Winter has completely set in. It’s cold and snowy outside but warm and cozy in my living room. I’m facing the northeast and the pale sun peeks through my windows as earthy incense wafts through the room. Soft piano music plays in the background while Basil, my 8-month-old cuter-than-ever puppy snoozes on the sofa, offering to be my muse for this day of writing.
Setting has always played an important role in my writing process. The right sights, sounds, and environment are critical to helping me tap into the sometimes-elusive creative wellspring that dwells in my soul.
I’m a soul-writer. And as far as I’m concerned, there’s no better writing.
But tapping into one’s soul sometimes poses a challenge.
I’m also an internal processor. That’s how I navigate the labyrinth of my soul. So when it’s time write, I know that relative solitude, silence, and stillness will be essential for finding my way within.
Solitude, silence, and stillness are three essential qualities of contemplative life. And contemplation is about non-judging observation.
By adopting a contemplative stance, writers observe what is.
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Rather than separating ourselves from what is through judging, analyzing, and criticizing, in contemplation we learn how to be with it, just as it is.
It’s remarkable how wisdom emerges when we can simply be.
The following practices help me to do just that—to be. From being-ness, emerges life. And life can then flow in the form of words connected to words that help the reader connect to her or his self and the wider world of meaning and purpose.
Image courtesy of Intervarsity Press
What practitioners have known for centuries in the East, Westerners are just beginning to realize: meditation is good for the mind, body, and spirit.
Meditation frees the mind and can helps a writer to get in touch with a more expansive reality—a reality of truth and meaning that is not limited by the constraints and limitations of the mind.
This practice allows me to write with less inhibition.
Nature holds much of the wisdom our souls long for, but modernization has a way of cutting us off from this life-source.
Writers have to be ever more intentional to engage with nature.
If we are so fortunate as to have an able-body, then engaging nature by walking is the way to go—no matter how cold it is outside! Every season offers unique perspective.
Like meditation, walking in the natural world has a way of freeing the mind from its small confines. The blue sky, towering trees, and critters of all species remind me that I’m a part of a much larger symphony.
When I take time to be in nature, my part in the music becomes clearer and this clarity is translated to my writing.
Focusing is another fantastic practice for freeing the mind and helping your whole self to show up to the task of writing.
Take a few moments to notice the body, heart, and mind with its sensations and commentaries.
Then choose one area to focus on—usually the part that is demanding the most attention: perhaps an ache in the shoulder, a particular emotion in the heart, or a mental tape that plays over and over and over.
Energy follows attention. By settling into the issue in the body, heart, or mind—simply being with it in a welcoming and hospitable way—what was once contracted and distracting begins to soften and let go.
Sometimes this process reveals a hidden treasure that was waiting to be recognized and released.
By working with energy accumulating in the body, life can flow more freely and the result is more productive and meaningful writing.
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Phileena Heuertz is co-founder of Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism and author of Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life (Intervarsity Press). A spiritual director, yoga teacher, and retreat guide, she writes, speaks, and teaches all over the world on the intersection of contemplation and action.
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