Whenever I have stayed in a monastery, I have left wishing I could bring a touch of it with me, back to the world of deadlines and busy-ness, noise and chatter. The monastic life is devoted to the qualities that bring about spiritual clarity: quiet, contemplation, devotion, simplicity. These aren’t just things I want to bring to my life. They are also things I want to bring to my writing. When I’m writing in a state of inner silence and serenity—in what I think of as monastic space—my writing becomes more fluid, more centered, and more authentic.
I’ve spent many years looking for ways to create monastic space for my writing life. On this Writing Tips Thursday, I would like to share four techniques that I have found helpful.
Coming Back to Reverence. “I honestly think in order to be a writer, you have to learn to be reverent,” writes Anne LaMott in Bird by Bird. “If not, why are you writing? Why are you here?” Tim Morrison, author of Writing Secrets, says that the reverence is already within us when we begin the act of writing. That we write because we are in a state of awe—because we have found something in our lives that astounds, amazes, or intrigues us. Our challenge, Morrison says, is to keep that reverence as we write.
Coming back to reverence means stopping for a moment to remind yourself why you are writing. Pause right this minute and think: What made you decide to write a poem about the tree outside your window? Why did you choose to start a memoir of your years in college? What was it that called you to write that short story, that play, that novel? When you began, you had a sense that this topic or image or combination of words was special enough for you to write them. Go back to the source of that feeling. Even if it was a tiny, quiet thing, find it. Embrace it.
Turning Aside (adapted from Writing as a Sacred Path) On the busiest days, in the most crowded places, facing the craziest situations life throws at us, how can we find the quiet space where our true voices speak? This is the challenge writers face daily, as we sit down to our desks with our minds whirling from the day’s activities. How can we find monastic space in all the clutter and confusion of modern life?
One way is to practice turning aside. When the insanity of daily life starts to close in on you, turn your attention to one small thing. In the crush of a department store, spend a moment watching a little girl holding a doll. On a packed commuter train, focus on the play of light on the windows. Stuck in traffic amid short-termpered drivers and blaring horns, glance upward to see the clouds moving across the sky. When the demands of the world seem to be screaming at you even as you sit at your writing desk, turn to the window. Look at a single leave, at a distant cloud, at a bit of dust floating past. For that moment, turn away from the chaos and just be with that one, small thing.
Write a prayer for writing. In Writing and the Spiritual Life, Patrice Vecchione shares this wonderful idea:
How about writing your own prayers? What would they be for? A prayer for writing? A thanksgiving prayer for after having been blessed by words? Or a prayer for the roots of the tree that sends ideas for poems your way? A prayer for the critic within, without a mean word anywhere?
Writing a prayer can mean many things, depending on your own spiritual path. It may be communication with a deity or merely a way of affirming your presence in the universe. It can be an act of gratitude or an invocation. Writing a prayer turns your thoughts toward the Sacred and sends your own quiet voice into the vastness of space. “Write your prayer word by word,” suggests Vecchione. “Get down to the essence—which is what both prayer and poetry are.”
Like this post? Read more at the Writing as a Sacred Path Blog.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...