One of the earliest inspirations for my own writing was the books of Natalie Goldberg. I started writing a diary when I was 13, but Natalie liberated me from the need to write about everything that happened in chronological order. It was freeing to learn that I could simply write my thoughts as they happened and see where they would take me.
My favourite quote from her is ‘feel free to write the worst junk in the world.’ Goldberg explains that by not being afraid to write the junk, by ignoring the critical voice in our minds that tells us something is ‘rubbish,’ we unlock our creativity and our able to write more freely. We can also clear our minds out of our junk so we are able to find the gold.
Goldberg is a student of Zen meditation and was once told by her Zen teacher to treat writing as her meditation. I’ve always followed her advice to simply write what I am thinking, and doing so has taken me to some unexpected places.
When I was in 26 the fatigue I’d had while at university returned. I spent many long afternoons, watching film after film lying on my bed unable to move. Then, sometimes, out of desperation I would write my thoughts, and a funny thing happened. My energy returned, in 10 minutes as opposed to resting for hours and hours. Writing was not just making me feel happier, it was giving me physical energy. And this knowledge that writing could effect my physical body, started as a ‘feeling.’ I felt it to be true.
I began to spontaneously include more meditative aspects into my writing. I focused on relaxing my body, and noticing my breathing. I would try to relax my muscles, to sink down into my body, and ‘ground’ myself, in ways I had learnt through practising tai chi and yoga. This was a way to hone the effect that writing seemed to have on my body, to draw something out of the silence under my skin, and make words out of it. Once I’d expressed the words, I felt better, it seemed so simple!
As I continued to write, sometimes, for as long as two hours, my mind became clearer and clearer. My thoughts slowed down, from the hurried frenzy that I began with. Insights appeared on the page, as if from some deeper wisdom than myself.
And all of this happened, simply by paying attention to the first thought in my head, and then following it to the next one.
Natalie Goldberg’s books are amazing, and I love the fact that they make writer’s block impossible. Just as we are never free of thoughts, we always have something to write on the page. Unless we have reached enlightenment, our minds our never empty!