Write Concentration: Using a Pen and Paper to Meditate

Photo by Rachel Lynette French | https://tricy.cl/2U7j1pn “How do I forgive?” When I wrote this question in my notebook, I was practicing being present. I had noticed my breath moving in and out of my body, felt the pencil between my fingers, and heard the coarse scratches of the pencil tip on the page. And yet, when I read this question a few minutes later, I made a certain kind of discovery, one that felt both captivating and fresh: I am not who I used to be. In recent years, I’ve been grappling with a difficult relationship in my life, and many of the thoughts that had been emerging in my seated meditation practice were the product of anger, heartbreak, and grief. These thoughts had become so familiar and repetitive that it seemed like they had solidified into a permanent understanding of who I was. But seeing the word forgive in the bright, wide-open space of the page was a stark and unexpected shift in my inner workings. It pulled me right out of the fixed impressions I had of myself and into a more uncertain and open mindset. Perhaps this is the power of writing as a kind of meditation practice: it is a method by which we can make our thoughts visible. This lets us practice being present with whatever arises during the experience of writing our thoughts down and reading them shortly after. Some may wonder if keeping a notebook or reading your writing is actually a form of lingering in the past. Almost every time I finish writing and read my work, I feel surprised by something I wrote down. This is a fleeting but powerful experience that pulls me into the present moment. When I first read my thought about forgiveness, I was shocked that it had come from my mind. It ran counter to what I had been thinking and feeling for years. There it was, though, staring at me from the center of the page in my own handwriting. These moments of surprise—low-grade jolts that shake my mind out of familiar patterns of thinking—loosely remind me of a katsu , or a shout, that some Zen Buddhist teachers have used to startle practitioners into silence. Upon hearing an unexpected shout from the teacher, the practitioner’s mind stops for a moment, and time may even seem to stand still. While I don’t include shouting in my writing practice, I do allow the sudden or unexpected to arise, as doing so can bring about a deep immersion in the present moment. When it comes to practicing writing as meditation, I find that there isn’t one approach that works for everyone. However, one method that I enjoy is using writing to notice everything around me. On a warm day, I’ll sit on a park bench and start writing about objects that are large and nearby, like an ancient oak tree near the entrance of the park. As time passes, I challenge myself to notice more […]

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