Archives for March 2014


zone as spiritual practiceYou are invited to my workshop on Writing as a Spiritual Practice on March 30, 2014, at beautiful Mercy Center in Burlingame, CA.

The Zone is a lot like meditation. In it, we feel spontaneous, out of time and space, clear and creative, completely focused in present time, energized, productive, magical, and almost mystical. Like meditation, the Zone asks us to be persistent, mindful, humble, open, grateful, and surrendered into something beyond ourselves.

And like meditation, the Zone often creates enormous resistance in us. We want the goodies—the connection with the infinite, the blissful ease, and the feeling that we are exactly in the right place, doing the right thing—but there are days when we will do anything to avoid sitting in the meditation chair or at our desks.

Maybe connection with the infinite is just too intense. Maybe we’re afraid it won’t work this time. Maybe in some dark recess of our subconscious, we don’t think we deserve it. Who knows?

Whatever the reason for our resistance, whether to meditation or to writing in the Zone, the solution is the same: We need to sit down and do it anyway, so at least we are in the path of grace when it shows up. When we can’t write from inspiration, we have to write toward inspiration.

We all remember the old joke about how to get there: Practice! My first meditation teacher used to say, “Some mornings, I’m just staring at the backs of my eyelids, but I keep doing it because if I stop, it won’t help me. And I want to be there when the divine drops in.”

As we keep on keeping on with meditation or writing in the Zone, we develop tricks to help us get and stay on track. We can find a million tips and tricks online for how to do this, but our own tricks are the best because they speak to what’s in the way for us. And once we dissipate whatever that is, only the Zone remains. We’re in the land of spiritual “nothin’ but net.”


You are invited to my “Writing as a Spiritual Practice” workshop on Sunday, March 30, at Mercy Center in Burlingame, CA. Do come early to enjoy the beautiful walking trails, exquisite labyrinth, and 500-year old oaks. For more info or to register, click WRITING AS A SPIRITUAL PRACTICE.

One way to use writing as a spiritual practice is to write our way out of trouble—to use writing as a clarifying lens, a spiritual life raft, and/or a healing balm.

When I feel stymied in a work situation, relationship, or troubled state of mind, when I just can’t figure out what’s going on no matter what I do, I turn to my journal. I state the problem and write down whatever slides into my mind about it. I can rant and rave, dissect and analyze, moan and groan, complain and whine—but I just keep writing. Almost always, and usually in fifteen minutes, I start to see the problem in a whole new light and with a lot more clarity.

The solution may not be comfortable, but it is usually obvious. I may need to alter a point of view, communicate with someone, or get more information—but I understand what is happening and know what I need to do to get some relief.

When the problem is deeply emotional, I use the “cry and write” method. I dive into the quagmire, write my heart out about the pain, the betrayal, the unfairness of it all. If I’m not crying yet, I write some even worse stuff about the situation. I write and write. And write.

Often there is no “to do” attached to the solution; I just have cry it out, or write it out, or experience it so far inside me that it starts to dissipate. This is knows as free therapy. In a sense, all writing about deeply felt issues is free therapy. I often say that writing Chasing Grace: A Novel of Odd Redemption saved me tens of thousands of dollars in therapy.

Emotional discharge can also lead to emotional clarity. “Why would he say such a thing?!” Three pages later, I often have a brutal, and then perhaps a more compassionate, understanding of why he might have said such an awful thing—as well as a fairly accurate (if much briefer) analysis of my own part in it.

Writing Chasing Grace not only save me a lot of money, but it also brought tremendous relief. Leading Cathy, my protagonist, through thirty years of looking for grace, forgiveness, love, and wholeness in all the wrong places was exhausting, but it was also extraordinarily healing.

Sometimes I wake up with my monkey mind going a mile a minute. I have to do this, and this, and this. And I should do that. And what about the other thing? My thoughts are on a hamster wheel, spinning around and around, preventing me from being either happy or productive.

When this happens, I just start writing. I spin that hamster wheel energy onto the page. I write down every anxious, mean, and venal thought until a little peace starts to descend. Once all those thoughts are down on paper, or safely ensconced in a Word file, they are somehow outside of me. When I’ve “said them out loud,” they lose their power over me.

We seek relief because we crave the peace, love, and inspiration—the Presence—that descends when our minds are quiet. That is our natural state. When we write our way out of trouble, we become more open vulnerable. Spirit washes in, and we can just lean back and let it fill us.



prime the pumpPlease join me for a Sunday afternoon workshop on Writing as a Spiritual Practice on March 30 at beautiful Mercy Center in Burlingame, CA.

The blank page…the empty Word document. What to do when the creative juices aren’t flowing, and none of the old tricks work? The two best answers  I’ve found are:

1. Start writing anyway.

2. Find some new tricks.

Why start writing before we are “in the Zone,” ready to be brilliant, and feel creativity coursing through our veins? Because sometimes, we just have to do it that way. Writing cold and dumb often primes the pump. That courageous, faith-filled act often lifts us into the Zone.

One of my favorite pieces of advice comes from Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark in Write that Book Already (Adams Media, 2010):

“The Zone is a creative state of mind in which the writing flows…You feel connected to your own imagination, ideas flow, synapses connect, and before you know it you have filled the page. New writers make the mistake of thinking they have to feel the Zone before they begin work, when more often it is the other way around. Getting in the Zone comes from the act of writing…Just don’t wait for the imagined, perfect moment…Start writing and the muse will come. Not every time, but keep at it and the muse will come enough for you to get the initial writing done.”

Words to live by, along with Annie Lamott’s admonition to write “shitty first drafts.” We don’t always have to write from inspiration; we can write toward inspiration. Begin. Trust. The magic will come if we do our part and get those keys moving.

We all have our tricks for getting the juices going and for writing in the Zone, but not all tricks last forever. No problem. We just need to find new ones.

Lighting a votive candle used to work for me, but then I got cats—curious, fearless, very large orange tabby brothers who thought it was the world’s job to stay out of their way, not the other way around. I switched to incense, then to a host of other tricks. I used what worked, and discarded them when they stopped working.

Writing charms, tricks, and juju are everywhere. Some writers jump up and down. Others run around the block. Still others meditate or do yoga. The best tricks are those you make up yourself. Here are a few tricks that actually involve writing:

  • Free-writing, as offered by Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones (Shamballah, 2005) and Wild Mind (Bantam, 1990). She suggests letting yourself write off the top of your head without thinking or being specific. Just keep your hand moving. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, or grammar. Write bad stuff, but write the truth.
  • Morning pages, as offered by Julia Cameron in The Artists Way (Tarcher/Putnam 2002). Every morning, write three pages of whatever comes to mind without any judgment or self-criticism.
  • Mind mapping. Begin with one circle that contains your central idea, and free associate out to smaller circles that connect with that idea. Add more circles farther out on the map until a sense of meaning and flow emerges.

Prime the pump, or just jump in the pool. Do whatever works for you. It’s not just writing that’s an inside job; it’s also the process of starting to write, putting your hands on the keyboard and moving your fingers, even before you know what will come out. That’s the real magic.