In Writing, Constraints Set You Free: A Sense Writing Exercise
By Madelyn Kent
“What I am after is more flexible minds, not just more flexible bodies” -Moshe Feldenkrais
“And when you’re in a slump, you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.” -Dr. Seuss
In 2008, after years of working as a playwright/director/teacher/professor in New York City, I moved to Israel to start a multi-year training to become a Feldenkrais practitioner. The Feldenkrais Method uses simple movements to increase mobility, physical function and overall well-being. At the time, I had no idea how studying this somatic educational system would filter into my life as a theater artist and teacher. All I knew is that it helped people, even those with severe limitations, live with a profound sense of ease. I sensed that there was a connection between movement and the creative process from that very first class, even if I could not articulate it at the time.
In the years since then, I developed a practice called Sense Writing which employs four principles to help my students work with their nervous systems to immerse themselves in the landscape of their writing and imagination.
In addition to movement, this writing modality encourages students to engage all of their senses in the writing process. Here is one of the basic writing exercises similar to those I give my students. It applies constraints to the writing process while simultaneously inviting you to immerse fully in the experience. The interesting thing about applying constraints to the writing process is somedays you may feel more freedom once the constraints are removed, and some days you will feel less. This will shift and change as we progress and reflect in the class, learning that how we write is as important as what we write. Keep that in mind as you move through this exercise.
I’ve posted an example of what came out of my own engagement with this exercise. I invite you to post the results of your experience with the exercise in the comments below.
5 Senses Where You Are
Time: 3 minutes
-Sit where you are now and write down everything you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. For “feel” include only the sensorial/kinesthetic, not emotional. For example, “I feel my sweater bunched up around my elbows” (sense) rather than “I feel nervous” (emotion).
-Write in the present tense.
-Write in any order that the world around you comes to you.
-Let this be incantational: repeating the same sentence structure: “I see…, I hear…, I see…, I feel…” is like a pattern in a prayer that quiets the “thinking” mind. And like an incantation, you are drawing the world to you, rather than seeking outward.
-Don’t stop your hand from moving. You can write “i see i see i see”or “i see nothing i see nothing”… until something comes to you.
An example of a 3-minute 5 Sense Incantation
I see the shadow of my pen, i see brown ink, I feel the tile underneath the paper, I hear the nasal voice of a girl, I feel the cold on my right side, I feel an itch on my left nostril, I hear “what is, what is the business?”, I taste my mouth, I feel myself lean forward, I feel the weight of my head, I see I see I see nothing I see the woman’s eyes blink and then look down, I see the computer plug, I hear the bass of the music, I feel my stomach empty, I feel an itch on my left nostril, I see the street lights reflected on the wet street, I hear the waiter say “enjoy.”