Well, I grabbed your attention with the title of this blog, but what I’m really trying to tell you is that letting go of your baggage is one way to write for change. When considering any kind of change or incorporating a new practice into your life—whether it be writing for bliss, writing for therapy, or writing for transformation—I like to mention what Zen master Shunryu Suzuki referred to in his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind as maintaining the sensibility of the “beginner’s mind.” The idea is that the beginner’s mind tends to be open to many possibilities, unlike the expert’s mind, which only sees a few. Remaining open-minded and available for new ideas is important, in the same way that we might witness this quality in young children, who are like sponges for learning. Having a beginner’s mind is also about suspending your disbelief and going with the flow of your experience.
Hopefully, when you’ve made the decision to engage in personal writing, you’ve given yourself permission to take yourself on a voyage of self-discovery. This entails reviewing your life with a child’s curiosity, awe, and simplicity. By doing so, there’s a good chance that significant revelations will begin emerging from your subconscious mind. Writing with the magical mind-set of a child can be a fun and poignant way to write—and a way to unleash profound and illuminating secrets.
When my three children were young, we sometimes took family vacations to places I’d already visited earlier in life. I was often fascinated by how those places seemed so unique and different when I returned to them with my kids. They viewed those experiences with new and curious eyes, as opposed to my older, jaded ones. They made observations and noticed things that I either took for granted or simply never acknowledged. For the first ten years of each of my children’s lives, I kept individual journals for them in which I accumulated all their questions and answers, vowing to share each one’s journal with them on their wedding day. This was a gift I would have loved to have received from my own mother.
Growing up in the 1950s and ’60s as the only daughter of two hardworking immigrants, I was usually left to my own devices, in the sense that I was often left home alone to entertain myself. My mother didn’t allow me to watch television, informing me that it was bubblegum for my mind; however, she was a big believer in books and journals, thus setting the stage for my platform as a writer. Because I was alone much of the time (my grandmother had passed away), I was forced to pose many questions in my journal, but many of them remained unanswered. Therefore, when I had children of my own, I encouraged them to ask questions out loud, both at school and at home. I often reminded them that there was no such thing as a stupid question. Admittedly, as a result, I sometimes felt less than smart because there were times when I was unable to answer their brilliant questions without the help of my support system at the time—the World Book Encyclopedia.
One of the best questions my son Josh once asked his father was, “Daddy, why doesn’t the ceiling fall?” My husband, a scientist, was able to provide a decent answer, but I was in awe of my son’s question and reflected on how sometimes the simplest of inquiries requires the most complex answers. When posing the more personal questions about our lives, sometimes it can take years to come up with the answers.
One of my favorite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke, had this to say about the beginner’s mind:
Be patient to all that is unsolved in your heart and try to cherish the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a foreign tongue. Do not be focused on the answers, which sometimes cannot be given because you would not be able to live them. The point is, to live everything. Love the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer (Rilke, 2000, p. 10).
Patience is important to remember when you’re engaged in writing about your emotions and experiences. It’s also a good idea to view your experiences with both narrow and wide-angle lenses. Viewing your life with a wide-angle lens allows you to see the big picture of your life in a universal context and see the patterns. Viewing with a narrow-angle lens allows you to view the specific details of your own life and your own particular patterns. Doing so will bring a renewed perspective to your experiences—a new viewpoint, a sense of inquisitiveness and curiosity—which will give your writing more poignancy and depth.
As I mentioned above, the art of writing for change is about setting out on a journey. Imagine yourself preparing to visit a new land—one you’ve never visited before or one you haven’t been to for a long time. Be alert and mindful of the details of your landscape. Document them in your journal or on your computer. Don’t worry about the direction of your musings; for the moment, simply accumulate them. You can decide later whether your writing will be for you alone, for posterity, or for public sharing.
Go for a walk with your journal and pen, and stop at a convenient place to write about an observation that captures you. Write about it using a beginner’s mind, as if you’re visiting our planet and viewing it for the first time.
P.S. This blog is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life (Loving Healing Press, 2017).
Rilke, R. M.(2000). Letters to a Young Poet. Merchant Books.
Suzuki, S. (2011). Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. Boston, MA: Shambhala.