Heart to Heart Writing
Meditators gather in Palm Beach, Florida to explore writing as contemplative practice
by Tunde Nemeth
What a contemplative writing workshop is not: It’s not about grammar, style, structure, syntax, metaphor, word choice, or the pros and cons of the Oxford comma. Important as all of this may be, it’s not what interests me today.
What interests me today is heart, not technique. What interests me today is using the process of writing as a way to wake up. What interests me is having a direct experience of the present moment, and then capturing something true about that moment. What interests me is getting words to flow, getting at the heart of who I am, panning for nuggets of truth, and nudging them to the surface where I can see them and be present with them.
And what interests me is helping others do the same.
The method is simple. We sit and write together for a specified length of time, just a few minutes at first. We set a timer. We write for the entire time, without pause, until the timer goes off. We write first thoughts. We don’t cross out, we don’t reread, we don’t edit as we go along. We just write. We breathe. We write again, for a bit longer this time.
This is not always easy, just as sitting practice is not always easy. You know how everything in your life eventually shows up on the cushion? Same thing in your writing. You know how some of that is really painful, but in sitting practice, you learn how to sit through it? Same thing with writing. You know those voices in your head that won’t shut up when you’re just sitting there breathing? Yup, the voices are there when you’re writing too.
But then: you know how sometimes you get the tiniest glimmer of a moment of grace, when the world stops spinning for an instant, your thoughts suspended, body weightless, mind empty, and your entire being overflowing with an instant of total joy?
Yes. This, too, can happen when you’re writing.
What do we write about? The short answer is, whatever is in your heart at the moment. At the end of the day, that is what we’re aiming to get at: direct experience of the present moment. But the heart doesn’t always give up its secrets so easily. The path may be a winding one and there is often resistance and an inner critic that chops off any tender shoots that may push through. But we have a few tools up our sleeve to help us slide under and around that resistance, bypass that critic, and nurture those tender shoots.
The process is intimate and it can be somewhat fragile. So we respect that.
When we gather, we create a safe space, just like we do for sitting practice and walking meditation. When we write together, our purpose is to simply allow whatever emerges to go ahead and take shape on the page. Sometimes we want to share the results, sometimes we don’t. Either way is perfectly fine. We will have time to share if you wish, but if you don’t, no pressure, and no questions asked.
The purpose of reading aloud is simply to be heard. There can be a real power and magic in reading aloud what you’ve written, even if you’re by yourself. But the power of reading aloud in a group is that the group listens. Just listens – not to give feedback, analysis, comments, critique, or opinions, but to be present to what is being said. The group listens, just listens, with compassion and loving-kindess, and with open heart.
And the power and magic of that is endless.
A version of this article was previously published on the website of the Palm Beach Shambhala Center