Sunday, April 23, 2006

Balancing On Your Breath

Life can sometimes seem like an obstacle-course with too many hurdles to overcome before we begin writing.

Shopping for groceries, driving our kids to school or from band practice, getting dinner on the table, folding the laundry, paying bills. These activities are essential to our lives (and to the lives of people who depend on us), but they can take us further and further from our writing desks if we're not careful.

Even writing can seem like an obstacle when words won't come and the screen of one's imagination remains blank.

And once the very idea of a story slips beyond our reach, writing--deep, soulful writing--can seem as remote as a far-away planet, as distant as the deepest part of the ocean floor.

If we feel out of touch with our writing in this way, it's a sign, I think, that we're out of touch with the rhythm of our hearts, deaf to the song of the sea inside us.

Our balance is off.

It's our balance, after all, that lets us feel connected to the hidden well deep within us.

We need to hear words bubbling up from that well in order to write. Without that connection, we'll sink... and words will swim past us like fish eluding our grasp.

So, how do we find balance in our lives?

Well, in swimming it's essential to find the balance between your strokes and your breath. If you lift your arm or raise your head too soon, you'll throw off your rhythm and find yourself floundering; too late, and you'll sputter up a mouthful of water.

If you're too relaxed, you'll go nowhere; too tense, and you'll feel like you are swimming through a block of ice.

Somewhere in the middle ... neither too relaxed nor too tense... you'll find your own rhythm, that place where swimming feels as natural as breathing.

It's the same with writing and life, isn't it?

If you can balance on your breath--neither too tense nor too relaxed--and are able to find a rhythm between the two, you'll free the words harbored inside you.

Listen to your breath; it's speaking to you in a language only you can hear. It holds the key to when to slow down... when to reach for another's hand... when to set out in a new direction.

But balancing on your breath doesn't happen all at once. It takes time--sometimes years--to learn how to listen, to feel your breath's unique rhythm and to know what it's telling you.

What's wonderful about your breath is that you can listen any time, day or night. You don't have to be sitting at your desk or in front of your computer. You just have to shut your eyes to the distractions of life... and listen.

Once you become conscious of your breath, you can figure out what you need... to write and live.

Whatever helps you hear your breath and get words on paper... keep doing. Whatever increases the tension in your life and stands in the way of your daily practice... try to reduce its influence.

Swimming requires that you constantly check the rhythm of your breath to keep swimming.

Writing, too, demands the same level of mindfulness, the same close attention, not only to the words that you put down on paper but to how you put the words down.

Balancing on your breath is a life-long pursuit, an ongoing challenge for every writer.

Start with your breath... and see where it leads. When you come up for air, let other Wordswimmers know how you manage to find the balance in your life.

For more information on balancing life and art, check out these resources:

1 comment:

shamash said...

Hi, wordswimmer.
I'm having fun swimming around your blog. Thanks for the shoutout, and for the great links, especially the link to writing programs and conferences.

I so often forget to focus on my breath, esp. when I'm in front of the computer.

Thanks for the reminder.