The first time I ate lunch by myself at a fancy-ish restaurant, I was in my late twenties. I showed up with myself and a book for company and the waiter asked me when I walked in, “Party of one?” Yes, please. Party of one. And it popped in my head as I’m telling you now, happiness, party of orange. It doesn’t make sense and if you asked me how it felt to eat lunch alone that day, I would say something like “It was nice!” But happiness, party of orange is what I really thought. I translated it for you – nice.

Natalie Goldberg says first thoughts have tremendous energy. These are the things we actually see and feel before our rational and logical selves edit all our first thoughts out. In other words, there are things we think we should see and feel, and those are the things we say out loud rather than what really is. And sometimes it takes time to uncover what our first thoughts are.

Every time I hear the title of her book, Writing Down the Bones, I picture a quill pen moving hand-lessly down the spine of a skeleton.  I haven’t finished it yet, evidence of my horrible habit of reading 10 books at a time. But what I’ve read, I’ve swallowed up whole without chewing. Her thoughts on writing make my eyes big and my heart hungry.

In her chapter called First Thoughts, she introduces the timed exercise common in writing practice where you make yourself write for a specific amount of time. The only rules?

  • You can’t stop
  • You can’t cross out
  • You can’t worry about punctuation or grammar
  • You must lose control
  • You must not be logical
  • If something comes into your writing that scares you, you must dive right into it.

It frustrates me how difficult this exercise is. It should be easy because there are no rules (except the rule that there are no rules). But it isn’t easy, at least not for me. That type of exercise is something I would do in private because it often takes me some time to uncover my true thoughts about things. But the gift of that writing exercise is that it gets me to honest places, places I haven’t always felt free to explore. Isn’t that interesting? It takes time to uncover my first thought. First thoughts can be scary, weird, raw, and sacred. We have to wade through the muck of our own manners to be able to look them in the eye without blinking.

And so I’m taking a bit of  a risk today in asking you for a first thought – after all, I just told you it often takes time to arrive there. But I’m thinking a lot lately about art and life and living, and I’m looking for words that help describe it, words that perhaps hold more weight than my rational mind will allow. Might you be willing to join me in the thinking and give yourself permission to answer this question in the most honest way you can? Here’s the question:

When you are doing that thing that makes you come alive, or living your life in a way that pleases you, what words or phrases come to mind that describe how it makes you feel? I’ll answer in the comments.