Last Sunday I taught my writing and yoga workshop, called Meditation in Motion, at the East Bay Meditation Center. During the workshop we did two 15-minute timed writings without crossing out words or letting our pens stop the entire time. Then we took several deep breaths and read everything we wrote to a partner without explaining it first.

Here’s what I wrote in response to the prompt “I don’t remember”:

I’m tired of remembering the same old stories, the same old shit that I bring into the present. I’m tired of remembering the pain and hurt, those moments of clenched fists and choked breath. Like during senior year at Penn when I blurted out “You can’t say someone’s writing is perfect. You just can’t say that” in a documentary writing seminar. I hated the way Professor Hendrickson spoke in absolute terms about the words of James Agee. I hated the way none of the other students in the class checked his assumptions. I hated being part of a captive audience for his sermons on “good” writing.

When I opened his email I could feel the punch in my stomach, a ball thrown at a hundred miles per hour into my ribs.

“I didn’t like what you said today. I want you to think seriously about what I’m saying here.”

I reacted 1 to the stomach punch by dropping his class the next day.

Now looking back, I wish that I had been able to stand and fight, or at least dialogue and sort things out. But a wall flew up inside me. There was only enough space to react, not to choose.

Then in the same writing period, this came out:

The BART security guard at 12th Street station looked down at me from the railing above the Richmond line platform as I happily filled my vapid belly with lunch from the 9th Street Farmers Market in downtown Oakland.

“Miss, there are signs posted everywhere that say ‘no eating or drinking.’ ” My vegetable tamales were soaked in two kinds of salsa.

“So are you saying you want me to stop eating?” The neutral tone that arose naturally was a surprise.

“Yes. Put it away or exit.” He pivoted on heels of condescension and slid away in the direction of his walkie-talkie.

I responded 2. I didn’t react. I guess I feel safe enough now to stand and fight.

That timed writing reminded me of something I’ve forgotten over and over again since I began practicing yoga and reclaiming writing as a spiritual practice five years ago: These tools do work! They do in fact bear transformational fruit. Patience is powerful. Time is a teacher. Digging in the dirt is not a scheduled event with a linear beginning, middle, and end.

Holding Goddess pose for several breaths after the last timed writing, I could feel my body release the channeled words of that day. I could feel that reservoir of space that enables me to respond rather than react.

Take a moment to find your breathe without forcing. Sitting quietly for a few moments, let these words sink into your awareness. Then reflect on the following questions:

Where in my life am I reacting? Where in my life am I responding? What does it feel like in my body when I notice that I’m caught up in reaction? What does it feel like in my body when I am responding? What can I do to widen my range of motion, to become more aware of the array of choices available to me?

As you explore what comes up for you, let patience and compassion be your guides. It’s never all or nothing. Everything matters.

1:React (verb): to act in opposition to a force or influence – usually used with against.

2:Respond (noun): an engaged pillar supporting an arch
-Merriam Webster Dictionary

Copyright 2007. Re-printing without permission prohibited.