Managing Editor’s Note: Writing means many things to us–an escape or a chore, a creative challenge or a job, a craft or a skill, perhaps all of these at once. Some of us experience something of the spiritual, too, when we work; a fulfillment and insight into our own lives that we can’t get any other way. Our guest blogger today, Elaine Fletcher, describes writing not as an aid to meditation, but as meditation itself, an “internalized, felt experience of the Path.” –Amy
WRITING AS A PATH OF MEDITATION
by Elaine Fletcher Chapman
The year my mother died, I claimed a desk for myself in the family room. I placed my notebook and the books that were my touchstones at the time on the desk. I bought a beautiful fountain pen from pennies saved, ink made from roses.
Nearby, my mother’s photo. Nearby, a bottle of the Pacific Ocean. Nearby, a blue postcard with the single word SOLITUDE printed on it. Nearby, a feather and rose quartz for healing the deepest wounds of the heart. I lit the incense and bowed with hands folded in prayer before I sat to write.
Now many years later, I still burn the same incense before I write. Sometimes though I depend on the lingering perfume to carry my words. I still bow. I sit with intention and invite mystery. I evoke the known and the unknown. When I sit, I know nothing and everything. I am the body. I lose the body. I lose time. I lose self. Self fades away and there is only the writing.
My writing style is minimalist. I am in love with the white space on the paper, what is not said. Quiet. When writing prose, it is difficult to take up space, fill the page. The words I write are not my own, yet I claim them. After writing a new poem, I turn it face down for several days to let it breathe. When I reread, sometimes I say, “Who wrote this? I forgot to write the poet’s name. And then I remember, oh yes, I wrote that poem. See it even has the date on it.” The poem does not belong to me. And yet my name appears underneath it.
Just recently while sitting in mediation on retreat I had the experience of self-dissolving followed by an insight that I have been following the Path of Mediation in my writing life. With this realization I feel that I have an internalized, felt experience of the Path. I know what it feels like. And everyday, every moment it is the same and different.
Writing is my spiritual practice. I have said and written that many times. Writing is my devotion. Over the years, I also followed formal and informal meditation practices. I attended several silent retreats, dating back to 1995. I sat zazen. I recited Psalms. My yoga practice developed. I loved studio practice. I loved home practice. I lit the incense.
Nine years have passed since I attended my first Yoga Nidra class. Something spoke to me, through me, in that experience. Over a course of a difficult year, Yoga Nidra (and poetry) saved my life. That year I left a long-term marriage of 36 years, left the home were I raised my children, the beloved neighborhood. I lived alone in exile. I began another study.
Six years ago I began offering Yoga Nidra on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. But felt I did not know enough, hence the training with iRest and Richard Miller. The fact that Integrative Restorative Institute is located a few miles from where my son and his family live confirmed my intuition. I had actually walked the campus and trails around Saint Sabina many years before I attended the retreat there last February. Coming home, coming home to True Self. The perfume lingers even now as I write these words.
I am eager to return to my writing desk to begin new poems. I feel a build-up in my body and brain, words swirling by and around. Words I can’t hear or see yet. No form, formless. I only feel their presence. I “wait without waiting” to begin at 8:30 am and in a blink, find it is the noon hour. A lightness. A spaciousness. When I arrive back at my desk, I do so with a new sense of confidence regarding the unknown, the unknowing. I will light the Rosewood incense. I will bow. Know my home is there. No grasping. Just this moment. Just awareness. Being awareness itself. The realized Path of Mediation, a new touchstone on the corner of my desk. Taped on the wall above my desk:
“In (writing) there is not a (writer.) There is only the (writing.)” Jean Klein
ELAINE FLETCHER CHAPMAN (formerly Elaine Walters McFerron) is the author of a volume of poems, Hunger for Salt to be published by Saint Julian Press in May 2017. She holds an MFA from The Bennington Writing Seminars, Bennington College where she has worked on the staff since 1999. For the last 38 years she has worked as a therapist in private practice. She also teaches iRest Yoga Nidra Meditation. She founded The Writer’s Studio where she teaches poetry and nonfiction, provides editing services and organizes Poetry Readings and Crossing Over Reading Retreats on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Her poems have been published in The Tishman Review, The EcoTheo Review, The Cortland Review, Connotation, The Sun, Calyx, Poet Lore, 5AM, Salamander, and others. She was guest blogger on The Best American Poetry Blog. Green River Press published her letterpress chapbook, Double Solitude. She lives mostly on the west side of the Chesapeake Bay in Newport News, Virginia.