Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Mindful Writing Mantra and Essay: Guest Post by Salem State University Graduate Student

 


Being Formless

Heather Wright

Heather Wright is completing an undergraduate double major in Interdisciplinary Studies and English in Spring 2022 while concurrently working toward a MA in English Literature at Salem State University. With a broad array of workplace experience, she returned to academia after 25 years to cultivate a lifetime interest in poetry and poetics.


Freedom of form is freedom, just breathe, the freedom to write without form, folds itself into form.

Being, in the active state of doing and breathing. Being formless.

Heather Wright

 

This collection of writing is the active progress of mindfulness, present moment awareness on the exploration of mantra making, from conception, to construction, to implementation. Italicized block quotes represent a mindful relationship between theory and awareness of how theoretical concepts appear in my inner dialogue.  Some are thought bubbles that temporality directed me outside of the project before returning to the task of mantra creation.

Preface and Preconception

I am learning to ignore my academic audience. I am learning to question automatic thinking, quash the inner-critic and defend my writing and choices. I have become deliberate. I intentionally resist and act contrary to audience interjections: that is terrifying, you cannot, you’re not good enough, they don’t really know you. As a matter of alternating the pathways and channels and ruts the audience carves, I choose to walk right through the thicket. Audience: You cannot possibly be a writing tutor becomes; I will enroll in the Writing Practicum. If my audience asserts: It will be terrifying to tutor arm to arm with a student, I insist on volunteering to be in the physical space of the Writing Center. When the audience stresses: you cannot possibly comprehend that theory, I choose to write about it; this syllabus is frightening, you should drop the class, prompts a laugh, I won’t!

A mindful perspective on the tricks of the intrapersonal, including audience apparitions, calls for an alert but even-handed approach. Vigilance is required because of the seriousness of the impact of unobserved monkey-mind.

Alexandria Peary. Prolific Moment.

Practice and awareness developed in Mindful Writing expose this self-defeating ghost. I can identify it in my pre-writing, editing, and composition phases, especially academic writing. Until this assignment, I did not recognize negative inner-dialog also intervenes and judges my class assignments—particularly those that work to detain the inner dialogue. Is there fear of taking back ownership and control of the intrapersonal rhetoric or the self? I recognize and sense the monkey mind jumping to prejudge class lessons. Mindful eating, for example, and even this mantra design process. The voice wind-chiming in the storm, how does this apply; it cannot change the process; what can this achieve? Yet now that I can stop and observe the mental gymnastics, I recognize the pattern. I give it a sharp elbow, tell it to settle down, and trust my ability to accomplish demanding assignments and produce satisfying writing. Most importantly, awareness of the monkey mind cultivates trust in new pathways. The looping monkey-mind is not an act of intuition or a non-verbal construction propelling me forward; it is the mind weeds that strangle invention.

All emotions are welcome, none discarded. It’s the more momentary and more subtle emotions of mind weeds and waves that put a student and the teacher’s pedagogy at the crossroads.

Alexandria Peary. Prolific Moment

The mantra project produced a similar effect. The monkey mind is un-trusting and prefers usual patterns even when those patterns are dysfunctional, painful, or even just tiring; the habitual is always more accessible than incorporating what is new. The habitual voice: How can I narrow down the learning from the entire semester to a single phrase? And how can I possibly write 4500 words about a simple phrase? How can I stop writing to create an ensō? How will I have the time to produce something artistic? 

Hitsuzendō (筆禅道, "way of Zen through brush") is believed by Zen Buddhists to be a method of achieving samādhi (Japanese: 三昧 sanmai), which is a unification with the highest reality. Hitsuzendo refers specifically to a school of Japanese Zen calligraphy to which the rating system of modern calligraphy (well-proportioned and pleasing to the eye) is foreign. Instead, the calligraphy of Hitsuzendo must breathe with the vitality of eternal experience.

Hitsuzendō. Wiki

Gratefully, the hush of this voice arrives with consciousness, and this awareness reinforces writing revelations. When I regain control of the mind and pursue the academic goal in good faith, trusting the process, it is rewarding. The Mantra project process was equally satisfying. My first revelation in the mantra design process resulted from the repetition of the moment writing process. The monkey mind performed the usual tricks; this is not worth it, what is this, why, I’m so busy, how many times; answer the same questions?  Again, I recognize the inner voice, recognize the dialogue is fear-based, let it go, and proceeded. I sat each day reading and answering the prompt questions. Although not every answer was groundbreaking or new, I discovered the process was like panning for gold. I sift for treasure, trusting the process! The act of repetition is revolutionary! Writing ideas are sharp, the debris is gone, leaving only specific details. I can see the skeleton of my mantra and know the vital aspects. It will be an unbroken circle, universal rather than personal, encompassing misinterpretation of the moment, and waves of impermanence.

We cultivate a simple, direct relationship with our being— no philosophizing, no moralizing, no judgments. Whatever arises in our mind is workable.

Pema Chodron. "Groundlessness"

Material Creation

I enjoy making art. I would not call myself an artist; crafty is more suitable. My primary creative venture is an annual holiday window display at my shop. I collect images and inspiration throughout the year and attempt the near-impossible, cut construct, paint, and assemble elaborate displays to fill dualling seven by nine-foot windows— the entirety of two walls in my little salon. It is a joy, but also one east to set aside. Last year, to the disappointment of many clients, I did not create a display. I was busy, so I recycled former decorations. Overwhelmed with finals and papers, I was too stressed and could not spare the time. This year, however, I discovered something new. 

With a broadening understanding of contemplative pedagogy, I decided that the joy of the creative process is still productive to my academic output. I ascribe to the overall umbrella of mindfulness pedagogy and specifically to the article “Pre-Writing: The Sage of Discovery in the Writing Process” by D. Gordon Rohman. I discovered that creativity is imperative to composition. Rohman posits that stages of creation allow us to recognize the likenesses and connections more perceptively than when we grope for those connections (Rohman 111). I made a personal connection between Rohman's theory and the pre-writing stages of composition. In art, there remains time to cultivate cognitive work for school. I understand that the writing moment is more expansive than I had considered. I am happy to report I successfully cut and crafted my shop windows and completed my academic requirements.

Art that is, represents reality.

D. Gordon Rohman. "Pre-Writing: The Stage of Discovery" 

The personal connection of the academic and creative is the critical point of balance for my work at the university, but it overwhelmingly applies to my life in general. How I evaluate the moment forces me to reassess the value and potential of each moment. If I compose and do not fix ideas in ink, pencil, or text, do those ideas still exist? What if creativity allows me to expand ideas so when I arrive at a keyboard, or piece of paper I am prepared and productive? If this is possible, and I assert that it is, then, until now, I have entirely misperceived the writing moment.

            The writer has to accept the writer’s own ridiculousness of working, by not working.

Donald Murray, "The Essential Delay"

I do not discredit the labor that writers invest in their work and do not suddenly believe that I can save time; I only feel composition time not only be restricted to the screen or page. The moments I use to build and develop ideas and opinions are more fluid and flexible. The misperception is that formerly, I believed 10 hours of struggling was the writing process. I now understand that forcing ideas does not necessarily produce good writing. 

By reassessing the credibility of each moment and unifying art with the writing process, I was ready to create my ensō. After reading the conceptual elements of the ensō, I decided I would attempt to stay true to form and paint the shape. Could I find truth in the philosophy that the ensō reflects the creator? If so, what might this “expressive stroke” say? (ensō). What a fun opportunity!

 I negotiated with myself over the tools to use, which brush. I have a favorite paintbrush. It is at least double in size of most paintbrushes, has a long-handled giving a mock-air of professionalism, and beautifully molded bristles. I could have selected a straight edge brush with a specific production form and accurate design stroke mimicking calligraphy, but I didn’t. I chose to stick with my favorite. I have thick cardstock paper and black paint. As I set about collecting these materials, mixing paint in a speckled aluminum camping bowl, and washing my brush, I noticed self-inquiry at every step. I sought meaning in each act and item. The paint has a subtle metallic undertone: How does this change the meaning of my ensō, or my mantra? What might a rust sheen add or denote this soon-to-be circle? Other oddities like a slower pace to the mind while watching the paint turn around as it saturated the brush became near meditative. Here, like meditation, there is less judgment and a more peaceful state of productivity, made obvious because the space for art has been near impossible to find. 

Art reminds me of meditation and even of tutoring. It is an investment of time in the     self. Sadly, the monkey-mind invades with pre-convinced habits and stress convincing us that we cannot take the time to create for pleasure or rest in the moment. Tutoring is similar, the hour you invest provides reward on the other side of creation, yet it becomes so difficult to commit to that hour. We would rather sit tangled in our mind weeds.

The writing perfectionist appeared at the table as I organized to paint. As I contemplated the act of making a circle, I became uncomfortable in the certainty that it is impossible to paint a perfect circle. Long ago, I was was told a fable about a circle. It included the creation of the circle as a test for creative ability, a sign and proof of the artist’s genius, and in ancient times, a test for hiring the artist (Smithsonian). In decades of doodling, I always attempt to produce the perfect circle. But, those circles are tiny and with a small, controlled ballpoint pen. The ensō circle is one consistent and fluid motion of the brush. In all of these thoughts, I recognize what is occurring. This reaction is another ode to the Monkey Mind. Like writing, I am overwhelmed by the self-imposed expectation to achieve perfection. So I chisel away at this hierarchal perfectionist, “It doesn’t have to be perfect! It is not intended to be perfect!” I practice the swipes of paint across a page, take a deep breath, and      or at least that was the goal.

Internal rhetoric points us toward a more nuanced understanding of how rhetorical intent and effect are discernable at entry level of language use.

Jean Nienkamp. Internal Rhetorics

I was not happy with the ensō; if this is a “reflection of the creator,” I am misaligned, half-faded, broken and, a bit disconnected. It took mental jousting to restrain myself from searching for more paper. Instead, I decided, it will mean something, even if that something is broken and misaligned. If not love it, I chose to accept it. Acceptance applies to mindfulness and my writing experience. I am beginning to allow cracks in the veneer. I am allowing myself to submit work of voice rather than perfection: in the ensō creation, in my writing but more broadly in my life. Perfectionism is a barrier.

Don’t let perfect get in the way of good.   Donald Murray

Evidence of my progress: my Christmas tree is crooked and the star waving to the side, straight out of Whoville. It is the first year I did not have the final say in which tree we chose. My family always jokes that I pretend so, but this was never a democratic process. Prior years, we paced the aisles of the tree farm, every voice ringing, “how about this one? Mom. Look I found one!” In a quick evaluation, I replied, “No, no, no, not that one. It's crooked, it’s too thin, too fat, too tall, etc.” This year, prepared for the usual routine, we marched out into the field. Wolfgang was the first to call out. “How about this one?”. Unexpectedly, this time I said, “Great!” My family was stunned silent. I relinquished control and was consequently let free. It was a lovely stress-free day. The habit and preconception of what is perfect can take precedence over happiness, not a lesson or the example I want to teach my family.

Verbal Creation

My ensō was painted, dried, and on a visible shelf in my office. For several days I walk past, only glancing at the shape from the corner of my eye. Oddly, in my peripheral view, the circle was perfect, its half-faded design even appealing. It was abandoned there with the hope inspiration would finally distill my mantra. The mantra was non-verbal for at least a week, almost two... 

The discernment of emptiness is a distinct metacognitive skill that involves seeking out rather than avoiding the nonconceptual—which in turn establishes a mindset sufficiently vacated of preconceptions and evaluation to perceive other possibilities. 

Alexandria Peary. Prolific Moment

While I continue to practice the moment-writing process, words and phrases that summarized my self-discovery during course work float to the surface on a current, just before sinking again. However, no diluted mantra-worthy words remain. I resolve to abandon concerns and move forward.

Among the influential concepts discovered in mindfulness practice, non-writing and the misinterpretation of the moment always arise. They are poignant because they directly address barriers in my writing, but I hope to create a mantra universal rather than personal. Waiting patiently for the mantra I consider the sedimentation of the theories and practices of Mindful Writing. I try to imagine a goal: fluency and ease in all aspects of the writing process. How does that look? I visualize myself in my workspace, at my writing desk, and perfectly centered in the writing moment. How does that feel? What might that produce? What words of encouragement and centering might I say to myself to propagate fluency within the self? Tumbling through ideas, I list and repeat, “I picture myself being calm, I imagine myself being aware, I wish for an ease of being.” Then I made an unexpected connection the word being was the connection point of my verbalization. Being is the connective tissue and still a thing unto itself; it is both physical and entirely abstract. 

May each moment of your breathing

Be a field of asterisk-words, word-flowers.

May your writing

Be free of suffering.

May your writing

Be the cessation of suffering.

May your writing instruction

Be free of suffering.

May your writing instruction

Be the cessation of suffering

Alexandria Peary

  

The Literal Mantra

being in be, v.

I. Without required complement: to have or take place in the world of fact, to exist, occur, happen.

  1. a. To have place in the objective universe or realm of fact, to exist; (spec. of God, etc.) to exist independently of other beings. Also: to exist in life, to live.

      b. With existential there as subject: to exist.

 2. To come into existence, come about, happen, occur, take place, be carried out or done; to take its due course, have the appointed period of time.

 3. To be the case or the fact. Chiefly in so be (that), be it (that): if it be the case that, suppose that

 

II. With adverb or adverb phrase, indicating the relationship of the subject in place, state, time, etc., to another thing or person.

4. a. Expressing the general relationship of a thing to its place: to have or occupy a given

    position (the posture not being specified or regarded); to have one's personality, substance, or presence (in, at, or near a place, with an object, at an occasion, etc.). Also: expressing the relationship of an event to a point or period of time.

    b. With existential there as subject, esp. when the complement denotes something not previously mentioned or had in mind.

5. To have one's existence in a certain state or condition; to sit, stand, remain, etc., in stated circumstances. (Oxford Dictionary) 


being, n.

1. a. Existence in relationship to some place or condition

    b. Condition; state. Obsolete.

    c. Livelihood, living, subsistence

    d. Position, standing (in the world); (good) status.

    e. A home, a dwelling; a place of abode.

2. a. Existence, the fact of belonging to the universe of things material or immaterial.

    b. Occurrence, happening. Obsolete.

    c. Life, physical existence

3. a. Existence viewed as a property possessed by anything; substance, constitution, nature.

    b. Essential substance, essence.

4. a. Something that exists or is conceived as existing.

    b. With defining word or phrase: God. Esp. in Supreme Being.

    c. A living creature, either corporeal or spiritual; esp. a human being, a person (frequently    used with either contemptuous or idealistic overtones). Also: a person from another world, an alien.    (Oxford Dictionary)


Yet with all the detailed definitions and personal sentiments, being is more than a complex verb or noun. In language, it expands out of fixed spellings. It is a conjunction /It being the case/ and even rarely an adjective, "a being and regenerative death” (Oxford). It is a verb with intention and action /to be/. Being is the intentional act to become. 

Thus, being becomes a mantra by reappearance and occurrence. It appears frequently, centers my presence with its ease in assembling personal directives— be present— and offers leanings to a future tense of becoming. The practices of mindful writing are acts of becoming: we become fluent, we become present, and we become proficient. Being is my mantra because it is the vehicle to becoming.

The Figurative Mantra

Being: The inner-being, a still being, a breathing being, a human being. I am being still, being calm, being here, being grateful, being honest, being present, being in the moment, being aware. Inside if being, is /be/ and /in/. Be in the present moment, be in yourself, be in the writing experience.

 The beauty I find in this mantra relates to the simplicity of the word combined with its vast complexities of definition. It is far from simple. It is multiplicitous and reflects the dramatic contrast between the permanent and impermanent. The waring ideologies that one must simultaneously embrace the awareness that every construction, ideology, and belief is an illusion while also understanding that resting on that belief is grasping that illusion. The groundlessness of that argument supports the first greeting of the mantra being while simultaneously developing an awareness that to be, or to become, is far from simple, it is a spiraling opportunity for verbal construction and simultaneously at its base, a simple two-letter text that indicates a state of the present being, to be in the moment. 

Form is emptiness, emptiness is also form. Emptiness is no other than form, form is no other than emptiness.

Pema Chodron. "Groundlessness"

I am working on numerous final papers and projects for finals. I am actively incorporating the mantra “being” into my day-to-day academic work, and even recognize that it appears when I am not writing, either at work or with my family. The unique and wonderful aspect of the grammatical word being, it that it is ever-present in the text world and appears frequently across genres. I am cognizant of it appearing in beginning, becoming, and the past-tense of been. Even appearing in before and besides, it is like popcorn in my reading assignments. Being has become the tiny bell, like my post-it note to sit up straight. I have frequent reasons to awaken to the moment when I would not otherwise recognize it. I have even translated being because it is also the most common verb in the German language /sein/ or /bin/ /ich bin/ or I am. While my German is terrible, the tiny familiar being, be, bin is a pleasant reminder of awareness.

The single most incredible aspect of the mantra development is its continual reappearance. The most recent jaw-dropping experience was the simultaneously mysterious entanglement of composition theorist Robert Yagelski and scholar Paula Gunn Allen. Awestruck by discovering that Yagleski describes, in detail, what he refers to as “a state of being,” or the writer's experience of being. Yagelski defines this as a precious creative zone for writing but connects the writing moment to global communication.

 

Writing has the potential to shape our ways of being together on the planet.

Robert P. Yagelski. Writing as a Way of Being

 On the same day, in a graduate studies class, I discovered the "tribal-feminist" writings of Paula Gunn Allen in “Kochinnenako in Academe”. In supporting her theory of feminist perspective, tribal perspective, and western perspectives as distinct interpretations, she explains the unified ideology of the indigenous Keres tribe. She explains that from Keres's perspective, highly influential to the writing narrative, there are no binary forces, no good and evil, no hero and villain, and no winner or loser. In tribal ideology, she constructs an interwoven connectedness to all beings. I saw a meeting point with Yagelski in— "To shape and reflect our sense of who we are in relationship to the world (Yagelski 3). Gunn Allen asserts that the western mindset is fixed and that western ideology focuses on the individual rather than the collective. These thinkers both express the significance of mutual relationships and connectedness in all their varying degrees.  

The interconnectedness of humanity addressed by Yagelski and Gunn Allen reminds me of the local sensory connections that occur with mindfulness and particularly mindful walking. As was experienced many times in my desk meditations and the mindful eating practices, the sensory world becomes vastly more apparent. Most remarkable is the sensory environment doesn’t change awareness and interactivity with the sensory world change. While experiencing mindful walking, I was in tune with the collective experience of the living natural world, the plants, the animals, and the rot of fall, all environmental and biological cycles that are constantly evolving in the present, and yet there is a perceptual tuning required to see it. It exists irrelevant to my perceptual tuning. Gunn Allen proposes that in indigenous or “tribal” philosophy, the interactivity between these elements of nature, biology, decay, are relevant in day-to-day life. Thus, they always interact and acknowledge this presence. Grasping at this ideology combined with the lessons from mindful walking forces me to consider that my mantra also exists in this state of being.  To be a part of the larger composition of the world, being interconnected with all things sensory, interconnected with being, or beings that form the web and fabric of composing. The interconnectedness of Yagalski and Gunn Allen is a vast resource for the conscious writer the mantra being is my reminder.

I believe that beneath the immediate experiences exists an encompassing view that connects me to the expressions of other writers. The ability to document experiences as a writer stretches the world beyond a small, wooded lot or a singular perspective. I think mindful walking like meditation allows us to embrace and record our connections to forces outside of ourselves. In that presence, we better understand the unique perspectives of others. For me, seated meditation is the experience of the world moving through me, while mindful walking is me moving through the world.

Heather Wright, Mindful Walking Exercise

Now my mantra structure is quite small, and yet this is a big idea, shifting ideologies may even be a questionable proposition, but one that might be useful in practice, at least expansively. Most apparent is the implementation of being in my composing process. I am currently in the final two weeks of the fall semester. I have over-committed myself this semester as consequently have seven papers due, constituting more than 75 pages, in six separate themes, not including a final essay in German. Only being at the mid-way point of completing this writing, it is clear that mindfulness and mantra use produce a notable change. I know I should be overwhelmed and stressed. I even know that the task is too much when weighted with family and near full-time work, but I feel a shift; I am not stressed; I am actively practicing a lesson from Boice and our moment-writing practice. I am sitting down daily without a fixed expectation of the process. I am choosing a task and, I am trying to enjoy the way that the information flows and changes. And right now, I am even reaching a limit and need a break.

Paus[e] to ensure comfort, relaxation and moderate pacing.

Robert Boice. “Control”

Utilizing my mantra during academic composing, I discovered something miraculous! Being is an inhalation /be/ and an exhalation /ing/.

Be---ing---, Be---ing---

This technique has cultivated a new utility to the mantra returning me to the simple core of mindfulness, a slow aware breath. When practicing this, I sense the tempo of my pace changing. I recognize the expansiveness that is so elusive and the simplistic that is not. I am reminded that even with all the new techniques and knowledge, all of the complex contemplative theories, we return to the foundation of breathing to write. It is the simplicity of the student, sitting for the first time finding the exit door in the breath, in the moment, in impermanence and trust. All the collective knowledge of academia and theory for a simple moment of being just breathing.

Breath is a phenomenon common to all living things. A true experiential understanding of the process moves you closer to other living beings. It shows you your inherent connectedness with all of life….breathing is present moment process.

Bhante Gunaratana. Mindfulness in Plain English

In this place, I feel both grateful and humbled, more connected to the pleasures of knowledge imparted by passionate people, critical thinkers, brilliant writers’ theorists and poets, and the balance of their absence. Collectively words can be oppressive, cause harm, be blinding and absorbing.  While globally, language separates us, alienates us, and often reduces our ability to connect, language also allows us to. Language is a vast gamut of possibilities. Although I choose my side, in the world of verse and lyric, or empathic scenery and prose, of granules of dirt and grass blades, it is simultaneously a tool of thoughtlessness, mindlessness, and at the worst evil intention. Such intensities of the world, do not enter the non-verbal moment, that great cause both large and small, humble and wicked, does not invade the simple moment of breathing and be---ing---

Writing is a way of being in the world. Whatever else it may be (and it is many other things, too) writing is an ontological act. When we write, we enact ourselves as beings in the world. In this regard, writing both shapes and reflects our sense of who we are in relation to the world around us.

Robert P. Yagelski, Writing as a Way of Being

With gratitude (and a curtsey,) I thank you for accepting this broken form. Or perhaps a form as broken as I can allow it. I recognize self-imposed boundaries slowing crumbling, but I admit, there is still so much work to do. Form guidelines, examples, and samples have been a safety net. The idea of harnessing form and structure, understanding the rules, and playing by those was a critical component of why I returned to college. I assumed everyone understood something that I did not.  Beyond a degree, I needed to know what everyone else knows, what are the expectations? How should I be writing? How do I frame this? Say this? Explain this? While I still have some of these ghosts at the writing desk in my academic writing, my creative writing is unconstrained and expressive. Even if I chose form or example, I sense a bold ability to break the rules based on my agency and no other.



Monday, January 3, 2022

Mindful Writing Mantra and Essay [Excerpt]: Guest Post by Salem State University Student

 


Delay in Writing is Confidence in Writing


Emily Gummer


Emily Gummer is a junior at Salem State University studying Psychology.

...As I picture my mantra, the enśo is broken; this leaves room for growth. Even the best writers always need room for growth. The enśo is covered with flowers to further represent growth. I used flowers because they are one of my favorite things in the world. They are beautiful and peaceful--even the ones that aren’t. Flowers are all shaped differently: even the ugliest ones hold beautiful scents. By adding flowers, my writing is able to be ugly sometimes, but the scent is just as beautiful as the prettiest pieces of writing. 

Using my mindful writing mantra, I will take some time delaying this assignment so that maybe I will get some new ideas about what I’d like to add. Doing so will add confidence to my piece and my overall writing experience. 

For my mindful writing mantra, one would take an inhale while saying, “Delay in writing,” hold that breath, “is,” and exhale with, “Confidence in writing.” Thinking of my mantra as a breathing exercise will help me to write my paper. Breathing exercises are a great tool to use to ground yourself in the present moment: doing this while writing will clear any distractions you may be experiencing as you complete your written piece. 

I will continue to think of this mantra as a powerful gust of wind that will push away the fogginess surrounding my ideas and creativity. 

My writing mantra will guide and aid me, specifically during the prewriting phase because the majority of the time I procrastinate and find difficulty in beginning. My mantra may also help me during the revising or editing phase because if I need to add anything delay may occur, which is fine to experience. I’m going to bring up ghost readers and audience demons, mindlessness as misperceiving and Invention methods. About my draft of this project--I really enjoy my examples and descriptions of audience demons in which I describe them as actual demons... I also really enjoy my style of writing and the content I have added, especially with those examples.

...Reciting a mantra over and over even before you start writing may remove any preconceptions that you have about your piece. Preconceptions are the beginning thoughts that come to your mind. Thinking and saying your mantra might help you think about the moment; in turn, thinking about the moment might put the preconceptions to ease. Saying your mantra over and over while in this stage can help you go past that. 

Many of my preconceptions include not writing something that will capture my reader's attention, but as you write you must let go of all the preconceptions as well as the opinion of the audience. The preconceptions you may have started out with become smaller and smaller until they have disappeared. 

Producing new ideas can be very difficult for people who don’t believe they are as creative as they’d like to be. By creating a mantra to help you in these specific situations, you will be able to come up with those ideas and become more creative throughout your piece of writing.


Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Mindful Writing Mantra and Essay [Excerpt]: Guest Post by Salem State University Student

 


Letting Go Releases Ego

Ashley Sliva


Ashley Sliva is a student in the Bertolon School of Business at Salem State University. 


Sit and imagine what it would feel like if everything you knew about yourself was false. Imagine yourself as a newborn, with no ability to judge yourself self and just be. No knowledge of what's “right” in this world nor otherwise. Take a few deep breathes and picture this. 

Maybe it's comforting or even a bit scary. Sometimes we must have a mindset of letting go of what we know to be true to free ourselves from our inner self-judgment and critic. This is something I must remind myself of during the writing process. I created the writing mantra “letting go releases ego” to help my writing.

...The main topic of my mantra is impermanence. The letting goes aspect of my mantra relates to the fact that everything is impermanent and ever-changing. Writing will never be stagnant, and changes will occur and are acceptable. 

Accepting the changes involved with writing is essential to the process. Letting go of the thought we need to be perfect on our first try will block ego from being set free. Allowing ourselves to write with no motive but words on the page helps release our inner judgment. 

Too much judgment of our own ideas and work causes stalling and makes it difficult to continue and produce ideas. Accepting change is needed will produce a non-egotistical mindset, therefore, releasing misguided opinions of ourselves and writing. 

Mantras are a good reminder that in writing and life we must accept and embrace the change around us. This is something I find overly important in my life. Remembering that nothing is ever stagnant will allow ideas to flow. We may feel writing is bad, but we must remember it can only get better from here. If we see our writing love it, we’ll eventually find something we don't like. Nothing will stay one way forever: so there's no reason to become stuck on one or the other. 

...Repeating words while focusing on our body will ground us to the moment at hand. Releasing our mind from interfering thoughts allows a deeper sense of concentration on the present moment and continuous changes occurring. When we focus on changes going on in our body or environment the mind clears itself.

Mindful writing mantras relate to mindlessness and writing problems since the goal of a mantra is to become more present, which in return benefits one’s writing. We are all mindless for a majority of our day, so a reminder to stay mindful is extremely beneficial. Mantras can act as these reminders and specifically help us with our writing. 

Writing problems can vary tremendously; similarly, mantras vary with different words and meanings. Common writing problems include fear of judgment, fear of getting a bad grade, anticipated criticism, impatience with the process, feeling alone, and feeling as if you must be perfect the first time around.  Someone who has a hard time with procrastination with writing can use a mantra reminding themselves they are a confident writer and they do possess wisdom. Because writing mantras vary, anyone can create their own to best help their anxieties and difficulties with writing.

My writing mantra “letting go releases ego” is helping me through this very project. 

I have to remind myself while I begin to write that there's no judgment. My thoughts are valid regardless of what my ego is telling me. I may like the writing I put out now or feel the need to add more later. Accepting this fact ignites my writing and more words to be produced. Letting go of any expectation or outcome produces an empty clear mindset for me. Allowing myself to not correct my word directly after it's on the page feels refreshing and freeing. I know I’m able to add more anytime I’d like. 

Being nonevaluative towards my writing allows me to write more than I would’ve ever thought I could before. I’m used to writing, then reading over my work and fixing what I don't like. 

My mantra is teaching me I can just continue. Accepting the uncertainty of my writing allows more ideas to come to me. Letting go of my personal judgment of myself lessons my ego until it is fully released. A released ego results in me writing without an outcome. I can write for my enjoyment and not a grade. I can already envision how my writing mantra will help me with anything I’ll need to write in the future.

In my past writing experiences, the starting point is almost dreadful. 

I think back to high school and freshman year of college where I had to write about topics I didn’t care about. The emphasis was always on structure, grammar and length. It was never about the enjoyment aspect of writing or even teaching us how to enjoy it. This learning situation only placed a perfectionist mindset inside of me with my writing because I was just looking for a good grade as my outcome. 

I was never passionate about the topics of my writing, so I almost didn’t care. If I reached the number of pages and covered the main topics, I hardly wanted to reread my work because I just wasn’t that confident yet would judge every sentence. 

I trusted auto correct to perfect my grammar and punctuation because that’s what I was told was most important. 

If I had the education on the writing process that I do now, it would’ve made the world of difference. It was always a rushed process to me, not a mind-clearing relaxing process. Meditating and writing at first glance don’t seem to be related, but they truly go hand and hand. Having a writing mantra to help me write continues to remind me not to allow myself to think negatively about writing but enjoy the process.

If someone reads my writing mantra, initially, they might have many questions. 

I put an emphasis on accepting change to release one’s ego, but why let go? There are so many good things in life we’d never want to let go of. The point of letting go is so we never clutch. That positive feeling we clutch will never stay that positive. There's no way for the feeling to go but the opposite. It makes more sense to embrace letting go of the negatives in our life because no one wants to hold on to that. But just like how nothing stays perfect, nothing stays bad. 

This is closely related to writing because we all have good writing sessions and also bad. Embracing the bad helps us in the future learn from it and appreciate the good days but never clutch. The goal is to release our egos. Our egos can be strong and overly judgmental of whatever we do. 

When we learn to release the self-judgement, we accept the truths and present moment. Our ego produces many anxieties that result in suffering. When we remember these anxieties of the past and future really don't exist, we can focus on what's important, the present. 

We must accept what happens around us involving writing and life. Releasing negative thoughts about ourselves and others and being grateful every day are small steps to getting away from our self-judgment. 

*Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh


 

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Mindful Writing Mantra and Essay [Excerpt]: Guest Post by Salem State University Student

 


Let go of your fears, everything fades with time

Izzy Welch


Izzy (Isabel) Welch is a Political Science major and an English minor at Salem State University. Her writing has been published in Soundings East and elsewhere.

            

Both as a writer and a person, the idea of leaving behind a legacy is one that is burdensome but one that I have been pushed to embrace. With expectations of remaining a continuous over-achiever and earning the title of a gifted student, there is pressure to succeed in our performances. Although many of us, including myself, have fallen victim to these expectations, it is harmful to limit the work you produce to something that aims for perfection. Even still, the creations that itch to come forth within you shouldn’t have to be products meant for the rest of the world to see. 

Simply put, you should produce for the sake of your own happiness or other personal reasons.

Many of us feel the limitations that are self-imposed from the judgments about our own prose to the fears that others will mock our amateur writing skills. It’s easier said than done, but we must ignore those crippling thoughts as they keep us from actually growing as writers. Seriously, why should we waste our precious, limited time on this earth letting the voices of critics fill our heads and prevent us from exploring the wonderful medium of writing? 

None of this is permanent, from our works to our worries. Now, saying that everything goes away with time isn’t to say that your efforts are pointless, that would be equally harmful. With nihilistic beliefs like that comes the condemnation of existence, and this mantra is meant to dissuade this line of thought, not encourage it.

What is impermanence? How does impermanence manifest itself in your life? 

Impermanence refers to the state or fact of lasting for only a limited period of time, but it goes much deeper than that simple definition. It deals with everything changing. In order to approach impermanence from a perspective of mindfulness, one must partake in non-judgmental observation of the ever-changing present moment. In recognizing that change is the only constant, one may overcome their fears. The leaves that make inviting canopies, buried in the trees, will undergo transfigurations in the transitionary seasons and turn into fiery hues that slowly litter the ground. 

Even that change is short-lived, the insects and creatures that make their nests and take their nutrients from the leaves will use them for their own renewal. Those insects may meet their fate at the hands of such creatures they unwittingly run into, leaving behind their present form. Those creatures may be scooped up by larger prey or they may greet death through natural causes, fueling the earth with their organic matter. 

Many of us may mourn the inevitably of change and seek the autumn colors once the snow begins to descend and coat the ground. However, we mustn’t look back at what once was; instead, we must look at the ongoing changes around us. Everything that comes from the earth is capable of producing something meaningful and beautiful. Although that sentiment may sound daunting, it is a much simpler concept to grasp than one may initially think.

Leftovers from last week's Taco Tuesday, the love letters that were written to you by your first boyfriend who you can’t quite remember the name of, an Irish wool sweater your mom gave you several birthdays ago but became worn out with time, vegetables from the garden that have been sitting in the fridge for far too long, that thesis you stayed up all night to write (with bloodshot eyes, swollen from rubbing away the tears of frustration) for your senior year capstone class, that free cotton t-shirt you were given for running that 5k in college, an empty soda bottle you sipped on eagerly during last Fourth of July as the fireworks ignited above you, that pair of leather boots you bought yourself as a treat after you got your first adult job whose soles are now irreparably battered, a lab report you wrote for chemistry in tenth grade, your birth certificate, the first pair of clothes your grandmother knit for you, orange peels from when you tried (and subsequently failed) to try soccer out, the carton of spoiled milk you accidentally used for today’s cereal, a crumbled up bus ticket tucked away at the bottom of your purse under the rest of its contents, you.

Nothing stays the same, and nothing, including what was mentioned, is eternal--or else not in the way that one may initially think. 

Oftentimes, people worry about the pages they fill with their words, but they don’t have to serve the sole purpose of nourishing the mind (of course, they can if you want them to). Instead, you can rip out any unwanted work from the notebook they’re bound in and use it as fuel for a summer bonfire; you can watch the letters blow away with the embers along with the unwanted sentiments your writing captured. 

Even still, you can mix it in with your compost blend that will nurture new life that manifests in next spring’s garden. 

Whatever you decide to do with your writing or with your life, know that your contributions do have meaning, but the consequences won’t be as permanent as one may fear. If your heart aches, urging you to write, it is your duty to respect its wishes. Take whatever writing materials you have handy: a pen, a pencil, a pile of sticky notes, a few spare sheets of paper, and let your thoughts pour out heartily. 

After you complete the writing process, you have an abundance of options. You may try for publication, share it in hushed whispers with your closest friends, keep it for your own enjoyment and read it nightly by candlelight, crumble and discard it into the nearest waste bin, email it to an old professor you see as a valued mentor…. The possibilities are endless.

Your words may flow effortlessly through your fingers and onto the spiral notebook you use to capture your stories. Some days, you may find challenges in your craft and may scribble out sections you’d rather not revisit. Other times, you let your writing take numerous routes that leave plenty of room for possibility. You may write tales of spellbound love or heroic tales of woe. Such stories have the ability to remain private, and you may seal that notebook away to discourage prying eyes. On the other hand, you may endeavor to take the fearless leap to publish your work and face the lows of rejection or the ecstasy of publication. 

Either way, all work faces the same inescapable fate. The works of wordsmiths like William Shakespeare and Sylvia Plath have persisted for decades, but to say that they are eternal is misleading. Their works, just like yours and mine will fade. Leather-bound novels, poems written in messy, chicken-scratch scrawl tucked away on a piece of scrap paper, and last-minute essays with their recognizable three-hole punch will wither away with time. In time, these mediums will melt into the ground as they decompose. 

Whether it’s something you’re proud of or an incoherent jumble of words, those pages will litter the earth and eventually transform into something separately wonderful from the piece you created, which should provide you with a sense of peace. 

The next time you anxiously bite your lips after you hand your professor an essay you pulled an energy drink-fueled all-nighter to create, try to consider the impermanence of it all. Writing doesn’t need to be anything spectacular, it simply is, but I think there’s something spectacular about all things having the same fate. Nothing remains the same, everything is transforming all the time- whether we realize that or not.

Even as I write now, I can feel the judgments and fears seeping into my head, but I let them flow in and out like waves. What if I’m doing this assignment wrong? What if my peers have written something completely unlike this? I’m sure other students in the class have far more writing experience, will they judge me for this piece when they read it, even before the final product? Can I even make the word count on this assignment? I hope I can seamlessly blend in the course material to this without it sounding clunky. Should I be more clear about what pieces and materials I’m referencing so the professor knows I’m adhering to the guidelines of this assignment? Is this piece going to become something worthy of publication? Do I even want anyone else to read this piece aside from my professor and peers? Do I even want my professor and peers to read this? I hope this becomes something I can be proud of. The idea of writing an assignment like this for a prestigious writer and accomplished professor is a daunting prospect. Isn’t it presumptuous to say that my works will end up in the same place as seemingly immortalized literary figures? I don’t know how to make this piece more cohesive. I think I’m running out of brilliant ideas to include. Am I being too repetitive or am I just being thorough? Are there too many metaphors in this piece? Will the readers understand the connections that I’m attempting to make? I wonder if some students in the class are totally confident in their writing abilities. Is this project too unorganized? How do people write things that flow so smoothly?

There are countless questions I ask myself and thoughts that linger when I begin a writing piece, including some of the ones I mentioned that are relevant to this assignment, but I don’t try to restrict them because I know that these feelings will pass. 

So instead, I simply acknowledge them and let them go. I feel the urge to write poetry about my surroundings, and lines for each stanza come to me easily; and it reassures me knowing whatever I write- for this essay, the poem, or any other future work I produce is impermanent. I can delete words, sentences, even entire passages from this piece. 

If I want to, after I turn this paper in, I can let it drown in a sea of computer files on my desktop. 

Both in my creative writing pieces and academic ones, that seems to be a common occurrence. I’m sure many other writers may relate- even you maybe! But sometimes, pieces resurface when I browse my computer, and I can look at it with a totally different lens. New ideas spring from my head, and I think of new additions and changes I can make.

The other week, I went to a local tea store, and I picked out an interesting variety called blooming flower tea, but they’re also commonly known as a flowering tea. I made some in preparation for writing this piece, and I noticed that as the hot water warmed the mug, the flower began to open up for an artificial blossoming, almost as if its dehydrated state was mercilessly restricting it from entering its final form. 

Once the tea was ready for consumption, the bud, in its burgeoned state, was a lovely shade of fuchsia, and some of the formerly dried petals drowned at the bottom of the mug. 

Even when I finished the tea, the flower still retained its beauty although its original purpose had been fulfilled. I thought about impermanence and how life allows for constant change since the present is ever-changing. With every sip, the tea no longer was. Once its contents warmed me inside, the flower lay there, aching to enter a new phase and seek out its new purpose. 

Normally, I would have thrown it out, but I was moved by the idea of change from simmering on ideas related to groundlessness and impermanence all evening. In my mind, the flower had served a purpose when its intoxicating aroma diffused into the steamy water in order to fuel my body, but it wasn’t done. 

So, I scooped it out from the mug, leaves and all, and brought it outside near the marsh so it could decompose. Perhaps if the weather weren’t so cold, it would’ve had the potential to grow into a new bloom. From this experience, I reaffirmed the idea that there are so many unrealized possibilities that mindfulness allows us to see--both in writing and in all other life undertakings.

Even the most experienced writers, artists, poets, among other sorts of creators face difficulties in actualizing their ideas. Oftentimes, I take my own experiences and apply them to my writing as many authors do as well. I find that I’m able to produce more authentic pieces when I draw from my own struggles, mishaps, and adventures. This is most frequently the case in my poetry. 

Regularly when I attempt to produce works of my own, I think of a quote from the book Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, “I imagine things I am powerless to execute.” In my own experience, I concoct brilliant ideas at random points in my life. Almost like an epiphany, I’ll be standing at the stovetop- guarding my stovetop and preventing my food from being overcooked or lying in bed half-awake when the perfect idea strikes me. I’ll just down the idea quickly in my notebook or act on the sudden urge to write, and I type out a few words, but I find myself stumped. I can’t seem to do the idea justice. 

Presumably, Brontë may have taken this idea from her own life in relation to the novel’s protagonist who utters these words of resignation. Despite this, Brontë went on to produce works that have lasted centuries. 

This is not to say every attempt one makes will be successful, but the urge to devise works of your own is not inevitably fruitless. No attempt is fruitless. Each endeavor bears a bounty of fruits fit for something, even the so-called rotten ones. One would say that the act of attempting is a success in and of itself. Although I may find challenges in writing, you may always change your work as it’s a fluid medium.

First, let’s set the scene: On April 21, 1816, Charlotte Brontë was born, and chance led her to write her works that would influence countless generations. Notably, the Brontës were set apart from everyone else, as the children were completely isolated and had few social interactions with the outside world. The only known connections they had as children were with their father’s parishioners. However, all of the children, including Charlotte herself, were given free rein of the moors that existed beyond their home in Haworth, located in the United Kingdom. 

Now, envision Charlotte, adorned in typical Victorian-era garb, slumped over a desk, trying to place her thoughts on the parchment that sat in front of her. Much like ourselves, she must have dealt with limitations in her writing, albeit different ones. 

What sort of pressures do you think she must have wrestled with considering her unique circumstances? 

What thoughts plagued her and kept her from embracing her true potential? 

Do you believe she was able to overcome them by eventually getting published? 

Do our life experiences form preconceptions and fears that limit our ability to write? 

If you answered ‘yes’ to the last question, do you believe this applied to Charlotte? What do you think distinguishes success between writers?

Oftentimes, as writers and human beings, we get caught up in the past. Addressing this on a more basic level, we may think about past experiences in writing, and that keeps us from writing mindfully. Ellen Langer’s “Creative Uncertainty” illustrates that change is constant. Noting an example of a brook, she mentions that even if two people decided to return to the “same” brook at a later point, it would be impossible. One may retrace their steps to the same point, but the waters may run more rapidly or the stream may be less steady. 

With this lesson, I find that we may use it to look inwardly as writers. Even if one has been published previously, it doesn’t guarantee that in future publication endeavors; likewise, if you had been denied, it doesn’t mean that your future prospects are hopeless. We are changing as writers constantly! What you produced yesterday is not exactly the same style, format, or content as what will result from your hard work in the future. Even if your brook runs dry today, begging to end its thirst, you need not worry. Some days may consist of seemingly eternal emptiness, and just when you feel like you’ll never get your reprieve, one day, the brook becomes satiated once again. 

Sometimes, however, the water only relieves you slightly, with little crumbs just barely getting you along. If you aren’t feeling fulfilled with the current state of your writing brook, you must remember the dynamic nature it carries. Although the steady and easy times you have creating content may not be permanent, neither are the challenges you face. It is simply a matter of accepting that the creative flow is uncertain and may change at any moment.

In writing this piece about my mantra, I have found uncertainty and change to be the only reliable constant. 

At the beginning of writing this assignment, I conjured up an abundance of ideas (which came easily to me), and they translated onto the page with ease. In fact, I found that I had a challenging time stopping myself from writing, even when I had hit the necessary word counts. With these past successes, I have felt ongoing pressures to have the same sort of rapid flow, but I know that the time isn’t right for this. 

For now, I have found success in writing when the right ideas strike me and putting my work aside when I can feel myself waning. I have to remind myself that I am not the same writer I was yesterday- or even five minutes ago. There is always room for growth, and I shouldn’t set impossible expectations for myself. It is so easy to get overwhelmed with constant reminders of the success of others, but even the greatest of writers endure the same challenges. Often in works of literature, the struggles of the writers themselves are reflected between the pages of the books we’re holding right now. Just know, you’re not alone in these difficulties.

Buddhist monks who have studied concepts relating to mindfulness and meditation have a deep understanding of what causes suffering. Coincidentally, the roots of suffering are deeply intertwined with factors that limit our true potential as writers. Speaking from experience, I find that I’m limited by grasping at straws and fixating on (what should be) irrelevant; but as humans, we crave security, and we hold onto the false illusion that reality isn’t constantly changing in order to make us feel safe. 

Obviously, from everything that has been said before, embracing groundlessness is a necessary step in achieving enlightenment in every sense of the word. We must not hold onto anything, even if the ground underneath our feet feels steady, we mustn’t rely on it. The security it gives us must be seen as an illusion, at any moment, it could give way, revealing that it had always been a trap door. Better yet, it became one when we weren’t paying attention to the changes going on around us and within us. 

Really, we shouldn’t be taking anything on in blind faith or relying on our perceived realities. Acceptance is crucial in unlocking untapped writing abilities as it allows us to embrace uncertainty and ambiguity. Speaking from experience, being aware of constant change is terrifying, but one may view it as an opportunity to grow.

My preferred method of creative expression is poetry. In writing poetry, I find that I’m able to express my thoughts and life experiences concisely. Usually, when I’m having a challenging time getting over my preconceptions in writing, I’ll dump my current ideas onto a page and watch it slowly morph into numerous lines and stanzas. I also find it comforting knowing that I can conceal some of my deeper, more personal thoughts within the metaphors interlaced between the lines. 

With every poem I create, I notice that while the messages may be similar, everything else may vary. Even in trying to recreate lost work, I’ve never been able to get back the exact same poem, but I found that’s worked in my favor. I am able to recall the parts that I liked, as they stuck in my memory, while my least favorite sections remain lost. 

With every creation of mine, I find new examples of alliteration to incorporate, or new metaphors that take the theme a step farther, or the shape and sizes of the poem completely change into something unrecognizable from my past work. I recognize that I may not be satisfied with everything I produce, but that’s okay. 

Even though I can find it frustrating, spending time agonizing over a piece, just to find it inadequate, just being able to lay my fears aside and write will help me become a better writer. 

To whoever reads this: take these metaphors, my internal dialogue, the work of mindful individuals, amongst the other information in this piece as a lesson to follow--both in your writing and personal life. 

It is important not to strive for perfection as impermanence will allow for all things to transform and eventually become something wonderful. Next time you encounter such fears, breathe in and out and repeat to yourself: Let go of your fears, everything fades with time.

*Enso created by Izzy Welch