In my last post, I talked a little about telling details, those tiny things that communicate so much. Noticing them requires opening the mind. But there is another rung on the ladder with this: Opening to the body.
I call this embodied writing. By this I mean the kind of writing that includes the visceral details of what it is like to inhabit a physical body. Physical sensation, not just ideas and emotions.
Our bodies are not just the ‘transport’ we inhabit, as dear Sherlock likes to put it. They interact with the environment in order to gain information about it for survival purposes. They do this through the medium of the Senses.
Our eyes, noses, ears, tongues and skins gather data and feed it back to the brain, which sifts it and uses it to build up a picture of the outside world. This means that our experience of life is formed as much by our body’s external contact as it is by our thoughts and ideas. As writers particularly, we spend so much time locked inside our heads, submerged in ideas for stories, that we forget we have bodies. Our bodies get neglected, or worse – sometimes writers abuse their bodies because they actually get in the way of the work by demanding annoying things like food and sleep. We forget that our bodies are the foundation of our art.
By using the sensations they give us, we can enrich our work exponentially, making it more immediate, tapping into common experience and tissue memory.
Over the next few weeks, I am going to talk about ‘Writing with the Senses’ in an effort to get you and me out of our heads and into our bodies with our writing. We will be working our way through each of the senses, being mindful of the feedback they give us, using them to ground us in our corporeal selves, and bringing the gorgeous experiences they give us into our creative lives. I’m doing this myself, because I really need to be present inside my body right now, instead of having my brain flying about sixteen feet from it, attached only by the barest thread of consciousness. And I thought you might be interested in joining me!
So, in the meantime, do this:
Take a few minutes today, tomorrow, daily if you can. Just stop. Take a deep breath and let it out. Bring your mind inside your body. What sensations can you feel? Do you have a pain in your toe, or an itchy insect bite? Did you eat spinach for tea that left that annoying coating on your teeth? Is your belt too tight? There doesn’t have to be any great revelation. Just notice.
Taking a moment at regular times during the day in order to be present inside your body is an invaluable exercise in grounding yourself and being mindful. And it is a great prelude to thinking about the Senses.