Thursday, June 16, 2016

Hymn of Binaries, Mantra for Equanimity

Hymn of Binaries, Mantra for Equanimity

If you seek something for your writing, allow yourself to be pulled in the opposite direction. Don’t resist tides.
            So if you seek completion, let yourself be pulled toward the fragmentary, the dissolving, pixels scattering on the horizon, like water receding from stones, like an ellipsis being pulled in, an acknowledgement withdrawn, a closeness evaporating.
            If you seek acclaim or acceptance for your writing, let yourself be tugged toward obscurity, let yourself be imprinted with the forks of absent sand pipers.
            If you want to write a lot and often, go toward writing nothing, away from the shore and toward that black & white horizon with the numbered cloud.
            If you want to write in X genre or on X project, let yourself be dragged toward Y.
            If you crave privacy from audience, let yourself be pulled toward full exposure, to immediate performance, and vice versa, if you sorely want to write for an audience, let yourself write for no one.
            If you seek to be fully conscious while writing, let yourself be dragged under by the unconscious.
            If you wish to forget everything that you have written, remember everything that you have written until the landscape is fifteen or fifty oceans thick.
            If you seek to be original, repeat everything twice, three times, for an entire page until the wide-ruled, double-laned sea is covered with the same shapes.
            If you want to continue your writing session, let yourself stop writing for the day.
            If you wish to understand push-pull, let yourself sail along on the hyphen between those two words.
            If you want to be without goals and ambitions, let yourself be loaded with the cargo of those items by the dozens, in car-sized crates, let your ship the size of three football fields be filled with trinkets and non-necessities.
            If you prefer to write prose, write poetry. If you prefer to write nonfiction, write fiction.
            If you want to spend not so much time at the writing desk, let yourself spend days at a time at the writing desk.
            If you seek to write free of disturbances, place yourself in a setting in which you will be constantly spoken to.
            If you hope to reach destinations of surprise and discovery through your writing, let yourself land on the plateau of nothing new, where the mohawked sun occasionally rests its chin.
            And vice versa, reversing the process.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Lag Time Around a Bit of Writing: Easy Mindful Writing Trick

Here's a very simple way to observe mindfulness happening while writing: make use of the lag time between having a thought and recording a thought.

1. Record precisely (same wording, same punctuation) a phrase or sentence that comes to you. Watch the bit of writing arrive and then either hand write or type slowly, watching yourself record it.

2. Notice all the sensations of writing the bit of language down: the movement of your typing fingers, the pen gripped, the palms face-planting on the warm laptop surface. Notice your breathing, of course.

3. Record the bit of writing precisely as it arrived despite alterations that will almost immediately appear in your mind and on the surface of your breathing. You'll probably hear qualifications, edits, versions, second thoughts, and follow-up notions. They are happening because your intrapersonal or internal voice has been engaged and is reacting.

4. After you've completely written down the bit of writing as it originally appeared, jot down the other reverberations, but don't edit any of the material.

5. To record a phrase or thought exactly as it originally appears means honoring the moment.

6. This activity is a "perfect storm" of mindful writing. It can make you more aware of the present moment and also of the next moment and (because we are writers) all the content that both situations provide.

7. Another outcome from doing this activity is that all-important separation of creating from editing.

8. Yet another is that you're practicing acceptance (a form of writing grace) by continuing to faithfully record a thought which by now has been amended or added to.

9. This activity is very simple and takes a few seconds. It provides a compact experience of mindful writing.

10. Repeat, not worrying about cohesion (not yet).


Sunday, May 22, 2016

You Write Twice Each Time

Each time a person sits down to write, two texts (minimally) happen, one of which has received nearly all of our attention while the other has been largely overlooked. 

One text is noticed, pursued, and distributed, made visible and external, while the other operates invisibly, mostly outside anyone’s notice, including the writer. 

The first text is part of an external, interpersonal rhetoric that has been studied and taught since the beginnings of writing education. It's the one that's presumably shared with others: the one that has other people as readers. 

The second text is part of an internal, intrapersonal rhetoric that always occurs alongside the external. It usually remains invisible to other readers, and it may be more heard-in-the-head than actually transcribed. The second text is in fact formative to the first. 

Internal writing is actually the primary text because it precedes any external rhetoric which is inevitably the second to be produced. Internal rhetoric is also the most immediate discourse available to a writer: the first on the rhetorical situation scene, its shaping influence on subsequent externally shared writing should not be underestimated. 

Intrapersonal rhetoric is that procession of phrases, images, emotions, prompts, fragments, overheard language, self-generated judgments about writing ability, Vygotskian inner speech, Henry Jamesian stream of consciousness, sensations, after-images, anticipations of audience, and crystallizations of past writing performances. 

This cognitive flotsam and jetsam is important for a whole host of reasons. First, it’s through intrapersonal rhetoric that an individual frames his or her writing ability. Second, it's through intrapersonal rhetoric that a person addresses audience. Finally, intrapersonal rhetoric leads to discoveries of content. 

This inner babble that all of us entertain on an ongoing basis, whether or not we’re particularly aware of it, really is a type of rhetorical constraint and directly applies to the writing situation because it evokes audience, generates content, and affects our perception of purpose.

The next time you write, see if you can sense the two texts you are creating in tandem.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Role of Mindfulness in Rhetoric

If you'd like to read more about the connections between mindfulness and rhetorical theory, take a look at my recent article, "The Role of Mindfulness in Kairos" in Volume 35, Issue 1 (2016) of Rhetoric Review. 


The natural inclination of writers is toward mindlessness or inattention to the present moment despite the benefits understanding the present can bring to writing. Although temporal consciousness is apparent in notions of writing as a process or of writing as situated in a rhetorical context, these ideas largely overlook the present. Buddhist Mindfulness can help with the development of kairotic or present-moment specific practice by including impermanence in the rhetorical context, by emphasizing real time in composing, and by providing access to intrapersonal rhetoric. Increased understanding of the temporal factors of writing calls for an Eastern-mind progymnasmata in rhetorical praxis.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Mentally Imagined Self of the Writer

In Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy, Evan Thompson says: "If our mind wanders, the mentally imagined self of the past or future overtakes the self of the present moment."

Image result for evan thompson waking dreaming being
What does this have to do with writing? Everything.

Who are you right now in your present moment writing situation?

What sorts of preconceptions (about your past and future writing abilities) are you lugging into the present moment?

How much imaginative energy are you expending by pretending that someone else is writing at your desk? Is someone from 1989 or 2004 or 2018 or 2025 taking your seat?

Why shortchange the present moment?

(As a side note: to followers of this blog, I am taking some time off in order to write a prose project on mindful writing. Please stay tuned. I hope this post finds you and your writing very well.)

* image from

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Repost of Corpse Pose (Or Relaxation Pose) for Writing

If we reach the point where we can't write because we're too preoccupied, caught up in hopes for a particular outcome or facing roadblock, we can restore ourselves to a more open, inventive position. 

The Corpse Pose for Writing (or Relaxation Pose) is a method for reducing anxiety around a piece of writing. It's a way to give ourselves a fresh start and make any phase of writing resemble the earliest phases of invention.

Clear your desk or writing area of any signs of the project (including pens, pencils, Post-Its, notebooks, review letters, feedback). 

Divide the draft into 5-7 parts.

Each part, no matter the genre, should not exceed 250-500 words. The pieces should be of a length that you can read with ease in a minute. Dividing the work in this way may mean you need to select from a much longer document, so select sections which are particularly troublesome for you. Do include your current opening or introduction.

Place each part on separate screens or print out onto separate pieces of paper. Move in reverse order, putting the chunk closest to the end of the document (the feet) on the first screen or sheet of paper, followed by a subsequent passage on the next screen, until the very last screen or page of paper holds the opening (the head) of this document.

Watching your in and out breath, turn your attention to the "feet" of the document--only the feet. 

Put all of your attention on this section: reread it. Scan it up and down for any sort of tension that arises. Where are you frustrated, irritated, worried, or any other emotion? Don't try to fight off these emotions: simply observe them with a detached mind. Scan also for images, associations, and new ideas that arise from your mindfully watching the feet of the document. 

After a few minutes, release this part of the document. Release the feet: let it sink back down onto the floor (if a sheet or paper) or into the computer (close the screen). Let go of everything concerning that section.

Watching your in and out breath, turn your attention now to the "calves and thighs" of the document--only this section. 

Put all of your attention on this section: reread it. Scan it up and down for any sort of tension that arises. Where are you frustrated, irritated, worried, or any other emotion? Again, don't try to fight off these emotions: simply observe them with a detached mind. Scan also for images, associations, and new ideas that arise from your mindfully watching the legs of the document. 

After a few minutes, release this part of the document. Release the legs: let them sink back down onto the floor (if a sheet or paper) or into the computer (close the screen). Let go of everything concerning that section.

Move now to the "pelvic area" and "belly" of the document. Repeat the same steps as above. Then let go of everything concerning those sections.

Move to the "torso" or "chest" area of the document. Repeat the same steps and then let go of everything concerning that section.

Move to the "arms" and "hands" of the document. Repeat the steps and then let go of everything concerning those sections. 

Move to the "shoulders" and "neck" of the document. Repeat the steps and then let go of everything concerning those sections.

Move to the "face" of the document, observing even the finest strain of mental-musculature tension. Because this is the face, it is what the world sees most about our writing: it is the most noticeable part of our document. The beginning of the document thus can contain the most complicated of stresses, built up over time. Repeat the steps and then let go.

Last of all, move to the "crown" of the document, the space above the first section, where a title lies or might reside one day. 

By now the rest of the document is relaxed. You are probably relaxed. Spend a few moments in this state. If it is possible, have a writing companion ask you a question about your document or writing experience. In this relaxed state, so close to the floor, so close to the unconscious, you may find insights and ideas not possible with a strained, tight mind. 

Variation: try each of these steps as a freewrite.

(If you liked this post, try "Yoga for Hands" from 9/11/2012: it's another embodied writing technique.)

* image from

Monday, January 11, 2016

Repost of Sutra on Preconception


            Thus I have heard. At one time, the Writer appeared in the hallway outside the administrative offices at the University of MFA Program, and a great many disciples were miraculously assembled, having paid conference and retreat fees and taken time off from work. The Writer knowing of the mental agitations going on in the minds of those assembled (like the surface of the ocean stirred into waves by the passing winds), and his great heart moved by compassion, smiled and said, We have spoken about the prolonging of invention, and now we must speak about the prolonging of emptiness. We have discussed the prolonging invention, but before invention comes emptiness.

Experience arises from emptiness,

and emptiness arises from experience (Suzuki).

From whence does language arise? Because language arises, because it is not always present, because it changes from word to word, there is something else, something always present, and that something is emptiness. Just as there are gaps between typed words, so too is there a gap between the moment before writing and the moment of writing.
            All writing is thus preverbal. All writing is built on emptiness, and emptiness is preverbal. We say “preverbal” and not “nonverbal” because the presumption is that language will rush in, that intrapersonal talk is definite, that it is only a matter of time (a few moments) before the blankness ends and fills with the conversation of our consciousness. But emptiness is also nonverbal in that it is freedom from all obligation, all mental formulations, all perception, including the obligation to write, including mental formulations about the act of writing, including perceived images and words that create the content of writing.
            There are different kinds of unknowing, oh bhikku, but they must be differentiated from mindless unknowing which is a blank or erasure that replaces the present moment versus the other kinds of unknowing that we discuss, for they are the contents of the present moment mindfully perceived. Mindlessness is a kind of pollution on pure mind. 
             There is the unknowing of unfamiliarity, the disorientation that makes the routine suddenly remarkable, that lets us perceive the uniqueness of that which we have thought of as a copy or repetition. This unfamiliarity is usually on the small scale: not recognizing a word, a word of routine suddenly looks strange, its spelling odd. 
             There is the unknowing of the fragmentary, that which occurs between the floes in our internal voice. Not knowing where one’s mind will next jump, the coming up of ideas entails leaping over wide expanses of unknowing. 
              There is the unknowing of the duration or how long it will take to complete a writing project, not knowing whether it can be completed in a few days or weeks or will take years or decades before the writer has a complete picture of the idea. 
               There is the unknowing of the unconscious, that which will take wide swipes at one’s awareness, the erasure of what has been only a moment before provided by the present, the abduction of a new thought greeted only seconds before it is pulled like a seal by a killer whale into the cold depths of unknowing. The unknowing of the unconscious pulls too at the writer, making her drowsy, making the writer nap, those siren calls to join it in a deep white sleep. 
               Preconception is a form of false knowing. It is an overstocking of the present moment with contents not found in the present moment. Preconceptions are the Ego’s attempt to control the vastness of the possible moment. They are false starts on the moment. They are a gamble on the moment: rather than reside in the non-verbal to consult the possible, we prefer to fill the moment with guesses. We replace possibility with a smaller, shorter, diminished content. We shackle ourselves to a premature commitment. Because of impermanence, the ever-shifting moment offers more manifold possibilities than a seemingly static preconception. We substitute one type of unknowing, that of emptiness, with another type of unknowing, that of preconception, a far lesser grade, oh bhikkuni. 
             For what can be known outside of the present moment, oh disciples? For what action occurs outside of the present? Even the action of knowing occurs in the present moment.
             There are preconceptions of alphabet, there are preconceptions of syntax and grammar, of vocabulary as well as how to hold a pen or pencil, form letters or type. A notion about how many pages or word count would make a successful writing session is a preconception. Preconceptions of the content you think you should or will write, preconceptions of the amount you should or will write, preconceptions about the genre you should or will write. Preconception too is the notion that to write is a positive thing as well as to write nothing is a negative phenomena. Preconception of how long it will take to complete a text, preconception that a text will ever advance or be finished or even read by others. You can not know in advance how long you will sit under the gnarled tree. Preconceptions of structure, organization. Preconception of what is mindfulness and what is mindlessness. Preconceptions of skill, knowledge, and training. Preconception of how many pages you will write today or the next day. There are preconception of process, of where one is in the writing process, ones that lead to misperception of one’s actual actions in the moment (See Keith Hjortshoj).
            Practice approaching one’s writing with a blank mind, free of preconception. Gradually decide which pre-existent abilities, content, or approaches can be returned to the mind. When you study Buddhism, you should have a general house cleaning of your mind. You must take everything out of your room and clean it thoroughly. If it is necessary, you may bring everything back in again. You may want many things, so one by one you can bring them back. But if they are not necessary, there is no need to keep them (Suzuki). Reel back in your literacy, your ability to write in the language, to follow grammatical rules. You may find you want to return a certain character or approach to voice or way of engaging in the writing process. Bring them back into the moment of your writing but do so mindfully, with awareness of their presence and impact.

*Material borrowed from Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, as well as Goddard's The Buddhist Bible.