Reflective Writing and the Experience of Transcending

All Writing Comes from Consciousness: All writing, of course, comes from consciousness. Any ideas, thoughts, or feelings we have spring from our own consciousness. Mind is the entity that we generally give credit to for our ideas, mind usually considered some construct of the human brain that does our thinking for us. This perception of how we write leaves out, to some extent, the feeling level as well as the role that memory plays in our process of writing.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

A Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

The Cognitive Sciences: The cognitive sciences can map certain stages of the thinking of writing process for us, but do not yet provide the whole picture. I feel a fuller understanding of what occurs when we write is provided by a Consciousness-based℠, approach to writing .[1] With a Consciousness-Based approach, writers not only gain an understanding of the dynamics of consciousness but also experience those dynamics for themselves through the practice of the Transcendental Meditation® program.

A Consciousness-Based Approach: With a Consciousness-Based approach, we learn to trust our inner experience. The experience of transcending during practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique helps us as writers learn to trust that turning the awareness inward can have a positive and beneficial effect. That effortless practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique allows us to experience finer and finer levels of thought until we arrive at the source of thought, pure consciousness. With the daily practice of this technology, we become familiar with subtler levels of thoughts and, ultimately, the source of thought. Consequently, when we sit to write, the act of turning inward to reflect on any topic feels familiar to us.

The Inward Direction: The familiarity with the inward direction of the mind helps us (as writers) learn to trust our own minds. For example, we learn to trust that another thought will always be emerging from deeper levels, so writer’s block is less likely to occur. This trust does not mean we can assume that each sentence will emerge in its final, polished form. Polishing is still nearly always necessary and sometimes much polishing is quite necessary.

A Natural Process: Writing a paper or a poem or a post, however, no longer has to seem like something we do outside of ourselves. The process feels natural and is a part of who we are. When we practice reflective writing, we have the intention to allow and welcome feelings and memories that emerge. Those feelings and memories are part and parcel of our whole field of thought, pure consciousness.

Freewriting: Writing courses, I believe, demonstrate the connection between writing and consciousness in a very direct way. The prewriting strategies that emerged in the 1980s, including freewriting, offer writers a natural way of turning inward when we start to write–without carrying the burden of the assignment that is expected of us. We can simply consider a topic or prompt and see what emerges from the source of thought. This natural process of allowing ideas to flow without initially judging the ideas can open the gateway to creativity.

Not Quite Transcendental: I don’t want to carry this parallel too far. Writing and transcending are not, finally, exactly the same process. Writing, by necessity, to produce a text, stays at the more expressed levels of thought. Transcending, on the other hand, by allowing one to experience subtler and subtler levels of thought, ultimately goes beyond thought to the sources of thought, pure consciousness. Transcending is preparation for writing and pure consciousness is the foundation of both processes. 


[1] Consciousness-based education, developed by the Vedic sage Maharishi Mahesh Yogi underlies the entire curriculum at Maharishi University of Management (MUM). The goal of this Consciousness-Based approach is to provide an understanding of consciousness that embraces all aspects of human experience. Through Maharishi’s Science and Technologies of Consciousness, students discover the field of pure consciousness within themselves as the source of all knowledge. As students optimize their full potential with daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation programs, they also study the academic disciplines in the light of their own understanding of intelligence and consciousness. Each class they take allows them to make the connections between consciousness and the discipline studied in the class.

Writing a la Mode—Reflective Writing

A la Mode

A la Mode

The Reflective Mode: Were you thinking ice cream? No, that’s for summertime. I’m thinking about modes of writing because reflective writing is considered a mode (manner) of writing. Opinions vary on the number of modes and what exactly constitutes a mode, but general consensus recognizes narration, description, exposition, persuasion, argumentation, and expression (generally meaning creative writing, like poetry or fiction, etc.).

Blended Modes: A piece of writing rarely consists of just one mode and would, more than likely, be boring if it did. Human experience itself is shaped by multiple modes of experience—sensory, feeling, intellectual, and spiritual. Likewise, writing, if it is to do justice to human experience and understanding, must be able to embrace a complex construct of writing styles and modes. We want to hear a story (narration) told with vivid details (description) that sets out a challenging conflict (exposition), and so on.

Mode Distinctions: Yet, despite the mixing of modes, each mode has its own distinctive nature. We know, for example, that with description comes the vivid detailing of a scene. Selection of a particular significant detail can shape the meaning within the scene in different ways. Description makes us see what is happening rather than just being told what is happening. It is the essence of the old dictum: Show, don’t tell. Advice that never goes out of style. Description is a mode we learn very young. To a two-year-old, “big truck” is much more exciting than, simply, “truck.” The descriptor adds a new dimension to the experience (both literally and figuratively here).

Reflective writing may be filled with description; it may also contain narration and persuasion, as it often does. Yet certain elements exist in reflective writing that makes us recognize that reflection is the predominant mode in a piece of writing. So, what are these elements that create reflective writing?

Nature of Reflective Writing: Reflective writing moves inward. We experience that inner sweep of awareness. We consider our own thoughts and feelings when we write reflectively. We are exploring our thoughts (generally speaking) rather than, say, building a case for argument. Arguments can creep in. Who hasn’t argued with himself/herself. Yet reflective writing does not force us into a particular pattern of organization as argument, for example, does. Reflective writing allows us to wander among our thoughts and examine them, perhaps consider them in a new frame of reference. Consequently, memory plays a role in reflective writing because our own frame of reference is built out of our past experiences and knowledge, and that is what we are viewing.

Re-Envision: Reflective writing is not just remembering, however, not just nostalgia either. As we reflect, we see and re-envision. Our awareness expands to take in a broader understand and, perhaps, a deeper understanding during this process. By writing reflectively, we can move to a broader comprehension of the topic we are considering. Reflective writing allows us to learn, develop new insights, enlarge our personal understanding, and expand our frame of reference.

Writing Our Way into Reading

Writing as a Tool: Writing can help readers access a text that is challenging to read whether the text is a literary masterpiece, a piece of governmental legalize, or a novel filled with abstract concepts. If we reflect on what we already know about the topic, then it is easier to move into new material. Taking a moment to write what we know about a subject creates a framework in our awareness on which to hang new information.

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking

A Difficult Text: Say we want to read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and aren’t sure we can understand it, what might we write (to gather our thoughts)? Well, we might start with chronology. Time is linear. It’s divided into periods. We have long periods, like a millennium, but each period is then broken down into smaller segments; millennia becomes centuries, which become decades, then years months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds. We could continue to divide the segments until we reach the Planck time scale at 10-43but wait, just as we’re starting to think we know something about time, we remember that some cultures consider time to be not linear but cyclical, where ages happen over and over. Still, we have begun our dive into understanding the concept of time. We have a framework created from our old understandings into which we can integrate new ideas, so now we can read more complex ideas and consider more abstract relationships related in time.

So, we pick up Hawking’s book and find it more readable than we expected. Bolstered by our own framework of understanding about time, we read with confidence and learn about his view of time in relation to the Big Bang theory.

Writing to Understand and Retain: To cement our understanding of what we’ve read, we can return after reading once again to reflective writing to firm up what we’ve learned. We can integrate our understanding of Hawking’s theory of time beginning after the Big Bang to our own experience with a comprehensive grasp of what we’ve read because we’ve integrated the new information we just read into the understanding we already help in memory. We reflected on what we already knew about time, using a wandering, unrestricted style of writing and arrived at a solid expansion of our understanding, a larger whole—always our goal.

Pragmatic Benefits: Reflective writing has pragmatic benefits as well as creative benefits. We can explore old realms of knowledge. We can move into new areas of thoughts. We can follow the integration of old and new knowledge and arrive at an expanded understanding of our topic. With reflective writing, we begin with what we know and let that lead us forward into new vistas of thought.