Friday, June 14, 2013

journey into the unknown

Writers do not write to impart knowledge to others; rather, they write to inform themselves.

--Judith Guest, from the foreword to Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within.

When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner's pick, a wood-carver's gouge, a surgeon's probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow. Soon you find yourself deep in new territory.

You make the path boldly and follow it fearfully. You go where the path leads.

The writing has changed, in your hands, and in a twinkling, from an expression of your notions to an epistemological tool. The new place interests you because it is not clear. You attend.

--Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

As I read these words, I realize that writing is most interesting to me when it is an investigation, a search, an attempt to explain something or to find the truth.

It is truly amazing that in the process of laying down words on a page, gradually you find yourself making progress, you get somewhere you couldn't get by simply thinking, which tends to go in circles, wrapping around points of frustration or trailing off into dead end side tracks.

In each moment, write the truth you are sensing. Each moment recorded is a step. The best you can do is follow your nose. You are almost blind, but not quite.

learning about simplicity

I've always been a fan of orderly and simple environments.  I feel at peace when dishes are washed, clothes are folded, bills are paid, and the table top is clear.  

I'm discovering another type of simplicity.  If, in an effort to arrive at an orderly environment, my actions are hurried and unhappy, there is a lack of simplicity within me as I attempt to gain simplicity around me.  

Reading Thich Nhat Hanh recently has helped me to understand what slowing down means.  The book has been returned to the library, and I don't remember the title, just that the cover is battered and worn.   There is a chapter in the book where he suggests assigning a day every week to not speaking, and to doing things very slowly.  He describes what this day might be like:  bathing with care, boiling water, brewing tea, then drinking it slowly.

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves - slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.” 

Rushing toward the future--that describes me in a nutshell!  In a way, I often live about 3 steps ahead of my body, which can't walk fast enough to keep up with where I wish I was.  

Finding simplicity in my life might mean inhabiting the present moment as fully as possible.  "Slow down" and "Live in the present" sound like cliches--I've heard them so often and thought they'd be something I'd have time for at some point, preferably once I achieve my ideal life.

In the moment when my mind is four steps ahead of my hands, I tremblingly inhale, exhale, and look down at the still life (still, very still) before me.  It is beautiful, in this moment, and I have permission to enjoy this moment, to see its beauty.  

Making supper tonight--I want to wash some greens.  I take down the big bowl to put in the sink, but a dirty dish is sitting there.  This is the moment where I choose.

I set the big bowl aside.   I'm eager to wash the greens, but I can take this moment to wash the dirty dish carefully, and enjoy seeing it become clean, and setting it to dry.  I'm not rushing to end this moment--I'm inhabiting it.

The moment before the one I am striving toward is a moment also.  I can miss it, or resent it for getting in the way.  Or I can experience it as fully as possible.  And the only way to do that is to not wish I was some place else.  

To actually enjoy this moment?  I feel a burden lifting, as if I was being granted permission to be here now, instead of rushing to somewhere up ahead.  A great gift--it feels like a vacation, because the present moment is so much simpler than racing through the obstacles toward the goal up ahead.  Maybe the only true beauty I can find, the only true simplicity, is simplicity of the present moment.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

ups and downs and a parable that gets me through

We've been through a lot of changes in plans lately.  One plan disappears, another appears, disappears, the other plan reappears.  A dizzying, mental whip-lash-inducing series of changes in the imagined landscape.

This story struck me when I first read it (not in the same form, but the idea is the same).  It really helps to ground me and get me through excitement, disappointment, and anxiety in waiting for answers.

A man who lived on the northern frontier of China was skilled in interpreting events. One day, for no reason, his horse ran away to the nomads across the border. Everyone tried to console him, but his father said, "What makes you so sure this isn't a blessing?" 
Some months later his horse returned, bringing a splendid nomad stallion. Everyone congratulated him, but his father said, "What makes you so sure this isn't a disaster?" 
Their household was richer by a fine horse, which his son loved to ride. One day he fell and broke his hip. Everyone tried to console him, but his father said, "What makes you so sure this isn't a blessing?" 
A year later the nomads came in force across the border, and every able-bodied man took his bow and went into battle. The Chinese frontiersmen lost nine of every ten men. Only because the son was lame did the father and son survive to take care of each other. 
Truly, blessing turns to disaster, and disaster to blessing: the changes have no end, nor can the mystery be fathomed.  
The Lost Horse,
Chinese Folktale. 
As told by Ellen J. Langer, in" The Power of Mindful Learning," Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley, page 99-100. (1997).
Truly, life is a mystery, and we can just open our eyes and watch how the mystery unfolds.  Maybe we can detach from labeling each event as good or bad, and just see what happens.   Whether an event is good or bad is something that changes with time, anyway.  It's a grand experiment.