A Lovely Way to Start the Day: Morning Flow

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by Kelly Hams-Pearson

Each day begins with a moment of mindfulness. Instead of clamoring out of bed, I pause for a moment in that fleeting nocturnal realm, that place where sleep is twilight and the corner of wakefulness has yet to be turned.  Here fresh wisdom and clarity are found around lingering issues that have tugged at my life spirit. Here I am provided the answers to questions that have festered.  This state of mindfulness at the brink of waking, while not easily attained, can be acquired with patience and practice.  Over the years I’ve trained my body, mind and sensibilities to wake naturally most mornings, well before the alarm, even before the brightening of the sky.  I linger in this sacred space for merely fifteen or twenty minutes, rarely more, but this has become the most important time of my day.

In this period of quiet contemplation, this time of pause I’m always gifted with a simple word or phrase to meditate and reflect upon.  Carrying it with me into the day as a token, a prayer, a mantra, it turns over and over in my mind, providing me with greater clarity and understanding.  This exercise has allowed me to find my true voice.  Through this discovery my writing, speaking and living practice has been formed.

Once up and out of bed, I shower and dress, eager to complete tasks that comprise morning ritual, tasks that allow me to walk upright, vertical on the solid ground of the day.  Moving from the comforting cocoon of bed, the sanctuary of bedroom I go in search of my writing space.  Currently, that is the perch at the end of my kitchen breakfast bar.   Through the years I have created writing space all over the house: an oak partner’s desk in my bedroom, a book lined loft on the second floor, a corner hallway desk crafted by my husband’s hand, even a writing room converted from the bedroom my daughter vacated. She never looked back as she departed for college, deployment to Afghanistan, marriage and ultimately West Texas residency.  Over the years, in bursts and spurts of what I thought to be inspiration or divine vision, I’ve created half a dozen writing enclaves in my house but it is that corner at the edge of the breakfast bar that is my “sweet spot.”  My point?  Seek and you will find the piece of creative real estate that is right for you.

I write every day, something; anything.  It doesn’t matter how little, how much, what genre or whether it is “good,” worthy of showing or even re-reading.  Words are always worth the invested time.

No matter how dark the previous night, morning is a time of renewal. Senses and sensibilities are keen. It is the perfect time to practice flow writing: writing from stream of consciousness, devoid of the preoccupations of studying, reflecting and perfecting words.  This is a writing process that allows initial thoughts to tumble uninhibited upon the page.  I have found what is most helpful during this process is to reflect back on the brilliant diamonds gifted to me during my morning meditation; that simple word or phrase that was placed upon my spirit at the cusp of the day. Often times to make a connection, to glean greater meaning from the meditative phrase I reach for a companion prompt by scanning the stack of poetry, philosophy and world theology books stacked high on my kitchen counter top, selecting a random passage for inspiration.

After five or ten minutes of reading, I put the book down.  Jotting the date and time across the top of my journal page I begin the write.  There is no need to time myself. Instead I write the length and width of an entire notebook paper sized, narrow-ruled page.  Through this practice I have discovered that even in the “flow” I am able, to develop natural closure with a symmetry that creates an “essay of the day”.  Reaching the end of the page I close the cover, letting the words, the musings incubate anywhere from a few months to as long as half a year.

My final step is to revisit a previous journal entry. Here I review, revise, and rework my thoughts from an earlier morning.  It is during this reflective process where the previous entries take shape as poetry, essay, fiction or in some cases, nothing more than cathartic rant. Even at this stage there are many revisions ahead, but I’m rarely disappointed and often surprised by the force of my raw emotion, the vivid imagery and expression.  This process is much like peering into a mirror; viewing a simultaneous image of who I was those months before and who I have become.

It provides an awareness that while difficult to articulate, is quite liberating and healing.  It is the power of words as witness manifested through a dedication, a perseverance to simple and sustained morning ritual.

 

Kelly Hams-Pearson writes and performs poetry, creative essay and original theatre from her woodsy perch along the river in Parkville, Missouri. When she is not working as one of the directors for a local government agency or as a volunteer hospice counselor, she facilitates workshops and writing sessions. Possessing the belief that everyone must be given the ability to affirm their creative voice, to share their life story through the open, equal opportunity mediums of artistic expression, she focuses on sharing her craft with youth most at risk for entering the juvenile justice system.  Working in the genres of poetry, creative non-fiction and story-telling, she has won several writing fellowships and state contests with her most recent work appearing in The Crucible, Origami, The Black Chronicle and Splendid Table. Channeling the spirit of the late great June Jordan’s revolutionary blue print, Poetry for the People, Kelly stresses to inexperienced, often tentative artists the simple truth that hope floats not on air and expectations but through the power of words.

Creating Safe and Sacred Space

IMG_4905by Joanna Tebbs Young

It was a new writing workshop, just a few weeks old. Three people had been coming from the beginning, a fourth had joined this particular day. She — I’ll call her Shandell — was nervous; letting me know she hadn’t written in a long time and backing herself into the corner of the couch in self-protective mode.

After I explained the process of this writing group, including the fact that there is never any obligation to share — “I want you to feel safe to write whatever it is you need to write” — I gave the first prompt. In the ensuing silence all that could be heard was the scrabble of pen and crinkle of paper as they scribbled away. Then time was up. 

One by one the writers shared their words, asking Shandell last so she would have a chance to see how it all worked. She declined. I thanked her and moved on. Second prompt. Again, silence and scribbling. 

This time when I looked at Shandell and asked if she’d like to share, she responded, “I wasn’t going to, but now I think I will.” Tears glistened in her eyes as she heard her own words in her own voice. When she was finished the room seemed to exhale. She smiled meekly but I could see the joy in her eyes. From then all, she always shared her writing which made us sometimes grin, sometimes laugh, and always nod in understanding.

This is what can happen in a group or workshop where a sacred or safe space has been created. With this type of writing — or any workshop which calls out the deep and personal — it is vital that the participants feel safe in their emotional nakedness. 

First, let me explain how I understand safe/sacred space. “Safe Space” is fairly self-explanatory: A place where participants feel safe to speak up and out without judgment or repercussion, or fear that their confidence will be betrayed outside the “walls” of the workshop. 

“Sacred Space” is safe space with an added dimension — and this is more elusive and sometimes dependent on the personality of the facilitator and the dynamic of the group — that of Connection. For me, sacred or spiritual means connection to something within and beyond ourselves; to the others in the room, to the nature outside the window, to our Higher/Wiser Self which comes through the writing, and to whatever Source one believes in. It is creating — or tapping into — an energy that is both at once vibrating madly with creativity, and calm and meditatively introspective.

Here are some ways I have found work well to create Safe and Sacred Space:

  • Sit in a circle.
  • Read a confidentially agreement (I use Kathleen Adams’ C.A.R.E.S.: Confidentiality, Acceptance, Respect, Encouragement, Support).
  • Encourage sharing but make it very clear it is optional and no judgment is held towards someone who chooses to pass.
  • If you plan to have discussion after sharing (which, in a reflective/expressive writing group should never be a critique of technique, unless it is with genuine praise), let participants know they always have the option to just be “witnessed.” If a piece is particularly emotional or the writing poses questions through which the writer is working and for which s/he doesn’t need/want well-meaning advice, “witnessing” asks the group to listen respectfully and “respond” only with silence. If the reader is emotional, send him/her loving energy and virtual hugs — never real ones (this can wait until after the group IF the group member is comfortable with the gesture).
  • Don’t be afraid of silence. After someone has shared their work, don’t rush to say something just to fill space. If there’s going to be discussion, allow listeners a moment to take in what they’ve heard and then to form their thoughts. If there is no discussion, wait a moment before thanking the reader and moving on. Sitting with the after-silence can be as powerful as the words themselves.
  • Using some kind of time-keeping device (I use a meditation chime app on my phone) can avoid the difficulty of corralling run-away discussions and assures every member of the group that they will have equal time to share. 
  • After someone has read, thank them. It takes courage to make oneself vulnerable in this way. 
  • Above all, as facilitator listen, really listen. Model for other participants that listening to each other’s deep wisdom is powerful for everyone in the room. 

Joanna Tebbs Young, MA-TLA is a writing and creativity facilitator, certified instructor through the Center for Journal Therapy, and freelance columnist living in Vermont. Her blog and workshop info can be found at her website, wisdomwithinink.com