This is a photo of an open notebook with blank pages. It sits on a table of dark wood and there is a cup of coffee in a black mug with a white rim.

Write With Presence

The summer is definitely over. I know this because my favourite fall tights are mysteriously spread out on my bed and I am not so mysteriously eyeing them fondly. I would have said, “caressing” but I don’t want you to think I’m obsessed. Because of course I really am. Instead of making me feel a twinge of soppiness for backyard BBQs, beach picnics and steamy romance novels (or romances), it’s reminding me to seize the lingering warmth and light that’s still here.

I just finished Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance and through it was made aware of how acceptance of self can be a long and often hard-won journey, but that it’s absolutely achievable. Brach, a meditation teacher and psychotherapist, writes with clarity about her own struggles with self-acceptance. She also shares stories about clients of hers who, in spite of numerous hard knocks, have been able to perceive their lives with heightened awareness and, as a result, put an end to stories about themselves that cause suffering.

As I was reading this book I couldn’t help but think of all the times I judged myself for not writing. Or for decisions I’d made in my career that I later realized weren’t in my best interests. Feelings of shame, inadequacy and a lack of belonging crept into my consciousness. The fantasies we concoct about our lives, whether about what we should have done in the past or how we want things to be in the future, negate who we are in the present. It is this unwillingness or inability to embrace the here and now that makes it very hard for us to accept ourselves wholly and completely—just as you are (to paraphrase a line from Bridget Jones’s Diary).

Although, it’s often grueling to make the leap from being self-critical to suddenly internally singing your own praises.

I recently attended a Buddhist meditation retreat and the visiting monk asked the group, “Are your thoughts or actions skilful or unskilful?” When I apply this to my writing life I might rather ask the question, “Are my thoughts nurturing my writing practice, advancing my creative objectives or am I sabotaging myself and my work with damaging self criticism and negative talk?”

You might still be wondering what self-criticism has to do with writing with presence. Well, here’s the kicker…when you make space for your writing (substitute any other art) it’s an act of self-love and nurturing in the deepest sense. This is not to be confused with the misplaced belief that doing art is self-indulgent. Not at all! It is actually self-loving because you are following a hunch that this is the way forward even though the criticism gremlins might still be telling you that you've lost the plot! Focusing on the writing in front of you implies trusting yourself, and the more you make space for, and are present with your craft, the more you also begin to recondition the part that says you're completely loopy. Not only that. Art encapsulates a longing for connection and a desire to bring others along for the ride. In fact, it is the exact opposite of indulgent.

In order to write with any constancy though you have to be present. Present with your thoughts. Present with your feelings and sensations. Present with your words. You must make it clear to all those internal and external noises that the only thing trending is right in front of you. The people yelling in the street aren't important. The pile of laundry on the bed can wait. Your very existence depends on this curious force that you can’t even describe to others even if you tried.

So give yourself 15 minutes, a half hour or hour. Tell those you live with that your hair is on fire and only releasing words on paper or laptop will put it out. Set a timer and show up. Use your best pen, your prized notebook. Dig in. Go deep. Go crazy already. 

Writing with presence is about getting out of your own way and living in that imperfect space of creating. Yes, the voices will come up telling you that you’re a fool for trying. Smile softly when that happens. Give them a nod. Then carry on.