Sunday, 5 June 2011

Don't Sleepwalk Off a Balcony, Write with Awareness

Most of us sleepwalk through life, most of the time. I was reminded of this recently when I visited a good friend’s waterfront apartment. I stepped out onto his balcony, and was taking in a stunning view of the calm harbour, with yachts moored. When my friend joined me I commented on how lucky he was to have such an exquisite view. “I just don’t see it,” he replied.

Isn’t it true that we most always become so used to our familiar surroundings, we, like my friend, are asleep to their beauty? We take expensive holidays, go half way around the world, to do, if truth were known, what we could do at home, were we but able to see our familiar surroundings with freshly minted, open eyes.

As writers, it would be immensely helpful, I believe, to wake from that slumber as often as is possible. And though that might seem a laudable, yet elusive goal, there are ways to do it.

I remember a poet friend of mine telling me years ago about his experience attending a Buddhist retreat near Sydney. For some days, he did not speak. He ate vegetarian meals, and contemplated. The result of this was that, among other good results, his senses became heightened. The grass became vividly green for him. He was more awake.

Now before you immediately say “I’m not a Buddhist, I like my steak too much to go vego, even for a few days, and I’m certainly not going to stay silent while my kids are running amok,” let me reassure you, there are other ways to achieve a similar outcome.

One good way is brain exercise. OK, for those of you who immediately baulk at the “e” word, let me reassure you it’s as easy as trying to brush your teeth with your opposite hand, or getting dressed with your eyes closed. (You’re allowed to get the clothes out of the wardrobe first, if you wish, in case you’re worried about odd socks.) An informative, useful article on the subject by The Franklin Institute is at:

Another good way is cultivating the habit of listening to people. How many of you are people watchers? Hands up. Most of us are, if we care to admit it. But, as soon as a person begins to talk, we begin to make definitive judgements about them, and in conversation with them, soon most of us are not really taking in what the person is saying, rather we are waiting for a chance to talk ourselves, usually about ourselves.

If we try to listen, intently, to what the person is saying, without interrupting them, we engage more fully with that person’s story, and as writers, grist for our creative mill is there to, later, be reflected on.

Lastly on this, though I could offer more suggestions, try, as writers, to cultivate a sense of wonder. A way I did this while living in Canberra was to, each morning I travelled on the bus, not bury my head in a book – there is a time for that – or a newspaper, but, instead, take in the scenes, inside the bus and out. There is an especially beautiful lake, Lake Burley Griffin, there, and when the bus travelled over the bridge, in the colder months often there was a mist on the lake. The stuff of stories, myth, legend, ethereal beings, perhaps.

Let us return to my friend’s balcony. Can I remember any specific details of any of the yachts? No. Not now. An opportunity lost? Perhaps not, because when I opened myself to the view, my subconscious, the storehouse of all I experience, took it in, and, some time in the future, when composing a poem; possibly, even, without conscious recollection; a name of one of those yachts might find itself in the poem.

Mull on all this. See your own water, your own yachts. Write with awareness.


  1. seems reasonable except the bit about listening to people. first, they have to be vetted as actually saying something.
    why listen to them if the majority have nothng of worth to communicate anyway?

  2. You know, I read somewhere that the sense most tied to memory was smell, and one challenge was to describe a scene without using your sense of sight. Makes a challenge.