Why do we say Zen Writing?

In this group we follow a certain approach to writing. Here is what we do and why.

We begin by meditating
          to key into a calm, receptive state.

We write quickly and freely
          to tap into the spontaneous creative energy that arises in our minds (and makes our world)

We focus on process rather than “good writing”
          because we want to be present to whatever is coming up

We react with conversation rather than critique
          to step back from judging ourselves as good or bad

We share and talk
          to come together as one in a shared process.


The kind of writing we do in our group is like a first draft. We also publish an online magazine, Just This, which shares some of our writing with the world. Most of the pieces have been polished from their original version.

Zen writing in a broader sense can be almost any kind of writing. It may concern Zen topics, but it usually doesn't; it could be haiku, travelogue, chant, poetry of all different kinds, story, translation, stream of consciousness, inner exploration, essay—its content is not what makes it Zen.

Zen Master Hakuin spoke of the practice of writing as “‘the exercise of verbal prajna’ (the aroused, unobstructed mind.)” Writing can function as the Zen meditation shikantaza does. Rather than following the breath, a Zen student might sit and be present to the mind as thoughts and sensations arise. In this kind of sitting, shikantaza or “just sitting,” the person does not control thoughts, push them away or invite them in; the thoughts freely come and go. Our mind is at play and we are riding its waves. Zen writing is much the same. We let the writing come to us without planning or censorship, we recognize it and write it down, and we trust it to take us somewhere.

Many a writer would say the same, without calling their writing Zen; they might say, that's just a good writing process. Or they might say they rely on inspiration or the muse or an inner voice. The poet William Stafford said, “I would give all my old poems for the experience of writing a new one.” Those words touch on something; that writing can carry us deep, let something alive in us speak.

Sarah Webb

2 comments:

Kim Mosley said...

Joko Beck's chant starts out (to replicate the 1st noble truth): “Caught in the self-centered dream, only suffering.”

I think Zen writing can help us see that we are caught and help us relieve suffering by holding our lives a little more lightly.

Emma Jane said...

Zen writing supports us in setting aside critical inner voices tell us what it means to be a writer or what writing is "supposed" to look like. We just have the experience of allowing words to flow onto the page. Sharing and responding in a non-evaluative way provides further support for this freedom of expression. We get to see that we can share whatever is on the page, even if we think it's a mess, and nothing bad will happen.