Write for Your Life
A virtual writing workshop and guide for a spiritual writing practice
To my great delight over many years I’ve helped people develop a spiritual writing practice – synagogue members from Portland to Portland; Afghan and Palestinian communal leaders lakeside at Seeds of Peace; women activists from across the FSU gathered together in Vitebsk; rabbis and rabbinical students of all stripes – and now you…
…Begin by buying yourself one of those old-fashioned hardcover black-and-white marbled composition notebooks at a twenty-first century version of the corner five-and-dime – the kind of notebook you remember from third grade, every fall walking to school, crunching the leaves under foot, your heart stirring at the hope of new beginnings…
The hard cover means you can sit with it on your lap anywhere, don’t need a desk, just sit and write – the original “laptop”! I also love these notebooks because they’re cheap and therefore not threatening – even for me, a well-published writer, those exquisitely beautiful journals people buy you as gifts I can find threatening – I can’t guarantee that what I write will be as wonderful as the notebook itself, I’m afraid of spoiling it, ruining it – an invitation to writer’s block! With a notebook I paid less than a buck for I feel comfortable, not intimidated.
So, journal in hand – and why write by hand? In my experience, it connects us much more deeply to the heart, to the authentic, to the unexpected. Computers are great because they go faster, faster; this writing though is all about slower, slower…
This journal is an opportunity, a possibility for opening, a way to record the journey of your days – days ordinary and days extraordinary. A way to better see and explore inner worlds. As often as you can, daily even, use it to give yourself the gift of quiet time, solitary time, time to find the silent places within and to listen carefully.
Listen to yourself as you listen to the people you most dearly love: with rapt attention and tenderness, curiosity, compassion. And then let the stories, your thoughts and feelings, tumble onto the page. Relax, and let the details of special moments return to you as you write. Above all, a writing practice is about process, the process of making a connection to yourself. As the process unfolds, you discover that developing a writing practice can offer the rich reward of feeling accompanied in precisely the ways we may otherwise feel painfully alone. Blessings to you on your journey!
I have developed various approaches or entrees to writing – some especially powerful ones can be found in my book A Spiritual Life: Exploring the Heart and Jewish Tradition (SUNY Press, revised edition 2007) in the last chapter, A Readers’ and Writers’ Guide. That chapter provides a way of writing by focusing on seven different themes of the poems and stories in the book – a very rich experience and one you can try on your own, in a formal adult ed class, or just informally with a group of friends for a special evening of intimate sharing.
The prompts provided here, Writing in the Paradigm of Prayer, offer a very different approach, focusing on the rhythms of your own inner life. They are organized in three categories indicated by the Hebrew and English words – morning, afternoon, evening. These are the three times a day a traditional Jew says fixed prayers. Because I do so much of my work with rabbinical students and rabbis, I am always looking for techniques that speak to their needs – that’s how this particular framework for writing originally evolved. It occurred to me that the times of day designated for fixed prayer were intuitively on target, each unique and each open to contemplation, each offering the opportunity to pause in the day to reflect, regroup. Further, it seemed to me each part of the day had its own feeling-tone, each had its own appropriate questions or writing prompts.
Find a quiet private place and arrange not to be disturbed. We’re all way too busy, but everyone has 10-minute pockets in the day that they can claim for themselves. You’ll be amazed how deep a 10-minute experience of writing can be…
Writing in the paradigm of prayer
Shacharit/Morning - Mindfully entering the day, setting your intention, your kavannah, for the day (remember to focus on just one of the following, give yourself 10 minutes)
- Perhaps begin by trying to catch the fragment of a dream from last night: are there images from the night that linger? images from yesterday? What might be their message?
-What is your prayer for the journey of this day? Write it now, reread it later…
-Perhaps focus on your dearest hopes for the day; how might you realize them?
-What are you worried about? afraid of, today? Be curious about these strong emotions,
allow yourself to explore them.
-Ask yourself: how can I find strength for the day? Who might be of help, support?
-Reflect on what you'll be doing, who you'll see (choose just one person to focus on):
how can you soulfully prepare for this encounter?
-What do you especially want to remember today (focus on just one this morning): how to increase your patience? be courageous? don't stereotype people, don't be dismissive? how to work on dealing with frustration? anticipating and striving to manage your anger? remember to be open to joy? be in the moment? remember to be grateful? be gentle with yourself and your imperfections?
Mincha/Afternoon - Finding yourself again, recentering in the present
(remember to focus on just one of the following, give yourself 10 minutes)
Begin by taking a few deep breaths, let go of the busyness of the day, the routine, the pressing demands. Claim the luxury and integrity of this time, allow it to nourish you.
-Recenter: what am I grateful for this afternoon, right now? Remember, describe, one small moment this morning that was a pleasure, that brought a smile, that was meaningful, rich.
-Slow down, stop, freeze frame: what do I want to change about how this day is going, how I am going in this day? Let the writing help you to reorient, shift, make a change.
-How am I living in my body today? Listen, with love – what do I need?
-Who am I, what do I cherish about myself? How can I make that manifest in my world today?
Ma'ariv/Evening - Reflecting on the day that is coming to an end
(focus on just one of the following; perhaps give yourself a little more time for this writing)
-Remember something unique about the day, something wonderful, or troubling; or, notice a vivid image from the day; or, attend to the first memory that springs to mind, perhaps an overlooked, seemingly inconsequential moment: What happened? Explore in detail. And how is it significant for you?
(Remember, this is not a catalogue of the day's events, it's an opportunity to interpret, to make meaning, to integrate experiences that normally just rush by.)
-What did you learn today - about the world? another person? yourself?
-What delighted you? moved you? disturbed you? confused you? Tell the story.
-Did you challenge yourself today? take a risk? how? What happened?
-Were you afraid of something today? what? why? How did it turn out?
-How did you live in your body today? Why?
-With whom did you make a connection today? what happened?
-What surprised you today – and what is significant about that?
-What questions are you left with today?
© Merle Feld 2011. Writing for Your Life materials – All rights reserved.