Expressing the Ineffable: A Brief Practice

November 6th, 2023 — 7:07pm

I’m at a loss for words. The tragedy that is unfolding in Israel and Gaza, the continued tragedy of Ukraine, the global rise in overt antisemitism, all of it makes me pause.  What words can you write when you can’t find the words?

There is a word for that — “ineffable” — meaning too great or extreme to express in words. This includes both the beautiful and the horrific. This word describes the moment we are in.

My heart is breaking. But I am committed to finding the words, to name and witness what is happening in the world and within me. Grief. Despair. Love. I use these very words in my daily writing practice. I believe the act of committing words to paper is healing. I find writing in a safe circle of women healing. 

And so I’d like to share with you a brief writing practice for the time we are living in.

This practice is simple and can go deep. Using poetry as a prompt, we write quickly and steadily, pen not leaving the page. I chose this month’s poem, “The Peace of Wild Things,” by Wendell Berry, because it acknowledges both the truth of suffering and the possibility of grace. 

Below are brief instructions, as well as an accompanying video. Our souls are worthy of expression. This is the gift of this practice.


You can do this practice alone or with a trusted friend.

What you’ll need:

Ten minutes of quiet

A pen

Some paper or a journal. (I recommend pen and paper instead of your computer. It is a more visceral experience.)

1. Set your timer to ten minutes or have a clock handy.

2. Read the poem below out loud.

3. Choose one of the jump off lines from the poem:

  • When despair for the world grows in me
  • The peace of wild things
  • I rest in the grace of the world

Or you can use an alternate line: A few things I might want to write about…

4. Read the poem aloud one more time —then…

5. Begin writing. Pen doesn’t leave the page. Keep your belly soft. Say yes to what arises. If you’re stuck use the line, “Here’s what I want to say”… and keep writing.  When the time is done, put the pen down. Take a few deep breaths, then…

6. Read your piece aloud to yourself. Reading aloud helps your words land in your body. (Or read to a trusted friend. If reading in pairs, please do not comment on your friend’s writing. Simply acknowledge non-verbally, like nodding your head or prayer, hands and bear witness. This is part of creating a safe space.)

7. Take a few breaths. Your practice is now complete.

The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For the time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


I will be offering a free, one hour writing practice on Tuesday, November 28, 6:00 to 7:00 PM PT. If you’re interested, please email me at to receive a zoom link.

The next round of Women’s Writing Circles begins January 10, both on zoom and in my home in Berkeley. Join our wonderful and supportive community of women as we write our truths together. You can read more at, or email me for more info.

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