Tuesday, April 28, 2020

This Very COVID-19 Moment is Perfect

It can be hard to want to stay in the Now these days.

We wish things were different, longing for a month ago when faces weren’t covered by masks or yearning for a date in the future when existence returns to something at least in the same phylum of normal.

Every morning when I wake up, I keep my eyes closed for a full minute, dreading what additional previously unimaginable will happen between now and the closing bell of day.

Unless we’re one of the heroic individuals on the frontline, the majority of us can’t control the events happening outside our own doors (literally), but we can take charge of our own inclinations to run away from the present.

We should try to stay with the present because by fleeing the Now, it’s more likely we’re increasing our anxiety and fear through our monkey minds—our non-stop inner talk.

We evacuate the present moment and by extension abandon our actual place of calm, our only sanctuary.

Mindfulness can help people deal with difficult thoughts and experiences with self-compassion: those benefits are amplified when mindfulness is combined with writing.

The intent of mindful writing is the same as a general mindfulness practice. 

The intent is to see that this very moment—the length of time between one breath and the next—is perfect, safe, okay. We can reside in what’s happening rather than fleeing into a chimerical past or future.

During normal times, when I’ve spoken about mindful writing, it’s been in the context of reducing students’ anxiety about writing assignments. Students have been trained by the conventions of the classroom to ignore the present time of writing.

During a crisis like the one we’re witnessing, mindful writing can harness the power of the written word through the present moment to process and articulate painful experiences.

First, mindful writing steers attention to the present moment, which is useful for developing calm awareness through writing.

Mindful writing also helps us notice that double-edged nature of self-talk. Our monkey mind causes problems when we let ourselves be blindly persuaded by it. If we perceive our inner babble, this leads to greater emotional regulation.

Finally, mindful writing helps us notice how we gamble on the next moment, thinking we know how it’ll turn out, limiting possibility.

So for this COVID Spring, I suggest we all do a “Write Now.”

This calming activity doesn’t require special equipment (only basic writing materials) or even a lot of time (5-10 minutes would suffice) or qualifying writing skill (it’s just a freewrite, messy and improvisational).

To do a Write Now, ask yourself: What do I have to learn here and now, from this very moment? Then jot down whatever comes to mind, free of any evaluation.

The trick is to pose that question and then follow up (in writing) to see what arises. Accept and write without revision or denying any of it, without putting a spin or backspacing anything that this moment is producing.

Keep asking the question during the session: What do I have to learn here and now, from this very moment?

This mindful writing is not an occasion for oblivion (for that I have Netflix shows).

Instead, it makes me calmer because I am present. Rather than letting my mood be dictated by my runaway monkey mind, I supervise that monkey’s hijinks. I can be less kneejerk reactive to my own thoughts.

Mindful writing is not the same as keeping a COVID-19 journal. The point isn’t to record events as they unfold: the point is to use writing to be here, now.

It's about thinking of the long-term (because there will be a day when our lives reinflate). The skills we learn by writing in the Now during this COVID will assist us later.

Then mindful writing will filter into our regular lives whenever we need to write and are procrastinating or filled with self-doubt—a time when our fears have moved on to more benign concerns, like a blank page.

Now I'm off to do a Write Now of my own. This morning... I really need it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Using Mindfulness to Write: Free Online Talk on Friday, April 24, 2020, 5 PM, EST

I'll be giving an online interactive talk, "Present Moment, Prolific Moment: Using Mindfulness to Write," for the New Hampshire Humanities Council this Friday, April 24, at 5 PM, EST. Feel free to join us!

Here's the talk description: Writing can become much more fulfilling if we think of it as happening right Now. Much is lost when we overlook the present moment because we forfeit rewarding writing experiences in exchange for stress, frustration, boredom, fear, and shortchanged invention and creativity. Through mindfulness, we can reduce our writing apprehension and the writing blocks that come from future- or past-oriented thinking. In this presentation, we discuss writing tools that emerge when present time is highlighted. Participants will learn basic strategies to incorporate mindfulness into their writing lives.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

This Very Moment is Perfect (with Mindful Writing): Online Presentation I'll Be Giving on Monday, April 20, noon, EST

On Monday, April 20, at noon EST, I'll be giving an online talk for our COVID-19 time, "This Very Moment is Perfect (with Mindful Writing), for the Mindful Moments Series sponsored by Southern New Hampshire University. Details are below. 

We hope you enjoyed the last installment of Mindful Moments online and are ready to learn more about keeping calm! Please join Alexandria Peary and the rest of the Mindful team today at 12:00PM to hear more about This Very Moment is Perfect (with Mindful Writing).

Click the link to join the session: http://snhu.adobeconnect.com/mindfulmoments4/

Description: Mindfulness can help people deal with difficult thoughts and experiences with self-compassion: those benefits are amplified when mindfulness is combined with writing. In 30 minutes, we’ll discuss ways to use mindful writing to redirect attention to the present moment (useful for grounding ourselves in the now and gaining better control of our thoughts). Activities will include a Mind List and Yoga for Hands. The goal is to develop calm awareness through writing, to find equanimity by dwelling in the present moment, perfect moment.

Alexandria Peary, MFA, MFA, PhD is the author of Prolific Moment: Theory and Practice of Mindfulness for Writing. She has given talks on mindful writing for the International Writing Program, Imperial College of London, Southern Vermont College, and the New Hampshire Poetry Festival. She has guest blogged on mindful writing for the National Council of Teachers of English and the North American Review, the country's oldest literary magazine. She serves as Poet Laureate of New Hampshire, and several of her initiatives as poet laureate focus on mindful writing. Find more information at https://newhampshirepoetlaureate.blogspot.com/

If you know of a SNHU staff or faculty member that would like to join in, please forward them this email and encourage them to join our mindful mailing list at  http://bit.ly/MindfulnessConferenceSignUp

Stay positive and healthy!

The Mindful Team

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Yoga for Hands for NCTE Online Member Gathering, Tuesday, April 7, 2020

More often than not, thinking about the fingers as they type would probably do a stuck or anxious writer far more good than thinking about audience.

This is an exercise to draw attention to the Present moment and be able to mindfully write.

Start with a brief seated meditation. With a gently tall posture, hands on your knees, breathing in, think to yourself, “Here.”  Breathing out, think to yourself, “Now.” When your mind wanders away from attention to the breath, gently guide it back.

Next, move your hands to your keyboard or to your pen/pencil/notebook and begin to freewrite. Freewriting means non-stop, non-judgmental writing intended for no audience but yourself. I’ll pass you a quote for this exercise: “This very moment is perfect for writing,” which you could  you modify to “This very moment is perfect” as a way to attune to our current global situation.

While you freewrite about the quote, continue to watch your breathing. Breathing in, think to yourself, “Here.” Breathing out, “Now.”

Keep freewriting but turn your attention to the sensation of your fingertips touching the keys or holding the pen/pencil. Change the topic of your freewrite to describing only that sensation. Do this for a minute. Try to notice moment-to-moment changes in the sensation while watching your breathing.

Keep freewriting. This time, notice how your bones are moving inside your writing fingers and make that sensation the subject of the freewrite. Watch the finger bones' complex activity. Feel their movement. If these were not your finger bones moving, what would you compare this movement to (simile or metaphor)? Continue to watch your breathing.

Extend your attention now to your palm and the back of your hands as you write. Describe the sensations in the freewrite.

Then move to your wrists and lower arms.  Describe that sensations in the freewrite.

Shift your attention—all the while watching your breath—to your torso and legs. Then to your shoulders and neck. Then to your face. Then to your forehead. Then to the crown or top of your head. 

To close, shift your attention as you write to the rest of your body. What muscular sensations, changes in temperature, tension, and so forth are present as you write?

At this point, you could turn to a writing assignment or project for the day. You may find yourself calmer, more present-minded, and most importantly, more aware of your own inner dialog than when you started the yoga-for-hands session. This state of mind will increase your focus and let you work. You can also use Yoga for Hands just to become more aware of the present moment through writing.

Try these steps again on another occasion and switch your method (try handwriting or try typing). The use of a pen or pencil will generate a whole different awareness of the present moment of writing, for example.

(If you liked this post, try out "Corpse Pose for Writing" from 3/9/2015. It's another embodied writing technique.)

Friday, April 3, 2020

20 Mindful Writing Breaths for Calm During COVID-19

I'm finding mindful writing to be an incredible practice each morning during the COVID pandemic. I'm grateful for the oasis of focus and calm it is providing me and would like to share one of my grounding techniques.

20 Breaths

Preparing to Write:

Find a quiet location and draw your mind to the point at which air enters and exits your nose. (Don’t listen to music.) Put aside your other thoughts: redirect your attention to your breathing for at least a minute before starting to write this exercise.

Next, breathing in, think “here.” Breathing out, think “now.” Repeat for a minute. If you find your mind wandering, it’s no big deal. Just gently guide your thoughts back to breathing.

Describe what a single breath feels like physically. Watching the inhalation, notice the breathing-in as a brand-new event—as though it has never happened to you before. Watching the exhalation, notice the breathing-out as a brand-new event—as though it has never happened to you before.

Stop for a moment. Number this breath: Breath 1.

Write 3-4 phrases or 1-2 sentences about Breath 1.

For instance, you could try answering a few of these questions: Where did you feel the breath in your body? With what did the breath make contact? What moved or changed in your body because of the single breath? How long did the breath seem to last? What was the temperature of the breath? 

To head in a more poetic direction, if the breath possessed a shape, what shape would it have? If the breath was an object, what kind of object might it be? If the breath came in a color, what color or colors? If the breath was a single word or phrase, what would that be?

Repeat until you’ve described twenty breaths.

The purpose of this exercise is to use writing to retrain the mind to pay attention to the present. For the times we're all living in right now, watching our breathing through writing can ground us and lead to a calm outlook. Ultimately, this will help you pay attention to the present while you write, which will carry all sorts of benefits in terms of your outlook about writing and the ideas you reach.

* Image from Shondaland.com