I’ve been teaching many genres of writing for almost twenty years. I’ve taught composition to reluctant freshman, poetry to soul-seeking adults, and creative non-fiction to gifted MFA students. But no matter what genre I am teaching, and no matter if the course was at a homeless shelter or an Ivy League classroom, the goal is always to activate a student’s inner processes so that they can authentically write about their stories and ideas.
In 2010 I became certified as a clinical hypnotherapist. At the time I wasn’t thinking about connections between my life as a writer and a teacher, and the hypnosis training I was doing. It was a strange moment when I realized that the pedagogical methods I had been using to teach writing – methods I had learned thirteen years ago from Peter Elbow and the Institute for Writing and Thinking at Bard College – were strikingly similar to the methods used in Eriksonian hypnosis.
Trance states that allow people to become aware of unconscious thoughts and associations are very similar to the absorbed states of writing that occur when composing and thinking are happening simultaneously.
In both hypnosis and writing, there is the unlocking of the mind-body experience most often referred to using metaphors of “flow.” I call this “Trance Poetics” and this connection has allowed me to generate many blog posts, as well as a book. Writing freely in this zone has to do with the biochemical reactions that trance states elicit in the body: reduced heart rate, regulated breathing, and the recalibration of vital organs that allows your hand to move across the page (or keyboard) without the interference of an internal editor.
How can you engage in trance writing to build connections between your work and all you know, especially if you’re a holistic practitioner, psychotherapist and change-worker?
And once this writing is done, how can you make it a viable essay instead of musings or a collection of tangential thoughts?
Get into the flow:
Begin this work by sitting down and writing for ten minutes. Set a timer so that you are aware of the time constraint, and yet are completely open to being alive in the moment of writing. Put your hands to the keyboard or your pen to the blank page and begin writing around the periphery of any of these questions. This means that you allow your mind to wander and your writing to meander. Follow any tangential threads until they run out. Write as if you know, right now, all that you need to know to write for ten minutes about any of these questions.
What is the most pressing crisis that your field is facing in this moment? What keeps you involved in your field?
What synchronizations have you noticed in the past couple of weeks?
What dream imagery do you seem to return to?
What are some deeper realizations that patients have realized about themselves and their past that have struck a chord with you?
What provokes you? What inspires you?
Over time, how has your style of work changed, evolved? What stays with you?
Is there a particular ritual or a special way you present what you know?
How do you see your work in relationship with the ‘big picture’ (climate change, economic uncertainty, consciousness shifts?
How have your patients/clients responded to your healing practice?
What have been the most pleasurable experiences you have encountered?
How do you coordinate care with other health care providers?
How have you received any criticism for the type of work you do?
Create something useful from your trance-writing exercise:
After ten minutes, go back and bracket or highlight any single phrase or passage that stands out to you for any reason. Bracket where you found yourself pulled into the writing; bracket what feels “on the verge.” Bracket potential energy.
Read a book written by someone in your profession that you find inspiring. Pay particular attention to their form: notice where there are anecdotes, where there are personal stories; where there are helpful suggestions, and where there are summaries/analysis of other ideas. Know that writing prose involves fluidity between these modes of thinking, and begin to think of yourself as a person who is open to, and capable, of writing this way. (Or, if you already are, knowing you can do it even better.)
Kristin Prevallet will be teaching Re-envision Your Writing Mind: A Workshop for Holistic Practitioners, Psychotherapists, and Change Workers on October 4 at the Open Center. The course invites you to engage with your writing mind through trance writing. It activates both flow, and form and is designed specifically for practitioners in these fields because they spend a lot of time “thinking about thinking” and less time writing and committing to pen and paper the intricacies of what they know. Visit the class page for more information.