Guided Writing Sessions

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Below, you will find recordings for each Guided Writing Session dating back to August 2021 when the sessions were began.

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Guided Writing Session: December 29

Although I had to cancel this week's Guided Writing Session, I wanted to post the writing prompts for those who want to explore the questions. Happy New Year!

The first writing prompt refers to this poem by Jack Gilbert

A Brief For The Defense
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

Writing Prompt 1: Is it possible to feel delight in the midst of suffering, as Gilbert suggests? If so, describe what this looks like. If not, why not? Be specific.

Writing Prompt 2: Describe an experience of gladness that arose in the face of adversity (i.e. simple gratitude for being alive). How do you understand this paradox?

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Describe an experience of gladness that arose in the face of adversity (i.e. simple gratitude for being alive). How do you understand this paradox?

I remember the fuzziness of coming out of anesthesia.  Not quite asleep, but having that same sense of drifting along, slightly thick-tongued and heavy-lidded.  Very relaxed.  No need for anything.  Like waking from a deep and dreamless sleep.  Then settling into an awareness of the body.  Suddenly I was all mouth, feeling parched and dry.  

At the same time I felt this, it dawned on me that I was still alive. I felt a wave of gladness within myself as energy. I had survived the surgery.  I would be blessed with more life, for now.   I felt the gladness as a yes within my body.  My body had been altered.  I didn't mind. I was alive.  

My return to consciousness had been noticed.  My dry mouth was offered comfort - was it an ice chip?  Or a sip of water?   I only know I felt relief.   I had no memory of anything between the anesthesia and that now. I would soon drift back to sleep.  

This took place almost two years ago.  It’s that time of year again.  In two days, I go for tests that will be interpreted as augurs of my health.  There will be judgements as to how best to promote my longevity.  Yet right now, I take pleasure in the memory of the gladness that I felt upon awakening after surgery.  

This reminder of my mortality connects me to recollections of my past survivals.   Memories that hold the kind of gladness I think this question refers to.  A sense of being engaged in the present moment.  A pleasure that requires nothing more than simply to be.

This gladness has a trust in it that there will eventually be enoughness.  A belief that a way will emerge, as it is ready, from confusion.  This gladness also holds a sense of somehow being more than me.  

It reminds me of the collectivity from whence I came, and to which I shall return.  It has a sense of being connected to others.  A sort of spiritual co-regulation.  A collective, supportive field that exists despite physical separation.  

I suspect this gladness is our natural state, before we are socialized into a sense of separateness.  Being me, I frame my understanding by looking at this gladness through my memory of what I call the hummy place.  

It is my strangest memory because it lacks the usual descriptors of size and shape and color, or any element of physicality.  And yet it seems to hold the emotion of contentment, and to be an almost sound, and sense of containment.  

These words are not part of my original experience.  The hummy place held no thought, because there were no words.  There was no need for words because there was no separate other.  No splitting into a me and a not-me.  

What I remember was a background sense of usness, with a noticing of this  that eventually became this separate me.   This is why the sense of gladness reminds me of the point in memory past which there is no I.  

This hummy consciousness predates my splitting of the world into judgements.  This gladness has the spirit of the witness, too..  It notices, and then notices its own noticing.  It has a sense of knowing, and yet an ease with the unknown.  A state of both/and.

I think that ease is engagement/presence.  When I respond to the moment, its realities carry me in a state of flow.  Curiosity provides effortless direction.  I can admit what I don’t know.    

Sometimes I don't need to know.  Old habits can get tangled up with making new ones.    Old knowing can interfere with seeing what is.  It can trigger me into reactivity. I start taking shortcuts, operating out of habit instead of awareness.  

It doesn’t take much effort to become inured to the daily delights of gladness.    Instead of noticing what is, I get distracted by my wantings.  This desire has a place in my becomings.  Its energy can both lift and focus me.  It turns into an impediment when it limits what I see.

Ideally, there’s a rhythm of noticing , and then release.  Without the letting go, my vision is limited.  I take being alive for granted, without noticing this internal sense of happiness.  I numb myself to living.  

This is one of those Big Yellow Taxi moments Joni Mitchell sang about.  It takes almost losing what you have to appreciate it. There is a gladness that comes from facing mortality and surviving.  The act of being alive is enough.

For better or for worse, Covid had been reminding many of us of our mortality, on a daily basis.  It’s motivating me to enjoy my now more fully, even while keeping risks in mind.  .  Enjoyment is internal attitude . I chose where I put my attention.  I aim to notice the simple pleasures of daily living.  

I still have my balkings, my limits and my fears.  When I ungrasp myself from being limited to one result, I relax into seeing what is.  I diffuse my resistance.   Curiosity moves me in life’s direction.   There’s vulnerability to choosing—I might not get the ease I hunger for.  Admitting my fear releases me from it.  

There what some call the dark night of the soul.  I understand it as letting go of any illusion of control.  The only way forward is to give yourself up to it.  To enter into the unknown and hope it is survivable.  This surrender is a little death, done as a ritual.  An offering up of your desires to the god of what is , so you can glimpse what is real,

I think the dark night involves a changing of identity.  A reconfiguration of meaning to one’s life.  Between this before and after, there’s the challenge of the personal adventure.  May we each connect to gladness as we face it.



What a powerful description of consciousness: coming out of anesthesia, living with the vagaries of moment-to-moment awareness and the lability of the mind.  Your writing address the universal with the specific of your individual life. Your wisdom brings healing and comfort. I admire you ability to write your truth in a way a reader can join in your experience. Thank you for your work.


DevonB and Deleted user have reacted to this post.
DevonBDeleted user

Thank you for your continuous support of my writing, Madeline.  .I’m glad I did this piece , because I can use it for solace when my fears  flares up.  It’s good to read my own words  to  remind me of this experience.  Another, unanticipated benefit from this writing. —Devon