Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within is a beautiful book on a writing practice. Natalie Goldberg is a writer whose meditation studies under Katagiri Roshi influenced the way she practiced and taught the art of writing. Like Julia Cameron, she encourages writing in a notebook just to be writing, as a meditative practice, but with more Zen thrown in. In this way, writing can be another form of tapas — a way of identifying your inner fire and a practice for cultivating it.
Lessons for Yogis (and creators!)
1) Writing is about presence. Natalie talks about getting into your body.. over and over she’ll say “with your whole body,” for example, “Enter poetry with your whole body.” Further: “There is no separation between the mind and body; therefore, you can break through the mind barriers to writing through the physical act of writing.” When we get into the body in yoga asana, we can do yoga at our writing table (or easel, musical instrument, kitchen counter, etc).
2) “One of the main aims in writing practice is to learn to trust your own mind and body; to grow patient and nonaggressive.” True of yoga practice as well, non?
3) We live in a materialistic society. Don’t allow yourself to feel the pressure to produce something. Just write. You can write for the sake of writing, to get comfortable with writing, without requiring your work to be polished or publishable or even for others to read. From this lesson we can remember to be free on the yoga mat. A yoga practice helps you practice from disconnecting from the outer materialism and your inner producer.
4) “Writing is not a McDonald’s Hamburger.” It’s not instant. It’s a process, and it takes time. Similarly, it may take years to be able to do a certain pose, or to obtain a certain level of flexibility.
5) Natalie also has a nice description of our lives as a compost heap, where lots of things get thrown on it over time, and then over time all of these experiences produce rich soil: “Suddenly, after much composting, you are in alignment with the stars or the moment or the dining-room chandelier above your head, and your body opens and speaks. Understanding this process cultivates patience and produces less anxiety.” Again, talking about the body with writing! (And again, compassion and patience!!)
There’s a special audio edition of this book, recorded in 2006 or 2008 I think, in which she reads the book 20 years later and adds new reflections as she looks back. SoundsTrue says this was to further explore the influence of her meditation practice on her writing practice.
Interview with the Author from Sounds True.
I was first drawn to this book a few years before I ended up getting it. When I lived in DC I had a friend that lived in Takoma Park and we’d go to the farmers market there together, and go through all the little boutiques nearby. I remember this book catching my eye then, in a cute little shop that maybe had some Eastern touches; I think Julia Cameron‘s name might have been on the cover with a quick blurb or something, which made me take a look. It was in the back of my mind on a “To Read Someday” list for a few years, until I finally saw it on audible. Loved the 20th anniversary audiobook! If you want your own copy, it’s eight dollars on the kindle and probably less than four dollars used.