Writing can be a powerful meditation practice, helping us to integrate our active mind with the mind of meditation. By using it as a process of inquiry, it can help us track our progress in loosening attachments and habitual states of mind even as it sharpens our ability to attend to the present moment. As little as 10 minutes of writing practice a day can reap great benefits.
Those who have a regular meditation practice can simply add the writing immediately following it, and those who find it difficult to do traditional meditation will find this practice fruitful as the writing gives your busy mind something to do, curbing your restlessness as you cultivate awareness of your overall experience. Writers will particularly find this practice beneficial, as the resulting free writes will be rich with ideas and images to seed further work.
All you need to get started is a timer, notebook and pen. The practice can be done in five simple steps:
- Begin by settling into a contemplative space of silence by taking a minimum of 21 conscious breaths -- or sitting in stillness for 5−15 minutes with your attention lightly on your breath, body sensations, or sounds in the room. Notice the atmosphere of your mind -- whether soft and spacious or grim and tight -- and set the intention to cultivate an atmosphere of warmth and openness toward yourself and your experience.
- Set the timer for 10 minutes and free write without stopping, beginning with the prompt "Right now..." Don't stop to reflect, edit, try to make sense or write a "piece." Simply finish the sentence and keep going until you run out of things to say, then write the prompt again and finish the sentence, and so on, until the timer goes off. You don't need to write fast -- just without pausing to think. Be willing to let the words surprise you: The idea is to relax your mind so that you can source the layer under your discursive thoughts -- though it is not "wrong" to write your conscious thoughts and feelings if they are dominating. In fact, there is no way to do it wrong.
- When the timer goes off, take a few breaths and then read aloud what you wrote, listening deeply to yourself. Try to resist the temptation to read it back in your head -- even whispering it aloud makes a difference. Notice what your mind does when you read it back -- expectations, fears, pleasures and judgments will likely arise. Allow them to be just as they are in an atmosphere of warmth and openness. You might jot a few notes on what you notice at the end of your piece for later reference.
- Now scan through the writing and underline any phrases, sentences or sections that strike you as particularly alive or that intrigue you for some reason -- you don't need to know why. Any of these fragments can be used as a prompt for another piece of timed writing, either now or in your next session. When you do use these fragments as prompts, remember that you can always return to the prompt "Right now..." at any time while doing a timed writing. This is the fundamental prompt for this practice.
- At the end of the session, share the benefits of the practice by making the wish that whatever insight you gained produce positive effects for yourself and all beings touched by you.
You'll be surprised at how quickly and effortlessly a thick pile of freewrites will accumulate if you do this practice daily. From time to time, you can go through and re-read what you've underlined, noticing themes, modes of thinking, or repetitive thoughts.
As long as you are faithful to doing at least 21 conscious breaths before writing and sincerely setting your intention to cultivate warmth and openness toward yourself, you will notice over time that these writings evolve and are quite different than journal entries or ruminations. The intention brought to the writing creates the conditions where insights can arise as you uncover hidden obstacles and unwind your judging mind into greater warmth, spaciousness and acceptance of your writing and your experience. Keep at it and you will begin sourcing the work more and more from spontaneous presence.
The practice can be done anywhere, and varying location and time of day when using the prompt "Right now..." can give you a fascinating glimpse into yourself as you go about your life, whether you sit for ten minutes with pen and paper under a tree or in a waiting room, in a hospital or at your kitchen table, at a posh resort or in a Bombay slum.
I invite your questions and responses to this practice both here and through my website, where you will find more resources to help you use writing as a tool of awakening: writingfromthesoul.net and flamingseed.com.