The Drop-In Technique

A stack of rocks in a cairn

About the Drop-In Technique: A Guided Meditation To Access Your Life Experience 

For years of teaching memoir classes, we needed a way for writers to bring their true life experiences to the page as if the reader was a fly on the wall—in the moment with them. Yet, at the same time, if it was a difficult life experience, we wanted the writer to access memories without feeling overwhelmed.
We tried many techniques and finally found success with a guided meditation that helps the writer visualize their life as a timeline they can drop into at any moment, yet feel a sense of protection from the raw emotions the writer may have experienced during the time they first lived through the experience.

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It’s been a powerful tool I have used for years. Usually, I read the meditation out loud and then allow for time for free writing in class. No tool has been met with more excitement and success and many had asked if I would record it. However, making a recording never felt right until I met Kimberly. She is a writer, healer, and yoga instructor and has a natural gift when it comes to guided meditations. Kimberly took the drop-in technique, added in music and made it her own. Please give yourself the gift of taking some time out to drop into a guided meditation. I would love to hear your thoughts about your experience. Enjoy!

Drop-In Technique for Memoir Writers

Warmly,

Marni

A photo of Kimberly Joy

Kimberly Joy writes to share messages that uplift and inspire. Her pieces encourage and provide new ways of perceiving the world and life’s experiences. Her background as a Physical Therapist, Restorative Yoga Teacher, and Guided Meditation Specialist gives her a deep understanding of the mind-body connection. She loves to share this wisdom in hopes of assisting others on their journeys of health, healing, and inner peace. You can find more of her writing at MessagesfromJoy.org

Music Credit: Christopher Lloyd Clarke

Photo Credit: Kimberly Joy and Bekir Dönmez on Unsplash

Bubbling Up

bubbles with grass in backgroundSometimes we don’t know what to write even though we’ve made a commitment to write every day. What then?

 There are many writing prompt books, such as Judy Reeves’, A Writer’s Book of Days. These are helpful to get started, but if you can’t get your hands on one of these, don’t fret. There is a meditation trick you can try. By employing this trick, you will meet both your commitment to meditate and your commitment to write. Win win.

 Often on a meditation retreat, the facilitator will start by asking the group to do a short exercise to find our intention for the retreat. As we begin, the facilitator will guide us to the calm within. Then, without “thinking” about it, we are invited to allow our intention for the retreat to bubble up from within.  Like a cat watching a mouse hole, we watch and see what word or phrase spontaneously reveals itself from the unconscious. This word is the prime that we will work with, that we will refine, that we will spend the rest of the retreat investigating.

At my latest retreat, I heard the word “acceptance” come up. I took the word to my room and began writing about it. As I wrote, I discovered that the word “acceptance” carried some baggage with it.  It felt depressing to just “accept” life as it was. There was no juice in it. My pen kept moving, and I found myself writing that I was interested in something much broader than acceptance.  I didn’t want to accept life as it was, I wanted to “fall in love” with it, exactly as it was—messy chaos and all.  In a blink, I wrote my true intention and saw it also as the title of my next book: “Enlivenment: The Art of Living Imperfectly but with Great Delight.” I spent the rest of the retreat examining the concept of delight.

 And this, this is what a great writing prompt will do for you. It will free your mind and allow you to get to the heart of the matter.

 Below is a short guided audio clip you can listen to, to allow your own writing prompt to bubble up from within. Have a journal, pen, and timer handy. Allow for five minutes of sitting and five minutes of stream of consciousness writing.  What wants to be told? What themes are inviting your attention today? How might these themes inform whatever project you are working on?

 

Written guidelines:

  • Set a timer for five minutes. Have your pen and journal handy. Start by closing your eyes and taking a couple of long slow breaths through your nose to center yourself.
  • After a few breaths, start to count your breaths on the exhale deliberately until you get to ten. If you notice that you’ve gone off on a train of thought, gently bring your attention back to the breath and continue.
  • Once you’ve reached ten, let the focus on the breath go and bring your attention to your bodily sensations. Notice the feeling of the ground or chair beneath you; notice any discomfort anywhere.  Pay close attention to what it feels like: prickling, heavy, tight, etc.  Scan your body for tension.  Are your shoulders hunched?  Is your jaw tight? Gently relax any physical tensions and repeat silently to yourself, “I release any tension, any pressure, any thoughts, any desires.” Bring your attention back to the breath.
  • Now, allow a word or phrase—any word or phrase—to bubble up without effort.  Simply take notice of the first word or phrase that pops up, and then bring your attention back to your breath.  (Don’t pay attention to the voices saying that you need to find the “right” word or that you need to think of something related to what you’re already working on. If nothing bubbles up, use “nothingness” as your prompt.)
  • When the timer goes off, bring your hands into prayer position and bow, honoring yourself for keeping this commitment.
  • Jot down your word or phrase. Set a timer for five minutes and write down your stream of consciousness until the timer goes off.

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/search/bubbles?photo=8CCQ-55MTUw

 

Listen Play Write: A Writer’s Recipe for Enlivenment.

a heart-shaped moon in the skyHave you heard the voices?

The voices of self-hate in the head I mean.  The ones that judge and analyze, compare and shame. The ones that tell stories of great woe. The ones that cause suffering.

When they arise, I despair. I want there to be a formula that I can turn to in times of distress.  I want someone else to tell me how to do it. Just tell me what to do I silently implore.  I notice, however, that when someone does, I judge and scoff thinking I know better.  

And so the conversation in the head goes on: one voice shameful and despairing, the other a righteously indignant know-it-all.

The voices are well-worn thought patterns that have been sculpted by my cultural surroundings, life experiences, gender, desires, aversions, beliefs. They can be triggered by words or events, and because they are very good at telling stories, they sound just like me.

But they are not.  

How do I know?

Because when I am most alive—when life and creativity flow from me unbidden, when I am playing or writing or making love, when the stillness of a moment fills me up with wonder and awe—those voices are not there and yet I still am.  And that “I” feels enlivened, pulsing with energy. That “I” participates fully in life without the help of the voices.

Not to say that our conditioned thoughts are not helpful. Sure they are. They help me remember names and places, pay bills, plan trips, and acquire skills, but they don’t rightfully belong in the arena of making me happy. And, when they cross over into the direct realm of causing suffering, it’s time to turn my attention elsewhere.

Just the other day I stepped into my own private darkroom while collapsing under the weight of self-inflicted suffering. I had taken something someone said the wrong way, and a whole minefield thought storm followed. But today? Well, today, I saw the thoughts still brewing, but instead of revisiting that well-trodden path of despair, I gathered painting tools around me in bright luminescent colors and invite friends to come over for a painting party.

Wow, I thought. Did it last a bit shorter this time? Did I let go of suffering a tad bit faster?

“No!” the voices in my head screamed. “You’re still all screwed up.”

I dipped my toe out of the persistent suffering mind for a moment, testing the waters.

Hmm. Nope. No suffering here: just my chair and my fingers typing, breath in my chest, blue sky out the window, and painting designs swirling in the background.

“Yeah, but . . . remember how you felt just yesterday? How you were all closed down, and there was a big weight on your chest? What, you think that’s not still lurking in the shadows?” the voices taunt.

I consider their mean words and realize I don’t have to listen to them. They are not me. As I ponder this moment of clarity, the words of my good friend, who had heard enough of outward bemoaning one day, drop in:  Are you done yet?  Can we go play now?

So, like the Titanic making a 180-degree course correction, I intentionally move my attention away from them—leaving the tip of their iceberg behind, knowing beneath that tip is a mammoth structure that will take me down.

As I pull my attention away, the voices warn me about repressing my feelings, but I’ve got that number. I remember feelings are physical sensations in the body—energy moving, not voices telling a story about what those sensations mean.

I spend a few moments tuning in to my body. I feel my feet against the floor, the tightness in my back from sitting too long. I close my eyes and draw my attention to where my right hand is.  With my eyes closed, I can’t even be sure that my right hand exists, but I notice a pulsing aliveness there. I let a smile creep into my cheeks, just for the hell of it, and wonder at the warmth that spreads to my chest when I do so.   

I enjoy being still for a moment and genuinely listening to life, listening to everything but the conditioned voices in my head. I hear a bird call, the wind rustling, the sound of my own heartbeat, my husband puttering in the kitchen. A playful thought drops in about hugging my husband and giving him a coy smile of invitation. And then, I return to the computer and write because writing, like meditation, affords me the opportunity to pay attention to all the details of what is.

My journey to happiness is a moment-by-moment choice to navigate away from suffering back to that which helps me pay attention to now.

And then it comes to me: I do have my very own formula for enlivenment: Listen. Play. Write.

What’s your formula?

 

Photo Credit: https://1164739/

 

Ten Tips for Grooming Drafts, Straight from the Horse’s . . . Hoof

The author poses with a horse on a cold February morning
Smitty, the horse, posing with Lisa, the author, on a chilly February morning.

Why do I do this to myself? I wonder as my alarm jolts me awake on a dark Sunday in February. Its glow seems spitefully cheery combined with its announcement of the temperature for my horseback riding lesson: -14 degrees. Ugh.

Flannel pajamas, a quilt my great-aunt sewed, and a cat’s soft bulk plead with me to stay. But I love to ride, so I roll from my cocoon and don layers.

Once at the barn, I’m glad I ventured out, not only because I’m assigned to ride a favorite horse I haven’t been on for a long time, but also because grooming him sparks insights about grooming my writing.

During the previous two years, I’ve ridden Penny, a horse who spends her winter free-time in a stall because she stirs up trouble when allowed to roam the paddock (the fenced holding area). Preparing an indoor horse for riding is easy: brush her coat, pick her hooves, cinch her saddle, buckle her bridle. No muss, no fuss.

Smitty, the gangly, dark brown gelding I’d ride that February morning, spends his winter free-time in the paddock. A laid back personality makes him easy to catch, but an outdoor life makes him difficult to groom. As soon as he crosses the barn’s threshold, a dull thud replaces the hollow tock his metal shoes usually make on concrete. A look at his feet confirms my suspicion: Ice balls have formed in his hooves’ recessed center, so his shoes float above the ground.

I slide the blanket from Smitty’s body and grab a nail puller (a flat metal bar bent at one end). He lifts a foot, and I cradle his hoof in one hand while I use the puller as a chisel with the other. It’s tough going; the tool glances off the ice instead of carving into it. Just as my back begins to ache and my wrist to throb, an ice chunk falls away. And so do the blinders I’ve been wearing when I revise my writing.

Smitty’s hooves remind me that if I allow grooming—whether horse or draft—to become a series of unaltered steps, I lose touch with its purpose. And process without purpose turns futile.

Grooming must be shaped by context, such as weather for horse, audience and intended effect for writing. Here are ten tips Smitty revealed for warming up to revision:

  1. Start slow. Grooming’s first step is the toughest. I chisel away but make little progress. Then, suddenly, a piece falls. That’s all I need to build momentum. The chunk’s absence reveals weaknesses in what remains, so I attack each spot in succession.
  2. Don’t rush. It’s obvious, but when eager to submit my writing for publication, I forget. Forcing grooming’s pace is as fruitless as it is unwise. Hoof-picks dig mud, grass, oats, and manure from recesses, but they aren’t designed to break ice. Similarly, digging into paragraphs before chiseling big ideas into shape leads to wasted effort.
  3. Rest. I don’t have to clear the whole mess on the first attempt. I merely have to chip away enough frozen muck that the hoof or draft rests on solid footing. Once Smitty can stand flat, he’s safe. Body heat will melt the rest, making it easier to pick. Time away from a draft thaws problems that seem intractable, too.
  4. Let nature share the workload. Allowing Smitty’s bodyweight to warm his hooves offers an opportunity to luxuriate in brushing. Instead of going through the motions, I take my time and stay present, which calms Smitty. I’m surprised how often a solution arises when I let a draft’s trouble spots stew as I work on something else.
  5. Switch it up. Not much gets under Smitty’s skin, but other horses (ahem, Penny) don’t like being brushed. If I start with picking her hooves instead of brushing her coat, I give our relationship a better chance of starting off on the right foot. Switching up where I start revising a draft highlights thematic strands I can braid into something special.
  6. Follow the text’s lead. I’m present enough while brushing to address what Smitty’s coat shows me it needs. A curry comb’s zig-zagged metal teeth cull debris that causes saddle sores and inhibits new hair growth. Reverse outlining is the comb’s textual equivalent. I isolate each paragraph’s main idea and decide whether it benefits the whole, detangling knotted logic.
  7. Apply pressure. A stiff-bristled brush lifts to the surface what the curry comb has loosened. It also distributes oil that nourishes Smitty’s coat, but only if I push hard. When revising, I press myself to answer, “Do I really need this?”
  8. Let it go. A soft-bristle brush provides a gentler way to “kill my darlings.” Dust flies from Smitty’s coat with each stroke. Sometimes the grit makes my eyes water, but the effect is worth the discomfort: Smitty’s hair gleams. My draft, too, shines once stripped clean.
  9. Go back to the beginning. With Smitty’s hide ready for saddling, I return to his hooves—those key points on which he stands. A few swipes with the pick is all it takes. Skipping this step would compromise Smitty’s health. Just as hoof problems left untended can escalate to life-threatening crises, proofreading errors left uncorrected can escalate to career-threatening rejections.
  10. Enjoy the ride. The most important lesson Smitty teaches and re-teaches me is to value process as much as product. In both riding and writing, I used rush preparation to get to the best part: stepping into the arena. Over time, however, I’ve seen how crucial grooming is to success. Now, I look forward to grooming’s meditative nature.

When I finish grooming Smitty, I look him in the eye and see my reflection anew. When I apply to revision what he teaches me, my writing gallops toward unexplored territory.

 

Photo of author with Kitten on shoulderLisa Whalen has an M.A. in creative and critical writing and a Ph.D. in postsecondary and adult education. She teaches composition, literature, and creative writing at North Hennepin Community College in Minnesota. When not teaching, she spends as much time as possible with animals, especially cats, dogs, and horses. Then she writes about them. For more information—and pictures of Lisa’s favorite animals—check out her blog, Writing Unbridledor find her on Twitter @LisaIrishWhalen, Facebook (lisawhalen4hs), or her website: lisawhalen4hs.wixsite.com/lisawhalen.

Photos courtesy of Lisa Whalen

 

Want to be a Feisty Writer? Sit Down and Shut Up.

man scolding happy dogMeditate that is.

But that’s just sitting still, inner peace, no thoughts, and silence, right?  What’s feisty about that?

It takes true courage—that’s what. Meditation puts us in direct contact with the self-critical voices in our head. You know, the voice that says, “I can’t write!”, “I have nothing to say.” Or maybe the voice that says, “You can’t write that!” The voice that pulls us back from the hard truth, from the gory (or glorious) details. Meditation helps us to see these conditioned, self-critical voices for what they are and to disidentify from them. Through meditation, we learn to turn our attention away from those voices and listen instead to our authentic voice. This is the magic of meditation and a great benefit for writers.

I call it, “how to become a feisty writer,” but scientists these days call it rewiring the brain and mindset. Did you know that meditation has been proven to significantly alter the regions of the brain associated with stress, overall well-being, and fluid intelligence?

For my part, I’ve discovered that meditation and writing, in particular, are fundamentally complementary. Meditation works by employing a writer’s best friend: the power of paying attention.

We sit in meditation and learn to notice everything as an observer—a witness: bodily sensations, sounds, smells, tastes, visual phenomenon, emotions, and thoughts. This is particularly true if we are suffering. Instead of being consumed with our emotions, we act as a journalist, taking detailed notes to describe this phenomenon accurately, freshly, without cliché—outside the realm of our conditioning. As meditators, we pay attention to see how we cause ourselves to suffer so we can drop that. As a writer, we pay attention so that these details can become rich fodder which we can later employ to make our writing honest, rich, and vivid.

Sure, developing a meditation practice requires commitment. But commitment is something we writers need. Bottom line, to enliven the feisty writer within we have to commit to a practice of writing. And, to be free from the self-critical voices that keep us from writing, it helps to meditate.

You game?

To start:

  • Make a commitment to meditate five minutes per day for two weeks. Then just show up. That’s all.  I call it, “making it to the cushion.”
  • Arrange for an undistracted time and quiet place; find a comfortable position.
  • Below is an audio recording of a short guided meditation to use if you choose.  (Note: you can email this audio recording to yourself and listen from your smartphone if you prefer.)
  • Alternatively, read the guidelines below and guide yourself.  If you do it yourself, SET A TIMER. (This is critical for it keeps the mind from incessantly worrying about “how long has it been?”)
    • Start by closing your eyes and taking a couple of long slow breaths through your nose to center yourself.
    • Then, still breathing through your nose, start to count your breaths deliberately until you get to ten. If you notice that you have gone off on a train of thought, don’t worry, everyone does! Just bring your attention back to the breath and continue. Breathe in deeply, silently count “one” on the exhale. Breathe in again, silently count “two” on the exhale, and so on.
    • Once you’ve reached ten, bring your attention from your breath to your bodily sensations. Notice the feeling of the ground or chair beneath you; notice any discomfort anywhere.  Pay close attention to what it feels like:  prickling, heavy, tight, etc.  Scan your body for tension.  Are your shoulders hunched?  Is your jaw tight? Gently relax any physical tensions and repeat silently to yourself, “I release any tension, any pressure, any thoughts, any desires.”
    • When the timer goes off, bring your hands into prayer position and bow, honoring yourself for keeping this commitment.

Being a feisty writer takes courage and commitment. By doing this simple exercise, you acknowledge your intention. Critical voices berating you? Bring on the meditation!

Photo credit: nos.twnsnd.co/post/151194502526/a-man-and-his-dog