I’ve been doing little else but writing for the last year. There was even a part of me that was convinced it was a problem, like I was writing too much to the exclusion of living. That may have been true for brief periods of time, but not on the whole. In the meantime, I’ve been experiencing a lot of guilt because I rarely sit (in meditation) anymore, which is difficult to admit.
In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg talks about writing being her practice. Her teacher told her to use it as meditation. I suppose a part of me just didn’t buy that, still… like it was too much of a good thing. I love to write, probably more than anything else I do, and I love to write fiction most of all.
But writing is a stringent discipline, too. You get to know the way you think. More importantly, you also learn that the best writing happens when you don’t think at all. It’s a lesson I first learned in meditation, but some reason it’s taken me three years to connect the dots. Probably because I love it so much that it’s difficult to see through my feelings.
I started writing fiction every day about five months ago. I wrote as much as ten thousand words per day. To put this in context, most web articles are on average about 600 words. That’s like writing more than sixteen of them every day, all after a full day of working at your normal job. You can see why, after a few months of this, I began to get concerned that it was a problem. It was very time-consuming, and I still have kids to take care of on top of everything.
The obvious thing to do was to cut back on writing and spend more time with my family, but I decided to cut back on work instead. I am so happy I’ve made this decision I can’t even tell you.
I don’t believe in “making things balance” as a rule. Things are always balanced, we’re just looking at it from one end of the spectrum or the other. It’s more about learning to surf, or as my teacher would say, learning to swim in choppy water. Now that I can see which direction the water is flowing, things just don’t freak me out anymore. I still get overwhelmed with work and frustrated with my kids from time to time, because I’m a human being and I’m not going to deny my feelings because that leads to self-hatred.
There are so many other elements to this transformation (which was no transformation at all), like being hooked on epiphanies and profundity, and projecting my truth onto other people as if they were merely reflections of myself. But somehow, for once it doesn’t bear talking about.
The practice of writing is my meditation. I get it now.
It came to me while writing, as seems to be my M.O. these days. It came to be while I was writing because I do nothing but write, it seems.
But let me back up just a little bit.
I didn’t always realize it, but I’m an incredibly focused, driven person. When I get on a “kick” for doing something, I re-invest all of my effort into it until I’ve done the sh*t out of it, beat it dead, dug it up, reanimated it and gone through the whole process again. No breaks. Very little sleep. Slightly creepy.
It’s the same for everything I’ve ever been passionate about. People, even. When I’m in love, it flows through me like a fountain and all of my effort re-invests into that love. Love seems to be the key. I love writing so that passion has always been there, but there were blockages. Self-doubt, perceived barriers of time and energy, and then the ever-powerful self-editor.
Not anymore. Not since I’ve decoded creative blocks and have been devoting my time to obliterating all the blocks I can. Write a book in three months? No sweat. I’ve got three weeks left on the contract and I’m right on schedule. But you know what? That’s not enough! I decided to write some fiction in my “spare time”. You know, to reinvest in the Craft. Gotta focus, expand my skill set, broaden my understanding of the art. Because obviously, I’m not doing enough already.
Unfortunately, that challenge proved too easy. I wrote a 50,000 word story in fifteen days… in my spare time. Then I wrote another one, a few thousand words longer. Now I’m working on a third, which is only quarter finished and is already 22,000 words finished with another 20,000 words for later chapters, all while I write a non-fiction piece for a client during the day, all just in the last three months. It’s beginning to feel a little worrisome, like there’s something wrong with me, a shadow of the feeling I used to get back when I couldn’t finish anything.
I turn off my laptop and put it away each night and half the time I end up turning it back on so I can write some more. (Like I did tonight.) Hell, I’m not even a particularly fast typist, but I write thousands of words each day. My previously perfectly-edited words are now coming through riddled with typos because my fingers can’t keep up. My internal editor is muzzled and chained in a corner, mascara streaked down her face like a horror movie.
So tonight the thought came into my head, “I can’t stop writing.”
It was the word “can’t” (a word that implies self-inflicted limitations) that made me realize that I’ve learned how to turn on the creative flow to full blast, but I don’t shut it off. I know how… I just don’t.
I like being a fountain of creative energy. I’ve built a day’s activities around producing more flow, to create more connections that are the source of creativity. But nothing else. If I devoted more time to, say… balancing my checkbook, the flow would slow down. Or organizing my book shelf. Or other mentally-focused activities, like, I don’t know, reading. For someone who used to read upwards of five books per month, I just get bored too fast with it now. There’s no rush of creation, and physically focused activities provoke more creativity.
But what am I? What is this life if all I do is produce? Am I any different than the investor who does nothing but look for the next money-making opportunity, while his family waits for him? I think not.
There’s a knack to being able to shut it off. I can teach people how to do what I do, but it’s just as important to be able to unplug, shut down, and just be a fountain of life, instead of a fountain of creative energy. There are things that need to happen in life. I can write a dozen books, I can create beautiful worlds for people to delve into. But I also need to be a fountain for my own life. This life that is already here, and is constantly creating itself around and through me.
And now, I’m going to stop writing for a little while.
This is in response to a comment on my post “The Only Choice You’ll Ever Make” from yesterday. You might want to read that one first.
Oh, you make it sound so easy! What to do when both choices appear equally wrong? What to do when you are blind to the alternatives? I still wonder at this sometimes, and at the wisdom of maturity. Doesn’t a child do what they feel is right without thinking? What makes right in the first place?
I’m sorry…your words are true, they most certainly are. It’s a standard I try to live to each day, though mostly I don’t quite make it.
It is simple, but definitely not easy until you have a “breakthrough moment” and really understand the process. It’s like riding a bike – one moment, you can’t balance, the next moment, you can. No one can describe to you exactly how to get there mentally, but they can run alongside you until you get the idea. This is a parent’s job.
If only all parents did this! So many feel that they have to sanitize the experience, make it artificial, or worse, make the choice for them so that they don’t ever feel the pain of making a mistake. This is especially hard, but it’s part of our choices as adults too. Mistakes are opportunities to learn… and often the only way to do so. So, “bad” is very much a relative term.
As for alternatives, you make choices based on what information you have right now. Potentials re interesting and certainly there is a time for research and preparation. But at some point we have to say we have enough information and just make a choice. Soemtimes there isn’t a clear choice. Sometimes the choice is not to act. Before the choice is made, it is difficult to see.
As an experiment, think of a choice you have before you. Make up your mind to go a certain way and allow your mind to trace it all the way to “worst case scenario”. How bad would it be? Is there any good in it? When you look back on the moment when you made the choice, does it seem like there is truly a “right” or “wrong” at all? Or are you just doing the best you can at any given moment, and willing to accept the consequences, good or bad?
Our self-judgement and doubt gets in the way of seeing our role in the process clearly. This is why choices become confusing. But are they easy? Not until you really, truly understand this from the other side.
“Right” is what you determine based on your prior experience, and that’s all. The right choice for a child is often different than the one for an adult in a similar circumstance. It’s about what’s appropriate for the time, the place and the person.
So my daughter’s attempts to avoid the pain of being afraid of the dark naturally brought her to a place where she would make the dark and the fear go away at once, by turning on her Nintendo DS. The reality of being tired all day tomorrow is too conceptual for her. Later on, when she’s older, her experiences will lead her to other choices.
Don’t mistake maturity for something that is exclusive to the realm of adults. It’s about experience and attitude more than anything else. There are ten-year-olds who have had richer life experiences (often associated with intense pain) that have matured them far beyond what their adult parents have ever, or will ever achieve. These “old souls”, as they are sometimes called, are mature because at some point they were required to be. They don’t have to fight decades of habit like the adults, who may never grow out of the inability to act in their own favor. They accelerated beyond their limitations to become mature, without losing their childish nature. Because, when it comes right down to it, they are still children.
I’ll leave you with a question: What is the true difference between a child’s choice and an adult’s? Is there any person who is truly wise, without also being naive in some way? How do we nurture both sides of the equation to develop into well-balanced human beings?
I said, “You can help it. All you have to do is make the choice you know is right and follow through.”
Make the choice, then follow through. That’s all there is to being mature, to being a grownup. I know she’ll figure it out eventually. But there are lots of adults out there that don’t ever figure this out. It’s understandable why this happens.
People get stuck. They doubt themselves. They see people they look up to declining in age and circumstances and get afraid. They make choices they regret, mistakes they can’t rescind. They make the people they love suffer, then compound their own suffering by not allowing themselves to enjoy the good things that never completely go away: the people that stay close and faithful, the happiness that is always available.
Fear and doubt are like a virus that eat away at your inner strength.
(Note: There are healthy kinds of fear and doubt, but knowing the difference comes with observation and maturity.)
What does it take to release yourself from suffering? To embrace the happiness that’s always there?
Make the choice to do what’s right. Then follow through. Act on it.
At first, you make the choice every second. Then, over time, every minute. Then every hour, then every day. Until it becomes effortless. Lots of people miss this point. But it’s important.
The choice is why we need habit and ritual to ingrain the choice into our lives and our consciousness. Until the choice is even in our dreams.
What is the choice?
Any choice you need to make. No matter how large or small. But the most important one is to move toward and create a positive, compassionate life, and to support that in others.
It really is that simple.
One more thing: There are no shades of grey with choices. The choice itself may be messy and complicated, have far-reaching consequences. But the choice is very simple. Yes or No. And the action? The time is right now. Not tomorrow. Because this moment is all there is.
“Entering the Dharma realm of the unborn, traveling throughout every land, entering the world of the lotus womb and realizing that all dharmas are but empty forms. Nothing has its own substance.
“There is only the person who, not relying on anyone, listens to the Dharma. She is the mother of the buddhas. Therefore, buddhas are born from non-reliance. If you truly awaken to that non-reliance you will discover that buddhahood is nothing special to attain. Insight such as this is genuine insight.”
- LINJI YIXUAN
Doubt is a valuable tool, a weapon in the arsenal of human existence. There is good doubt and there is bad doubt. Bad doubt questions everything without a goal, even that which is healthy and nurturing. Good doubt is used like a sharpened sword, cutting at the fetters of a trapped mind.
This exhausted mind
Beaten helpless by karma and neurotic thought,
Like the relentless fury of the pounding waves
In the infinite ocean of samsara.
Rest in natural great peace.
NYOSHUL KHEN RINPOCHE