I remember one year of my life that was particularly challenging. I wrote every day, much of it banal, boring, self-absorbed, and composed of sloppy prose that was intended for no one's eyes -- not really even my own, because the act of writing was a purging. Whatever traces of my activity that remained on the page when I was finished were already irrelevant to me. I drew something out of my mind by giving it a form outside of myself. The act of inscribing was what was significant, not the evidence of the act. The physicality of the process was key. At the end of the year I shredded almost all of it.
I frequently go through times when I commit to writing every day for an entirely different reason: for delight, for the curiosity of seeing what emerges from my mind via my fingertips on a keyboard or my right hand sliding a pen or pencil across a page. This writing is an adventure into myself, the same as creating a drawing, closing my eyes for meditation, or moving on my yoga mat. I know where I am and know which road I am taking, but I don't know where I'll end up: just enough structure and just enough serendipity.
The results of these periodic writing commitments are rich, much like my daily asana and meditation practices. This is not to say that I don't write a lot of bad prose and self-indulgent meandering destined for deletion. I do. And similarly, I have days in which my meditation is elusive, cluttered, unsatisfying. Or perhaps my body only grudgingly complies with the particular asana practice I've offered it. But the commitment, the ritual, shows me again and again that a regular practice cannot help but produce something. The writing may be 90 percent drivel, but that juicy and substantial 10 percent would not have happened without the rest.
The practice of yoga asana, the practice of meditation, the practice of writing: In each of these, commitment and repetition coalesce into ritual, and ritual both holds and creates meaning. In our lives. About ourselves. In the world.
Writing can be a purging, a meditation, a creative investigation in the same way that our asana practice can burn off what isn't serving us, draw us into contemplation, or ignite our creativity. The process can feel hesitant or fluid, peaceful or driven, playful or gut wrenching. There are as many different types of writing experiences as there are ways in which to combine words. It's a strange compulsion, but an essential one to those who feel compelled, and it can heal you, save you, giving words to the choked longing, dense blockage, or unarticulated self. Like offering movement to the tight muscles in our bodies, giving words to the dense tangle of stuff that sits inside of us can release what is held, offering us the experience of freedom.
When I look back upon that year, I remember the feverish need I sometimes had to turn on the light sometime before dawn and scribble into a notebook, scrawling words or a thought, ideas pouring from my fingertips like water: a thought or dream fragment, written under dull light along the side of a magazine or in the back pages of a book, tossed on the ground by my bed.
I remember the sensation of pulling a thought from my body like a wordless fibrous thing wrapped around organs and slipping past bone as I drew it out bit by bit, clothing it with words to release its hold and exit me, now a named external thing or experience.
Sometimes we realize that at a certain point a practice became a ritual, characterized by its pattern and by its effect upon us, a container and conveyor of meaning: meeting a friend for coffee every day, listening to a particular type of music when we cook, touching our hand to our heart at the end of our asana practice. At other times, we create an intentional ritual in order to shape our world in a particular way. This is ritual used as a tool to create meaning: deciding to do five sun salutes every morning or sitting to meditate when we get out of bed, writing and writing until something changes, shifts, and clarifies. We engage in the ritual until the meaning emerges.
There is a yoga to this. An act of connection. A reordering and realigning. Like meditation and yoga asana, writing has the capacity to create and shape the space of our bodies and minds. Writing can heal us. And writing can offer us ourselves.
Begin right now. Five minutes. On your phone or computer, on an envelope or a napkin, on whatever is in front of you, just write. And see what happens. I would love to hear about it.
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