A Fuller Life: How Alexandra Helped Me Break Out of Prison

By: Aarathi Sahadevan

October 31st was a wet and gray day, making it ideal for those warm, deep discussions and connections that we all hoped for at this year’s writer’s festival. Equipped with a notebook I was intent on filling, a pen, and eager anticipation, I was confident that Alexandra Fuller would impart some great wisdom that would miraculously transform me into a “real writer”: one who could shape any topic with the shear forces of perception and prose. But as I entered the writing center, expecting furious writing until something good escaped the recesses of my mind, I was told instead to sit crisscross applesauce on the floor and meditate. I sat there for 20 minutes forcing my thoughts, like loose papers in the wind, to drift away from me, trying as hard as I could to isolate that dull pain in my back as simply a sensation, and imagining how I could turn this experience into something worth reading. That 20 minutes seemed to drag on for an hour as I sat with only myself for company. Suddenly, I felt heavy thoughts that I had chosen to ignore in the hustle bustle of daily life slowly resurfacing to the forefront, shouting for my attention when I had no option but to listen. It was then I began to glimpse the meaning behind Fuller’s mantra, “Get comfortable with discomfort.” When it was finally time to return to that circle on the floor of the Writing center, we began to share with each other where our minds had led us.  Later, when we repeated the same exercise for only 5 minutes, I remember how short it felt and how much less restless I was to leave my discomfort behind.

As the day stretched on, Alexandra slowly eased us more and more into the idea of facing what makes us least comfortable, and how these feelings are at the crux of honest, interesting and real writing. Entranced by laughter, awe, and sorrow, we sat on the floor enjoying the simple honesty and clarity of performances ranging from Sara Bareilles’ music video for “Brave” to a heart-wrenching prison narrative. As we absorbed the idea of depth through simplicity that these different stories showed, Alexandra taught us that writing is not the mastery of a technique, but the mastery of a confrontation of oneself. You don’t need a fancy vocabulary, or varied structure to create something that resonates with others; all you need is the courage and ability to write what is real and true to you.

We ended the day, logically, by walking to Fairmount Circle and having a group meditation in public. This activity really tested how comfortable we were with discomfort, both physically and mentally. I walked silently towards Ben and Jerry’s in debilitating fear of the disapproval of random strangers, but as we joined together to sit for 15 minutes, I closed my eyes and felt, contrary to what I imagined, confident. It was weirdly empowering to be able to just plop down on the middle of the street and be able to command the attention of random passersby by doing absolutely nothing. The cold wind didn’t seem to phase me, and I found myself smiling and almost laughing to myself multiple times as I imagined wide eyed people gaping at us while they drove by. It was still uncomfortable, don’t get me wrong, but in that moment I felt trained almost to internalize that discomfort and simply enjoy being with myself, even if I didn’t like what I had to say. When we returned to the Hath, I felt as if I had broken down one “bar” of those inhibitions that imprison my actions. As we discussed what our prisons were and how we could break free of their tight grasp, Alexandra gave us the security that we had the ability to do what was necessary to escape, even if we didn’t know how yet.

Sources: Picture from Sam Keum