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Mindful : April 2016
the original images becoming simplified in the handling. By 1200 BCE, an alphabet of 22 let- ters emerged with the Phoenician traders and evolved over time into the Roman letters. This syllabic system was efficient for commerce. It also remained a magical portal linking the inner voice with the outer world, bringing thoughts into form through the movement of the hand and stylus on the page. A recent article in the New York Times (“What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades”) described a study at Indiana University where children who had not yet learned to read or write were asked to draw a letter freehand, then trace it from a dotted outline, and then press the cor- rect key on the computer. The researchers were amazed to see that the brain activity from the freehand drawing action was stronger, firing off in three different areas, while the tracing and typing motions barely stimulated the brain at all. The article went on say that apparently children who handwrite are able to generate ideas more easily, and that older students seem to retain information better when they take lecture notes by hand. There is something about the messiness of writing, its variable nature, that wakes us up, fires the synapses, brings us to the task at hand. That ancient way of understand- ing the world through drawing is still at work in the process of handwriting. It turns out it’s the imperfection and changeableness of how we write that sparks our creative flow. Whether you enjoy your handwriting, or are embarrassed and uncomfortable with it, getting on the page each day with some “slow writing” can open your channels of creativity and keep them humming. This is not about improving your handwriting, anymore than meditation is about improving your character (though both may happen as a side benefit!). It’s a practice of seeing ourselves through how we write, allowing our handwriting, and ourselves, to be unique, quirky, imperfect—and appreciated. When I write by hand I come under the spell of the forms and the magic and mystery of who I am and how I show up in this world—the confused, shaky self, the graceful easy moments, or the part that doesn’t know what to say next. The letters are the marks left behind, the tracks of my inner journey through this life. When I write by hand, the familiar shapes tumble out and make new combinations. But it is something about the physical act—the holding of the hand and pen—that is meditative, bringing me into the present. The body sensations are the founda- tion—the ache, the touch, the softness of the paper. The moving line is the breath that keeps flowing along. And the words that show up on the page are the thoughts taking shape, the weather appearing on the horizon. → Handwriting is one of humanity’s most amazing and most influential inven- tions. It is rooted in artistic representa- tion—images etched in sand, rocks, and walls that eventu- ally morphed into letterforms. When we write by hand, we are still performing that ancient act of using our hands to recreate what’s in our minds. 74 mindful April 2016 practices insight