Natalie Goldberg didn’t like the looks of us. Adrienne Mantegna and I, along with a hundred or so others, sat like dutiful attendees at a lecture, upright and attentive with notebooks and pens, in chairs neatly lined up in rows.
Like a firm Zen master, Natalie commanded, “I want you to crack open structure!” and pried open her empty hands as if she were breaking the spine of a book. So our massive group in Kripalu’s cavernous hall—formerly a chapel—spent the first few minutes of our weekend writing workshop dragging our chairs around the carpet, moving them out of the pattern, finding a proper space to breathe and do our work.
In the short introduction that followed, Natalie zeroed in on the physical act of writing: hand holding pen loosely, hand connected to arm, to heart, to head. We needed to write more with our bodies and hearts and less with our minds, Natalie emphasized, especially working to ignore the critic in our heads she termed “monkey mind.” This “monkey mind” simply distracts us from our writing practice and diminishes our true voice. With our physical space now improved—chairs rearranged, structure cracked open—and our tools ready, we could begin. “The only tools a writer needs,” she said, “are pen, paper, and the human mind.”