Jane Brunette has taught meditation and writing internationally, and has been practicing Tibetan Buddhism for many years. She offers the following guide to using writing as a spiritual practice. Jane will be leading a writing daylong on September 28th at Sukhasiddhi.
WRITING can be a powerful spiritual practice, helping us to integrate our active mind with the mind of meditation. By using it as a process of inquiry, it can also help us track our progress in loosening attachments and habitual states of mind. As little as ten minutes of writing practice a day, following a short meditation or your meditation practice period, can reap great benefits. All you need is a timer, notebook and pen.
The practice can be done in five simple steps:
1. Begin by settling into a contemplative space of silence. If you are doing the writing practice apart from your normal meditation practice, take a minimum of 21 conscious breaths, or sit for 10 − 30 minutes. Notice the atmosphere of your mind, and set an intention to cultivate warmth and openness for yourself as you do this practice. It helps to think of it as a form of maitri, developing awareness and compassion for yourself on a relative level.
2. Set the timer for ten minutes and freewrite 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.
3. When the timer goes off, take a few breaths and then read aloud what you wrote, listening deeply to yourself. Try to esist the temptation to read it back in your head –even whispering it aloud makes a difference. Notice what your mind does with the writing: expectations, fears, pleasures and judgments will likely arise. Allow them to be just as they are in an atmosphere of warmth and openness.
4. 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 point in the writing session. It is the central prompt of this practice.
5. At the end of the session, dedicate the merit of the practice by offering the wish that whatever benefit and insight you gain from this practice produce positive benefits and insights for all beings.
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, repetitive thoughts and feelings. If you are a writer, you can mine the freewrites for ideas, phrases, poems and images, using them as seeds for finished work.
By faithfully attending to the meditation practice immediately before writing, as well as cultivating an attitude of warmth and openness toward yourself and your writing, you may notice over time that these writings are quite different than journal entries or simple ruminations as you have created the conditions where insights can arise and hidden obstacles can be uncovered. As you continue to practice, you will more and more be sourcing the work from spontaneous presence.
This 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.