The prolific spiritual writer and Zen-inspired Christian monk, Thomas Merton, said: “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones, directs us that,“What writing practice, like Zen practice does is bring you back to the natural state of mind…The mind is raw, full of energy, alive and hungry. It does not think in the way we were brought up to think-well-mannered, congenial.”
Imagine the wildness of a raw mind, without structure, context, or plot-making in mind. Imagine the practice of writing, primarily as spiritual exercise in the expansion of the self. Secondary is the finessing of the wild vines of life and words as one, into a story that is readable to anyone else. Maybe writing as a spiritual exercise will become a crafted story, but allowing it to be nothing but an exploration of the soul frees your mind, your words, and your life to enjoy “a prayer of words.”
INTRODUCTORY STEPS for Writing as a Spiritual Exercise:
- Pick a passage/quote from a spiritual text of your choosing. It can be a sacred text, a spiritual autobiography, or a poem that explores or evokes a faith journey. Write that quote at the crisp, blank top of a new page.
- Find a quiet, peaceful place where you can go uninterrupted: in the shade of a blossoming tree near a river, at the beach in the early morning or evening, or a nook in your house where you can see and feel the light of the day flicker through the blinds. Anywhere that calms but also satiates your senses.
- Take a few, deep, cleansing breaths. Breathe in through your nose, and out through your nose. Do this 3-6 times (or as long as you need to feel a little space between yourself and the frenetic, racing world).
- Read and re-read your chosen quote like a mantra. You can play with the formula. Read it aloud 2-3 times; read it in your head 2-3 more. Notice how it may resonate in different ways brought to your brain in different packages.
- Set a timer for yourself for 10 minutes.
- Free write on whatever the text inspires you to write until the timer goes off (ideally a gentle reminding hum, not a bullhorn-size sound).
- Read what you have written–without judgement, criticism, or a writer’s critique.
- See if any of your inspirations have surprised you, ignited a new idea for a story, or just brought you to a new sense of awareness about yourself.
- If it did none of these things–no worries! This is not about production, it is about process. Writing as a spiritual exercise is all about the process.
Has writing ever been a spiritual outlet for you? Has it ever felt like a private prayer or meditation? How does it feel to think of writing this way–comforting, resonant, frightening, or off-putting?