Satya Robyn

Satya Robyn

Writing Your Way Home

Writing Your Way Through Fear

Taking tiny steps and using writing as a refuge.

Posted 4/5/11 | Updated 7/3/20


“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those,
who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness,
the melancholia, the panic fear, which is inherent in a human condition.”
—Graham Greene, English Novelist (1904–1991)

This morning, we were woken up too early by our kittens asking for their breakfast. I remembered I needed to book an appointment at the dentist. I worried about my older cat, who started limping yesterday. I wasted time solving a computer problem.

Impermanence. Sickness. Death. The struggles and inconveniences we are all familiar with, from spilling milk all over the kitchen floor to moving house. We can't avoid these kind of experiences. We Buddhists call it 'dukkha'. What can we do about it?

One thing we can do about it is develop our relationship with writing. Our preferred form of writing — poems, or writing in our journal, or something longer — becomes a way of processing the world, a container for our fear and trembling, and a tool to help us reconnect with ourselves, with others and the world.

It's time to take a tiny step towards the fear. Your writing will hold your hand.

1. Start small.

When we're feeling afraid or sad, it's very easy to feel overwhelmed. This is not the best time to start work on your trilogy of novels! Whenever it feels like you can't cope with a task, chop it down into smaller chunks. If you're still overwhelmed, chop it into even smaller stages. If you've read my other articles you'll be familiar with the concept of small stones — short pieces of writing based on something you've observed very carefully. Writing a small stone every day can be a manageable way of beginning to write your way through fear. The practice will take you out of yourself for a few minutes a day and it will reconnect you with the good stuff in the world. Find out more about small stones The Joys of Mindful Writing.

2. Make your notebook into a refuge.

We all take refuge in different things — chocolate biscuits, money, people, religion. Some of these things are more impermanent than others. Your notebook will always be there, and will be a fine place to take refuge. It will help if you develop some rituals around your writing (e.g. light a candle before you start), find a regular time and space for your writing, write regularly (little and often) whether you feel like it or not, and lift all restrictions from yourself when you write (write whatever you want to write). Julia Cameron's 'Mornings Pages' are a great example of this kind of regular writing — she suggests that you write three pages of free-flow stream-of-consciousness every single morning. What you write and when you write it doesn't matter — just write.

3. Make friends with your demons.

We usually make dukkha worse by avoiding the reality of our situation and building layer upon layer of defence. We then become disconnected from the fear and from everything else as well. Instead, try to write yourself into the heart of the fear. If we can bring ourselves to look at the monsters under the bed, they're usually not as scary as we think. If you can sit with the fear for ten seconds, you're doing well — then write about how it felt. Where did you feel it in your body? What did it remind you of? Write it all down. Take your pen by the hand and allow it to go where it wants to go. If it feels too much, remember my first suggestion (and my next).

4. Wrap yourself in kindness.

These kinds of emotional processes have their own time-line, which are often slower than the one you'd prefer! It can be helpful to notice whenever we're being impatient or disappointed in ourselves, and instead try to view ourselves with compassion. How would you support a good friend in the same situation? Would you use the same tone of voice you use with yourself? Giving ourselves ten minutes with your journal and a cup of hot chocolate (and enjoying every sip) can make all the difference. If it's hard for you to be kind to yourself, make even more effort to seek out friends and family and let them know what you need. Luxuriate in the kindnesses you are offered. Practice gratitude for the things you receive every day.

5. Discover and develop faith.

This suggestion complements the second one — taking refuge. We can develop faith in the places and things we take refuge in if we pay attention to how they hold us. Notice the reliability of your notebook. Remember how you can feel transformed after twenty minutes of 'writing something out'. Practice acting 'as if you have faith' and see what happens. Talk to people who have faith and listen to their experience. Withhold your scepticism, just for ten minutes. Let go. Allow yourself be held by your writing.

We can't avoid dukkha. But we can find ways of living with it that allow us to experience it and move on, without getting so caught in its sticky web. One of these tools is writing.

It works. I know, because I have written myself through fear. And I will do so again.

©2011 Fiona 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. ...

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