The other day I read a beautiful post that was a tribute to a dearly departed pet. It was so touching and zinged me right where there’s a sore spot from missing my beloved dog, Biscuit, who died six years ago. I had to walk away for about 30 minutes before I could write a comment.
I find this so often be true – the topics that are the closest to my heart are hard to write about when the tears are still flowing. When I had to say good-bye to Biscuit, the next day the only words I could manage was to put a sign next to the cat who was also grieving the loss of his buddy:
So this set me off wondering why it is so hard. Loss of perspective? Lack of clarity so I can’t yet make meaning? Inability to see the keyboard when the tears are flowing?
Thinking it could be a left-brain/right-brain kind of thing, I looked up the neuroscience of writing and found this New York Times article: This is Your Brain on Writing. Turns out that left-brain/right-brain isn’t much of a delineation that they make these days. Instead the article describes the results an fMRI study of the brain while writing including the detail that in expert writers, there is a part of the brain, the caudate nucelus, that lights up. The same part of the brain doesn’t light up for novice writers, a result that made sense to the scientists because the caudate nucleus is the part of the brain associated with expertise. Which was interesting but didn’t get me any closer to an answer.
Then I looked to our sacred texts and the spiritual world for wisdom on those moments when I can’t write. I was reacquainted with one of my dad’s favorite quotes from 17th century mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal: “The heart has its reasons, that reason does not know.” My dad often cited this quote in an argument about belief in God – that our heart knows even if there isn’t any proof for the head. Maybe those topics that zing me are too close to my heart so they haven’t made it to the head yet?
Next on my list of possible explanations was poly-vagal theory about the three states of our nervous system. When I wrote about it for a post, The Unified Theory of Breathing I summarized the three states as: ventral which is calm and regulated, sympathetic the fight or flight response, and dorsal which is when the nervous system has been so stimulated that it shuts down. Perhaps when I can’t write, I’m flooded, in a dorsal state and can’t write? While this alludes to an answer, I don’t feel like I’m dysregulated and can’t write, just that I can’t find the words.
Finally, I turned to the world of yoga and meditation and found an explanation that makes sense to me. Stillness. When my waters are muddied, I have a harder time seeing into my depths. In times of life when the waves are choppy, I am all churned up inside. It’s only when I reconnect with my inner stillness that I can see well enough to cross the space between me and you.
What I found to be as fascinating as the question itself were the lenses I looked through to find my answer. Brain science, theology, physiology, and meditation – my four go-tos and I usually find the answer sitting in meditation. Must be why I do it every day. A confirmation bias loop because it works for me.
Here’s my take-away from the journey: It’s hard to write when I’m too wet and stirred up in my heart. And it’s also hard when I’m too dry and too much in my head. I have to aim for somewhere in the middle where I’m soft, warm, and clear.
What about you?
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24 thoughts on “Writing From The Heart”
I love the imagery of the muddied waters. “When my waters are muddied, I have a harder time seeing into my depths. In times of life when the waves are choppy, I am all churned up inside.” My writing seemed to be on permanent pause for a long time. I was in a soul-sucking job and my waters felt terminably muddy. After months of pain, I made the decision to leave that job. One of the first things that returned to me, other than my sanity, was the flow of ideas for writing. I am working on a more regular habit of it as I continue to look for gainful, non-soul-sucking employment, and keep a list of ideas to spark my writing.
Thank you for reminding me that I can be still.
The vivid imagery stuck with me, too. I recently came across a quote from Andrew Smith that went something like “All good books are about everything, abbreviated.” Perhaps when one is mired in a soul-sucking job it sucks mostly everything out, just like great loss overwhelms the soul.
I’m glad both of you are back in “the flow”!
EW, you are amazing for having a quote and great perspective on everything. And I love your creativity that flows in retirement. 🙂
Wow – I love your story of returning to sanity. Thank goodness you left that job and how wonderful that your flow returned. Sending best wishes to you to find that right job that allows for the flow of creativity too!
In response to your question, an idea sometimes prompts me to write. A new perspective or an old one I haven’t thought of in a while. Or something that I want to begin with and see where it takes me. I read a good deal and therefore get provoked by the ideas of the ancients. Or, observations about the human race make me consider an alternative, uncommon rejoinder to what is conventionally believed. When too tired or emotionally preoccupied I am not likely to write. Thanks, Wynne.
What a great answer, Dr. Stein. Reading as a great prelude to writing – and too tired or emotionally preoccupied as an impediment. Yes – same for me!
So much interesting information in your post Wynne and for me a lot of synchronicity related to recently read blog posts. One stating how ‘thoughts’ have been and can be extremely damaging to ourselves and to the world; another discussing the power of specific emotions spurring us to action whereas others don’t. I’ve also read that left/right brain isn’t a clear delineation, due to its immense powers of interweaving and complexities. Losing a pet is fresh in my heart and mind too – our lovely cat, aged 16 1/2, had to be put to sleep only 4 months ago and we still talk about him every day.
A real mix of head and heart in all these things.
There’s a feeling of waiting to ‘become composed’ before we express ourselves. Sometimes preferring to be rational and logical rather than revealing our repressed emotions; then at other times allowing the release.
I don’t often meditate but the balance you speak of sounds healthy and wise to me.
Yet, I ask myself why be afraid of raw emotion? Why is it so scary to so many of us? Why is it often hard to cope with?
I don’t have the answers.
Thank you for such a thought provoking post 🙏🏼
Oh, I’m so sorry about your cat, Margaret. It’s so hard to lose them – they are so much a part of our lives and heart.
I like what you say about “becoming composed,” Yes, raw emotion is so powerful. Maybe we fear it because we can’t control it?
Thank you for the lovely and thought provoking comment, Margaret!
I was too much in my head when responding above Wynne, neglecting to say I empathise with your feelings about your well loved dog, Biscuit. What everlasting memories and love they create.
‘Biscuit’ 😄 – I love his name and smiling at the possible reasons behind his name.
Oh, Margaret. Thank you! Isn’t that interesting how we respond when we are too much in one place or another? Biscuit was a great dog. I got him right when Sea Biscuit (the book and movie) came out so it seemed like a good name sake. Sending gratitude for you!
I love this. I’m heading over to Amazon (my own father’s faith paved the way but I had to walk it myself) and to the two links to get signed up! Thank you so much and I agree with you. ‘O be still my soul.’ It’s then the words begin to flow…
What a lovely comment. Thank you, Deborah! ‘O be still my soul.’ and then the words flow. Perfectly said!
You’re welcome. Such lovely work you are doing!
Even with meditation, I still find it hard to write about my beloved little dogs, and they died 6 years ago. Meditation does help, though.
I’m with you on that – they are such HUGE and dear parts of our lives!
I lost my dear little Charlie at the beginning of Covid, just at the time when I needed company and cuddles the most because we were banned from the company of humans. I still miss him and say good night to him every night before I go to sleep. I never knew how much I loved dogs until I got one. What marvelous creatures they are—and teachers, too! 💕 When are you getting another dog, Wynne?
Oh no – how hard to lose Charlie then. I’m so sorry, Julia! I say good night to Biscuit every night too. And there’s a way that the sun shines on a particular wall that reminds me he’s with me in one way or another.
And you are so funny in your ability to “read” me. I think we’re getting a puppy in August. 😀 How about you?
My muse is emancipated! I have given up all control. It does not work very well on command, so I usually just wait around until it wakes me up at night or rescues me from a long wait at the doctor’s office.
Although it has been 20 years since he died, I cannot write about my late husband in any depth.
I’m laughing about your emancipated muse, Cheryl. What a beautiful description of going with the flow!
And interesting about your late husband. Sometimes the water stays choppy.
Thanks for reading and the lovely comment.
I think I have to chew on things for a bit before I can write with any clarification. Waiting for the insight, or aha to settle in
Good way to put it, VJ. Sometimes (maybe always for me?) the meaning isn’t clear until I have some perspective!
Yep, I always think I will write some when I’m on vacation, but I never do because there is too much going on.
Writing is part of my daily routine, as I write project’s assessment for work. It’s rare that I write about personal stories, as you do so greatly Wynne. I take an helicopter view on my writings, also when I am blogging. I also find hard to tell my stories to my friends. I think it’s because I am introvert and prefer self-reflection in silence or with music.