Writing As a Path to Spiritual Awakening

by Albert Flynn DeSilver

One of the most primal questions we can ask ourselves is, who am I, really? The great Indian mystic, Nisargadatta Maharaj, said, “I cannot tell what I am, because words can describe only what I am not.”

We set off writing on the path to awakening by tuning into what we are not. If we are not what words can describe, and words can describe pretty much everything, then what the heck are we? This is the great unanswerable, which invites us to write and live our way into the answer.

How does conscious living inform conscious writing (conscious creativity) and in turn, how does conscious writing and creativity inform conscious living? This question turning in on itself becomes one infinite loop, the helix of return. The practice of writing, or any creative act, is an exploration of consciousness, a practice toward deeper self-awareness, and moves us along the path of awakening to our true nature. Many of our greatest spiritual teachers from around the world were and are writers — from Sappho in the 7th century BC and Rumi in the 13th century to Natalie Goldberg, Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron and the Dalai Lama today. The written word has the power not only to inspire but also to awaken the very best in the human heart. 

Another great question to consider is, awakening to what? Awakening means waking up from the dream of separation — separation from the one asking the questions. It means waking up from the dream of identifying with our stories, our thoughts, opinions and beliefs, and our knee-jerk emotional responses to those thoughts, opinions and beliefs that surround them. It means waking up to a more expansive sense of self. Some of our habitual emotional responses come from long established patterns of conditioning, hurt and trauma that have accumulated within us throughout the course of our lives. Writing or any creative act asks us to turn our attention inward toward the wisdom of a poetically open heart and mind and away from an exclusive entanglement with the clutches of external physicality and emotionality. Awakened creativity asks us to take time and gain perspective by watching the play of thought, witnessing the mind in action doing its thing, and practicing not reacting to it. As you sit with your eyes closed, mindfully breathing into your body, noticing and opening to a greater awareness with a strong commitment to patience, peace, insight, and letting go, see what happens in your direct experience. And then take that experience to the blank page, canvas or open dance floor.

Writing is one of the most powerful points of focus we have as human beings. Writing is an act of creation, as speaking is an act of creation. It’s the catalyst that takes an idea from the mind, from thought, and launches it on its journey into physical reality on the page. Writing is transformational; it has the power to transmit amorphous impulses of thought and emotion into concrete ideas through empty space. As Stephen King says, “Writing is telepathy.” Pure and simple. A specific detailed image in your head can be set in words, written down, printed on paper, in books and read by someone thousands of miles away, and they can see that image in their own mind’s eye thereby experiencing the emotional intent of it. Now that’s magic. Writing or any creative act is an act of magic, a springboard for transformation. Of course not all words, sentences, stories, are created equal. Some are imbued with more catalytic power, more transformational clout than others. Very few of us are born with the immediate gift of being able to string together words (notes, images) symphonically with apparent ease. Most of us must practice the craft, study the greats, repeatedly hash it out on the page, read and re-read, fail and fail again, play and play on, then practice some more. Practice in writing (and meditation for that matter) doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes process. And if you can get yourself to practice enough, to the point of creating and then engaging in a consistent process, it will turn into a habit, a routine, and then you are on your way to proficiency and even mastery. In this way practice equals deepening attention or awareness. The writer/artist is nothing if not a keen observer of their own emotions, sensory impressions, and the infinitely dynamic, complex and contradictory movements of the world.

Writing and sitting meditation practice are a powerful pair, a dynamic duo; think Thelma and Louise, Batman and Robin, Lewis and Clark, Lavern and Shirley, even Tom and Jerry — together they nourish and push, trigger and define, inform and inspire, enable and energize. To engage in both practices fully is to activate a more complete, creative and spiritual self. The invitation is here and now, take time to breathe in silence, and surrender to your innate creative genius, you just might discover who you really are.

Albert Flynn DeSilver is an internationally published poet, memoirist, novelist, and speaker. His work has appeared in more than 100 literary journals worldwide. Albert is the author of several books of poems and the memoir Beamish Boy, which Kirkus Reviews called "A beautifully written memoir...poignant and inspirational." His newest book, Writing as a Path to Awakening, will be published by Sounds True in Fall 2017. He has been meditating ever since his first Monday night sitting in 1994 when Jack Kornfield dedicated the entire evening to poetry. For many years Albert taught in the Teen and Family program at Spirit Rock and went on to practice with Ajahn Jumnian, Adayashanti, and others. Albert teaches writing and meditation workshops at Spirit Rock, The Esalen Institute, Omega Institute, Shambhala Mountain, and at writing conferences nationally.

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