Writing in Community

By Maxine Hong Kingston

During 1993, I have had one of the most gratifying years of my life working with the Community of Mindful Living giving writing workshops to war veterans.

We called each day we gathered a Day of Mindfulness. We introduced ourselves by telling about our lives as veterans and as writers. After this, I spoke about literally inspiring ourselves with breathing meditation. We meditated together, gathering our collective energy. Then I gave a lecture on writing.

During the August session, Larry Heinemann gave a talk; and on November 21, George Evans spoke. Larry and George are both Vietnam veterans. I had invited these two men to give their ideas about transforming war trauma into art. Larry is a prize-winning novelist, and George is a poet who founded the nationwide Streetfare Journal program that puts poetry posters on buses. We covered the room at the Faculty Club on the U.C. Berkeley Campus with the posters. Then we did writing-in-community for an hour or two. We ended the morning session with walking meditation. When we timed things perfectly, upon returning from our walk, lunch was there to greet us. We ate in silent mindfulness. In the afternoon, we read aloud to one another, and listened, and responded. We ended the day with a sitting meditation.

The September and October workshops were incorporated as an integral part of the retreats led by Thay. All of us worked together integrating our artistic and spiritual lives. The groups of veterans and family members of veterans ranged from 15-35 people. There were people from the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Korean War, the war in Vietnam, the war in Panama, and the war in the Persian Gulf. Most of the people served in the Vietnam War. Surprisingly, quite a few women who had been abused joined our groups and made meaningful contributions. I have since heard about studies showing the affinity between abused women and veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

As a writer, I have been immeasurably blessed by all of the people I've worked with. They have inspired and heartened me. Writing in community, I write more and well. Qualitatively, my work with combat veterans affirms some ideas I've been contemplating in my book, tentatively entitled The Fifth Book of Peace. Knowing war, virtually all of the veterans are pacifists. And I have already seen many men and women change from traumatized victims to creative artists. Of course, this same kind of transformation is taking shape in me.

Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Woman Warrior, China Men, and Tripmaster Monkey, teaches creative writing at the University of California, Berkeley. She is currently writing a Book of Peace on the transforming powers of warriors.

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