Danziger discusses meditative writing

Zoe Thompson, Contributing Writer

Emmy Award-winning actress Maia Danziger, an NYU alumna, returned on Sept. 5 to the Gallatin School of Individualized Study to discuss her meditative writing program, Relax and Write.

Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis in 1994 led Danziger to develop the program.

“I was bald, exhausted and terrified,” Danziger said during the discussion. “It took me out of the flow of creativity. I needed to dig deep and see what could lead me forward.”

Post-diagnosis, Danziger used writing as a form of processing and she eventually became open to life’s new possibilities.

“I want my life to be a work of art,” she said. “I will care that I lived well, not about the art I leave behind.”

Her new philosophy included the creation of Relax and Write, which is based in Los Angeles. Relax and Write combines the sense memory acting technique with the meditative processes Danziger acquired when practicing with monks in the Dalai Lama’s monastery.

Screenwriters, awarded actors and members of the public have attended the program. Additionally, Danziger, who founded the Actor’s Company Theater in New York, incorporates pro-bono work, which uses creative writing to encourage the healing process in other breast cancer survivors.

“I teach five days a week for a captive audience,” Danziger said. “I’m performing and hearing stories, and I’m always on the edge of my seat.”

The methods used in the program aim to access the unconscious mind in order to enable the individual to enter a deep, relaxed state, which in turn provides an openness for creativity.

“When you become practiced accessing the unconscious, all forms of writing are enhanced, not only creative writing,” said Gallatin professor Laurin Raiken, who organized the event. “When writing nonfiction, one is often inspired by the imagery that emerges from the unconscious, but then uses the filtering process of our conscious attention to make effective use of such imagery in such disciplines as journalism and critical essays.”

Though artists are often critical of themselves, the program aims to help them open up to their creativity and embrace it.

“[Writing from the unconscious] means attempting to write underneath and beyond the normal critic we each have in our heads in our everyday rational consciousness,” Raiken said. “It means allowing images, feelings and ideas to manifest themselves on behalf of one’s search to go beyond normal boundaries, despite whatever blockages, resistance or criticism one’s consciousness or superego critic might attempt to impose.

Through Relax and Write, Danziger’s work was positively affected, and it helped her find herself after dramatic life challenges.

“Jumping down the rabbit hole of the unconscious is the single most life-changing thing I ever did,” Danziger said.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Sept. 11 print edition. Email Zoe Thompson at [email protected].