Wednesday, September 7, 2016

3 Qualities of the Present Moment That Help Writing: #1 is Impermanence

I'm happy to say that Southern Illinois University Press has given me a contract for a book of theory and pedagogy on mindful writing. I'll be posting some thoughts from that book project on this blog as the book manuscript unfolds.

If noticed, the present moment displays three qualities important to writing: it is impermanent, discursive, and embodied. I'll discuss the first in this post and the other two in upcoming posts.

Impermanence and Writing

In the Buddhist view, “All formations are transient (anicca)... Form is transient, feeling is transient, perception is transient, mental formations are transient, consciousness is transient." No moment completely resembles the next due to this continuous changeover. Individuals suffer because of a faulty relationship to impermanence. They try to deny or control impermanence to retain pleasantries and ward off inevitable fading and decline. 

The typical ways in which writers mistakenly resisting impermanence are by maintaining rigid composing rules; overemphasizing product, coveting the finished text and disregarding the messier state of drafts; and maintaining a static perception of their own ability as writers. 

For writers, perceiving continuous change provides access to abundant content. It also makes it possible for writers to shift how they perceive their overall writing ability as well as ability specific to the task at hand. 

The present moment provides a content based on transience, meaning that what emerges (language, image, physical sensation, emotion, etc.) is fleeting as well as ongoing. Something is always arising; what is observed in one instance fades and is replaced by something else. The present moment is endlessly inventive.

The present moment because of its endless fluctuation is fundamentally a low-stakes task. That is, observing impermanence can position writing as a low-stakes, informal writing task and make exploration more possible.Writing feels less risky or daunting.

A view toward transience reduces premature editing since the constantly changing present doesn’t lend itself to polishing or correcting. There isn’t time for both fully observing transience and revising. 

The stance of non-evaluation that comes from the observation of the present can result in a healthy detachment, separating process from product.  

Finally, the radical contingency of the present moment--the way it's constantly changing--emphasizes context over generalizability. To observe the present is to observe the ever-changing situation in which one writes.

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