Your Hands are Connected to Your Heart

Writing longhand can access places in your heart and soul that you can’t get to any other way. The power of pen and ink and paper is primal and takes us to a place that meditation tells us is the goal: that place of the neutral observer. I cannot tell you how many meditation retreats I have been on, and talks I have listened to, where the teacher says to watch your thoughts but not get attached to them. I realize, every time, that I do that by keeping a journal, and by writing those thoughts longhand in my messy handwriting.

When I was in high school, already an avid journaler, I read Joan Didion’s essay about the practice. It made me feel like I was in the big leagues. I was a “keeper of a notebook.” Her essay is beautiful, and a great look into a writer’s mind. What comes out in the end is that what we write down, even if it is snippets of overheard conversations, is really an exploration of our own minds. I understood that to be important but at eighteen, did not know why.

Enter Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones and the person who popularized freewriting with a Buddhist twist. Natalie became my teacher and her style of meeting your own mind without judgment became a mindfulness practice I have carried with me for decades. The benefits of mindfulness are cataloged everywhere, so I will just say that following her writing practice makes me a better human. It helps me see that the thoughts I have are not me, and that I can be with them from a place of neutrality. It makes me compassionate about my suffering and the suffering of others. And, she does it by hand, in cheap notebooks, with real pens and being dragged away from the computer is a gift in and of itself.

Teachers like angel kyodo williams point out to us that “we manifest the life that we live in externally and it’s completely founded in our life, the way that we relate to ourselves internally as well as the way that we relate to others internally. So the self-talk that we have, the degree of noise in our mind and the way that our minds are racing, whether we’re fundamentally present or not present both to ourselves and to others, has a direct relationship to how we show up in the world . . .” So if we want to have a better experience of the world and be available to change the world we live in for the better, we need to relate to ourselves and the world differently. Journaling, especially freewriting, helps us do that. In her teachings, williams stresses that understanding our own suffering makes us available to the kinds of changes our world needs right now, and helps us see our part in it.

This is a lot to lay at the feet of just writing stuff down every day and yet, it really does work. So in honor of National Handwriting Day, pick up a pen, set a timer, and let your mind spill on to the page. Visit with your thoughts non-judgmentally, and see what happens. You will be very surprised to find that kindness to yourself shows up in kindness to fellow humans, to the animals with whom we share this planet, and to the Earth herself. There is a direct connection from your hand to your heart and when you access it, you change the world.

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