Usually when you sit down and write, there’s an automatic and invisible feeling that the words are coming from your head, from somewhere behind the eyes.
Throughout our lives, our attention continually flickers back to the bodily sensations in the head, particularly the face and eyes; this is a key component in the self illusion, that sense of a “me”, in “my head”, looking out at the world.
The stronger that illusion is, the more it interferes with the process of lucid writing. We get caught up in stories about our selves that distract from the words and message that we are trying to craft and share. Stories like “I’m going to impress X people with this article”, or “How will X people see me if they read this?”. It’s all distraction, and it’s all bullshit. I call it head-writing.
Knowing this enemy allows us to tackle it, because now we can see that the mental processes of the self, the “me me me” mind, are associated with feelings in the head and face. This allows us to try something different: being aware of other sensations in the body, which aren’t caught up in the self-narrative. I call this embodied writing.
Here’s how to prime yourself for embodied writing:
Before you sit to write, close your eyes and take three slow, deep breaths, with your focus on the movements of the breath gently raising the belly, and letting it fall.
You might feel a background sense of anxiety or jitteriness when you do this. That’s good: you’re staring the head-writer in the face. And you can see there is no reason behind it’s stories and complaints. There’s no reason to be anxious or uneasy. You’re sitting down to create and share something. What a luxury! Let’s learn to enjoy it.
Now you might feel these breaths more strongly in the chest or shoulders than the belly. It doesn’t matter exactly where. The idea is that you bring your awareness into the torso. This is the essence of embodied writing.
You’re no longer just a head, a brain-computer, on a stick. You’re bringing your full human being to these words. And I assure you, you will notice a difference. Because in the body there is no self. No “me”, no person. Just a bare and simple awareness of bodily sensations — tension, pressure, movement. The body is totally and completely present, it is not involved in stories about the self or to anything apart from right now. It doesn’t get lost in past-and-future storytelling that interrupt the flow of writing. The body is a field of peace you can come back to again and again.
Feel the weight of your body touching the seat. Feel your arms and fingers touching the keys. Sit up straight and try to stay like that; this prevents distracted thinking and keeps you alert. You can slouch on your breaks.
Sloppy posture, sloppy writing.
And smile. Don’t underestimate this. As you do, you will feel tension releasing and relaxing throughout your body. The basic premise of this whole article is that mental tension is linked to physical tension. If you dispel the latter, you dispel the former, too.
Now, start to write. From the belly. You might imagine that your gently rising-and-falling belly is writing the words, beaming them onto the page. It might sound a little strange, but I’ve found it really works…
See how everything comes easier, more gently.
In the gaps between focussed writing, let your attention rest in the belly.
The embodied writer, the belly writer, is peaceful and calm. There’s no rush, no big deal. Less “me”, more writing! It’s far more natural feeling than the head-writer, who wrestles with conflicting demands and burns herself out after a few sentences — only to close the laptop and walk off (with a feeling of guilt and regret). Familiar scenario?
The brain is responsible for only a part of our total intelligence. We forget that it is intimately and inextricably connected to, and dependent on, a body which is ceaselessly receptive and responsive to ever-changing conditions, internal and external. Writing from the head brings reason and calculation. But the body brings emotion, and this re-humanises our writing.
Just try it, and you’ll get what I’m talking about.
Your mind will get tangled again and again in stories generated by the self. Notice how these unpleasant tangles are associated with tensions in the head and face! It’s worth trying to write something — anything — after reading this and seeing if you can spot some of these classic “symptoms” of head-writing:
- Eyes darting around for a distraction (phone, food, new internet tab)
- A feeling of being “up here”, looking down at your laptop/notebook
- Tensed brow, frowning,
- Clenched teeth
- A general flow of irrelevant thinking, getting lost in stories about “me”
Every time you notice one of these, take a deep breath and feel it through your torso. Return to embodied writing.
When you take a break, or need to work something out, just rest in the body. This is a method of “getting out your own way”. Your brain will naturally work on unsolved problems in the background of awareness — there’s no need to force it. For longer breaks, do something embodied like taking a walk, a round of yoga, box breathing, or qigong. Write from the body.
Ground yourself in the body, and the words will come naturally.
If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy my related post on Mindful Writing.