WRITING AS A SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
I have engaged with the writer’s craft for many years now and respect its power to shape and mould, not only the writer’s life, but the reader’s as well. Writing, in its full presence, has become so important to me, so central to my existence, that I could not imagine a life without it. But that is not to deny the struggle that can develop sometimes between what I need to say, and what words will allow me to say. Writing is not easy – language sometimes refuses to co – operate, refuses to serve us in expressing our innermost thoughts, refuses to offer us any assistance until it can eventually breaks down altogether……
Being patient and staying with it, allowing fallow periods to fall, allowing it to rest in short, dry seasons is part of the writer’s practice. But a return to creativity, in time, will be available provided that we can sustain our interest in, and our commitment to, this difficult yet wondrous path that we have chosen.
” Make writing your practice. If you commit to it, writing
will take you as deep as Zen.”
Writing for me has become a deep, spiritual practice which at times gently leads me by the hand to the destination of my unknown, lived life saying: ” Look, what do you see? ”
At other times it sweeps me along to the very core of an escaping experience and whispers:” Open it up and explore it for a fuller understanding “. In its supreme moments, when it forgets its very existence, the process can plunge me into the very depths of mystery to capture moments of insight, which on exposure, have changed my life by leading me forward to reconsideration, fresh appraisal, new beginnings – an awakening into a new and better existence.
Writing explores many avenues, serves many interests, and to these I will now turn……
Writing as illumination
Emerson told Thoreau to keep a journal of his days. This he did for the next 25yrs, until his eventual death. The journals incorporated all his thoughts on a wide range of subjects, including the nature observations that he made in the woods that surrounded his New England home. The writing ( often in note form ) was so detailed it was said that if ever Thoreau fell into a mysteriously long and deep slumber, on awakening he could tell, just from looking at his notes and observing nature, what time of year it was within 2 days…..
Thoreau paid attention – writing, at its best, makes us pay attention….
Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, wrote a number of books that came to have a profound effect on a post – war generation who were looking for spiritual nourishment to guide their lives. His writing was so deep and so inspiring that it still retains its profundity, relevance and freshness ( like Thoreau’s writing ) even in today’s post – modernist world. Merton touched truths in his writing, fundamental truths that resonate within our lives that is why he is still read. Merton looked at the world around him and tried to go beyond the obvious, surface interpretations in order to penetrate the spiritual core that we all need to connect with. When Merton wrote he paid attention.
When we are connected to the writing process we learn to think more deeply and intensely. We learn to contemplate and reflect more thoroughly. Writing becomes a searchlight on our world, lighting up areas that have remained in darkness for so long. Writing cultivates sharp observation, looking at details that come directly out of real life. Writing, in its full presence, is our teacher.
Writing as therapy
Writing is healing. It can engage us in the recognition of our woundedness so that we can start on the process of reparation. It enables us to venture back into the past, and reflect, in order to re – evaluate the place that pain and suffering has brought us to. Writing, authentic writing, helps us to bear witness to our intensely felt feelings, which may have been buried for so long. It helps us to honour their existence, rather than just continuing to deny or ignore them so that they can fester. It enables us to look at the truth we thought we understood, to reveal a deeper truth, a truth that can set us free from our old perceptual framework.
Isabel Allende once remarked that the process of writing ‘ House of Spirits ‘, her award winning book……. ” Saved my life.” Writing for Allende was an exploratory journey into understanding her sense of grief and pain. Her involvement with this practice of solitary concentration brought her to a realization of release, she said: ” The world became more tolerable.”
In the very process of engaged writing a strange thing occurs, we ‘ cross over ‘ to become participant observers, viewing our very own experiences in a slightly detached way, which not only allows insight to develop, but also acceptance. When the writing goes deeper we start to listen more to the authentic voice within. We become more honest with ourselves and honestly is a prerequisite for healing.
Writing, when we really give to it, can be our mentor, our therapist, our healer
Writing as a craft…as an art
Working mindfully with words, crafting their potential fine beauty into shape, seeing if they dovetail together to give a coherent imaginative, accurate expression to our thought processes is what the writers’ craft is all about. And like all crafts we have to learn the skills involved in the fire of experience, there is no other way. You cannot realistically become equipped to be a fine writer over night. Prodigies may appear in a number of creative endeavours ( eg, music, drawing, painting even mathematics ) but they never really appear in literature. As Thoreau noted in one of his journals: ” How can we expect a harvest of thought who have not had a seed time of character,”
Words are the tools of a writer’s expression and to learn to use these tools effectively, and meaningfully, the writer must make a real commitment to her craft – studying life; studying writing diligently, attentively, responsibly. A bricklayer lays bricks end to end in order to complete his work and so the writer lays words end to end in order to express her craft. The bricklayer turns up to do the job ( not suffering from creative anxiety ) and so the writer must turn up on the page, workman like, and do her job. That’s the commitment….
Writing, in one sense, never leaves us because if we are not engaged in the actual process of writing itself, we are observing, thinking, reflecting, speculating, making notes, playing around with words, all of which eventually filters back into our writing. So when we are not writing we are still writing….
Somerset Maugham once said ” There are three rules to the secret of successful writing, but nobody knows what they are.” I think I do. The ‘ rules ‘ required to write creatively and imaginatively, in my experience, are – practice, practice, and more practice. There is no other way. Good writing will not come to an unprepared mind, will not erupt onto the page from nowhere, it has to be nurtured in a long process of committed learning and engagement.
” Sense and sweetness for a whole lifetime, and a long one if possible, and then, at the very end, you might perhaps be able to write ten good lines.”
Rilke knew something about commitment to creative writing…….
All artistic endeavours take you on a journey across uncharted landscapes in search of truth, beauty, revelation……and it is writing, at its very best, that leads the way. Writing is an art, a fine art that has preoccupied the most intelligent, imaginative and creative minds, taking them to where they need to be in vast continents of thought and reflection.
Writing as meditation
Listening, quiet listening, is an important part of the writing process. A writing where we must be physically, mentally and creatively present in a still, silent presence at our desk or in nature – open and receptive. Waiting in readiness for words and thoughts to gently appear. Listening to what has to be said, what has to be spoken by a ‘ whispered teacher ‘.Waiting……waiting without anticipation or expectation. Open, patient, without judgement, without identification, without attachment ready to accept anything and everything, and then, if you can write, you must write…..
In a large garden of a Franciscan Friary, in a wooden chalet that I call my home, I write. Quite often, when sitting at my desk, my mind can start to drift off….. Sometimes it’s the call of a songbird perched near my window sill. At other times it’s the noise of fox cubs play fighting in the shrubs. Sometimes it’s the flapping of a butterfly’s wings which is trying to settle on the flowering bushes nearby. At other times it’s the arrival of bees that come to visit me in my room – uninvited but very welcomed. Sometimes it’s the play of soft sunlight filtering through my window blinds. At other times it’s the stilled silence that can pervade the garden. This is a special place, a sacred space, that calls my attention to the fact that I am not alone, that I am somehow part of a complex network of interactive life that flourishes here. An interconnected, eco – system of such fine beauty and presence that it somehow informs my most precious writing moments…..
When I’m grounded in my writing, or indeed my meditation, time itself shifts from its rigid, chronological constraints and moves in freer ways. It’s presence less marked, softer. Sometimes it is not felt at all as I’m taken to a point of peace and calm where time no longer seems to matter…. This is a special
‘ space ‘ where a sense of letting go naturally surfaces within me, A ‘ space ‘ where I can lose my sense of self completely so allowing the possibility of the new to enter, and this is where the best of my writing begins…
When writing engages our full being, when it moves us forward into feelings of wholeness and oneness, when it dissolves all our mental preoccupations leaving just a relaxed, spacious awareness, then it ceases to be simply ‘ writing ‘ and becomes meditation
Writing, in its most nourishing form, IS meditation……
I am most alive when I am writing well. Writing where my thought processes are alert and concentrated allowing words, in their most appropriate form, to surface on the page expressing precisely what I want, and need, to say. Slowly, but confidently, sentences and paragraphs take shape to please and delight me. They also inform and educate me. The entire construction process, in a very real sense, is quite beyond my control and has a life all of its own – a life that I cannot confer ownership on.
The road goes on….Once you seriously and responsibly decide to embark on a writing life you cannot really consider any alternative. To do so is to restrict and stifle your potential. Yes, difficulties will come to you in your writing, as in life generally, but they must be viewed as part of an overall process of learning and adaptation for future growth.
The road goes on….We all hit creative blocks, at times, where our work suffers. That’s only natural. It isn’t possible to lead constantly inspirational lives, where the work just goes forward, uninterrupted. But provided we stay committed to our writing and persevere, then we will eventually reconnect to our creative source
The road goes on….Age should never be a barrier for engaging with the writer’s craft. Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales when he was over sixty, and Goethe wrote Faust when he was over eighty, Age, in fact, can be at a premium in writing simply because there is a greater wealth of experience to draw on and express.
The road goes on….We write because we need to write. because we have to write.
When pursued with mindfulness, with skilful presence, writing becomes a spiritual practice that will stretch and develop us as individuals, giving us glimpses of an enlarged world that hitherto we never thought possible. Writing opens up a special door for us, a door to nirvana – the nirvarna of language, the nirvana of understanding, the nirvana of reconciliation, and who of us could refuse to step through this
” The words that enliven the soul are more precious than jewels.”
Hazat Inayat Khan
WRITE WELL – JOURNEY WELL