I love the power of words to help us express our deepest truths. What an awesome endeavor to pick words from the ethers and birth our unique constellation of thoughts into the universe. I will never forget my first real taste of this process. I was a freshman at large Midwestern college sitting on the second floor of the library. I had been camped out there amidst the musty stacks of books for the last several hours about to write my first real college paper for American Thought and Literature. My professor’s exhortation to begin our drafts immediately hung like a dark backdrop in my mind. Our class had just finished a historical fiction novel and, we were to write an essay on its connection to the preamble to the constitution.
Abysmally boring on the surface, the assignment morphed into something magical when I began to experience the joy plucking of words, one by one from the color palette of my mind to paint a picture. The “image” that slowly emerged seemed as real and as massive as the evergreens pointing to the heavens outside the windows. I allowed the ideas to rise from the blank slate of my mind as time stood still. I carefully took down each word and played with it like I was fitting puzzle pieces together on a board–yet a board that would allow for several different outcomes of my choosing.
I didn’t write the paper that day; it wrote me. By grace, my mind became clear of its usual parade of egoic distractions: How would the paper compare to what others wrote? What would my professor think? Am I getting this right? Do I have what it takes to be a good writer? Thankfully, none of my usual distractions pulled me out of the present joy of writing that day. What I most cared about in the stillness of that late Friday afternoon was whether I had chosen the best word to paint the picture that had increasingly made itself clear to me. Those two or three hours were some of the most alive writing moments of my life. I tasted my first exhilarating bite of co-creating in the present moment—allowing something to flow through me that was beyond me yet could only happen thru my body. Little did I know that renowned dancer and choreographer Martha Graham had written extensively about this co-creative process:
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. ― Martha Graham
Find a comfortable place to sit and slowly begin to focus inward. Feel the natural rising and falling of your belly as you breathe. Focus on the rhythmic motion of the breath without trying to control it. Simply notice the expansion and contraction as you breathe and be one with it. Gradually turn your attention inward. If you know how to meditate, sit in meditation for 5 to 10 minutes. If you do not, simply be still and enjoy a continual focus on the breath. Then, allow yourself to pretend that you are pulling a story or a truth down from the ethers that wants to be born through you today. Try not to take yourself or the assignment seriously. Any starting place will do. Dance with the present moment and play with what words or “steps” want to form your particular expression. Each time you feel tempted to doubt the validity of your expression or skill, take a breath, attune to the silence and trust the divine to flow through you–knowing that you are the only avenue through which this particular form will be born today. You may oscillate between being distracted and actively choosing words with clarity. Amidst it all, see if you can allow yourself to approach the exercise with a playful energy–like that of a child creating his/her first painting. Tune into what captivates you enough to express it and let it flow.