Writing can be a powerful meditative or contemplative practice. When it is done with the intent to cultivate self-awareness, it can cultivate openness and love toward yourself, allow you to witness your evolution over time, and serve as a catalyst for every other sort of writing that you do. That’s because the writings you do for enhanced consciousness can make you whole by giving you raw material that you can tap in many different ways.
But what kind of writing is best for self-awareness? There are many different types of writing practice including stream of consciousness writing, contemplative writing, writing meditations, and proprioceptive writing. To learn more, you can just search the web for these different styles of spiritual writing and many others.
The Proprioceptive Method
Personally, the style that has been most influential to me is Linda T. Metcalf’s Proprioceptive Writing (PW). Ever since I read the book in the early 00’s and took an online writing course taught by Metcalf, I have found PW useful, even after I stopped practicing it daily. As someone who writes for work and avocation, I nevertheless still find PW something valuable to dip into as a way of unblocking my creative energies.
Why did Metcalf call her teaching “proprioceptive”? She writes: “The body’s proprioceptive system (discovered by Sir Charles Scott Sherrington, a neurosurgeon, in the 1890s, and described by Oliver Sacks) seemed to us a perfect physical model for our sense of how consciousness works in the mind. The body knows itself through its proprioceptive sense, and through this kind of writing the mind comes to know itself. So we called it Proprioceptive Writing, or PW.”
Proprioceptive Writers write using a procedure involving finding personal meaning through the personal experience reflected in their own compositions. Metcalf gives specific instructions in her book Writing the Mind Alive to help increase emotional, mental, and spiritual acuity through writing. Some of her concrete suggestions involve finding a quiet place, lighting a candle, writing by hand on unlined paper, and playing Baroque music. Individual compositions created through the Proprioceptive Writing process are called Writes.
Beyond the Proprioceptive Method
Although I have done my share of Writes using Metcalf’s method, I have also become aware of its limitations in helping me develop awareness of a full-spectrum self/Self which is embodied, mentally aware, and alive to a higher Self or Spirit. While PW may be perfectly acceptable for many people, some others like me may benefit from having a different process with a more “Integral” approach. (My use of the term “Integral” here does not mean that Whole Writing™ depends on Integral Philosophy, though it borrows some ideas from holistic thought and it is compatible with Integral Life Practice.
My approach to “integral writing” departs from some of the particulars but keeps the essence of Metcalf’s approach. Like PW, it is a writing practice that encourages you to slow down your thoughts so you can listen to them as you write, bring curiosity and acceptance to them, and reflect on them in your writing and afterwards. Metcalf says that other contemplative writing practices usually focus only on self-expression, whereas hers emphasizes both expression and reflection. Some of the benefits of this approach are gaining insights into your shadow or hidden obstacles, clearing or lowering the volume of the judging and shaming mind, and gaining a spaciousness to your presence.
But Whole Writing™ (WW, a.k.a. Integral Writing) as I call it is significantly different. Metcalf’s method of linking writing to sense-making requires the active asking of one question: “What do I mean by ___?” throughout the writing process. Therefore, PW is mainly a process of engaging the mental faculties and taming language and thought so they are more manageable. But Whole Writing suggests three questions, one for engaging each of the three bodies of Integral Theory (or the Integral Kata): physical, subtle, and causal.
There are other important differences between PW and WW. The proprioceptive method usually starts with a blank sheet of paper and complete spontaneity with regard to the contents of the Write. In contrast, the integral method usually begins with an object of contemplation (called a Subject) chosen based on a comprehensive vision of wholeness, such as a great work of art, a great spiritual poem, or even an intriguing geometrical pattern or mandala. I am particularly partial to using a particular symbol or verse from The Kalendar as a subject. So you see, whereas the subject of a PW is always the self (and almost inevitably expands outward to the world), the subject of a WW is always a vision of wholeness (and almost inevitably turns inward to the self).
How to Do a Whole Write™
Making an Integral Write isn’t hard. There are only a few simple rules.
- Create a comfortable and quiet setting for contemplation and writing. Try to eliminate distractions, wear comfortable clothing, and ensure pleasant lighting. When your setting is prepared, also prepare your body and mind for meditation by taking 10 deep breaths or doing whatever you usually do prior to meditation.
- Set a timer. Any amount of time from 5 to 20 minutes could work, though longer times will probably produce better results for you at first. Shorter times may work if you are accomplished at “dropping” into contemplation quickly, and if you don’t have much time to spare. Don’t start the timer yet.
- Select a Subject. The Subject ought to be one part of an artistic object of wholeness, such as a single point of a mandala or a single station of The Kalendar. For example, look at “Violet Heart 1: A Woman Waits at a Window”. (See the example below).
- Start the timer, and begin your Write. Reflect on the Subject and listen to the stream of your consciousness, and write what you hear. Use both paper and computer until you find your preference, or until you are comfortable writing in both media. Slow down your thought processes until you are really hearing your inner voice and able to capture in writing what it is saying.
- Let the Whole Writing™ continue. As your composition proceeds, do not judge what you are writing. Let it make sense or not make sense. Let it stray from the original Subject as much as your consciousness chooses. Feel free to return to the Subject, too.
- Intervene in the Write by asking one of three probing questions. As you Write, you will find that some words or phrases are especially interesting to you. Maybe they caught you by surprise. Maybe you found yourself judging them especially harshly or brilliantly. Maybe they evoked a strong emotion, and you began to cry. Whatever the case may be, use one of the following questions allows you to redirect the Write so as to go deeper into the unknown territory: (1) “How does ___ look or feel?” — for Gross Body; (2) “What do I mean by ___?” — Subtle Body; (3) “Who is watching ___?” — Causal Body. (The ___ is the interesting word or phrase.) Don’t just say the question internally, actually write it down.
- Explore the probing question until you get to another interesting word or phrase. When that happens, again ask another probing question. Be willing to shift the subject of the Write agilely.
- Conclude the Write. When the timer goes off, bring your writing to a close. If you wish, you may transition your composition back to the original Subject, bringing some new insight or gift.
- After the Whole Write™. Keep a notebook for your Writes. If your Whole Write™ was on paper, store them sequentially in a notebook so that you can reflect on them as a series. If your Write was on the computer, print it out and put it in the notebook. Look at them afterwards quietly for several minutes and ask yourself questions about your feelings, what thoughts you left out, and what story you were telling about yourself and Spirit.
Example of a Whole Write™
Consider a Whole Write™ on the following Subject:
Violet Heart 1: A Woman Waits at a Window §7.9.9: Violet Heart 1 AM: 𝍄𝌅 Whispers and murmurs where they reside, Cottage-dwellers wade in intrigue, but they do not know the truth. Who appears outside? Who appears inside? §8.1.1: Violet Heart 1 PM: 𝍅⚌ She fixes her gaze through the window On a child of eight blowing bubbles of soap. Watching two rise as her palms turn to upward hope.
The Subject also contains many correspondences, some of which are:
Lingua-U: uzaa, æyu, ŋu’aa, ŋaa’u, ŋy The Atlas: 50.5° N Lat, 56.5° W Long (Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil) AQAL: The Exterior Zone of Agentic Types at the Individual Objective Quadrant of the Ultraviolet Altitude
The following Whole Write continued for 5 minutes:
They call it the Great River of the South In Brazil, where it grooves through western longitudes Like the ending of the mantra 'uzaaaaaaa' Breathing deeply, I am still and transparent as a window pane Who is watching the transparency? I am. I feel myself dissolving to something boundless in self. I am inside, I am outside, there is nothing in between And yet intrigue finds me here, doing a Whole Write What do I mean by Whole Write? I mean a way of walking in the world where Spirit taps my fingers But there are only so many keys to push, and I falter. I mean an exercise where I must pretend that I don't know what is real. How does "not knowing what is real" look or feel? My body is ungrounded but I do not fall. I turn like photosynthesis to the Light. I am like the turning of the violet altitude to an ultraviolet invisibility, the floor of the subtle realm Disappearing into the causal mysteries like the Rio Grande do Sul Empties into a cold and fathomless Atlantic.
I hope you enjoyed this presentation of the Whole Writing™ method! To learn more, you can join a free group where you can learn more about it, and the related practice called the AQAL Kalendar Meditation.