This is a long post that will take you into territory that's unusual for those interested in workplace writing. Fair warning! I'm interested in everyday writing as an everyday Mindfulness Practice. So here goes....
Thanks to John Allan at Buddhanet.net for his descriptions of the Buddha's first teachings (referenced below). Some call these teachings the 8-fold path to enlightenment or awakening. Having been practicing za-zen for the past 40 years or so, I like to think of it as the path to surviving graciously for the little while you get to be on earth. What a privilege. This life. This "park." We should maintain this urban/rural/wild park for our children's children's children's children.
So I'm thinking, maybe there's also an 8-fold path of wisdom for effective everyday writing???
I humbly submit that MINDFULNESS should not be an escape: yep, fancy retreats are nice when you can afford them, as are massages and warm swimming pools, and yoga classes, and a nice cup of tea and a plate of healthy food. Amen! Can I be sure to consider all those who are starving, homeless, and under attack throughout the world as I partake? I think I should...
But MINDFULNESS should really be about making contact with others, with the rest of the world, with all the living creatures and rocks and minerals I/we share the whole earth with, not closing my eyes and retreating to an oasis of calm only for me. Meditate with my/our eyes open.
So why not make the everyday writing you have to do at work an eyes-wide-open everyday MINDFULNESS PRACTICE?
(Buy my FREE ebook, Mindful Writing at Work (200-pages, lots of pictures) to see how you might begin doing that....
Here's the link for the FREE ebook: http://qcgwrite.com/mindful-writing-at-work.)
Also, take a second and glance through the information below from John Allan about Buddha's first ideas about living in harmony with others and the cosmos. (No...I'm not searching for converts to Buddhism or any other -ism. It's just interesting information to think about.) Then I'll suggest that my approach to mindful everyday writing is roughly, very roughly, similar in a few simple ways. (At least the spiritual intention is similar, it seems to me.)
Mr. Allan explains: The 8-Fold Path is the fourth of the Four Noble Truths - the first of the Buddha's teachings. All the teachings flow from this foundation. Don't get too bogged down in the definitions, discussions, and elaborations. These are simple principles that take a full lifetime to perfect. Just hear what he was talking about.
The Four Noble Truths are...
1. The Noble Truth of the reality of Dukkha as part of conditioned existence. Dukkha is a multi-faceted word. Its literal meaning is "that which is difficult to bear".(my bolding) It can mean suffering, stress, pain, anguish, affliction or unsatisfactoriness. Each of the English words is either too strong or too weak in their meaning to be a universally successful translation. Dukkha can be gross or very subtle. From extreme physical and mental pain and torment to subtle inner conflicts and existential malaise.
2. The Noble Truth that Dukkha has a causal arising. This cause is defined as grasping and clinging or aversion. On one hand it is trying to control anything and everything by grabbing onto or trying to pin them down. On the other hand it is control by pushing away or pushing down and running away or flinching away from things. It is the process of identification through which we try to make internal and external things and experiences into "me and mine" or wholly '"other" than Me. (my bolding) This flies in the face of the three signs of existence - Anicca, Dukkha. Anatta - Impermanence. Stress or Suffering and No-Self. Because all conditioned existence is impermanent it gives rise to Dukkha, and this means that in conditioned existence there is no unchanging and permanent Self. There is nothing to grasp onto and also in reality, nothing or no 'one' to do the grasping! We grab onto or try to push away ever-changing dynamic processes. These attempts to control, limit us to little definitions of who we are. (my bolding)
3. The Noble Truth of the end of Dukkha, which is Nirvana or Nibbana. Beyond grasping and control and conditional existence is Nirvana. "The mind like fire unbound." The realisation of Nirvana is supreme Bodhi or Awakening. It is waking up to the true nature of reality. (just me again) It is waking up to our true nature. Buddha Nature. The Pali Canon of Theravada, the foundational Buddhist teachings, says little about Nirvana, using terms like the Unconditioned the Deathless, and the Unborn. Mahayana teachings speak more about the qualities of Nirvana and use terms like, True Nature, Original Mind, Infinite light and Infinite life. (me) Beyond space and time. Nirvana defies definition.
Nirvana literally means "unbound' as in "Mind like fire unbound". This beautiful image is of a flame burning by itself. Just the flame,(m) not something burning and giving off a flame. Picture a flame burning on a wick or stick, it seems to hover around or just above the thing burning. The flame seems to be independent of the thing burning but it clings to the stick and is bound to it. This sense of the flame being unbound has often been misunderstood to mean the flame is extinguished or blown out. This is completely opposite to the meaning of the symbol. The flame "burns" and gives light but is no longer bound to any combustible material. (Cool) The flame is not blown out - the clinging and the clung to is extinguished. The flame of our true nature, which is awakening, burns independently. Ultimately Nirvana is beyond conception and intellectual understanding. Full understanding only comes through direct experience of this "state' which is beyond the limitations and definitions of space and time.
4. The Noble Truth of the Path that leads to Awakening.
The path is a paradox. It is a conditioned thing that is said to help you to the unconditioned.(m) Awakening is not "made" by anything: it is not a product of anything including the Buddha's teachings. Awakening, your true nature is already always present. We are just not awake to this reality. Clinging to limitation, and attempts to control the ceaseless flow of phenomena and process obscures our true nature.
So now John describes that 8-fold path: See what you think.
The path is a process to help you remove or move beyond the conditioned responses that obscure your true nature. In this sense the Path is ultimately about unlearning rather than learning - another paradox. We learn so we can unlearn and uncover. The Buddha called his teaching a Raft.(my bold) To cross a turbulent river we may need to build a raft. When built, we single-mindedly and with great energy make our way across. Once across we don't need to cart the raft around with us. In other words don't cling to anything including the teachings. (me) However, make sure you use them before you let them go. It's no use knowing everything about the raft and not getting on. The teachings are tools not dogma. The teachings are Upaya, which means skillful means or expedient method. It is fingers pointing at the moon - don't confuse the finger for the moon. (love that image)
1. * Samma-Ditthi — RIGHT Vision, also translated as right view or understanding. Vision of the nature of reality and the path of transformation.
2. Samma-Sankappa — RIGHT Emotion or Aspiration, also translated as right thought or attitude. Liberating emotional intelligence in your life and acting from love and compassion.(me) An informed heart and feeling mind that are free to practice letting go.
3. Samma-Vaca — RIGHT or whole Speech. Also called right speech. Clear, truthful, uplifting and non-harmful communication.
4. Samma-Kammanta — RIGHT Action. Also called right action. An ethical foundation for life based on the principle of non-exploitation of oneself and others. The five precepts.
5. Samma-Ajiva — RIGHT Livelihood. Also called right livelihood. This is a livelihood based on correct action the ethical principal of non-exploitation. The basis of an Ideal society.
6. Samma-Vayama — RIGHT or Full Effort, Energy or Vitality. Also called right effort or diligence. Consciously directing our life energy to the transformative path of creative and healing action that fosters wholeness. Conscious evolution.
7. Samma-Sati — RIGHT or Thorough Awareness. Also called "right mindfulness". Developing awareness, "if you hold yourself dear watch yourself well". Levels of Awareness and mindfulness - of things, oneself, feelings, thought, people and Reality.
8. Samma-Samadhi — RIGHT or FULL Integral or Holistic Samadhi. This is often translated as concentration, meditation, absorption or one-pointedness of mind. None of these translations is adequate. Samadhi literally means to be fixed, absorbed in or established at one point, thus the first level of meaning is concentration when the mind is fixed on a single object. The second level of meaning goes further and represents the establishment, not just of the mind, but also of the whole being in various levels or modes of consciousness and awareness. This is Samadhi in the sense of enlightenment or Buddhahood.
* The word Samma means 'proper', 'whole', 'thorough', 'integral', 'complete', and 'perfect' - related to English 'summit' - It does not necessarily mean 'right', as opposed to 'wrong'. However it is often translated as "right" which can send a less than accurate message. For instance the opposite of 'Right Awareness' is not necessarily 'Wrong Awareness'. It may simply be incomplete. Use of the word 'right' may make for a neat or consistent list of qualities in translations. The down side is that it can give the impression that the Path is a narrow and moralistic approach to the spiritual life. I use variant interpretations so you consider the depth of meanings. What do these things mean in your life right now?
MY IDEAS ABOUT WRITING COME, I suppose, FROM THE 3RD PRECEPT--RIGHT SPEECH, that is, right communication.
I see it's possible to approach writing as an 8-fold path to effective workplace writing...as a daily mindfulness practice.
Here is that path.
1. Right ISSUE--This is where communication begins--the issue (the area of concern/interest shared by both reader and writer). The issue is why the writer writes and why the reader reads. If you don't share an issue in common with your reader, good luck communicating. Of course, part of your task as a writer might be to persuade the reader that the issue is a subject/problem/concern he/she SHOULD BE INTERESTED IN!
2. Right CONTENT--Content is driven by the reader's questions...all the questions the reader would ask if he were face-to-face with the writer AND all the questions the reader should ask but may not know enough to ask. Developing these questions is an essential first step in mindful everyday writing. These questions should be all those questions that best allow the reader to understand/deal with the issue that generated the need to communicate.
Content is also the direct answers to those questions. It is also all the supporting information required to elaborate on those initial answers--these turn out to be answers to the smaller questions that the larger questions create. We think of this as evidence or persuasive details.
3. Right ORGANIZATION--People are busy. Most readers appreciate it when you get to the point, then discuss as necessary. Did this blog post get to the point up front? At least I gave fair warning that this was a long and chatty post. I gave a general outline of the journey right up front. I imagine few eyes will get to this sentence. But it's the price I pay for being long winded in an age of...instant gratification?
You organize effectively when you tell readers up front why you're writing and why they should care. You organize effectively when you preview your main points/topics up front for the reader--kind of like a train schedule that previews what stops the train will be making on the way to its eventual destination. Use headings to show the reader where each main point/topic begins. At some point, the logical organization must become visible to the reader, a necessity that leads to the next step on the 8-fold path.
4. Right DOCUMENT DESIGN--Make the organizational structure visible to the reader. As I mentioned above, use headings to show where new sections begin. Make it easy for readers to get to the information they need/want. I know it goes against current practice, but I like to create "visual texture" throughout a document by using bold type and sometimes CAPITAL LETTERS and even italics to create visual emphasis and to punch the reader's attention as she reads. Use graphics and visuals and video, etc., when your medium permits. I haven't mastered the document design capabilities of this blog platform, so my blogs are regrettably heavily text based. Sorry. I'm an old man....
5. Right PARAGRAPHS--Writers should pay more attention to the architecture of their paragraphs. Where's the topic sentence? Should it come first? Why not? When it's in the middle or at the end, it's not getting the emphasis it deserves. Are all the sentences focused on developing that main point? Is there a logical, coherent flow from sentence to sentence? Has the "know/new contract" (https://www.cmu.edu/gcc/handouts/Old-New%20handout%20.pdf) been followed? If not, why? How's the paragraph length? Paragraphs that grow beyond about 8-10 LINES (not sentences) become more difficult for readers to follow...AND the info stuck in the middle receives much less emphasis.
6. Right SENTENCES--Build a strong sentence core. Not just S-V-O. The SUBJECT should state the person/thing/idea that is doing the acting in the sentence. The main VERB should state the true action--what's really going on. And the direct OBJECT should be who or whatever is receiving the action. Pay attention to left-, right-, and mid-branching sentences (http://elibrary.mediu.edu.my/books/2015/MEDIU11451.pdf--see chapter 10). Check your coordination and subordination (https://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/successful-writing/s11-02-coordination-and-subordination.html). Think perhaps about periodic and cumulative structures (http://www.powa.org/revise/designing-effective-sentences.html?showall=&start=4).
7. Right WORDS--Our diction (word choices) affects accuracy, emphasis, tone, and ethos. It's probably a good idea to prefer plain English (http://centerforplainlanguage.org/). I define PE as writing with the same words you use on the job with co-workers, customers, and clients every single day. Why should writing require an elevated diction that seems like English on stilts??? PE is NOT about dumbing down the content--NEVER, NEVER. Whatever you have to say, you can say it plainly. Define essential words I may not know so I can follow along--AEROTRIANGULATION???...a method of determining the coordinates of points of a terrain on the basis of aerial photographs. Say what you mean; mean what you say. Something like that.
8. Right MECHANICS--Spelling, punctuation, capitalization, etc., all these are important to writing mindfully. These "rules" aren't so hard to learn and even easier to look up these days. Sweat the detail. Proofread. Know that mistakes will happen. Do your best. Understand that perfection is considered evil by some cultures. Think of each little mistake as a spirit trail, letting the bad spirits out and the good spirits in.
Writing is all about connecting with "the other." So it's an act of compassion. When I do writing teaching/training, I find my "students" like having a systematic method for working through the writing process. The 8-fold Path of wisdom for mindful everyday writing is not a bad place to start. Think about it.