Writing Your Way Home
Writing a few moments at a time in small stones.
Posted 1/5/13 | Updated 7/3/20
A milk-bottle filled with carnations and gypsophila. The tiny gypsophila blossoms, scrunched up balls of white tissue paper, perch on the ends of thin candelabra stems. The carnations are deep magenta at the centre, and this rich colour bleeds and fades into pale pink petal tips, delicately frilled. Gypsy skirts, corseted by green zig-zags.
Just an ordinary, humble bunch of flowers. And yet when I bring my attention to them in order to describe them to you, they take on luminosity. They become radiant.
This is the essence of our approach to mindful writing. The world is all around us, offering us great treasures, and yet we rarely have the time to pause and notice them.
At our mindful writing company Writing Our Way Home, the heart of our offerings is a simple mindful writing tool called a ‘small stone’. The first paragraph of this article is a small stone. It is a few moments of attention, written down. A small stone doesn’t have any particular form — it can be written in prose or in verse — and it doesn’t have to be written in poetic language. It is simply a record of what you observe – the precise details of what you can see, what you can hear, what you can touch…
I started writing a daily small stone in 2005, and I have written one every day since then. At the time I was writing a blog called ‘Creative Living’ – it was full of anecdotes and advice, and it was full of ‘me’. I felt a yearning for somewhere simpler, somewhere I could enjoy rearranging words with the simple joy of a child playing with plasticine. I didn’t realise at the time, but I was probably also seeking a space where I could forget my self for a little while and focus instead on what was outside of me.
This ‘other-centred’ approach is an important part of our philosophy. We are often told that to find happiness we need to nourish ourselves, give ourselves what we want, and build up our self-esteem. This focus on ‘self’ can often include becoming more and more certain about ‘who we are’. We like to ‘know who we are’, because it counters the scary reality of impermanence.
When we cling to this certainty about ‘who we are’, we see the world more and more through ‘me-coloured’ glasses, seeking out things that support our view of ourselves, and cleverly avoiding evidence that points towards parts of ourselves we’d rather not see. This becomes limiting and cuts us off from the world, others, and parts of ourselves.
It is important to be kind to ourselves, but a Buddhist view on self-building is that it is actually more helpful to loosen our self structures, to allow them to become more flexible. Rather than becoming more dependent on thinking ‘This is exactly who I am’, we can stay open to the possibility of a broader definition of self.
One of the best ways of loosening our rigid ideas of self is to allow ourselves to be influenced by what is outside us — to let information in from the wide world with as few filters as we can. The world will tell us what we need to know, if we allow it to. Opening up our senses, paying careful attention and writing <small stones is a good way to do this.
The beauty of small stones is that you don’t need any special equipment or skills to write them — just yourself and a pen and a piece of paper. You don’t need an hour every day — five minutes is enough. Who doesn’t have five minutes to spare a day? You don’t need to go anywhere special. I wrote my small stone about the vase of flowers in front of me, but I could have written about the scored and stained wooden desk under my lap-top, or the sound of my fingers on the keyboard, or the scent of baking bread on the air.
Writing small stones isn’t just about capturing beauty, either. We believe that a balanced life requires getting to know the darkness as well as we know the light. We can write small stones about the sour surprise of gone-off milk, the baby screaming, the thin long slug our cat brought into the house on his bushy tail.
Every January for three years we have challenged people to write a small stone every day for thirty one days. Thousands of people all over the world have tried observational writing and posted the results on their blogs and on Twitter, in our Facebook group or simply in their notebooks.
These writers have reported many benefits to the practice of writing small stones. They include feeling less stressed, feeling more grateful, slowing down and enjoying smelling the roses. They’ve had fun playing with words and they’ve realised how much of their environment they’ve been tuning out. The January Mindful Writing Challenge has supported people through grief and it has helped blocked writers find their way back to words. These five minutes a day can have far-reaching effects.
Outside, the clouds are sweeping across the pale sky, from right to left, as if they are moving on a river of air. Sunlight glints on a navy blue van: G E BRIGHT ELECTRICAL. A car passes and the heavy bass from the stereo pulses through the walls and into my office.
Writing small stones will help you connect to the ordinary objects around you. It will help you see the world more clearly, without your ‘me-coloured’ glasses. It will help you snuggle up to the world, one moment of attention at a time. Will you write one today?
©2013 Satya Robyn. All rights reserved.
Satya Robyn is a novelist, psychotherapist, Buddhist priest and the co-founder of Writing Our Way Home with her husband Kaspa. ...