Writer and teacher of yoga and meditation, Helen Lehndorf answers this week’s 5 quick questions. She will be one of the seven hosts at our upcoming Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat
1. What drew you to writing?
For me writing is all about seeking connection with other people. I try to articulate my experiences as honestly and clearly as I can, in the hope that a person reading it might find a connecting thread to grab on to, so that the experience they have in reading my work, is of a common humanity shared.
2. Most of your published work is poetry and creative non-fiction, what is it about these two forms that really excites you? And do you see that keeping ‘true to the facts’ is something that is important in poetry?
What I write reflects what I read, I suppose. I only read about two novels a year! I have an insatiable appetite for memoirs, creative nonfiction and documentaries, and I always have a stack of poetry books beside my bed, which I delve in and out of. I think that ‘real life’ is incredible, complex, magical and endlessly compelling. Poetry I enjoy because it’s a bit of a blunt force instrument (the good stuff, at least) gets in, gives you a good whack to the heart or mind, and then it’s over! No way do I think poets should worry about ‘facts’ – their first consideration should be ‘am I doing interesting, compelling things with words and images here?’.
3. Some writers talk about writing as a spiritual practice, how do you see writing and especially in relation to your other practices as a yoga and meditation teacher?
When I consistently ‘show up’ to the page, sometimes I have moments when the writing seems to come from nowhere, or it appears in a form which seems to have little to do with me in terms of my rational, functional life or what I thought I was sitting down to write…these (rare!) moments can feel to me, ‘spiritual’ (if you like) as if I am working in a partnership with forces unseen. But I am a bit nervous to talk too much about the ‘s’ word, because it can turn people off and is easily dismissed as ‘woo-woo’ or new-agey. I think the most ‘spiritual’ practice as a writer, (and a human) is deep, sustained attention, being AWAKE to what is around us and not sleepwalking through one’s life. Usually artistic people have this practice, which is also the core of mindfulness practice: steady sustained attention, the skill to notice in a meta-way, to observe our own thought processes and habits, and the ability to hold a place of equanimity in the midst of chaos.
4. What are you working on now?
I am working on my ‘difficult second book’ of poetry – which is only difficult because I am unwilling to declare it done just yet, despite having worked on it since 2012, but I want to feel confident that I have written to the best of my ability, and I’m not there yet. I’m also writing a book with the working title of ‘The Attention Almanac’ (see last question) which is a book about the keeping a journal and how it supports creative and emotional processes. It will be a very visual book. I just received some funding from the Earle Creativity Trust to complete it so, all going well, it will be finished towards the end of 2016.
5. Can you tell us a bit more about eco-psychology and what writers should expect from your workshop?
There is a really good definition of eco-psychology by Robert Greenway here
The reason I have used it in my workshop description, is because I have found it a very useful concept in teasing out what ‘nature’ writing looks like in the 21st Century, when any thought about ‘nature’ is echoed with anxieties about environmental degradation. This affects us as humans, in how we see ourselves as a species and our place on the earth. Eco-psychology is an exciting and innovative, relatively new discipline, which takes this in to consideration and helps people negotiate a path through these convoluted feelings and shadows. In my reading for the poetry book I am writing, I have gone through the gamut of emotions about humans. I used to say nihilistic things about not caring so much about humans, so long as the planet survives, etc, and within contemporary environmental writing there is a lot of apocalyptic thinking. I’ve moved away from that a bit now. Now I think we are in relationship with the earth (rather than believing we are like fleas on a dog, which is what I used to think) and I also have more hope than I used to, which is ironic, given all the dark things I have read! I think Gen Y and younger are incredible people, being born and raised into this new century without the nostalgia for simpler times us (relatively) older people are sullied with and I think they will achieve positive, healing cultural, social and environmental changes we can’t even begin to imagine.
In my workshop, we’ll discuss some ideas about eco-psychology, bioregionalism and what it means to be ‘indigenous’ to a place. We’ll read some new nature writing and look at some techniques and tropes, and of course, bearing all this in mind, we’ll write! We’ll be exploring our own voices in relation to nature and place. I’m so looking forward to it! Thank you.