Scratching paper

I call it scratching paper because that is what it feels like to me most of the time. It is a form of physical meditation where the object of concentration is the tip of the pen as it moves across the page.

I’m falling in love: with writing.

Not so much the writing that comes from pounding on a keyboard to see my words appear on a computer screen, nor writing stories or posts for this blog. Rather, I’m falling in love with the act of writing: of putting down pen to paper and writing the way I was taught to write before I ever picked up a mouse or learned how to use a computer.

I have been practicing this act of spilling ink onto a page to reveal thoughts and words that cross my mind for 50 days. Although I can’t claim that it is a habit I perform every day, like brushing my teeth, it is something I hope becomes a daily habit that I can cultivate and maintain for 500, or 5,000 more days.

The writing is nothing but transcripts of the anxiety and worries I feel when I get up in the morning. Some would call them Morning Pages. Others would call it journaling. I call it scratching paper because that is what it feels like to me most of the time. It is a form of physical meditation where the object of concentration is the tip of the pen as it moves across the page.

Normally, I wake up, take my cup of coffee, groom myself, and sit in quiet meditation for 15 or 21 minutes. Then, I sit at my desk, perform a small ritual of lighting a candle, diffusing essential oils, and invoking whatever kind spirits happen to be about. Then I write for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until I feel there is nothing more to say — at least for the moment. This in turn becomes an intimate moment with myself that doesn’t seem to solve much, but gives me a chance to unburden what wells up in my chest during the day and that I need to express on to something, or someone, so that I don’t feel so overcome by my emotions.

This writing practice began when I took up Christina Baldwin’s Life’s Companion. The book is a guide to keeping a journal and the pleasures that come from exploring personal landscapes that occupy our mind and spirit. The chapters in the book direct me through the rigors, comforts, and pleasures of writing and keeping a journal. I have not been much impressed with some of the early chapters in the book. For the most part, her advice has been on topics I’ve been aware of since I started writing years ago, and some that I remember from her more popular book One to One: Self-Understanding Through Journal Writing.

I like to read a chapter from Life’s Companion on Sundays and highlight passages and exercises that seem interesting or relevant to me. This will keep the book on my bedside table through the end June, or until I decide I’d like to speed up the reading process in order to get to another book on my reading list.

This week’s chapter was devoted to the dark night of the soul. The entire read was a meditation on what to do and how to write during moments of despair. The chapter’s exercises and journal samples are elegant exercises one can use to reflect in difficult times, and I think that I will be coming back and read this chapter again to distill the insights and wisdom I found in Baldwin’s sentences.

Ms. Baldwin asserts that despair, or a dark night of the soul, while a “confusing, painful experience; it is also an ordinary, to-be expected part of the spiritual journey” (pg. 91). It is not, she continues on page 93, “until we admit our despair, or until someone/something helps us name it, we are in free fall.” But, she also counsels: “These are exactly the times when a half hour of journal writing, first thing in the morning, or last thing at night, may be the greatest gift we can give ourselves. Words reorganize experience” (pg. 95).

I did a lot of highlighting of the chapter — too much to transcribe or add to this entry. The point is, I found comfort in Baldwin’s advice and encouragement to keep on writing in order to move past emotions and feelings that may otherwise disrupt a perfectly sunny day.

Regardless of what happens when I write, or what I write about, the point is to write. To keep the pen moving. To make it to the end of the line, and begin at the start of the following one. When I do so, at some point, I feel myself free falling onto the page and losing myself in the rhythm of the pen scratching paper. Writing then becomes a sensual experience that I am unable to replicate with a keyboard and computer. On the page, there is room for errors. With a pen, there is no Esc or Delete key to strike when I’ve made a mistake. On paper, I don’t feel the need to add commas or punctuation. The point is to write and only to write. And in doing so, recover and restore a part of my soul I once considered lost.

About the author Walter

Walter lives and works in and around South Florida. When not practicing or studying acupuncture, you can find him at one of Miami’s beaches, or in a coffee shop lost in the pages of a good book. Walter enjoys diverse interests such as reading Tarot, practicing Qi Gong and Tai Chi, learning Buddhist dharma, practicing shamanic healing, writing for his blogs, reading Oriental philosophy, traveling to new places and old favorites, exploring contemplative photography with his iPhone, sitting quietly in meditation, practicing healthy fitness, and promoting wellbeing.

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  1. You’re speaking with some degree of profundity, and I’m looking admiringly at that lovely young man. OK, I’m shallow and I’m proud! 🙂

    1. There is no shame in it. I too would not mind being distracted by such a fine fellow.

  2. I do almost all of my important writing with a pen on paper. The physical connection between my body and what I write is essential.

    1. I am beginning to rediscover this sensual pleasure all over again. I’ve been keyboarding for so many years, in order to keep digital copies of my work, I forgot how intimate writing can be. A few months ago, I began writing longhand again. The act takes me back to when I started writing. Like you, the physical connection is essential. Thank you for reading.

  3. Sadly as I have ceased to put pen to paper and replaced it with fingers to keyboard those fingers seem to have forgotten the art of writing. My handwriting has deteriorated to such a state that I often cannot decipher what I have written. You are to be commended on this reconnection with what is becoming a lost skill.

    1. My handwriting, too, has deteriorated to almost illegible. What I find is that I try to write as quickly as I can type. The faster I write, the less legible my script is. I’ve taken to slowing down when I write in order to feel the scratching on paper. When I do, my thoughts seem to change, and my script becomes legible, while still looking like chicken scratch. I’ve been reading about cognitive development, how writing long-hand improves memory and enhances learning. It’s all become very interesting to me. But at the very least, it has also become a form of meditation that I enjoy.

  4. I don’t keep a journal any more but I do keep letters (and write letters to others) rather than emails. There’s something very personal about reading another’s handwriting.

    1. I miss writing letters long hand. Years ago, I had a few pen pals I corresponded with. Every week or so, I would get a letter from them and enjoy the banter. When e-mail began, we moved to the electronic correspondence but something was lost in translation. Eventually the e-mails stopped and we lost contact.

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