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.

1 comment:

  1. Practicing gratitude mindfulness at the very start of your day is an amazing way to set the tone of your day. When you awake, pause and take a deep breath (even if that means that you don’t have a chance . Take a moment to make a mental list of those things and people which you are grateful for. As the day goes on and you interact with these things or people, reflect on how taking this moment of grateful mindfulness in the morning helps to shift your perception of these things throughout the day. Taking a few moments of gratitude in the morning helps facilitate a greater sense of appreciation. I can recommend to read this guide net-bossorg/mindfulness-by-julia-hanner