Writing is Medicine #2 (Acupuncture for the Mind).

Many times we are drawn to the page. It happens in a persistent manner throughout our lives, sometimes at the most inconvenient times. It’s as if we are being pulled by an invisible attractor field. Many times we allow something to interfere with us connecting to that page. We rationalise the calling – the duty of writing and use reason to excuse ourselves from the obligation. Writing, after all, is not a priority—is it? We develop sophisticated well reasoned positions about why we can’t do it now and why we should not, and the voices begin…

It’s irresponsible, now that you have a child, a second child, a third, you just don’t have time—now that you have started a new job, have begun thinking about moving house. You’ll do it once you clear your overdraft, move out of your parents home and are free to explore your creativity. Only then will you do it. You’ll do it when you move into your own one-bed flat, once you have got that desk you have always pictured having and when the kids bugger off to uni. You’ll start writing your book then, because it’s not of ‘prime concern’ right now. Only then when everything is in position, will you accept the call – to connect to the page. Right?

When has writing ever been a concern? Why not just drift to the page like you were going to? Why are we making such a big deal out of it? I know what happened… something interfered with you connecting—it involved itself and barged its way into your flow, like venom it introduced itself, and like poison it lessened you. That may feel like a hard description but this is how incrementally cunning the mind is, it acts like a poison and is the enemy of the writer. The secret is to learn what it is. Only then, can we master it.

Once our positions have been ‘established’ and we have our grounded ‘reasons’ why not now—and why we will do it then, we enter into a new type of debate with ourselves as the guilt complex rises up the back of us, and smothers our being with an intangible cloud of grey energy – the feeling is that of doom. Taking on the role of the critical parent—judgement sets in and we destroy ourselves and become our own great critic. ‘You can’t do this—you should have done that then—idiot—you won’t have time to write it now’, we point the finger, incrementally tearing away at ourselves. Lost in the voices and the bother of it all, we observe ourselves—procrastinating.

If this sounds familiar – you have received your calling. The good news is, this is really easy – and in committing to the process, doors will open, where before there were only walls. The key is to just go in—easier said than done. It requires courage. It requires us to ‘reach’. In the wise words of ethnobotanist, mystic, author and ‘advocate for the responsible use of naturally occurring psychedelic plants’ Terence McKenna:

Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is how magic is done, by hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a feather bed.

It is a feather bed and that means this: if you have a busy life, you’re juggling kids and a career and the ‘thing’ is nagging you to write, committing to the book in fact releases tension and procrastination in the opposite way than how the mind told us. It detangles us. This happens in such a way that we are left with more time, as the detangling continues on. Think of it as acupuncture—for the mind. After the detangling, the compression releases itself, and time opens and a rhythm develops. We begin to get into the flow. ‘The world will not grind you under, it will lift you up’. Hurl yourself—into the abyss.

If you can’t get your head in the right ‘place’ because you are too financially ‘stressed’, commit to your writing, and money will flow. Can’t find the right woman? Write five hundred words a day and come she will. Can’t shift that extra four kilos? Write, and it will slip from your hips like warm butter on baked bread. Procrastination comes when we have a vagueness of things—who we are, why we are here, what we are meant to do next—what should I do next with my book—and why does she behave like that! Writing clarifies that vagueness and provides order for the ‘way’. When we begin writing, the mind roadblocks the process. Beat it by writing anyway, and gather in the benefits mentioned. I have personally experienced this release of pressure having built the habit of writing into my daily routine and as a result, I have many manuscripts that I can return to and refine when I am drawn there and when I ‘choose’ to. I did not write them to achieve anything, I wrote them to purge, to cleanse, to release pressure, to keep in the flow. Writing can be used this way as a means, and so quantity not quality begins to steer your bearing.

It is true, writing can do these things, releasing load and force in a fashion that seems to re-align all other things. Almost as if it helps us internally re-organise. Once this re-organising has happened, everything we do externally is then done in order, efficiently and economically but you have to be courageous. Nature loves courage.

I worked as ghostwriter with Pete Trainor on his thesis Hippo: The Human Focused Digital Book. He chose to explore the psychology of our human condition and we began to un-pick the benefits of creative solutions and why engaging in the creative process was not only courageous, it was right in theory, and practise:

Complex problems though, need creative solutions, ones that come to us in the form of these insights. When we have an insight, what is not obvious becomes obvious, as if a fog has simply cleared and the vista has appeared. In that moment, nobody can tell us that the vista is not real – we simply realise that they cannot yet see it.

The eureka moment that is always so spontaneous can be hindered by anxiety as that which is being delivered from the unconscious is suppressed through that state of anxious being. When in that more relaxed zone, the unconscious brain throws aspects of the problem into the mix and, by making new connections, delivers solutions for us to run with.

The unconscious can be thought of as our parents and until we are ready to hear something and connect with it, our parents will keep it from us. However, once the unconscious does reveal more knowledge to our conscious selves, we experience the insight and it is for us to take advantage of the moment. Repressing it back into the unconscious is rather obtuse and a habit of our culture while we ‘think’ too much and procrastination runs amok. The reason this process is somewhat immature, is because all the unconscious will do is keep providing the insight, until eventually we surf the wave that always wanted to take us to the next level, place, country, relationship. The brain is simply pulling together remotely linked ideas as if playing a game of dot to dot without our knowing, to create solutions to long-standing problems – not something our prefrontal cortex is very good at. Letting go of trying to figure things out and trusting that our brain is doing it anyway, is one of the things we find hardest.

Sometimes if we want to experience creative solutions to long-standing problems, we have to step back so that we can see the bigger picture. Studies show that people are able to solve problems more if they visualise or imagine themselves in the future solving their problem. This promotes a form of stepping back, which produces more creative ideas as the unconscious passes them up to you in no different a way than a conveyor belt functions. All we have to do it seems, is take our foot off of the stop pedal and allow the unconscious conveyor belt to keep delivering through that sacred content that is reaching through to save us from our analytical mind prisons!

The ‘feeling’ or that ‘thing’ that is speaking to us, whispering through the idea—think of it as the inner guide—ones inner compass—ones parent or guardian, encouraging you forward. Don’t think, don’t bring in the mind, don’t use it—observe that it is trying to worm its way back in, and don’t judge it—observe it, and then we are beginning to master it. Breathe it away. Write and don’t think about what to write, just do, and a person will land into a flow where it becomes easy and playtime. It is a forward motion, and it is good.

‘You will  learn that it is actually easier to write than not write, paint than not paint… You will learn to enjoy the process of being a creative channel and to surrender your need to control the result.’—Julia Cameron

Many years ago, I sat as a boy at the end of a long table. I was one of twelve students in Jude Brigley’s English class. She sat with us, opened her book and looked at us all, ‘write’ she said and her eyes fell to the page. She began to create. Slowly we all opened our books, and it only took one of us to hesitate—hesitation quickly spread. Look at her, what is she doing? What is happening? I could feel us all feeling it. Kate asked, ‘what do you want us to wri…?’ but before she could finish, Jude replied: just write. She carried on, in flow. And one by one, we all began our creative writing, and we did. I remember it.

That’s how easy it is. What did I write about? I have no idea. It doesn’t matter, I don’t remember. I don’t care. I remember Jude, though, in flow, writing away. There was a smile to her while she was doing it, she knew we would all join her, eventually. She was right. We did and that is the effect you can have on yourself and others when you enter that unknown gap, that space of pure imagination. It’s something we can all access and lots of magical things happen there. It’s procrastination, or it’s magic. Don’t think too much now. Better still, don’t think at all. Don’t want to go into the magic? All I will say is this – you’re missing out.

I work as a ghostwriter for hire so it is easier for me to get to work, I will admit it. I have deadlines, invoices to issue – it’s work, so I don’t have to think, I can just get on with it because it has become a habit. But this has not always been the case. I wasn’t always a ghostwriter for hire. I began as a freelance writer collecting dole money, working through the night on submission proposals to publishers, so I am aware of the struggle and I still do struggle in ways. On the side of my own contracts, the letter writing, the copywriting, the ghost writing of memoirs and autobiographies, I have my own projects, my own books and my own scripts for stage and screen so I am aware of the tricks the mind plays. I wish to make feature films and these are big projects – but only in my mind.

With a background in personal training and a love for the martial arts, I have observed the comparisons between writing and any form of strength training. Developing habits are done in much the same way we develop memory in a muscle. Muscles need to be trained repeatedly in order for them to perform in a way that is ‘second nature’ and likewise, habits need to be repeated. Start here —

Wake up early. Somewhere in your morning write 500 or 1000 words. Do this each day. I’ve done a few 4 a.m. wake ups recently, because it’s where I was being guided. Don’t think, just do—and keep doing. 1000 words a day is a first draft manuscript in three months. How do you write three books a year? Colin Wilson was once asked. ‘Easy’, he replied. ‘Just write one thousand words a day.’

Don’t think, just do and enjoy the benefits of ‘acupuncture for the mind’ and remember, you are not writing to achieve anything. A swimmer does not swim to win or to ‘achieve’. She swims to swim. Write not to create a bestseller—this is the ego and it will keep you in caution, in stagnation, in aggression and in mind. Write to write, and harvest the silent benefits of this therapeutic beautiful free medicine.

Luke Shipman

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