An introduction to Contemplative Writing: Writing in the container of the Dharma/Buddhism is about learning to trust perception – the basic, the ordinary, the magical connection to our world, and our minds. My teacher is Miriam Hall of www.herspiral.com. We both have studied with Natalie Goldberg, who wrote Writing Down The Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie’s groundbreaking first book, she brings together Zen meditation and writing in a new way. Writing practice, as she calls it, is no different from other forms of Zen practice — “it is backed by two thousand years of studying the mind.”
The process for contemplative writing: I bow. Then, I meditate for five minutes. Then, I set a timer, and begin to write, pen to paper. I do not stop. I do not edit. I invite what wants to arise, the texture of my mind, the passions of soul, the winds of Oneness.
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What is Contemplative Writing?
Twenty minutes, Prompt – Salvador Dali, Go. Do not stop. Trust the writing.
I’m looking at another Salvador Dali painting. Yellow, red, a melting clock. It’s like a picnic, without the food. Italian rolls off a tongue around the corner, in front of a different piece of Dali art. My daughter, Rayna, and I are here in Florida. She waits in the car, in the parking lot, the car running. The three dogs and her are locked in where heat and strangers might leave her be. She is not happy, but I need thirty minutes to myself. We are on a six-week, two-day quest. We are almost always together.
I enter the museum. I don’t pay. I walk up the spiral staircase. Dali’s portrait of My Dead Brother takes me to my knees. I am fifty-one and this is my first time with his art.
In this painting, in this painting I write about now on my iPhone, with the Italian language singing praise in yet another aisle, the man in the painting I assume is Dali steps on a dead weasel, ants crawling near his other foot. A metal key, but not a painting of a metal key, hangs by his left knee; a painted woman who reminds me of my grandmother sits in a yellow space, where water drains from a painted keyhole.
I walk around and I see more Dali paintings. I am surrounded by copper, cherries where the mustache would be, birds emerging from a webbing of memory. I see ancient soldiers. I even see wheel barrows.
I am noticing many of Dali’s artistic symbols are also symbols used by my life. Yet, unlike me, as my creative pulse chooses photos, videos, words. And, I am realizing Dali, like me, seems to be sharing his moments of spontaneous awakening through sky with rays of sun shining, rusty metal, time. Dali even paints an open, drab gray, horizon.
As I let my heart open deeper to his art, as I gaze at the visual conversation this dead man invites me into, I feel folded in half, lifted off my feet, and set down again. Strong, whole body sensations like this used to trigger a panic in my mind, an “I am about to die, what is wrong with me”. Now, when I let these strong sensations overcome me, as they will, my heart keeps surprising me by opening into a new depth.
One of my writing buddies didn’t buy that I love the man who drove the car that killed my brother. I interviewed him thirty-two years later and wrote the conversation on paper. When she spoke the words, I didn’t understand. All I felt was of course I love him. Within him is a place we have in common, a place where unspeakable loss brings you to your knees.
Mostly, I don’t know how to talk about these things. I can only contain them in my photography. Yet, now I write what I see in these Dali paintings, and I tell you this is the same feeling, this is what it feels like to love the whole world.