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  • Writer's pictureAnne Heffron


Aside from the one where I ask people to, in six minutes, write the message they'd like to have left on the walls of their mother's body before birth, my favorite writing prompt is one I used last week.

It's funny how you really don't have to reinvent the wheel. The prompt I am going to describe to you is so basic, so duh, so you got paid to ask people to do this? and yet, there they were as people read aloud: truth and beauty in all their bright glory.

In A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway wrote, I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.

This sounded so simple when I first heard it in class at SUNY Binghamton, but then I started running up against walls. "My name is Anne," I wrote. I looked at it, thought, and then crossed it out. My name was Anne, but when I was born it had been Sarah. So that was not the truest sentence I knew. If I couldn't talk about my name in a truest way, what could I talk about? I went into a brain spin and wondered if I'd ever be able to write one truest thing.

When my brain goes into story, into memory, into thought, into beliefs, I can become a dog who grabs onto its own tail and goes in circles, trying to hold on. My brain can make writing so hard because my brain loves to pull me into the past, into stories that spin and spin and end up going nowhere!

However, I now know I have a superpower that bring me into right here: my senses. Granted, without my brain my eyes and sense of hearing, taste, touch, and smell would be cold, dark things, but if I put my brain's attention on these things, I enter present moment, a place that does not spin.

I am the most myself in the right now. This is not news--mindfulness and present moment awareness have long been seen as the way into our humanness--and yet, just as it is crucial to breathe deeply and stay hydrated, I need to be reminded, almost hourly, of these practices.

Here's my new favorite writing prompt: Imagine you are about to lose your sight. Write about the things you would most miss seeing. Use a list if you like.

If you want to have a sacred experience, gather a few people, have them do this exercise, and then have everyone read what they wrote out loud.

You will hear the sound of being alive.

If you want to party to continue, to the same prompt for each of the five senses. What would you miss most if you lost your ability to hear? To taste? To smell? To touch?

If you have lost your sight or any of the other senses, you can write about what you most miss.

The great yoga teacher Erich Schiffmann, in his treasure of a book Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness taught "Keep it simple."

It's not rocket science, but we don't need rockets to live a full life. We need to be here, to make the most of our ability to experience this life, so we can see when someone else needs a hand.


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