These past few months—in my summer and early autumn creative writing classes—I’ve not focused so much on the mindfulness aspect of my teachings. Perhaps this had to do with the energetic pace of summer, which only recently faded here in the South East of England. Just last week autumn seemed finally to arrive and with it the cosy, heart-warming smells of wood and coal smoke rising from the chimneys of local cottages. The end of our unseasonably warm Indian summer ushered in that back-to-school feeling of my childhood days growing up on the South Shore of Massachusetts.
And so it was just last week that I made explicit the intended theme of the six-week course which got underway in mid-September. That theme’s perhaps best conveyed by the course title, Write Your Way into Autumn. I had everyone spend about ten minutes in class writing a list of autumnal-inspired words, phrases and snippets of language. We then read aloud the words we each gathered.
This brief exercise promoted a feeling of turning within, of slowing down, of simply witnessing the world around and within us. And this brought that sense of presence, that magical spark, back into our shared time together.
This week, in both my Monday evening and Wednesday morning classes, we read from Deng Ming-Dao’s Everyday Tao, specifically the “Source” and “Return” entries of this book, which is chock-a-block with wisdom. Here’s how Deng (last name) closes the former entry:
“If you want to know Tao at its most fundamental, go back to the source. If you do go back to the source of Tao, you will also find the source of all your questions.”
To help my writing students better understand what Deng means by source, we then read the “Return” entry which closes thus:
“Our essential nature, our innocent self, is always in us. Everyone has one, and we need only return to it in order to understand it. Just as the spiral eddies toward the centre, we proceed from outer to inner to find the ultimate source.”
I then asked my students to write for ten to fifteen minutes on the following question: “What is our essence, our original nature, our innocent self?” As with last week’s autumnal word hoard, this brought mindfulness back to centre stage, and, again, the results were magical.
Here’s what one of my students, writer-animator Carl Sullivan, said about yesterday’s class:
“The last session for me had the most depth. To breathe into the now and find a moment of stillness before the pen starts moving gives you a chance to bypass the person who wants to be a writer, and to just write. Much as when I draw—I really don’t have an idea of what’s going to appear. To approach writing from a no-mind ‘now’ point lets the words be as free as a doodle. To doodle words in playful creativity with just a gentle expectancy, no pressure, just wondering what’s going to be revealed is as fun and free as drawing.”
What else is there to say, really?
Well, here’s what Carl wrote in response to the aforementioned question about our essence, our original nature, our innocent self, this final piece marking the end of our six weeks together:
inner smile purity
the Adventure of the Heart in child felt wonder,
joy springs dancing inside,
still as Now
mind at rest—being at peace,
real eyes to see
releasing tears of
cleansing the wounds
held whole and happy
grateful and true
10 Steps writing mindfully for your blog
- Find a still, quiet place within which to write.
- Before you begin writing, take a few minutes to ground yourself in the present moment by bringing a simple, uncomplicated awareness to the whole of your physical body.
- Simply observe what it feels like to inhabit your body, without mental comments or judgments.
- If you notice your mind wanders, that’s fine. Gently return your awareness to your body.
- When you feel centred, relaxed, and reconnected with your essence, slowly begin to move your fingers, toes, and limbs, and with a feather-light touch begin—with all your senses—to observe your surroundings while positioning yourself comfortably to begin writing.
- As you start writing, promote a sense of doing so with the whole of your being, with the whole of your physical body, rather than purely with the intellectual, wholly rational mind.
- Allow for writing to flow in imaginative, playful ways. Be curious, childlike.
- Try to maintain a general, global awareness of your body throughout the time you’re writing.
- Reawaken your mind, body and spirit by taking frequent breaks to stand, stretch and bring movement back into your body.
- When you’ve finished writing, gently take this mindful approach into the rest of your day.