From the moment I first saw the book title Writing the Mind Alive some time in 2004, it had an indelible imprint on my life. The title leaped of the book cover and danced in my imagination. Suddenly, someone got what I had known all along but had not yet put into words: how we write is how we think and is how we talk.
And that’s important … for reasons, well, that I couldn’t quite express. It turns out those reasons were more important than I could possibly have understood. I didn’t know that when I bought the book, read it cover to cover, and started putting into practice its simple contemplative writing practice.
Simply put, the book by Laura Metcalf (
yeah! I remember her name without looking it up [actually Google tells me it’s Linda Metcalf, I was confused]) teaches you how to write in a sort of stream of consciousness, but directed in a particular fashion. It is called “proprioceptive” because it means writing in the body: as you sit down still, listening to Baroque music, you light a candle and sit before a blank sheet of paper and scrawl out a stream of whatever is running through your mind at the time.
While you do so, you become aware of a secondary voice that is able to notice that the mind has said something interesting. That voice notices a strangeness to the words, as if the mind is using language that it doesn’t quite know what to do with. The mind notices that it is a stranger to itself.
What do I mean by “stranger to itself”?
When this happens, the proprioceptive writing method teaches you to ask, “What do I mean by such-and-such?” And by “ask,” I mean that it teaches you to actually write on the paper the words “What do I mean by such and such?” And then it teaches you to answer the words you just wrote.
This practice appealed to me for many of the reasons advertised on the Proprioceptive Writing website: it could help me to find my authentic voice, it could help me to know myself better, it could perhaps bring about greater peace and tranquility. Maybe it could still the jumble of words in my brain so that I could begin to think and act more clearly.
What do I mean by, “jumble of words in my brain”?
I mean that after reading the book, doing dozens of Writes, taking the online course, and discovering how easy it was to do, I finally began to be less afraid of the “dark matter” residing in the cosmic consciousness that I mistake for the “gray matter” of my brain. I began to learn to trust my self more, and to realize that the “self” I was trusting was nothing to be afraid of … even if I didn’t know the next thing that was going to come out of my mouth.
No jumble could be completely random because it was a form of “me” in disguise, a puzzle to be wondered at and enriched by. And so I pursued this activity for a while, until it began to seem less valuable. I moved on.
The disaster of losing my authentic self
In 2005 or 2006 I began to take up the practice again. By this time, I had discovered the Integral … the Ken Wilber … the … (I don’t want to spoil this story’s twisty ending for you) … I had gone through all the amazing roller coaster of a ride that was the 2003-2005 experience of my life (immortalized in Soulfully Gay). It was a time when I began to realize that I could no longer write in the same way because I could no longer think or talk in the same way.
For a while in 2004 or 2005 it seemed that I found my “authentic voice,” but then just as quickly as my psyche and worldview and life-in-the-world were transformed, I discovered that I didn’t care about being authentic anymore. I didn’t care about being real. I didn’t care about being sincere.
Instead, I cared about wanting to test myself, to see what I was capable of becoming when I unshackled myself from the presupposition that I knew myself. I cared about wanting to know what Integral was all about not from reading books about it but by thinking about what I was thinking (and by that I mean hearing my own voice internally and immediately writing down the words that I heard) and looking at it objectively (by hearing the Witness leaping off the page/out of my mind and exploding in the air with starbursts and shouting, “See! See! You aren’t what you thought you were! You are more!”
The Witness said, “You are Love and Hate, You are Life and Death, You are Magnificent and Terrible. You only have to see the words on the page to realize that you already know what Integral is because you see it reflected there and it is not you. You are transcending it just as you write the words on this page.”
That’s what the Witness told me, circa 2005 or 2006, I can’t remember. I discovered this by noticing that
Laura Linda Metcalf’s prompt, “What do you mean by such-and-such?” was one valid perspective to take, but not the only one possible, and not the most interesting for me. It was useful for trying to form coherent stories, building a narrative out of discrete thought-events. But it was powerless to allow me to reflect on my written consciousness in an Integral manner.
So I tried different things and I failed at different things. I wrote god awful poetry. I wrote god awful prose. Some of the worst of it I decided was so awful I just had to show the world how terrible it was so I posted it to a blog I called Whole Writing (and yes, those posts are incorporated in the archives of www.joe-perez.com and please don’t read them).
You see, the Integral perspective offered a whole new set of ways to open up my mind. I could wake up not by forming new stories about my life, but by exploring the lived moment-to-moment experience of a thought stream. I could discover what Integral was by looking at what Integral does.
And I knew what Integral does because I could see it in my own page/mirror, the grasping mind’s relaxation away from “having to say something” into “these words are coming through us, coming through the universe, coming and just as soon going, so save them (for a while) and disperse them like glitter so you can remember what is there, what is, what is not. These words are not there. These words are not here. These words are … Boo! Time to wake up!”
You see, the Whole Writing method of mine helped me to express what Proprioceptive Writing could not. But before I could turn Whole Writing into something that I could really get out into the world and teach it to others and make gobs and gobs of money teaching Writers’ Workshops, I found myself losing interest. That’s fine.
The writing was indeed “whole,” but I was no longer interested in wholeness. I wanted to be broken again.
And that, my friends, is where the story ends today. It’s 2007, and I could no longer write proprioceptively; that is, it was impossible for me to write from my infected, diseased, almost unrecognizable body. “My body” was broken and with it “my mind” also faded for a while until “I” would learn … to do something else … what came next. I learned to write first in rainbow colors … and then, phonemes.
To be continued.