A Wellness and Writing “Round Up”
I’m sure that everyone is exhausted by this point in the semester and is ready to get to the final high of hitting the last ‘submit’. Because I’m right there with everyone else, I decided to take a step back from overly analyzing a topic within wellness and writing and instead share some resources I have found fun or helpful throughout the semester, specifically around writing. I was inspired by Roxane Gay’s “The Audacioius Round Up” that she sends out to her substack subscribers and so I’ve created a Wellness and Writing round up of my own that encompasses magazines, podcasts, blogs, zines, and Instagram accounts – check it out below, and if you get inspired, make one of your own and share it out:
- Because I have drawn a massive amount of inspiration from Roxane Gay lately, I have to start by sharing the many different projects she is working on lately (Go look up all her books as well). If you can’t catch her Masterclass on writing, or her Opinion and Work Friend pieces in the NYT, or read/listen to her impactful essay “Writing into the Wound: Understanding trauma, truth, and language” on Scribd, OR listen to her podcast Hear to Slay – you have to at least check out her substack account The Audacity and soak in her masterful way with writing. The way she uses this craft to be in conversation with society and gives voice to what needs to change within it is something I can only hope to come close to one day. In addition to being a great example of someone who uses their writing to reach a wide audience, what I respect and love about Gay’s writing is her voice, humor, and ‘audacity’ to try so many different kinds of writing. She inspires me to think in ways that aren’t so limited and to want to try different styles of writing, even if I end up not succeeding.
- Someone I found because they were highlighted in an Antiracism Daily post (which you should also check out on Instagram) is Ida Yalzadeh who is a professor for the Asian American Studies Program at Northwestern University. She also does a regular round up of different things she is reading and watching and her substack is full of insightful advice on writing, researching, and being involved in social justice. One thing I want to highlight in particular is the zine she created about her graduate experience during her time at Brown University. It is more centered on pursuing a PhD, but I found a lot of it to be helpful for my own process in trying to figure out how to start organizing my research and for learning about resources that are helpful in navigating academia.
- I tweeted about this a little while back, but as I have gone through my Research and Writing class, I have been desperate for anything that can help explain research methods to me in an approachable way. A great resource is a podcast out of Oregon State University called “Research in Action”. The podcasts cover a wide range of topics around research and research methods and lead to me finding some great follow up resources to check out.
- One of these follow up resources was the blog The Thesis Whisperer and her post about “the bedraggled daisy” diagram which was a unique approach to doing a kind of concept map. The creator of the blog, Inger Mewburn, is a professor and researcher from The Australian National University and she talks about research in an approachable and understanding way that is refreshing.
- Finally, to return to Roxane Gay, one of the tips she gives in her Masterclass is reading about other writers and their writing process. Specifically, she mentions that she enjoys reading the Paris Review. When I checked it out, I found my way to one of their old issues from 1984 that had an interview with James Baldwin about his life and writing. This interview was one of the most enjoyable and rich pieces of reading I have sat down to in a long time. If you want to check the Paris Review out, I recommend starting there.
All right, that is my list of some of the most inspirational readings and ‘listenings’ I did this semester on writing. Seriously, try making your own list – it makes for great productive procrastination…er I mean end of semester reflection.
Getting Mindful about Mindfulness
For anyone who has dabbled in mindfulness, you know that it can initially be an uncomfortable process. Like the feeling of an un-popped joint, you come to an awareness of how your whole body is holding a wide variety of pressures. Your mind holds too many thoughts and judgements about those thoughts; your shoulders feel bunched as if against a chill; even your eyes feel hazy with fatigue. A practice of mindfulness asks us to become conscious of all of these pressures and to sit with them; not to actively try to change or judge the things that are causing us discomfort, but to just be present to them.
Of course, the idea is that by developing a regular practice of mindfulness and becoming more present we will begin a process of moving towards alleviating discomfort. As Bessel Van Der Kolk describes in his classic book on trauma, The Body Keeps the Score, “Mindfulness puts us in touch with the transitory nature of our feelings and perceptions. When we pay focused attention to our bodily sensations, we can recognize the ebb and flow of our emotions and, with that, increase our control over them” (210). In other words, when we show up to our discomfort, we can begin to regain control over our response to it. Instead of shutting down, numbing, reacting in anger, or losing sight of the big picture, we learn to recognize what is happening in our bodies and minds which in turn allows us to be in tune enough to listen to what we need.
In this light, what could possibly be wrong with the idea of using mindfulness? When you start to dive into the criticism behind our society’s adaptation (appropriation) of this technique that has roots in Buddhism, you will find that there is a lot to be mindful about when talking about mindfulness. I’m not going to go into everything that is problematic, mostly because better thinkers and writers than I have already done so:
- How mindfulness is used as a way to place the burden of change back on those being oppressed.
- How mindfulness is overly commercialized.
- How mindfulness has become less of a way of life, and more a pop psychology way of feeling better.
- How mindfulness has become a way for institutions to give lip service to caring for employees, but can really be a way of avoiding true healing.
These issues are vital to finding a healthy approach to mindfulness, and it is worth your time to read about each; but even in light of these issues, mindfulness remains situated as an important tool to reduce anxiety and stress in our society. So my question for consideration is why? I want to go beyond the typical spiel about breathing, grounding your body, and getting in touch with your inner emotions to relieve stress and ask what else is at the root of a practice of mindfulness?
As I said at the beginning of this post, by default, when we are asked to be mindful, we are being asked to get in touch with things that hurt. I emphasized the physical hurt that can come with mindfulness, but as Van Der Kolk points out, there is a huge emotional element as well. As I considered the multifaceted nature and uses of mindfulness, a quote from a conversation Rev. angel Kyodo williams had with the host of the podcast Don’t Call Me Resilient came to me:
“You have to be peace with yourself in order to tolerate the suffering of the world. And I think if you can’t tolerate your own suffering – you can’t tolerate and have a deep and abiding relationship of self-compassion with your own suffering – then you become, as a result of that, under equipped to be able to really face the suffering of the world.”
For me, this quote gets at the heart of the deeper ‘why’ of mindfulness. A casual practice of mindfulness can provide some space to take a breath, but one of the top purposes of mindfulness is to develop a practice of holding pain and discomfort in a present and non-judgmental space. This is no superficial task; anyone who has been in any level of physical or emotional pain knows how difficult a practice of “tolerating” pain in a non-judgmental and present way is – especially when the pain isn’t something that is easily fixed. Taking this a step further, many of us probably know the hurt of being in the midst of that pain and being told to ‘get over it’, ‘it’ll pass’, ‘every cloud has a silver lining’, etc.
It is actually this last part around how we treat the pain of others and how others treat our pain that is the real reason I want to ask ‘why’ around mindfulness. Something I have wrestled with for a while when it comes to using wellness methods of any kind is considering what I am asking of a person (and myself) and where they are at in being able to tap into wellness for the pain they are experiencing. There is nothing wrong per say with promoting and sharing practices of wellness, but I would argue that it has to be done from a position of empathy and with an understanding that wellness practices can only go so far if the very things causing the stress that needs a practice of wellness isn’t being fixed. This is why it can be so toxic for institutions or people in power to suggest those in pain use mindfulness to heal the pain that power is causing. When you are being told by an oppressive force to help yourself while the oppression continues unaddressed, it can create a sense of helplessness and further stress.
So how do we hold the tension that exists in finding a healthy practice of mindfulness? One that acknowledges both the benefits of it in learning to cope with suffering and the harm that can come with suggesting it for pain that needs change from the outside? Though I don’t think the answer is straightforward, I don’t see this as a stale mate kind of issue. And ironically, I think that the solution is in the very question I posed – why are we asking people to use mindfulness? Is it because we truly think it will be able to create a practice of transforming pain into healing or because we would like there to be a quick fix to the pain we are witnessing and feeling? In other words, are we being mindful about mindfulness? The more we are able to see it as a practice of living a life of healing and less of a quick fix to stress that isn’t going to easily go away, the more we can tap into the true potential that lies within mindfulness.
“How to deal with the pain of racism — and become a better advocate.” Don’t Call Me Resilient from The Conversation,10 February 2021. https://theconversation.com/how-to-deal-with-the-pain-of-racism-and-become-a-better-advocate-dont-call-me-resilient-ep-2-transcript-151652.
Van Der Kolk, Bessel. The Body Keeps the Score. Penguin, 2015.
A recent poll asked “How much time do you spend talking about wellness versus actually doing it?” Of those that responded, 85% of people said that they spend more time talking about wellness and less time doing it. Actually, I just made all of that up, there was no real poll. But it isn’t hard to look around and find plenty of articles that say something to the same effect: we are all stressed, fatigued, isolated, bored, etc. and so we need to be doing more to make sure we don’t spiral.
Though I have found valuable help in articles on self-care, I have to admit there is something about them now that creates a feeling of discomfort. Maybe it is just me, but it seems that the unforeseen consequence of a flux of articles, statistics, podcasts, posts, etc. about wellness during this pandemic is that there is a paradoxical feeling of stress. When you are confronted with everything you should do to be well and compare it to what you actually do (or have the time, resources, mental capacity, support to actually do), it can feel overwhelming to discuss wellness. So if we are already overwhelmed with everyone and their Zoom famous cat and dog telling us how to take care of ourselves during this pandemic, do we really need to hear more about wellness?
Well, the answer to that is about as straight-forward as any other topic at this point in our society – it’s complicated. I have to say up front that there is always going to be an importance in raising awareness about wellness. Most everyone goes through waves when it comes to where they are at in their wellness journey. That is why it isn’t such a bad thing to have so many reminders. If we find we have been sitting for too long again, or drinking one too many cups of coffee, or descending into a negative self-talk spiral, we can see that annoying article that once again prompts us to get up, drink some water, and do some self-affirmations. But for those burned out on wellness, for those who feel like they don’t have the means to be well, for those facing bigger picture fights for wellness – how can we have a more nuanced conversation about what it really means to be well? How can we still emphasize the importance of developing a practice of wellness, while discussing the real struggles that go with these practices?
For the rest of the semester we will do a blog series about both wellness and writing that explores how to approach wellness in ways that acknowledges its importance, but discusses its complexity. Because a practice of writing in a writing program is truly inseparable from a practice of wellness, we will also be talking about writing practices and the complexities that go with that as well. Perhaps, as a community, we can act as pillars of support and lean on one another from time to time as we talk about some of these difficult or frustrating topics. We hope that as we progress with the series that you will share your thoughts and experiences and join us in wrestling with Wellness and Writing.