Mantu Joshi wrote me in 2014 to tell me that my book The Productive Writer had helped him believe he could write a book. In two hours a week for two years, he wrote that book. And now it was published. He invited me to his book launch reading for The Resilient Parent, which happened to be in my city. I attended.
I wept through the entire reading. This man’s wisdom, grace, and beauty humbled me, awakened me, softened me. And in this receptive state, I had unprecedented discoveries about my own family’s healing process as we moved through divorce into separate but blended lives. I believe Mantu’s “raw-edged and love-powered approach to practical mindfulness for anyone struggling to keep their sanity in difficult relationships/circumstances” can help you engage more deeply in the possibilities of any challenge you are facing.
I am thrilled and honored to introduce you to Mantu here, through our conversation about the fierce writing life.
How has parenting two children with neurobehavioral special needs made you fierce—in writing, and in life?
When you have the unending work of parenting two very young children with special needs, your brain turns to mush. Fatigue on top of fatigue creates a distortion of your own self-care, like a milk container you forgot was in the back of the fridge, you know something is off back there, but it is easier not to face it. Fierce writing is having the courage to reach back there and rather than pinching your nose, you take a generous whiff. . . and you gag on your own vomit. When you find your way to air, you write that down. For me, the writing became a way of cleaning out the fridge. I wrote about what was keeping me sane (mostly) and healthy. The result was something that helped people clear out their own existential messes.
You wrote The Resilient Parent in only two hours a week, over the course of two years. How did you sustain your focus, commitment, and momentum throughout this span of time?
Because I only had two hours, I actually had to remove any ambition or expectation in my writing. A professional opera tenor cannot sing in his upper register unless he completely lets go of tension and lets his larynx flip unhindered. Not to let go completely actually causes vocal damage. This would be like an Olympian who doesn’t stretch before a floor routine. I was handling my own trauma, so I had to be gentle with myself. I also made a rule that I would only write during those two hours. If something came to me outside of that time, I made a post-it note of a key word, and then I put it aside. I simply had no time to do it any other way. And no energy to force anything.
When I came to the writing, I imagined my good friends around me. I took in a warm cup of something with chocolate. I read a bit from your book, The Productive Writer and then I wrote as if I was listening in on a conversation in the coffee shop around me. I simply recorded what my mind had already chewed on on its own. I wrote the pieces mostly front to back with no editing. I did not look back for several months at a time. I focused only on the writing before me. When I was about half-way finished, and now was under contract to finish the book, I just decided to pretend that there was no pressure.
Was there momentum? I did not experience it as momentum. It felt more like words tumbling and then falling in the order they wanted. The ferocity was in a focus on letting go. In that space and freedom, came something that was already there, just out of reach until I wrote it down.
Oh, and I watched no TV, almost no radio, and stopped reading Face Book for almost two years. This forced my under stimulated mind to come up with something. Laying fallow during the week seemed to supercharge my creativity. Instead, I read Hemingway, and took a fifteen minute bath each night to settle down. And I did the unthinkable for me before. I just slept an extra hour each night. Since I was being woken two, three, or even four times each night, this was essential to my writing power.
What did writing this book teach you about who you are, what you believe, and what you have to offer?
For me, writing the book was a lot like standing at the back of the boat and watching the wake behind you. I was able to look hard at my own limitations. I was also able to see that I had become something new. I was able to look back on my own strength and capacity for resilience.
What qualities or practices or beliefs do you believe are at the core of resilience?
The core of resilience is grace. Something greater than you is reconciling and making things right again. But we are also social beings. So the core of resilience is helping each other to regulate our emotions, and coaxing each other back toward wholeness. Co-regulation and processing grief well are two often overlooked keys to finding your ground.
Resilience is not about staying sane or handling stress well. It is not about bouncing back. We never bounce back. Real resilience is holding on to your people and your beliefs in such a way that the hard stuff takes you to a new place. True resilience is letting go of where you were, and embracing the new becoming of who you will soon be. A caterpillar does not try to survive the enzymes and cell changes that eat it alive in the cocoon, only to crawl out of the situation. The only way out is to discover a totally new way of being. This new meaning making is the key to resilient people.
You are a minister and a chaplain. And you have described your “brokenness” as significant asset in this work. Can you tell me what the gifts of brokenness are in your life and your work?
One of our children became so violent, that we had to remove him from our home permanently. A loss of a child in this way is as traumatic as losing a child through death in a car accident. Your brain changes permanently with the loss. It is in a way broken from trauma.
But trauma can be a gift in a way. What I have found is that my internal brokenness is a posture, both of humility and an invitation to others to be broken too. Accepting yourself is also accepting others. Your heart and mind don’t know the difference. People sense that you are not going to judge them. Writing without judgement for yourself or your readers generates a kind of freedom. Transformative writing can only truly happen when planted in the broken freedom places. These are the spaces for new meaning to take place.
Mantu Joshi is the author of a raw-edged and love-powered approach to practical mindfulness for anyone struggling to keep their sanity in difficult relationships/circumstances. His book The Resilient Parent: Everyday Wisdom for Life with Your Exceptional Child has changed thousands of people’s lives. Contact him at email@example.com or Facebook.com/theresilientparent.
Mantu will be reading with the Fierce on the Page Reading Series on October 26. If you’re in the Portland, Oregon area, you won’t want to miss this.