Mindful Creativity For Those Who Have No Idea What They’re Doing
It seems important to tell those of you considering my daylong course on mindfulness and writing that my interest in the subject is not purely academic. I started practicing yoga eight years ago, when I lived in New York, when my life was so stressful that I lost the ability to feel. I would impatiently step over people begging on the street and roll my eyes at toothless drum players on the subway, and one day I realized as I walked down Broadway that I hadn’t cried in six months. This was a serious problem. I had always wanted to be a writer. How was I supposed to write from the heart if it turned out I didn’t have one?
The first yoga studio I tried was above a French bakery, and as we sweated and stretched the smell of fresh baguettes would waft up through the radiators. My teacher, April, was a recovering drug addict, and she put us through paces of sun salutations like a terrifying drill sergeant. “I know why you’re here!” she would shout as we heaved into Upward Facing Dog, “You’re here ‘cause you’re damaged!” Maybe it was true. Some people thrived under her tough-love approach, but I’m a native Midwesterner: I crumpled like a tin can. So off I went, with a sore back and hurt feelings, with three brioches and an éclair, to seek a gentler version of enlightenment.
My next stop was a very famous, very hippie yoga school where the teachers said things like, “Imagine a rainbow shining from your heart!” and, when we went into Warrior II, “There are lightning bolts in your fingertips!” I tried mightily to see these rainbows and lightning bolts, I stared at my hands until my eyes crossed, but to no avail. Though the atmosphere was tender and kind, I had a hard time with the earnestly New Age speak. Was it possible, I thought, to be sweet and in-tune and interested in authenticity without sounding like these owners of a feminist bookstore? Don’t get me wrong—I love feminist bookstores. But I love a sense of humor even more.
For it’s a sense of humor and humility, not self-regard, that saves me when things fall apart, that actually make my writing more compassionate and humane. So when I tell people that I’ve found mindfulness practices that, like Goldilocks, feel just right, that I’m a registered yoga instructor, that I can’t go to brunch on Sundays because of my standing appointment at Common Ground, that I’m teaching this class at OneYoga in February, I’m always surprised when they respond with hushed tones and shy nods, as if I’m suddenly going to bust them like an officer in the Enlightenment Police. I always want to say, "Look, I’m a basket case, and I have no idea what I’m doing. Sometimes we confuse spiritual interests with sanctimoniousness. I suppose there’s an historical reason or two (thousand) for this."
But for me, a mindfulness practice is less about becoming an expert on anything and more about creating access to my soft spot, that spacious part inside of me not ruled by ego or fear. It’s a very pragmatic mission on my end, for I need that spaciousness in order to write (and teach and love and forgive and relate and- and- and-). “Opening to the Sacred,” which runs all day, from 9 a.m.–5 p.m., on February 23 at OneYoga, is meant to open you up—wide up—to that deep creative well that is your birthright, but to which it’s so easy to lose access. We’ll laugh a lot, too. (No hushed tones allowed!) I’m not a teacher that day, but rather a scout leader: I’ve got a couple lanterns, and I’ll lead the way inside.
The exercises we’ll try have all helped me stumble my way out of one block or another; they help me to feel when I’m convinced that I can’t. Maybe you’ll find them useful; maybe you’ll find them just as silly as rainbow yoga and opt instead for an éclair. It doesn’t matter. Just showing up is a huge success. Because by doing so you’re reminding yourself that the soft spot matters, that your writing matters, that you’re still as tender as the day you were born.
Sally Franson is an award-winning journalist and graduate teaching artist of creative nonfiction at the University of Minnesota. Her writing has been published in DailyCandy, The L magazine, and Isthmus, as well as various blogs. She recently recorded a podcast with the Wisconsin Story Project and is currently working on a memoir. Her lyric essay “A Benediction” recently won the 2011 Gesell Award in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Minnesota.