MURFREESBORO — Anyone who has stared at a blank page and wondered what to write might be skeptical of anyone who holds that writing can be a transcendent experience.
At least a couple of experienced writers say it’s true, and they’ve written a book to illustrate how it can happen.
“Writing—the Sacred Art: Beyond the Page to Spiritual Practice” is a compilation of writing exercises illuminated by the philosophical guidance of Dr. Rami Shapiro, ordained rabbi and former adjunct professor of religious studies at MTSU, and his son, Aaron Shapiro, an MTSU English instructor.
“Using writing as a spiritual practice tries to get us to become aware of the self as a construct,” said Rami.
Adding that he’s not certain there is an absolute reality, Aaron said, “One of the things that writing as a spiritual practice can do is start to poke some holes in the consensus reality, as well as the fictive reality that you’ve created for yourself.”
Chapters are devoted to writing to open the body, heart, mind, soul and spirit, and each chapter has exercises designed to stretch those openings as wide as the writer’s talent will allow.
“In most mystical systems, each one of those dimensions of our existence has its own wisdom and its own narrative, and we wanted to question all of those,” Rami said.
For instance, in the body chapter, there is an exercise in which the writer tries to write to the rhythm of his or her breath, only putting words on the page while exhaling.
“It has a physical effect on the reader,” said Aaron. “We forget sometimes how sensual words are. We experience it not only via the ear, but via other parts of the brain.”
In the mind chapter, one exercise calls for writing a short autobiography as a partner writes one, too.
When the partners exchange papers at the end of 15 minutes, they underline or highlight the most attention-grabbing sentence and hand the papers back to the original authors.
Then each partner rewrites the narrative starting with the sentence the other one highlighted.
“What’s important to the person writing the autobiographical sketch may be totally different from what the reader gets,” Rami said.
Father and son have different ways of summoning their respective muses. Rami writes and writes and writes, even if the first few drafts are “crap,” as he puts it.
“Writing is exhausting,” he said. “The ideas are coming from elsewhere than my rational mind, which is why I need heavy editing.”
Aaron said, “I do a lot of mind-mapping where you write your ideas out in funny circles. I do a lot of speaking aloud into a tape recorder and a lot of walking around my office.”
The ideas and practices in “Writing—the Sacred Art” are based on a weekend retreat called “Path and Pen: Writing as Spiritual Practice.”