Can writing be an everyday spiritual practice? It all depends on how you approach it. Scott W. Alexander defines everyday spiritual practice as “any activity or attitude in which you can regularly and intentionally engage, and which significantly deepens the quality of your relationship with the miracle of life both within and beyond you.”
Scott’s collection of essays by Unitarian Universalist ministers and lay leaders describes a wide range of practices that qualify, from meditation through charitable giving, working with a spiritual director, even recycling, to art. What makes an everyday spiritual practice is “intentionality, regularity and depth . . . your commitment to making the activity a regular and significant part of your life.”
So writing certainly qualifies, doesn’t it? For me, it meets the above criteria, but something’s often missing. On a good day, when I’m in the zone and the words are flowing, I might tap into that sense of the “miracle of life,” but the feeling is fleeting. A common thread in the practices these authors describe is their potential to bring us into present time, to function fully in the now. Past and future fall away, and the present moment is everything. But is this even possible with writing? It’s an inherently linear, temporal medium, and every word is inextricably linked to before and after.
Part of the problem is that pesky inner critic, the one who keeps saying “Forget about it – you’ve got nothing to say, and no one will want to read it anyway.” She tells me I’m fresh out of ideas and that my best writing days are behind me, and of course that blanket condemnation carries the strong stench of self-fulfilling prophecy. Then there’s the problem of writing with an audience in mind, which is antithetical to the idea of spiritual practice.
Sometimes switching genres helps. For me, poetry sometimes works – if I don’t get too hung up on the notion of reading my latest creation at an open mike. Haiku’s a good discipline, with its five-seven-five constraints:
Lush green maple leaves
Summer’s come far too early
Lone mourning dove calls
Not great maybe (there’s that nasty critic again) but I had an Aha! moment when I got the syllables to come out right. There were images and themes I’d have liked to include – the dead tree among the maples, the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf – but those can keep for another poem.
My major everyday spiritual practice is my Nia exercise class at the Y, which I attend with near-religious regularity at least twice a week. Lost in the rhythm of the music, the jazz dance and martial arts moves, I tap into a mind-body-spirit connection that grounds me deeply in the here and now for all of a minute or two. Then I glance at myself in the mirror and the spell is broken – I start comparing my weight to my fellow dancers, critiquing my range of motion. But I take a deep breath, blow off my inner critic and return to the dance.
Come to think of it, blogging’s a lot like Nia, and perhaps it qualifies as a genuine spiritual practice too. I blog semi-religiously, two or three times a week. Does it deepen my relationship to the miracle of life beyond me? Certainly the notion that my words are flowing out to the universe via the World Wide Web inspires awe and wonder, as does the fact that I’m getting over 400 visits a day, though whether I’m actually connecting with that many real people remains a mystery.
Intention to practice regularly is all-important. I recently took a week off from blogging for the first time in over a year, and the decline in my sense of wellbeing was all too apparent. So I hereby recommit to this everyday spiritual practice of sending my message out into the ether in hopes someone’s there to receive it. And even if they don’t, I’ll try to avoid getting hung up on looking into the mirror.
Do you view writing as an everyday spiritual practice? I’d love to read your comments.