The Felt Mind versus the Processor Mind


In a 2006 issue of TIFERET, I came across an association with massage to writing that resonated. In
an interview with writer Brenda Miller, Miller (also a massseuse) says
that in massage a masseuse must be intuitive and listen intently to
what is going on. Writing, she says, is similar: You have to get into
that intuitive state.

She’s spot on. I’ve been writing about this very thing lately. A few weeks ago, I was refining some material for an e-mail Yoga and Writing course I’m teaching this month on Yoga, Writing, and Writing Into the True Self, and I thought this group might appreciate some of it:


A character’s body, its infinite parts and endless history, grounds my writer’s “processor mind.” My processor mind is the mind that
strives to explain away, to over-think and analyze, to complete the
story or poem long before my imagination and hands have even reached
the tenth sentence or line. It is all sky and meaning and figuring out;
it is little earth.

If I can imagine how a character’s hands finesse a hammer and even what the fingers look like – sausages or drum sticks or budding hickory
branches in summer – then my processor mind gives way to the felt mind.
The felt mind strokes textures, senses what only Doris’s skin on her
spotted forearms feels like on this one icy blue January morning. The
felt mind hears the sounds of syllables and lets words wash over the
inner ear and insides of my own fingers even as I write. If the
processor mind is made of air and steel, then the felt mind is made of
silk and sinew, of felt and grit. It is mostly earth.


I access the felt mind at key moments when writing, moments that are difficult, I admit, to distinguish. When I hear language lag or clunk,
when I feel it grow cumbersome and stale like some scholar’s stack of
moldy books, then I pause and listen for the words behind the words,
the textures beneath the phrases. When I hear the writing voice strain
to explain to the reader some point – Do you get it? Are you following
me? – then I close my eyes and let the sound of breath lead my
imagination to an image. A bulbous nose the shape of a large garlic
clove appears on the face of Doris’s date. A pang arises in an uncle’s
generous belly. The image brings my language back to earth, so to
speak, and gives my imagination – and that of my readers – something to
hold on to.


To arouse my felt mind, I regularly bring a character’s body to the mat. The mat has helped me sense, paradoxically, what it must have felt
like to be that 26-year-old lonely workaholic who shares my name with
no notion of his body below his neck. The mat has helped me explore the
body of Doris, an imagined 58-year-old woman who, I think for now at
least, is a not-too-bitter widow and who, while trying to revive her
dating life, grieves her southward-bound breasts. My existing
emotional body – with its own creaky crevices and layers of sensations
– is my grounding point. The emotional body mixed with embodied
imagination and intuition lure me into these character’s body-scapes
that I might do justice to their experience.

Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction writer Robert Olen Butler actually uses the word “trance” to describe to his undergrads in
Florida what they need to get into in order to write. “Do whatever you
need to,” he says in essence, “to get into that waking dream state.”


This subtle yoga and meditation practice entrances me and gives me entrance to the felt mind. Studies on Yoga Nidra and other yogic practices have shown that even beginning practitioners
demonstrate increased emotional intelligence – and their brain
stimulation corroborates that the brain’s limbic system (what we might
call the brain’s emotional zone) communicates with the brain’s
somatosensory region (where stimulation for touch and body orientation

Thanks for your comments on previous posts, by the way. I’d love to hear more about your experiences with yoga & writing.

– Jeffrey

Fiction Editor, Tiferet



C E N T E R T O P A G E . C O M

The Journey from the Center to the Page (Monkfish 2008; Penguin 2004)


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