On Writing Practice & the Separate Self
A reflection on practice by Sean Murphy
Perhaps the most striking thing about doing writing practice – in other words, story-telling – in the context of a meditation retreat is the bearing it has on the understanding of ‘no-self’: the lack of a separate self, a central doctrine of Buddhism. The reason being that the ‘self’ as understood and experienced through meditation practice, is itself a story – one we tell ourselves over and over again until we believe it.
If we wish to see through the illusion of a separate self, one very effective way to do this is by working directly with the stories about who we are (or think we are!) that we’ve been building up and telling ourselves all our lives. Putting words and experience down on the page can be a highly effective way to examine and begin to deconstruct the self-story… and to enjoy the process, because freeing the creative flow through writing practice (also known as free-writing) is finally an enjoyable and liberating experience.
When we begin to let our words flow onto the page without the usual filter of the internal critic/ego self getting in the way, we may discover surprising results. We may find that creativity, wisdom, and compassion can arise naturally from the emptiness of the meditative mind, without our usual thought processes needing to intrude – without the ‘trying’ to create something impressive or profound which so often makes our creative efforts feel stilted and inauthentic. In other words, without the ‘self’ getting in the way. Then perhaps we can feel the joyousness of letting go of the conditioned self-story, and the creative freedom of creating any story we like – or no story at all.
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