Big Mind: on writing

Writing is about so much more than words or placement on the page. It’s about breathing and feeling your feet on the floor, your voice rising through your body. It’s finding the road to your true nature, your interior voice, one like water that lies within, all the time, waiting. It’s about trying to live your life in a state of being that’s open to exploding thought and allowing yourself the hours and days to set it down.

It’s also about reading, listening to the sounds of words, educating yourself with each book, each audio tape, each reading you attend, before you start giving them. Getting so excited about language, a story, a poem that’s coming that you can hardly sit in the chair.

And it’s about concentrated learning and paying attention to honing each syllable after the initial draft, e.g., editing. I think of editing as what Jack Kornfeld titled After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, a wholly different process from writing, and it’s very good not to confuse the two.

The torment of not-writing is always greater than writing, and it seems that writers share the ability to put off writing until it’s either due or more unbearable to not write. The problem, for writers of any age, is often not that we lack the language or the thought process, or knowledge, or rhythm – what Virginia Woolf called “the wave in the mind” – to begin. It’s our fear that the work won’t be perfect or even good enough, won’t reflect that powerful image that rocks us off our feet and brings us back to the desk.

I come from thousands of pages on the floor as well as studying philosophies, literary and spiritual, on ways to write and to find language for what you want to say. Meditation, and graduate work in Asian and Native American writing, primordial world literatures akin to each other, have helped me employ the Zen concept of “big mind” to teaching writing. That is, I believe each writer is able to touch all of what has happened throughout the world, and can access, in a deeply focused state, the collective unconscious, the archetypes, shapes of stories that have grown in different forms and cultures. It’s a matter of our state of being.

Things come available slowly. Our task as writers is to gain access to our own biggest minds. I work with writers to discover their strongest, most authentic voice, and to act as a mirror to it. Each of us needs to find our own philosophy or spiritual practice as a guide for when the water gets rough, something you can make happen within and without to steer you through, because writing, and seriously making a go of it, isn’t easy. It’s a wave of enlightenment when the writing flows, and dreary and hard when it doesn’t, and you need to create a life that can shore you up, together with those you love, through these different periods.

Read a lot, as much as you can, read widely and from different time periods of the world. Write a lot. Make a lot of mistakes; you’ll learn as much from making things that don’t work, as much as the things that do. Finish everything you start, even if you don’t like how it ends; each piece will teach you far more, and you won’t end up with a pile of unfinished work. Create a sanctuary in your home, or a separate space for your writing. Light a candle (crack open a window to up the air quality) to make a sacred space while you write, a doorway into other worlds. You’ll find a way in. Be receptive to what comes. Be courageous. Smile.You’re writing.