Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Writer's Mind

We are all busy. Sometimes, even the thought of devoting a few minutes a day to meditate seems far from reality. There’s so much going on in our daily lives, that we risk losing a deeper connection with ourselves. As writers, we are constantly creating, re-creating, thinking, re-thinking, writing, re-writing…

Sometimes, we may feel so disconnected from our minds and bodies that our work may suffer. I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Marshall Flaherty, a Toronto-based poet who leads poetry sweatshops and writing-as-a-spiritual-practice workshops. Read more to learn about her insight on mindful writing!

Thank you so much for being with us today, Katie! I have some questions for you…

Why did you begin the Writing From Within Workshops?

I began the Writing from Within Workshops because I found that having prompts, such as reading a poem, listening to music, smelling cinnamon, meditating on the breath, or recalling a childhood snapshot brought incredible images to mind. And I found that if we just wrote without editing, just let the words flow, and just entered the feelings that arouse with the prompt, that lovely poetry-from-within poured out.

Most participants were astounded at the beautiful images, words, and the deep emotions that came out. Often, a participant would read her own work aloud and say either, “I can't believe I wrote that!” or “This writing brings back such a flood of memories and sensations!” I began these sessions because I could see how therapeutic and affirming it was for people to realize their own writer within, their own inner poet.

What is involved in a typical workshop?

A typical workshop begins with an "emptying exercise" where the participants just write free-flow, beginning with a statement such as "what keeps me up at night" or "before I forget" or "a list of things I need to put down". This exercise lets all the thoughts and concerns of the mind release, sets the mind free to write, and clears the path for writing.

Then we have prompts that often invoke the senses. I might have participants close their eyes while I bring lavender around for each to smell and then they write free-flow as soon as something comes to mind. Or, I might read a poem by Rumi and have them write a "river of words" as I read the poem, allowing some words to evoke others, and some perhaps to be recorded.

After each exercise, participants are invited to share a small gem from their writing, or the entire piece. The rest may comment constructively about what moved them from the writing, or what images were powerful, or how the writing made them feel. There is always one meditation as a prompt, as this allows things to come up from deep within. We end with a little forum on what contests, readings, events, or articles are out there for aspiring writers.

How can writers benefit from meditation and breathing techniques?

Meditation connects us with our true self, with the divine light within, with our inner artist. When we centre the mind and relax, subconscious truths emerge, images appear, memories surface, feelings can bubble up. The breath is the way to bring us to a relaxed state, to calm the body, and still the mind-- the breath, as Ghandi said, is our best friend. By attending to the breath, we leave the clutter of the world behind, and we can enter into that mystical place of creativity.

What are some things writers can do to approach their writing with more clarity?

- Read, read, read! Let your mind marinate with other writers’ words and images.
- Keep a notebook with you at all times to record any and every thought.
- Keep a notebook by your bed for dream fragments that stay upon rising.
- Practice attending to the breath before writing.
- Create puzzles, prompts, and exercises for yourself to surprise your inner artist.
- Practice describing a smell, sound, taste, feeling, sight, and seeing where it leads.
- Listen to music.

What are your favourite tips on achieving a mind/body connection for the busy writer?

Learn to do a body scan, where you can go through the body asking each part to relax. Learn to find a breathing practice that calms the mind (witnessing the breath, alternate nostril breathing, counting four in and four out, or having a mantra such as breathe in/breathe out or hum/sa or one/breath for each inhalation/exhalation). Massage your own temples as you breathe, letting your mind relax as your face does. Practice a few yoga poses, concentrating on integrating the breath with the pose.

Katie has two sessions in Meditation and Mindfulness and two sessions in Writing from Within on Saturdays at St. Michael’s College Continuing Ed at U of T this 2012/13 year. For class details, email Katie!