This October, I’ll be teaching “Contemplative Writing,” a series of writing workshops offered through the Fayetteville Public Library and sponsored by the Brown Chair in English Literacy at the University of Arkansas. Much gratitude to Professor Eric Darnell Pritchard (the Brown Chair) for initiating and sponsoring this collaboration!
As an extension of this workshop series, this blog post launches a series of posts (more will come throughout the month of October) sharing contemplative writing practices with anyone interested in learning more and practicing on your own.
This first blog post shares:
- the workshop series description and registration link (and there’s a waitlist, if you’re interested in participating);
- my orientations to this work (or how and why I’ve come to value contemplative writing); and
- a first contemplative writing practice: journaling (along with a few journal prompts).
Contemplative Writing: Workshop Series Description and Registration Link
- How do we engage in the world in more mindful, intentional ways?
- Which writing practices help us to be more present?
- How can writing—for ourselves and for others—impact our everyday lives and contribute to a more socially just world?
In this series of three 2-hour writing workshops, we’ll explore these questions and engage in contemplative writing practices.
At its core, contemplative writing asks us to slow down, know ourselves better, and bring intention to all communicative acts: reading and writing, listening and speaking, witnessing and testifying. Engaging these practices, therefore, highlights embodiment and the need to feel, experience, and act—and not just think our way through the world.
For this workshop series, come ready to write, to read, to play, to reflect, to meditate, and to interact with others.
This series will be led by me: Beth Godbee, Ph.D., a public educator and writer with deep commitments to social, racial, and environmental justice. Feel free to contact me anytime with questions, accessibility considerations, or suggestions about this workshop series. I appreciate feedback, so please share anything you’d like me to know about your experience.
This program is sponsored by the Brown Chair in English Literacy at the University of Arkansas. Registration is required.
My Orientations to Contemplative Writing
Why do I care about contemplative writing? And how do I come to this practice?
First, I come to contemplative writing as an educator, researcher, and former professor of writing, rhetoric, and literacy studies. My disciplinary orientation asks me to consider the rhetorical context for our writing and everyday living, asking why we show up in the ways we do (and don’t), with and for whom, when, where, and how … I understand that writing can help us slow down and become more intentional about our ways of being, doing, relating, and living in the world. I also understand that contemplative practices can help us show up with more purpose (more mindfulness and intentionality) for our writing.
Second, I come to contemplative writing as a student of somatic practices and as someone who values embodied knowledges. Beyond my academic and disciplinary training, I study and practice a range of contemplative practices, guided by Reiki, yoga, and meditation traditions—and I want to name my particular appreciation for generative somatics, Buddhist Peace Fellowship, and Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed for teaching politicized healing and holding space for learning and unlearning. What I understand is that we can’t stay in the head (as we’re often condition to throughout formal schooling), but we need to bring our full selves into knowing and living. This means listening to intuition and trusting embodied guidance systems.
Third, I come to contemplative writing with deep commitments to justice—social justice, racial justice, economic justice, gender justice, disability justice, environmental justice. For me, this means a lot of unlearning based on social locations aligned with power and privilege, particularly unlearning whiteness. It also means that unlearning must be more than intellectual. We can’t just think our way out of the incredible injustices, dehumanization, violence, and wrongdoing that characterize everyday life. We must feel and act, too. We need our heart, head, and hands for envisioning and enacting a more just world. And here is where contemplative writing provides incredible support for striving—showing up repeatedly with an attitude of “try-try again” for live out these commitments.
A First Contemplative Writing Practice: Journaling
Throughout the workshop series (and through this series of blog posts), I’ll be sharing contemplative writing practices. I want to begin with perhaps the most foundational practice: journaling.
There are many ways to do journaling. You could write about nothing in particular, or use guided prompts. Cultivate a daily habit, or write when the spirit calls. Keep a notebook nearby, or scribble on napkins. There is no right or wrong way to go about journaling. The process and product can vary. The goals can be different each time. Simply by writing—allowing time and space to write—we can acknowledge, investigate, and even clarify our feeling, thinking, and doing.
Across disciplines (not only in writing studies but also in psychology, social work, and medicine), research confirms that journaling has many benefits, including:
- Observing and managing emotions, thought patterns, and self-talk
- Understanding priorities and goals in life
- Evoking greater mindfulness and self-reflection
- Inspiring creativity
- Strengthening self-awareness and self-confidence
- Tracking and achieving goals
- Engaging in problem-posing and problem-solving
- Even reducing stress, improving memory, and boosting immune function.
Many more benefits come up through google searches. Try it yourself: search for “why keep a journal” or “journaling for healing.” You’ll notice different benefits associated with different types of journals: dream journals, emotion journals, food journals, gratitude journals, nature journals, project journals, reading journals, and so on.
My Relationship to Journaling
I don’t have a daily journaling practice, but I keep a journal and write regularly (at least weekly). My journal includes mostly scraps: notes taken during counseling and meetings, tough conversations I’m trying to process, questions and insights guiding my current research, and affirmations to support everyday living.
My current influences for journaling include Chani Nicholas and the CHANI app (which offers weekly writing prompts), adrienne maree brown and Alexis Pauline Gumbs (who always remind me of the power of words), and writing colleagues who connect in writing groups and retreats (where we remind each other to freewrite).
Looking back in my writing journey, influences include my early introduction to journaling through Agnes Scott College’s Center for Writing and Speaking (where I first found an interest in writing studies), literacy education as part of my K-12 teaching certification (and reading articles on learning to write and writing to learn), and composition books like Peter Elbow’s Writing Without Teachers, which advocate for journaling (also called freewriting).
Journaling can happen anytime, anywhere, and without any guidance. But, if you’d like guided prompts to get started, here are a few questions to ask yourself. My hope is that these prompts build curiosity about and make space for contemplative writing.
- How do you understand the phrase “contemplative writing”? What comes to mind?
- When and where do you want a more contemplative attitude toward life?
- Are you being called toward any particular writing or grounding practices at this time?
- Have you done any journaling in the past? If so, what was that experience like for you? If not, what might have prevented journaling?
- What is your relationship to writing, more generally? What past experiences—perhaps with schooling, perhaps with feedback—weigh on your writing life?
- If you’re interested in journaling, what hopes or longings do you have for this practice?
- How can writing—for yourself and for others—impact everyday life?
- How can writing—for yourself and for others—contribute to a more socially just world?
- How can writing support contemplation? Mindfulness? Intentionality?
- When, where, how, and with and for whom can you be more fully present?
Remember that journaling is a personal, reflective experience. Work with any questions that resonate, and leave the rest. Know that you don’t need to share your writing with anyone else. And, if this experience of journaling feels supportive, then resolve to try it again. Practices develop through repetition: through the act of doing, little by little. Perhaps journaling is one contemplative practice to practice—to come back to, time and time again.
This post is written by Beth Godbee, Ph.D. for Heart-Head-Hands.com. If you’d like to connect around reflection and writing, check out upcoming writing retreat days, one-with-one coaching, and subscription options. For regular updates, sign up for the email newsletter. Thanks!