Posts Tagged ‘souls’

The Gift

February 16, 2008

“You need a spiritual pilgrimage. Begin by closing your mouth.”

Sayings of the Egyptian Fathers, from: The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations on the Soul’s Ascent, from the Desert Fathers and other Early Christian Contemplatives

Seems that the Desert Fathers, and Uri Shulevitz, though centuries apart, understood one of the rules for being a writer – there are times you have to shut up.

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The Post – Writing: Fear, Luck, or Burn the Ships?

February 5, 2008

I know I am lucky because I have a chance at a dream. I have the rare chance to write my books, my blog, do what I’ve dreamed of. There are moments though, where I’ve considered that a curse, not luck, and I suspect there are at least a few writers who share that. It’s scary.

It’s like the time my husband and I moved from CT where we were born and raised, to North Carolina, where we’ve lived now for 18 years. We’d decided we needed a different environment. Ours was killing us – between climate, work problems, cost of living, we needed a change. We checked out this “North Carolina place” and after some initial uncertainty, decided, “yes, that’s where we want to be.” It took us about a year before my husband found a job that was right. The offer even included relocation costs, something not as likely today. It was exactly what we’d dreamed of. But when the person in North Carolina called and said, “We want you for the position. If you want the job, it’s yours,” we froze.

In that moment, all the eagerness to get the job, make the move, obtain relief from the circumstances draining us and our marriage, evaporated. In that moment terror flooded both of us. The moment of truth – if you want it, it’s yours. Now came the real questions – DO we want it? CAN we do it? We thought we could, but up until that moment it was a dream, not reality. Could we really leave all we knew behind? Go to a place we’d spent one weekend in? It was the equivalent of choosing to jump off a cliff. We knew there would be no turning back if we did. Financially, it was stay or go. No changing your mind once you chose.

My husband and I looked at each other. The question hung in the air. “Well?” We recovered after a few moments, gritted our teeth and said, “It’s not getting any better here. I guess . . . we jump.” With that, we invested our whole souls to make that choice a success.

My writing dream has that same feel. Each day I watch others go off to jobs that maybe they love or hate, jobs they choose or need, and I sit here, with the opportunity to create my dream. All it takes is for me to say “yes” . . . and just do it. I feel the weight of the responsibility, and the wall of fear comes up.

Katherine Paterson spoke a bit about the fear: “With each new book we must dare failure, or worse: mediocrity.” There are the questions: What if I try for that dream and find out that what I wanted all my life, I can’t do? What if I fail? What if I try and nothing happens, or I try, and it’s downright terrible? And if it is, it will be a very open, very public failure. As Paterson also said, “Writers are very private people who run around naked in public.” No hiding the results once you put it out there.

All the years I worked at other jobs to pay the bills, take care of my son, whatever, and didn’t have the chance to try for the dream, it was easier in two ways. First, love or hate the job, I came home with a steady paycheck. No matter what, the mortgage got paid, groceries came home, the car was repaired. I had worth and value because I provided security. It came in a paycheck. Not only was my home life secure but my identity got validated as well. The paycheck gave that, too. If I wasn’t who I said I was, would they really pay me? Second, the weight of having to answer that offer from life – it’s yours if you want it – was lifted from my shoulders. Because it wasn’t an option, I didn’t have to answer. Because I didn’t have to answer, I didn’t have to find out whether I could do it or not and risk humiliation, even if that humiliation was only in my own mind. So I had financial security, value, identity, and I could escape the question I felt God was waiting for me to face.

There’s that truth that a dream is always perfect. The moment you try to pin it down in the real world, it never, ever measures up. I read an interview someone did with Billy Joel one time. He spoke of the songs he heard in his dreams, wondrous bits of heaven. Perfection. Then he woke up and tried to capture them. Now I consider him a tremendous singer and songwriter and a hell of a success, given the body of work he’s created. Yet he said that nothing he’s ever created measured up to what he heard in his dreams.

So if someone considered a success by the world, feels he’s failed, where does that leave me? His work got the financial security. He had a job title and identity validated by his paychecks. God asked him the question, “Will you create?” and Billy Joel did it. Yet he feels it didn’t measure up to his dream. What do I do? Why? And how?

I don’t know how anyone else would answer those questions. For myself, I’ve gotten some glimpses at my mortality. I only know I can’t meet God and say, “Well, I meant to, but . . .” I could get away with that answer before. I can’t now. I also couldn’t look my husband in the eye, the man whose hard work is giving me this chance, and say that. Or my son, or my friends. However, I think the absolute worst would be having to look me in the eye and say that. I think God, my husband and son, my friends, would forgive me, accept me, and who knows, God might even give me another life to try again. But would I forgive myself? Maybe that is what hell is. So why would I do it? Because I would never forgive me if I didn’t.

The question hangs before me: the job is yours if you want it. Deep in my heart, win, lose, fail, or as Katherine Paterson put it, be mediocre, I know what my answer is.

The remaining question is – How? I could say that if I’m terrible, at least I know I tried. But then maybe that’s not quite the right attitude, either. In the movie, The Empire Strikes Back, Luke tells Yoda he’ll try to lift his spaceship with his powers. Yoda immediately jumps down his throat. “NO! Do, or do not. There is no try!” Maybe the answer is that it’s how you show up to do the work that makes all the difference. It certainly made the difference in our move to North Carolina knowing there would be no option to turn back.

There’s a scene from the movie “Hunt for Red October,” that illustrates it. The captain, played by Sean Connery (who looks better and better as he gets older), is leading a select group of officers on a mission to defect and deliver a new, deadly silent Russian attack sub to the Americans. It is treason. If discovered, they’re dead and they all know it. Their consciences drive them to do this so that such destructive power cannot be used by their superiors, yet at one point their resolve fails and they want to quit. At that moment the captain tells them there is no going back. Moscow knows what they are doing because he sent a letter to their superiors stating their intentions. His men freak. In their eyes, he’s signed their death warrants for sure. They know that every ship in the Russian Navy will be out there to hunt them down and kill them. They demand to know why he did that.

His answer: “When he reached the new world, Cortez burned his ships. As a result, his men were well motivated.”

When there is no going back, you have only yourself to work with. It is “Do, or do not. There is no try.” You have only your motivations and faith, or the lack of them, to fall back on. What do you believe? When Luke could not raise his spaceship, Yoda did it for him. When Luke said he couldn’t believe it, Yoda’s answer was simple: “That, is why you fail.”

So my answer to how you do it is: Burn the ships. There is no turning back. Do or do not, there is no try. And believe. Because if you don’t, that is why you fail. I cannot control the outcome of the effort – whether my writings will be read, published, make a dime, validate me and give me value- but I can control how I do the work. And I only know that if I don’t do it, none of those things will matter.

The Post – There really IS a deeper process at work here

January 29, 2008

Some lighter fare on tap in the next few days…photos of Admiral Byrd waving his claw, Scarlett O’Hara and her molted ghost self, and . . . even the ever reclusive Melanie Hamilton! Finally caught her sitting on her “front porch” – ie the open hole in the Live Rock – at 6:30 this morning. Stay tuned.

For today: So does staring into a tank of fiddler crabs, never mind shooting photographs of them at 6:30 in the morning, REALLY have anything to do with writing?

The answer? It all depends. You mean you wanted a definite answer? Here’s a clue – Mindfulness and heart. Still confused?

Simply said, it’s what you bring to the situation. You can sit there and stare at them and your mind could be on the bills, what you’re going to buy at the grocery store, what you could be doing instead of sitting in front of a tank of crabs. You could sit there and nod, “Yup, they’re crabs. Eyestalks. Sideways walk. They all look alike. So what?”

Or you can sit there and notice that Melanie Hamilton has much tinier front claws than Scarlett O’Hara. That she is timid and almost never comes out of her crevice in the live rock…except early in the morning when the sunlight streams into the kitchen and hits that side of the tank. She loves to sit in the sunlight on her front porch. Or that Scarlett O’Hara, who normally never stops eating and never hides out, suddenly after molting has stopped eating and has refused to move from under the water filter. Or that Admiral Byrd, normally fearless, crawled into his tunnel cave after discovering Peter Lorre’s lifeless body and started twitching and wouldn’t eat.

The difference is how you watch. Are you fully present? And did you bring your heart? The heart makes all the difference.

I am taking an online spirituality course with some friends, studying the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh (pronouced Tick Naught Han). He is an 80-year-old Vietnamese monk who endured the horrors of the Vietnam War, came to America to try and stop it, and was deemed a threat by both the Communist and non-Communist regimes in Vietnam. While searching for peace, he found himself everybody’s enemy. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his efforts to stop the war, and in his later years one of his many healing works has been to heal the souls of former American servicemen haunted by that war. Having lost close personal friends to that war, he has every reason to hate Americans. Instead he’s spent half his life healing people around the world, including Americans.

He tells a story in one of his books about a young man who wanted to learn to draw lotus flowers. So he went to a master to apprentice with him. The master took him to the lotus pond and left him sitting there for 10 days. Can you imagine in today’s busy world, signing up for lessons to learn something quickly, only to be left sitting at a pond for 10 days?

The real essence was what the young man did with that time. He could have gotten impatient (something I know a lot about), and grumbled, sighed, walked away, went shopping, took a nap, try to do something USEFUL with that time instead of just sitting there. Instead for the whole time, he watched the flowers bloom when the sun was high. He watched them close into buds at night. He watched one flower wilt and drop its petals into the water, then studied the stalk, the stamen and the rest of the flower.

On the 11th day the master returned and brought him a brush to paint with. Although his picture showed his naivete of technique, a childish style, the lotus he painted was beautiful. Deep beauty shone from the painting. He had become the lotus and as such, even with poor technique, he could paint something that moved another’s heart.

Mindfulness and heart. He paid attention to the lotus. He worked from his heart. Writing, really good writing that moves people’s souls, comes from the heart, not the brain. You can write a technically beautiful book but without heart it’s a sterile desert emotionally.

I started out watching fiddler crabs not sure what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect them to have personalities and subtle differences in appearance and actions. And I most certainly didn’t expect to feel such upset as I watched Peter Lorre tumble off his rock, dead.

With any luck, at least a little part of me has become the crab. With just a little more luck, maybe that crab heart will come through in my book. I’d trade a whole bunch of technical expertise for just a handful of heart.

By the way, if of interest to read a good summary of Thich Nhat Hanh’s life, check out this link at Parallax Press.

http://www.parallax.org/about_tnh.html