I often begin my discussions on creative writing with the idea that Wallace Stevens had of “the Dreaming Place.” I believe I first learned about this from Pat Schneider during my Amherst Writers and Artists training over fifteen years ago. I remember being a fairly young writer and teacher at the time, arriving in the idyllic town of Amherst, getting settled in to my room at a farm house belonging to a woman named Clara, and heading off to learn from the master.
I loved everything about that training: Pat’s easy-going approach, her sincerity, the wide range of ideas shared for generating material, and Pat’s staunch belief that anyone can write…and should. It confirmed that I was onto something with my idea that Percy Bysshe Shelley, for one, was full of something unsavory when he defined poets as “spirits of the most refined organization…hierophants [or interpreters] of an unapprehended inspiration.” I have always secretly felt (as appealing as it can be to be part of something exclusive and elite) that writing was not something reserved for an elite group, for “those of the most delicate sensibility and the most enlarged imagination.” No, I had an inkling that every individual was a writer, a potential story-teller and poet, and that the only thing that distinguished one who called herself a writer from one who did not was the desire to be that thing. One is a writer because one desires to cultivate their story-teller/poet self and, perhaps most importantly, because one is willing to put in the hours of practice it takes to really craft her work.
So this “Dreaming Place,” it exists in every one of us, and access to it is our birthright. It belongs to us. It is the field of one’s imagination, one’s thoughts, tame or wild, animate or inanimate, squawking or humming; all of it is there in the wide open space of one’s “Dreaming Place.” It is through early criticism, the poor reception of a story, perhaps or the red-pen markings of a well-intentioned teacher, that we begin to bar our own entrance into this place. Finally, I think, most of us forget the way.
Happily, though, the memory is always there, latent perhaps, but present, and with a little effort, we can retrace our early steps to this place and remember our creative selves. We can grant ourselves not only access to this place, but also permission to fish things up from it, record them on a page. This is the stuff of our dreaming, it is the way we remember our writer selves, and it is the way we can say something new. No, as emphatically declared in the biblical Ecclesiastes countless times, “there is nothing new under the sun.” But there are new ways to say everything. What connects us to others and, paradoxically, asserts our individuality, is the story we tell. The poem we write. At the end of the day, if we want to write, we can.
The techniques I learned at that little training in Amherst paved a way for the writing circles I lead now, and over the years, the experience of working with budding writers from all walks of life and of all ages has deepened and bloomed into something quite lovely. I have sort of made it my business to guide people in this process, and I have to say, it is one of the more rewarding ways to spend my time.
The other very rewarding way I spend my time is guiding people in yoga and meditation, both as an expression of the self and as a way to listen. Through the meditative movement of yoga and the stillness achieved in deep relaxation, I believe we can visit our “Dreaming Places.” We can connect with our own imagination, our wildness, the pictures and words that populate our thought, and we can gain insight into our own creativity. If I visit my “Dreaming Place” regularly, the way into it becomes more familiar, less intimidating, and easier to navigate. The speed with which I can reach it, and draw from it for my writing, increases…to the point that when I sit down to the page, there is little to restrict the free and easy rummaging, sifting, recording and crafting of the material it offers me.
If you have peace with this whole process, if you trust it, you can know your writer self. You can bring her to the fore and indeed embody her. If it is what you want, whether to forge a new life path or simply to find the wherewithal to write one particular story that you have it in you to write, you can certainly achieve it.
As for the yoga part, you do not have to be able to twist yourself into a pretzel, and I will not make you chant “Om Namah Shivaya” (unless you want to, that is!). You just have to arrive with the willingness to breathe, move your body a little, set an intention to yoke body to mind and both of these to spirit. If you would like to attend to this integration of the self, through yoga asana, meditation and yes, writing, you might like what we are up to at Lotus Wheel.
This is what my Lotus Wheel: Creative Awakening Retreats are all about. I hope you’ll visit the website for information about the upcoming retreat at Unity Village this October (click link below). This retreat is limited to 30 participants, mostly to keep the writing circles to the intimate size I like them to be, so be quick! It’s filling up! I hope to see you there…
*Both quotes in this essay come from "A Defence of Poetry" by Percy Bysshe Shelley, which was first published posthumously in 1840 in Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations and Fragments.