Applied Mindfulness: Writing a Letter

Writing a letter slows us down enough to remember what communication really feels like. 

When we read our thoughts on paper, we see ourselves not just from our habitual subjective perspective but also from the outside. Psychologists call this "reflective functioning": It gives us the capacity both to feel an experience and to make sense of it.

Choose a Message and a Recipient
Write someone with a message you need to communicate anyway, or for no reason at all. You can also write a letter you'll never send: Say everything you feel, especially the things you know you would later regret.

Or Write to Someone who Can't Read It
When our first son turned 1, my wife wrote him a letter describing who he was and who we were at that moment. He's 13 now, and when she reads him the letter, he listens raptly; she and I are in tears. You could also write to someone who has gone out of your life -- someone who's hurt you or whom you've hurt, or someone you still long for.

Do a Mental Rough Draft
Figure out the most concise, elegant way to say it. Write it down. Can you feel the scrape of your pen against the paper? That's friction. Let that sensation blossom into a feeling of frustration. ("It doesn't have to take this long.") Then see if you can transform that frustration. Can you experience it not as an impediment but as a feeling of heightened anticipation?

Seal the Deal
Reread your letter and put it in an envelope. Address the envelope and include the return address. Do this all by hand -- no labels allowed! Wait. If you'll be sending it, think about the small thrill you still get when you receive a personal letter in the mail. Know that you are giving this to someone else.

(Andrew Peterson is a psychotherapist and the author of "The Next Ten Minutes: 51 Absurdly Simple Ways to Seize the Moment," Copyright 2010 Atria Books/Beyond Words, from which this excerpt is adapted.)

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