A New Tool for Therapeutic Journaling: Nested Meditations

Kevin-Anderson-1
In late summer of 2017, two days before our daughter was to be married, I found myself in a four-hour meeting with my siblings deciding whether we should let my mother’s doctors proceed with chemotherapy for her recently-diagnosed cancer. (She had dementia and could not make the decision for herself.) My mind was sending me messages like “WEDDING + DEATH = OVERLOAD!” But I kept doing my best to be present to the process of my family dealing with Mom’s dying even as I wished I could be 100% focused on the wedding preparations.

The next morning I awoke at 5 a.m. and began with a single line in my journal: I want to leave this world awake. I wrote it for my mother, already sensing that succumbing more quickly to cancer while she was still alert enough to know our names might be her preference over the long, slow, ambiguous goodbye of dementia. But I also wrote that line for myself. It expressed my hope that my own mind will stay sharp until the end.

If I’d continued the piece by following my left brain, I’d have written something less interesting than what a right-brained, wordplay approach I developed twenty years ago—I call it “nested meditation”—led me to:

I want to leave this world awake.


I want to leave this world a wake
of love behind the speedboat of my years.


I want to leave this world a wake
of love. Behind the speedboat of my years
waves are rolling out wide and far.


I want to leave this world a wake
of love. Behind the speedboat of my years
waves are rolling out wide, and far-
ther back the water is glass again.


now-is-where-god-livesThe idea in this form is to start with a single line, then add another line, letting various forms of wordplay move the piece in a surprising direction. The second line lifted my spirits that morning, reminding me of summer and water and fun—and of what life is really about. I got from the first to the second line not by logical thought but by noticing that “awake” could be split into “a wake.” Likewise, it was by adding a hyphen to “far” and wondering where it would take me that I got to “...and far-ther back the water is glass again.” This closing line delighted me. Yes, that’s it!, I thought. We come into this world for a time, stir up the waters with great energy, and then two hundred years later there is little if any trace of our existence other than the love we left behind. A simple willingness to play with words has opened me up time and again to healing insights or breakthroughs I cannot find with my logical mind.

I came to call this form of writing “nested meditation,” after how each stanza fits into the one after it like a nesting doll. The prior words, letters, and line breaks all remain the same. The trick is to change punctuation, hyphenation, word meaning and so on to create a surprising new direction as a new line is added.

Since writing the first one in my journal in the late 1990s, I’ve written well over 1,000 of these curious creations. I find writing and rereading them to be therapeutic. Here’s one that helped me a great deal with a lifelong struggle with self-doubt:

I live with self-doubt.


I live with self-doubt
no more!


I live with self-doubt
no more
than a lone pine tree doing its evergreen thing.


I live with self-doubt
no more
than a lone pine tree doing its evergreen thing
in a deciduous forest.


The second stanza seems to suggest that with enough will I should be able to just banish self-doubt forever. But the piece continues in a surprising direction: “no more” becomes “no more than a lone pine tree….” Writing this helped me see that struggling against self-doubt is not as helpful as committing over and over to living as authentically as I can regardless of what I see others doing with their lives.

Have you ever found yourself comparing your life to someone else’s? Here’s a nested meditation that helped me make some progress healing that tendency in myself:

Envy is a venomous snake.


Envy is a venomous snake
that slithers in the mind.


Envy is a venomous snake
that slithers in the mind-
ing of what others have and I don’t.


Envy is a venomous snake
that slithers in the mind-
ing of what others have, and I don’t
have to poison peace that way.


Somehow just finding a new, more adaptive thought to replace an envious or comparative thought (what therapists call cognitive therapy) is not as helpful to me as remembering the venomous snake that slithers in the mind and the insight that came to me through wordplay: I don’t have to poison peace that way.

Kevin-Anderson-1I’ve now published two collections of these nested meditations. I often receive readers’ attempts at the form. I find that most people try to use the nested form with their logical mind still in the driver’s seat. The key is to play with words and let them take you to the delights and insights that can surprise and heal.

I hope you give nested meditation a try!

Kevin Anderson, Ph.D. is a psychologist in the Toledo, Ohio area. His latest book Now is Where God Lives: A Year of Nested Meditations to Delight the Mind and Awaken the Soul is available at Amazon and on his website: thewingedlife.com. He can be reached at wingedlifeinfo@gmail.com
 
Comments
HIDESHOW