By: Terry Price
Spalding MFA Alumn in Fiction
“The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is…” ~ Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past, Volume 5 – “The Prisoner”
“People travel to wonder at the height of mountains. At the huge waves of the sea; at the long courses of rivers; at the vast compass of the ocean; at the circular motion of the stars: And they pass by themselves without wondering.” ~ St. Augustine
I remember years ago taking my first trip abroad to Colombia and how it changed me. I felt much like Dorothy arriving in Oz as I became hyper-aware of the colors. The greens of the mountains were deeper and more lush. The rich reds of ripe coffee beans were vibrant. Everywhere I looked there was color like I’d never seen before.
I returned to Tennessee a couple of weeks later, fully expecting the dull and muted world I had left but instead, was surprised to find the colors traveled with me. They had been there all along. It was my perception that had become dull and muted. Through travel, I became fully present in another country while absent for some time in my own. Before knowing it had a name, I was being mindful.
There were as many reasons to travel to Rome with the MFA program as there were people who traveled. Personally, I loved being with other alumni and friends in a sort of remote residency – the visits over pasta and wine, the discussions about life and creativity, visits to the Borghese, the Vatican, and Ostia Antica, and attending readings and plenary lectures. But I also loved roaming the streets with just my camera and my journal and writing in my room in the early mornings.
But one of the things I love most about traveling with the program is that I am reminded to be mindful. Tara Brach, an American psychologist and proponent of Buddhist meditation, says that mindfulness is a quality of awareness that recognizes exactly what is happening in our moment-to-moment experience. We get away from thoughts of yesterday and tomorrow. We are here, right at this moment, fully present rather than focusing on nostalgia for the past or fear of the future.
Mindfulness is important for all of us but is essential for the artist. If you’re fully present, you’re engaged with the moment whether it be at the page or away from it. If you’re at the page, mindfulness will help you focus on your thoughts and words. If you’re being mindful, you’re not worrying about critics, editors, or publishers, or even the next draft for that matter. You’re not feeling guilt over not having written or, perhaps, not having written well enough.
When you’re away from the page, mindfulness helps you see colors and experience sounds, scents, and tactile touches you might have missed or, at the least, not fully embraced. Photographer, Norbert Oksza Strzelecki said in an interview in FujiLove Magazine, “I am constantly training my eyes, brain and heart to find in everyday situations something that could hold the viewer at least for a second longer.” I like this. As a writer, I should also be training my eyes, brain and heart to find things that could compel a reader to turn a page. I keep an image and sensory notebook with me, both home and abroad, and contemporaneously make notes as I experience things rather than relying on pat or stereotypical descriptions in my writing. Being mindful and writing down experiences can help enrich our stories and make them more real to the reader.
Do you practice mindfulness? If so, what are your experiences? Are there any tricks you use? I still carry a Metro pass from my MFA trip to Paris in my backpack which reminds me to be mindful here as I am abroad.
I can experience mindfulness anywhere and at any time but sometimes I need to be reminded to be mindful. Traveling abroad with the MFA in Writing program is an amazing experience in itself but I continue to receive dividends both personally and professionally long after returning home. Next year, the program travels to Edinburgh and I’m already saving my pence and pounds for the adventure.
Terry Price graduated with his MFA in Writing from Spalding University in May, 2006, with an emphasis in fiction. He currently serves as director of the MFA in Writing Alumni Association. Terry is a creative coach, photographer, and leads creative retreats and workshops. He lives and writes on his Tennessee farm with his family, two dogs and lots of squirrels.