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Sept. 26, 2022

Mindful Writing Course: Small Stones

Courses & Extras

Everyday Buddhism Membership Community Lecture Series

Mindful Writing

Introduction to Poetry, Meditation, Mindful Writing & Small Stones

In this series I hope to introduce you to a new way of practicing mindfulness through writing. First, a note of caution. This will not be ‘writing course’ but a practice of engaged seeing, hearing, and feeling with the objective of capturing moments and expressing them through writing. This does not mean you need to be a poet, nor a writer.

Mindful Writing Introductory Talk

In this series I hope to introduce you to a new way of practicing mindfulness through writing. As Gary Snyder wrote, meditation can put you totally into the world even as it takes you out of it.

Mindfulness and meditation are practices of deliberate attention that can create a spacious awareness of what is and help us escape the narrow box in our heads where the thinker lives. Focusing in on what IS at any one moment doesn’t narrow our awareness but, instead, opens us up to what is outside our concepts of self and what we ‘think’ we are seeing.

First, a note of caution. This will not be ‘writing course’ but a practice of engaged seeing, hearing, and feeling with the objective of capturing moments and expressing them through writing. This does not mean you need to be a poet, nor a writer.

"Just One Breath:The Practice of Poetry and Meditation" by Gary Snyder

Link to article referenced in introductory talk:

Instructions on Finding Small Stones + Small Stone Examples


How to Polish Your Small Stones

How do I polish my small stones?

Polishing small stones isn’t as important as finding them in the first place, but it is fun! These tips will help you to polish your small stone until it is as accurate & beautiful as you can make it:

* Have you used precise words? Was the berry red or was it scarlet?

* Is every single word necessary? In a short piece of writing, every word must earn its keep. If it doesn’t add anything, take it out!

* Have you shown us something or told us something? Let the reader draw their own conclusions. Rather than writing ‘the sky was beautiful’, show us the sky.

* How does it look on the page? Do you want to use a title? How do you want to use capital letters and punctuation? Do you want to break up your sentence into shorter lines? Fiddle about until it looks right.

* What does it sound like when you read it out loud? Does the rhythm please you? Do you stumble at the same point every time? Fiddle about until it sounds right.

Thanks to Rev. Satya Robyn for permission to share!

There are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions – part of being a writer is discovering your own unique way with words.

Loosening Our "Self Structures" By Noticing the World Around Us

Thanks to Satya Robyn who gave us these insights in a 2013 article, The Joys of Mindful Writing: Small Stones; Moments of Attention.
Rev. Satya writes that the "world is all around us, offering us great treasures, and yet we rarely have the time to pause and notice them."

Why is that so? I think it is because we are so busy looking inside to find happiness ... give ourselves what we want ... build our self-esteem ... and on and on. A persistent focus on self. It is a focus on what we know from Buddhism is a concept at best, an illusion at worse.

We want to become certain about who we are, what we believe—looking for things that will provide the evidence that we are right about our "selves." As Satya Robyn writes:

It is important to be kind to ourselves, but a Buddhist view on self-building is that it is actually more helpful to loosen our self structures, to allow them to become more flexible.... One of the best ways of loosening out rigid ideas is to allow ourselves to be influenced by what is outside us—to let information in from the wide world with as few filters as we can. The world will tell us what we need to know, if allow it to.
We can do that by noticing. Simply noticing. Then letting that noticing open even further to become a wide-open awareness of what IS. When we open to what IS, our grasping at self—at thoughts, plans, emotions, stories—relaxes at fades. At least for a few moments.

This is what writing small stones can do for you and why it is a brilliant and simple way to practice mindfulness and meditation. Notice the world. Open to it. Be with it. Let it talk to you. The world...trees, rocks, chipmunks, and birds are always talking, teaching. If we pause and notice.

In June, I wrote something in my mindful writing journal that helped me open up to the uncertainty of the pandemic—helped me sit in a more relaxed acceptance. I wrote:

The sparrows and squirrels
act as if everything was as before.
For them it is.

It is always uncertain for them. It is as it always was.
And I struggle to forget that we don't know what's next.

While the grey squirrel
patiently waits
for a sample of seed to spill
from the feeder.

Photo by Sandis Helvigs on Unsplash

Mindful Writing - Talk 2: Slowing Down to Taste the Joy of Suchness

Like the quote from 5th century Chinese scripture, Awakening of Faith, highlights:

The highest wisdom which shines throughout the world, it has true knowledge and a mind resting simply in its own being. It is eternal, blissful, its own self-being and the purest simplicity.

Without slowing down … Without stilling your wild mind, churning with plans, regrets, worries, and old stories, you can never be "a mind resting simply in its own being."

According the Rev. Satya Robyn, who has graciously shared her teachings with me, some ways we can us writing to slow down are:

1) Write small stones. By now, those of you taking up this practice have probably felt your thoughts slowing down as your attention and awareness opened up to what is in front of you.

2) Keep a "slow diary". Open up a new or dusty journal you've never use every day and jot down very brief notes about your personal relationship with slowing down and open up your awareness to life happening outside your head.

3) Practice "concentrated slow". There are activities you can incorporate into each day that will help you experience a 'pure' slowness. And those moments of pure slowness will "leak into" the rest of your day and days. Some activities to incorporate each day or several times weekly:

* Meditation - Just sit for 10 minutes. Don't look for a result, just do it every day.

* Walking

* Reading

* Gardening

* Washing up or brushing your teeth. Do it consciously by staying out of your head and staying "with" the body.

4) Enjoy slow. As Rev. Satya writes, "Living slowly can be an acquired taste." We habitually begin to do 'something else' whenever there is a moment of down time. The ubiquitous smart phone is on autopilot. A moment of nothing and our hand is trained to pick up the phone, so the down time is no longer down or slow.

Satya writes, "Cultivate your appreciation of slow." Gaze out the window at the clouds … or tree leaves dancing in a breeze. Listen to music and stop a moment to really hear all the instruments or feel the changes in pace, volume, and tone. Re-read a book or poem you love, sentence by sentence. When you're walking, slow down—forget the heartbeat-target on your smart fitness watch and look up, look down, look around.

Then write about it in your slow journal!

"Savour. Relish. Luxuriate." Says Rev. Satya.

A Book of Small Stones

A Book of Small Stones: A Blackbird Sings

For those who want more!

(Please note this link is an affiliate link that helps fund my podcast and community efforts by a few cents anytime someone purchases a book from the link.)