Is Writing a Spiritual?
Do you consider your writing process spiritual practice? If yes, what makes it so? If not, why not? What, in your mind, either qualifies or disqualifies it? Please feel free to either share concrete personal views on this, or approach it as a concept apart from you. Or both. (05.21.16)
Where do poems come from? What happens in that initial spark when meter and rhythm reveal themselves to the poet? I believe poets serve as vessels and guide the work to its deeper purpose to enter the world through language and verse. When another being receives the poem, a connection is made that can extend beyond time and space. As a poet, I try to be an observant witness and deliver the tones and notes as they were revealed to me. Is that a spiritual process? I have faith that poems carried into the world with attention and care will transcend language to do the work of understanding and healing humanity.
Spiritual? More like a crucifixion. I find the process agonizing at times. Physically painful. I worry so much that everything I have written up until then is an absolute fluke that I can’t replicate. So what keeps me going? A tainted compulsion, a filthy addiction, a soiled fetish. Who knows? But it never feels pure. Just authentic.
I hadn't thought of it as being spiritual itself, but I do see that the practice of writing has similarities with spiritual practices—there's a ritual element, and an inner focus, and one steps aside from the everyday. It certainly has a meditative effect for me—it lets the murk settle out, and things feel much clearer afterwards.
Writing didn't used to be a spiritual practice for me, but it is now.
I've been going through—let's not call it "writer's block." Let's say: the voice has been quiet. Or, rather, I haven't been listening.
It can be very hard to listen. We had a mild winter here in Maine, but still the cold and dark have a kind of muffling effect (though things are greening up now and I feel the thawing and loosening of whatever's been locked up tight). Writing has become a spiritual practice because, when I do it regularly, it feels like opening the door to a room where the windows are wide open. That sweet current of air, that breeze that stirs everything around, all of a sudden, once it has somewhere to go.
I am just the room. Writing is the open door. I can't tell you what the breeze is. I just know that I want it to move through me and through me and through me.
The act of writing isn't a spiritual process for me. The spiritual side of life only ever seems to come to me on those rare occasions I take entheogens and get all introspective. For me writing is just a means of communicating ideas in a way that's hopefully entertaining for the reader. The day it becomes about my spiritual process is the day I'll probably quit because I can guarantee it won't be worth reading. That said, if writing provides some people with spiritual insight ad that's what they're after then this is good. We all write for different reasons and tapping into that side of you is sometimes necessary. I personally prefer to keep that side of me out of the public domain.
I do think when I am in the zone, which doesn't happen often, and the writing comes easily—the story spills out—there is a certain meditative quality to the experience. I could call it spiritual in a sense because it does feel like accessing something outside myself, as if I have tapped into some other consciousness. Though I admit most of the time there is so much effort that goes into my writing it feels like work. I am also a potter, and I can access this other-place mindset more easily with clay I think because it's more physical. I am not a religious person, and I do feel like both writing and making pots are outlets for interacting with life in a different way.
Indeed, writing is a spiritual practice. It has much to do with the premise from which one approaches life generally. If "of the spirit" means "of our animated life-force" (which, hopefully, one views as connected to the Divine) then the mind transcribes this through language. Writing is the marriage of mind and spirit, and genius is the ability to receive from the cosmos, as it were; not the ability to think things up. This is why, when writing a novel, I aspire to getting out of my own way and am not in the practice of slavishly adhering to an outline. I go into the process with the spirit, or essence, of what I'm trying to say, as in its general theme; I typically know the beginning, middle and end, and take notes as compatible words and phrases come to me, but allow the book to create itself through trust. Writing a novel, seems to me, the pursuit of harnessing the unknowable through articulation. The flame exists, so my job is to contain it. In any novel, I believe the writer is interpreting life through story. Understanding is similar to inner-knowing, or insight, if you will, and the act of writing a novel is the means of creating a case in point.
The short answer is, “yes,” I consider my writing to be a spiritual practice. The longer answer is “it depends” because I don’t necessarily think that writing in and of itself is a spiritual practice for all writers. But, for me, it definitely is.
Number one, I write based on inspiration, and I’ve yet to figure out exactly where my inspired ideas are coming from. That’s not to say that I always feel motivated, excited and ready to go when it comes time to sit down and write—I don’t. But, even if I’m just getting my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard, the idea/story that I’m writing about is coming from an inspired place.
Number two, I find that writing is a practice of authentically using my voice. And, for me at least, and I think for many others also, that can be difficult.
The temptation to write something that you think others want to hear is very, very strong, so I keep practicing writing what I honestly have to say, in the way that I want to say it.
Sometimes it’s a struggle, but that’s why it’s a practice.
And honestly, I wouldn’t give my inspired ideas/story anything less.
It’s easy to consider anything that incites inspiration, faith and dedication as spiritual and the writing process involves all of those elements in different ways, but these are not the only or even most important reasons why writing is a spiritual process.
Every piece of writing starts with a burst of near euphoric inspiration that will hopefully sustain for a solid framework or draft with which the writer can begin to feel satisfied.
Once this initial revelation has passed the writer is forced to step back and accept that their divine creation is not perfect. Still, they have enough faith in its promise to buckle down for the repetitious and alternatingly stinging and numbing act of editing and revising, an often inwardly humbling experience of uncertain reward.
But having the dedication to sit alone in a room and continue the pursuit through so many revisions that only remnants of the initial inspiration may remain can occasionally result in a piece of writing that is stronger and better than the writer thought they were capable of.
When this happens, the metaphor of a baptism is convenient and appropriate. The writer brings the story above water to be sent out into the world to spread its message and be judged by strangers in the hopes it will be accepted and one day received by even more strangers.
In the meantime, the process will start again with the same fervor of inspiration, the writer fully aware of the dedication required and uncertainty before them but not hesitating to continue.
In the end, it is the writer’s willingness to subject themselves and what they create to this process over and over, seeking connection through a solitary ritual, that in my opinion, is what truly makes the process of writing a spiritual one.
I've talked in the past about "the groove", this moment during the writing process when things take off. During that time, I'm not aware of anything but the characters and story. I'm not even very conscious of "writing". The story is flowing onto the page, and I'm in the boat riding along with it. It's a very balanced feeling, one where I'm not analyzing, judging or worrying about anything, internal or external. All of the debris that goes along with day-to-day self-awareness vanishes and, when I come out of it, it's in a relaxed state similar to a good meditation. Which I rarely have because my brain can never slow down that much [laughter].
During that "groove" period, I don't feel like I'm creating what's being written, as much as it's being revealed to me from some giant river of collective consciousness where all creative efforts exist.
As far as whether that "qualifies" it as a spiritual practice, I can't extrapolate that to the world at large, but I can say that it is for me personally. It brings my life a great deal of meaning to see those stories form in that way.
When I think of spiritual practice, that intentional act toward enlightenment, whereby we gain insight and understanding about our being and our becoming part of something higher than ourselves, I think my writing process shares identical qualities.
For starters, I like to think of writing as a selfless act, perhaps even considering myself as solely a messenger. It requires a deliberate act of objectiveness and openness, and the ability to empty myself—before and throughout the writing process—in an attempt to make the intangible tangible and shape it into meaning. However, it’s also a balancing act, which requires bringing the self into and removing the self from the work simultaneously. However, I do believe that I am most alive throughout this process. I am transcending my own experiences and understanding, and making a perpetual inquiry of: who are we, what this means, how this means, and why this means. I remain open to the answers, which usually present themselves in the form of revelations that yield a kind of awakening about the spiritual as well as the natural and/or physical.
Most importantly, I want my writing to be transformative, so I’m constantly extending an invitation to the unknown and the divine, offering up my imagination to that which can engage the whole person and essentially incite an exploration of beliefs and truths.
I do, but not as you might guess. The best work I’ve done comes like a dream in the night—and, though I often recall my dreams, I never recall these stories that come as gift. I don’t think I write them. The eponymous closing story of The Woman Who Never Cooked came like a fairytale and even begins that way: “There once was a woman with three hundred and twenty-seven cookbooks who never cooked.” I transcribed all but the last paragraph in one sitting as if the incomplete story came from someone else—a genie, perhaps or, dare I say it, G-d? But such gifts are rare indeed—and even worse, inexplicable or even paralyzing. It took me two years to figure out what the last paragraph of that story should be.
A better explanation of the whole bemusing and often discouraging process of creativity is given by Elizabeth Gilbert. Click here for her amazing TED talk.
I hesitate to use the term 'spiritual' because I am not a religious person. Spirit, to me, equals soul—and our souls are what we feed, the essence of who we are, while we are living.
Also, I do not approach my writing in a 'religious' or scheduled fashion. I write where I am and when I can.
Through my writing, I answer to a deeper part of myself. It is something that has always been there, and over the years it has only grown through nurturing, development and connectivity with other writers and artists. It is an abstract, malleable beast, but it is also a craft, an art, that calls writers to remember form and theory. You have to learn the rules before you can break them, but also be able to give yourself up to the mystery of writing.
Whether I am writing a journal entry, article, poem, short story or novel, the desire to express myself through new perspectives is a constant.
I believe writing comes from within. It comes from personal experience and your thoughts on that aspect of your life. Perhaps those fictional thoughts could be considered spiritual... Those stories laced with characters that draw you in who ooze a spirit that you long for...
I've often written a piece after intense prayer which often gives my heart a relaxed feeling as I know the Holy Spirit has guided me in writing that piece.
Writing is qualified as spiritual if it is a spontaneous outburst of thoughts that erupt from somewhere within your being. My belief is that this comes from God who guides me to write about an aspect as this has much deeper meaning than I could ever imagine.
I believe Writing is a spiritual experience as I feel that I was made to write a piece after it has been written. It is a spiritual experience that I truly need in my life.
Whereas the first person
was resolving the past
continuous, my immortal
was unplucking Eden.
Each unorthodox composes
The caterpillar farmsteads
my skull, shuttering
my eyes downward,
my peel, coiling
me to characters
to full stop.
"Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
Oh that with an iron pen and lead they were engraved in the rock forever!"