“Mindfulness is to be aware of what is going on, and everyone is capable of being mindful.” Thích Nhất Hạnh
Mindfulness is awareness, and, more specifically, awareness of the present moment.
Contrary to much of the popular information circulating that suggests that mindfulness and meditation require a “clear mind” or the ability to be always calm, mindfulness does not require calm or clarity. Mindfulness simply asks that we try to be present with whatever state of being we find ourselves in at the moment.
During my yoga teacher training, Leslie Cramblet Alvarez led a 6-week meditation series. Each week we learned a new type of meditation. One week was mindfulness, as discussed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in his book Full Catastrophe Living. What Kabat-Zinn helped me realize then, and as I read his book Wherever You Go, There You Are, is that mindfulness and meditation require intention, but do not require—or even aspire to—perfection. .
In June, I designed and led a Mindful Writing class: a four-week series that used writing to teach mindfulness, and as a way to practice mindfulness. For me, the connection made perfect sense. When I am struggling with my emotions or thoughts, when I get stuck in rumination on the past or overthinking the future, writing helps me focus on what I’m feeling and thinking in the moment. Therapists have encouraged me in this practice, and there is research to show the therapeutic benefits of writing.
I was also inspired in part by Natalie Goldberg’s book Writing Down the Bones where she discusses writing as a zen practice, something she does every day even when she has nothing to write, and feels as if there is nothing of value in her brain. She writes to write, without purpose. This writing without purpose connects strongly with the mindfulness principle of non-striving or non-doing: the state of simply being without having a goal to accomplish.
As I developed my class, The Joy of Mindful Writing by Joy Kenward had some great writing activities that incorporated mindfulness, for the purpose of clearing the mind in order to write. Jon Kabatt-Zinn’s book Wherever You Go, There You Are is a profound and essential read for anyone wanting to learn and contemplate the ways mindfulness can impact your life. There are several articles online about mindful writing, and even textbooks for incorporating mindfulness into writing classrooms. Much of that, however, is focused on using mindfulness to write more effectively or as part of daily writing. The information that is for writing as a mindfulness tool is often focused on trauma healing, which is also a wonderful way to use mindfulness, but is something that goes beyond my qualifications.
My hope for the class was to provide a space for students to be and write without pressure or purpose, and through that to help them connect with themselves through the act of writing. Each week, we worked through different activities, always starting with focusing on the breath or with writing whatever thoughts were in the head. Sometimes we had moments to share the experience, and sometimes we focused more on the writing. The most unexpected and at times the most emotionally evocative experience seemed to be acknowledging that there was no need for a purpose in the writing, or in the being. There didn’t need to be a goal for the mindfulness session, nothing needed to be accomplished.
This is such a challenging concept to embrace: time without purpose or productivity.
Yet it is essential for our well-being.
The class was only four weeks, and I wish it was longer. Perhaps I have done something new, or perhaps I’ve just packaged existing information in a new way. Whatever I’ve done, it felt successful and I believe it provided solace for my participants. (If you have written or come across something written about writing as a form of mindfulness, please let me know in the comments!)
I plan to offer the 4-Week series again, soon, in an online format. I hope to see you there!