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 petercallesen.com

Monday, January 11, 2016

Repost of Sutra on Preconception

THE 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. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

New Year Wishes for Your Writing


Breathing in, your writing is here.

Breathing out, your writing is here.

Your ability to write is always present.

May it provide you with much joy in 2016.



Image by www.zerve.com

Friday, December 18, 2015

Article, "The Role of Mindfulness in Kairos," published in Rhetoric Review

The Role of Mindfulness in Kairos

I am very pleased that my article, "The Role of Mindfulness in Kairos," is in the current issue of Rhetoric Review: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hrhr20/current

Here's the abstract:

Abstract

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.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Mindful Writing Fairy Tale



Once day, it's like the sea pulling away from all contact with the shore. Everyone (all the writers of the world) stops submitting to contests, stops sending out so much work, stops writing with an eye toward publication until they         stop altogether. A few months pass, everyone (all the literary journals of the world) receives fewer and fewer submissions, their Submittable services and email boxes less and less full until, one day, nothing             stop altogether. But the writers continue writing. The writers are not stopping. They're writing by themselves at desks with single lamps late into the night, or they're writing on phones during long commutes, retreating with their writing. The woman is listening for the symbol in her voice. The man is watching for the symbol in his voice. Then the same retreat happens with school writing, less and less of it, fewer assignments, fewer essays, fewer projects and exercises.The sound of a sea retreating, clattering over word pebbles, taking their phrases over pebbles, making them smooth. Less and less is read. Less and less is graded. Feedback is at a decrescendo. Students are listening for the symbol of their voice. The desks of writers and of classrooms stand in the middle of a happy listening silence.

* image provided by voicesofyouth


Monday, October 12, 2015

Door Closed, Door Open & the Discipline of Privacy

 "Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open."
                                     --Stephen King


The door to the study closes; the door to the study opens. Writing and rewriting is two-part, like breathing. Breathing in, I write by and for myself; breathing out, I may reshape my writing for others. The act of writing takes a combination of discipline and privacy. First, a person who is writing needs to assume her right to write which is the same as one's right to privately write and keep the audience out. Part of discipline means shutting the door. All of us must learn strategies to keep the temptations and strictures of audience at bay. Then consider the ideal working conditions behind that closed door--the second part of the discipline of privacy. This means developing a regular practice of writing that feels low-stakes, as normal as breathing. Nothing special. Happens often. No or few preconceptions about product or outcome. Just as it's the writer's responsibility to shut the door and claim his privacy, he also needs to make sure that what happens inside the room maintains that privacy. No one else will build that working environment for the writer: he must do so himself. A writer will shut that bright door more and more often--what others would call "discipline"--because of the happiness which occurs behind the closed door.


* image provided by ingredientsoflove

Monday, September 28, 2015

Repost of It Takes MindLESSness to Reach MindFULness


It's the nature of writing to be mindless because of the dominance of the unconscious (ideas that do not want to be discovered by the conscious mind) or because of our pursuit of the state of “flow” or inspiration (with its subjective relation to the passing of time).

But what happens in flow?

The monkey mind, our discursive thinking, has drawn us in so sufficiently that we are carried along by its images and the sound of our intrapersonal conversation. We forget where we are; it as is though we are watching a fully absorbing movie, a movie of the mind. 

It's a pleasurable state, this state of distraction, this condition of union with our inner talk. Our union is so seamless that we are no longer aware of our inner talk, of its presence, its tonalities. One idea after another draws us along happily on its verbal floe, a warm passage of energy, thought and the pleasure of creativity, a stretch of freedom from our anxiety or doubts about writing.

If we are fortunate, this transport goes on for minutes if not hours or days, and we keep writing. We seek this absorption into our intrapersonal communication. We seek oblivion to what is actually happening: we seek to be dominated by our self-talk, a dominance that is typically called “inspiration.” It's a happy, happy sound, this rattling of the letters on the keyboard. 

However, this state is limited; the ability of our intrapersonal talk to float us along is finite, and we will be called back to our awareness of the moment, of where we are, of what we are doing, of the fact that we want to write. Possibly we will be beached upon our longing for that state of flow and oblivion.

In truth if we were completely mindful individuals we might never write a sentence. This is because writing calls for a degree, a large swath, of mindlessness. 

But it's that moment when we are forced back to land, cast ashore on reality, separate from our inspired state, that we perhaps most need mindfulness—with all of its capacity for acceptance of impermanence and its capacity for non-dualistic thinking.

It's through mindfulness, through drawing our attention to the moment and to our intrapersonal talk, to being aware of what we are saying inside and at the same time being aware of our context, that we will again and perhaps almost immediately be able to submerge ourselves into that flow—to find mindlessness. And so the cycle continues.

But for stuck individuals, this cycle is not allowed to happen, this move between mindfulness, mindlessness, and back to mindfulness and so forth. Stuck or anxious writers are unable to find a place in that cycle—and it is a cycle, a constant gyration between Able To and Not Writing—a permanent instability. 

The paradox is that without mindfulness we can never be fully mindless, never be the writer we optimally might become.