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Worthy Words of Wordy Worthiness

In mindfulness meditation we train in shamatha—peaceful abiding. This is basically the ability to hang out with and be curious about our experience, whatever our experience is. Through shamatha, we learn that our experience is valid and worthy.

In writing we learn that some of our words and ideas are worthy of space on the page, and some are not.

This is called editing.

Not all words are useful all the time. When we edit, we get rid of the stuff that is not worthy of space on this particular page and make room for the stuff that is, based on the intention or the purpose of this piece of writing.

I thought about words a lot this weekend at the Yearlong Immersion training weekend at IDP. As we practiced giving basic mindfulness meditation instruction to one another, I was constantly evaluating my own words and the words of others. I asked myself over and over: Are my words communicating what mindfulness means? Am I using too many words? Not enough words? The right combination of words? The right timing of the right combination of words? I decided some words were more precise than others. Some were necessary, some were not. I edited my instruction on the spot (we all did.) The whole thing requires so much precision and understanding. I have a newfound appreciation for anyone who has ever given clear meditation instruction. 

When I write, I’m always editing. I’m editing now as I write this. I'm thinking about spelling and grammar, about what these words will communicate. I plan what the next sentence will be. I’m thinking ahead to where this piece is going. I’m deciding what is useful and what is not. I’m slashing the flaming sword of discernment and deciding what to accept and what to reject.

That’s helpful and necessary for communication.

But it’s a worthwhile exercise in peaceful abiding to hang out with your unedited words and thoughts for a while, and see what it feels like to give them ALL space on the page, no matter what they are, no matter how weird, or how misspelled, or how inappropriate, or how unlike you, or how funny, or how nonsensical. Some fascinating stuff can arise if we allow space for that.

This is freewriting. Natalie Goldberg calls it First Thoughts. Here are her directions for a timed writing exercise (I’d recommend ten minutes to start.)

1.     Keep your hand moving. (Don’t pause to reread the line you have just written. That’s stalling and trying to get control of what you’re saying.)

2.     Don’t cross out. (That is editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write, leave it.)

3.     Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. (Don’t even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.)

4.     Lose control.

5.     Don’t think. Don’t get logical.

6.     Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.)

Goldberg explains:

First thoughts are unencumbered by ego, by that mechanism in us that tries to be in control, tries to prove the world is permanent and solid, enduring and logical. The world is not permanent, is everchanging and full of human suffering. So if you express something egoless, it is also full of energy because it is expressing the truth of the way things are. You are not carrying the burden of ego in your expression, but are riding for moments the waves of human consciousness and using your personal details to express the ride.

So when you write, edit, because editing is necessary, but know that you are editing, and give yourself an intentional break sometimes to let your words and thoughts hang out in the playground of the page. The page can be boundless, revealing, and fun.



Come join us at IDP for the Mindful Writing class on Saturday March 9th, 1-3pm. Email [email protected] for more information.

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