Back in the sixties, when visiting gurus from India were all the rage, my friends and I sat on the floor with our legs crossed, our spines straight, our hands resting on our knees, palms up, our first finger and thumb touching, our eyes closed and we would breathe. Inhale.
Exhale. Repeat. Be Here Now. We were told that doing this would help us become more spiritual, all knowing and enlightened. If we used our discipline and devoted ourselves to a daily practice, we would gain clarity and compassion and peace. All that sounded great but it just didn’t work for me. I feel a little bit guilty admitting that if I sat like that for more than a few minutes, my back would start hurting and I’d become anxious and impatient. Every minute felt like it went on forever. I just didn’t get it.
One day after I’d sat for an hour and felt worse than when I started, I decided to stop trying. This was obviously not for me. I thought that I should like it but I didn’t, so I turned to the computer to write about it – my go-to form of expression A little later, when I checked the time in the upper right hand corner of my monitor, I was stunned. I thought I’d been there for a few minutes but an hour and a half had flown by. I had lost time, my heart was lighter and I felt more alive than when I started, the things that mediation claimed to offer. That was when it came to me. Writing was my meditation. In my past, I had learned discipline in motion, not in being still. I didn’t find solace in sitting cross legged on the floor and breathing. I needed to put my hands on the keyboard, turn on my brain and follow where it took me with no judgments or preconceived ideas.
A disturbing experience added to my turning away from sitting meditation. A renowned Indian guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who brought Transcendental Meditation, (TM), to the west, was known for his famous followers, the Beatles and the Beach Boys and various movie stars. People flocked to him so I decided to learn TM. One afternoon, I visited a man who had gone through a specific TM training that allowed him to initiate other people into the practice. I entered his apartment where he and wife were living and he led me into a closet where he whispered a sacred secret Sanskrit mantra, a word just for me that I was meant to repeat over and over while I sat in silence. We walked back into the living room, we sat, and I was about to have my first experience of TM when his wife tiptoed over and quietly asked him what he wanted for dinner. He scowled and told her, “Shut up and meditate.” That, and the allegation that the guru was making sexual advances toward one of his famed
followers was enough to repel me. I turned away from meditating and turned toward writing, which has always been there for me.
People have said that if you’re not quiet and still and focused on your breath, it isn’t meditating. I disagree. Granted, if you’re chasing a deadline, editing a book or stressing over an academic thesis, that may not the best way to find inner clarity. But when I sit in front of the computer with no music, people or distractions and let my
fingers fly across the keyboard without an end game and just write, I get into what I call “the writing zone.” I never know what will show up on the page and it’s exciting and mysterious. If you paint or dance or sing or play the guitar, those things can be your meditation if you can refrain from judging yourself and just let it rip.
After I’d written a number of bestselling books, I started teaching classes in 2016. A group of people would came to my house once a week to write and read their pieces to each other in a safe and confidential atmosphere. At first I wondered if I had anything of value to share. It turned out that I did as people dug deep into their psyches to see what was hiding in there and coax it out in the company of encouraging peers. I allowed no negative critiques. No suggestions to express things differently. Only encouragement and sharing personal experiences.
Someone asked me why I didn’t teach online so I could reach more people. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to be with people and create community. Then along came 2020. In order to continue my
work, I had no choice but to make Zoom my best friend. I announced to friends and on social media that I was starting an online series of classes and before I knew it, two classes filled up with people from all over the United States and Australia. I kept it small, no more than seven people at a time, and I was pleased to find that the intimacy and convenience increased. No one had to fight traffic to get to my house. They were in their own homes where they felt comfortable and cozy. For my part, I didn’t have to make sure the living room was spotless and I didn’t have to supply snacks. It was all about being at ease and writing. Nothing else.
I never went back to teaching in my home. I still do my classes on Zoom and it’s satisfying and compelling. I love choosing a topic a few days before and writing a piece like this one that my students can use as a prompt to start writing. In my opinion, there is no good
or bad writing. I believe that if you tell the truth on the page, it will
always be interesting so I encourage people to stop thinking and let their fingers take off.
When I started teaching, I had no idea that my gatherings would become a haven for so many people. The little class that could. Seven years later, it feels like home. It’s a place for people to be creative, to tell their stories to each other and to know that
someone is listening. A place to speak from their hearts and not be judged. For me, it’s a way to offer something that apparently, people want because they keep coming back. The camaraderie is astonishing and we have all befriended and supported each other as we come together to meditate on the page and help each other heal.