Some years ago, I went on a spiritual quest to Maui and had an opportunity to meet Ram Dass, the American spiritual teacher, author, and psychologist. Many of us baby boomers are familiar with his book Be Here Now, which was released in 1971 during the hippie movement. He was probably one of the first individuals to refer to what we now call mindfulness.
Be here now is a great way to think about your mindfulness practice, and also an effective reminder when navigating the holidays. It’s also an excellent motto to live by as you begin to write. The idea is to be present, emanate loving-kindness, celebrate happy moments, listen to the voice of your heart, go with the flow, and follow your intuition.
When considering writing during the holiday season, there are three basic elements that you’ll need: a journal, a writing instrument, and a place to write. If you have a special room of your own, then you might want to consider surrounding yourself with items and artifacts that inspire you. For example, my writing desk has a Buddha sitting in the corner, and he’s holding a stone that says serenity. In the other corner of my desk are bookends in the shape of two hands that my son gave me. Within the bookends are some reference books—a Writer’s Thesaurus, my current journal, and a book of quotations that I sometimes use in my writings. To the side of my large computer screen, I usually either burn incense or a candle.
In your special space, perhaps you’ll be inspired to create an altar. Mine isn’t fancy; it’s simply a wooden trunk that I’ve covered with a cloth. Each item on the cloth has some significance, such as family photos, miscellaneous stones, and dried flowers gathered on my travels. In the center is a little stand holding a Buddha elevated on a stand, and in his lap is a stone that says create. On either side of the Buddha are two small votive holders with white candles, and beside them is some incense that I light while I meditate.
If you want to write about a particular person in your life, you might consider placing on your altar artifacts or photos of that person or time period you’re writing about.
Starting to Write
Before beginning to write, make sure that your journal resonates with you, and that your pen flows smoothly. When you’ve gathered your tools, then it’s time to start the process. When engaging in personal writing, there are basically two types: “prompt directed,” and “stream-of-consciousness” or “automatic” writing. In the latter, you write without pausing—just put down on paper whatever pops into your head. This type of writing is a good way to get into the creative flow and gain access to your subconscious mind.
In both types of writing, it’s important to be mindful and to be in touch with your feelings. The best writing occurs when you’re completely honest with yourself and when you engage all your senses. For example: What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? What do you feel? You’ll want to describe in detail how you feel physically and emotionally, such as “Today, I feel sad.” Just see where your writing and thoughts go without worrying about editing.
In terms of instructions on how to write, I suggest just “letting it rip,” and don’t worry about creating a beginning, middle, and end. Writing in a journal isn’t like writing an essay for school, so you might be surprised by what emerges. A woman in one of my workshops wrote about how she was having a difficult day, and before she knew it, she was smiling because she was writing about her high school sweetheart and all the happy memories associated with him. So you never know what can happen once you begin writing!
However, before you begin, be sure to date the top of your page so you can look back and see where you were then and where you are now. If you need a kickstart on the process, here are a few writing prompts:
- Take a moment to remember what matters most to you. Then, at the top of the page, write “I remember.” Write without stopping for 20 minutes. See what emerges.
- What part of you feels most alive and joyful right now? If you don’t feel that way right now, then recall when you last felt joy and explain that feeling.
- Bring someone into your consciousness who has been on your mind. Write this person a letter. You don’t necessarily have to send the letter, but you’ll find that the sheer act of writing it can be very healing.