thing itself,
re-created by my soul.
So that all who do not know them
go through me
to things;
all who have forgotten
go through me
to things;
all those who love them
go through me
to things…..
Mind, give me
the exact name, and yours
and theirs and mine, of things!

-Juan Raón Jiménez

Edith Ó Nualláin lives with her family in a small village on the east coast of Ireland, snuggled between the mountains and the sea, where she reads, writes occasional reviews, and spins exotic fibres into yarn. Some day she hopes to learn how to spin straw into gold.

Why I Write

Portal to the sea

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” –Rainer Maria Rilke

I do lots of things – I embroider, I spin yarn on my spinning wheel, then dye the hand spun in a vast array of hues, before knitting it into hats and scarves, sweaters and mittens for family and friends. I love crafting, losing myself in a universe of texture and colour, dreaming about what to create next. I love to cook too, rustling up dinners and treats for a family whose hollow legs always seem to be running on empty! Gathering the ingredients, peeling, chopping, arranging in little dishes, splashes of colour which I can’t help but set out like the spectrum of a rainbow, anticipating the promise of aromas floating through the house, waiting to greet the hungry travellers when they fall through the door, back into the warmth and security of home.

The days simply aren’t long enough to do all the things I like to do, which means I have to choose. Trying to choose between crafts and writing is like attempting to decide whether to engage with left or right brain based activities. Except that it’s not, because both types of pursuits incorporate aspects of each side of the brain. Still there is a difference. And that difference manifests in the ‘felt-sense’ of these very different activities. Much as I love the sensuous nature of crafts and colour, it is only when writing that I feel most alive. Then, it is as if my senses have become hyper-vigilant; mindfulness is no longer a word or a movement, it is a state of being.

Mindfulness is a concept which can apply to any aspect of life. It is more an attitude than a process. It constitutes a way of seeing, a way of being in harmony with the world as it manifests in both the inner and outer realms. That writing mindfully is a practice becomes evident when we approach it as a method, a set of precepts on how to ‘do it’. And yes, the process is important, the practices we incorporate develop into habits bringing with them a sense of rightness as the rituals gradually become embedded in our practice, one writing session at a time. The practice then develops into a kind of trellis, a supporting structure, a habit we can rely upon to carry us from the minituae of everyday distractions to the heart of what lies directly in front of us. Still, important and even necessary as it is, the ritual of the practice can only ever be like a finger pointing to the moon. The essence, or juice, of the practice lies curled up within our intention as we sit at our writing desk yet again.

When we first begin to write mindfully we notice an ever deepening sense of catharsis. It is as if our souls slowly begin to trust that we are listening to them, and so over time, we discover something changing deep inside. This sense of catharsis bears only a passing resemblance to that experience of release we sometimes notice when we write say, our memoirs, divulging our darkest secrets and our pain to the waiting blank page, (though of course, in practice the two experiences often overlap). Mindful writing takes us to a different place, and it is because of this that we refer to it as a practice, akin to meditation practice. For mindful writing is indeed a meditation practice, like sitting practice in Buddhist meditation for example. The similarities become most evident in their effects, both dependent upon the attitude and intentions we carry into our respective practices.

Writing mindfully generates a kind of wondering about the world, about ourselves, about everything which surrounds us. From this pondering emerges a sense of something that has been closed and locked away which just now is opening, like the petals of the lotus extending outwards, reaching up to the aery spaces above. We feel as if our souls are enveloped in a lightness of being, as if everything is just as it ought to be. Questions emerge and then disappear; answers are neither sought nor required. Doubt and scepticism have slipped away, leaving in their wake the beauty of pure wonderment.

“Every day, every day I hear
enough to fill
a year of nights with wondering.”

Denise Levertov

It is as if our minds are floating in a sea of light-filled consciousness, as if our entire beings are resting in this unseen, but deeply felt, space of awareness. From this perspective we intuit what is ‘good’ and ‘right’ and ‘beautiful’. We may not be able to quite articulate in words what we are experiencing, but we ‘know’ with a kind of ‘womb-knowing’ that all is good, even if outwardly it may appear to be anything but! When we hit this ‘zone’ we know we have written our way back home.

Mindful Writing Prompt:

See this month’s prompt below. Take your time, read it a few times, listening to the sounds of the words as they roll around your tongue. Breathe into the question, slowly. Allow the question to unfurl its meaning, to roll in front of you, to offer itself to you as a gift, a grace, a gratuitous opportunity to lift the veil between what you think you see, and what is really in front of you.

All of life, all living is held within the space of a breath. To remain still, to sit in silence and solitude, breathing, just breathing, envelops our consciousness in peacefulness and an all-abiding sense of calm, peace comes dripping slowly, permeating each fibre of our being. Breathing mindfully into the present moment opens us to seeing with new eyes, which we can then carry into our writing.
Take a deep breath. What do you feel rising in you with each breath? When you look, what do you see? What changes? What remains the same?