Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Becoming who you already are...

"It is so good to be simple, simply goodwilled, to do the best one can, and in the best way possible; not to build anything very considerable but only to aspire for progress, for light, a peace full of goodwill, and let That which knows in the world decide for you what you will become and what you will have to do." The Mother, July 21, 1954, from The Mother, Collected Works, Vol. 6 Questions and Answers 1954, p.248.
We have all heard the dictum "become who you already are." Once the question was put to me, "why don't you let people see who you really are?" That was decades ago. I was flummoxed by the question then, but knowing what I know now, I would have answered, "because I don't know who I am."
Becoming who we already are seems simple on the face of it, yet the recognition of that "who" requires, at least for most of us, a lifetime of relentless self-evaluations, assessments and recognitions. The above quote from The Mother is on my refrigerator because I recognized in her words something profound that I needed to come to terms with. Particularly, I wrestled with the words, ..."let That which knows in the world decide for you what you will become and what you will have to do."
How could that surrender be accomplished? Didn't I have to do something by way of collaboration? These questions brought out the executive in me. Where's the plan, the strategy, the goals, and the to-do list? I've travelled down a million rabbit paths, some of them so bizarre as to boggle the mind. I've longed for a deeply spiritual, connected life, and it has usually seemed to me that to live in this material world is to live entirely contrary to what I longed for. I've resented the material world and all its demands and I've rebelled against it.
Then there was a period of simply letting go of all my executive plans and there was an effort to "just be" - be goodwilled, do the best I could and in the best way possible. After some time of these efforts, what began to emerge was a growing awareness that the one part of the being that I had actively and fiercely rejected was the passion for reading and writing.
Even with this growing awareness, however, there was the desire to "take control, to make a plan." Finally, I simply began to read and write again, without struggle and without any desire to "build anything very great." I just did it with an intense awareness that for whatever reason, these things are a core part of my heart and soul and who I am. There has been a peace that has descended, a peace that I have never known before, and the writing happens without rancour or struggle. There is a becoming of who I already am.
There are no answers to questions of why, or what does the future hold. There is only this moment, which by the Grace of the Divine feels deeply connected.

Monday, August 16, 2010

On new beginnings...

I was at a meeting recently in which several people talked about making new beginnings in their lives. Sometimes the idea of "new beginnings" is assosciated with age or the big events we pass through in life, such as graduations, new relationships, marriages, children or jobs. Such events certainly are great demarcations of changes in our lives. However, if one thinks about it, one's life is always at the point of a new beginning.
Beginnings are, of course, intertwined with endings. Some beginnings and endings are inevitable for all human kind, aging, birth, death, etc. and others, are more of our own making. Virginia Satir (pronounced Suh-teer) taught that we make choices. We make choices constantly throughout every day, and whenever we make a choice, we are, at that moment, giving something up and receiving something. Every door is both an entrance and an exit all wrapped up in its frame. I love the Jewish tradition of having a mezuzah (a tiny case that has scripture verses inside it) tacked to the inside of the doorframe so that all passings through are guided by God's words.
There is no mezuzah on my door frames, but if I were to place words of guidance there, I think the words would be "Pay attention." When choices are made to watch TV, play computer games, go back to bed or stay in bed, they are made in lieu of other possibilities such as writing, calling a friend, reading or whatever. The argument is not that we should not do these things, and I do them frequently, rather, it is that we need to learn to pay more attention throughout each day about how we spend our time. What choices are we making and in so doing, foregoing one thing for another. Do our choices truly reflect how we want to spend our lives?
I think many of us go through life quite mindlessly. We get up and do what we do and we go to bed and then next morning we get up and do it again. We don't think about it. We don't evaluate it. We don't see the joy or lack there of in it. Rather, like the Nike ad, we "just do it." We simply slog our way through life never realizing that we could do it differently. Whether we would change anything or not, we need to be aware that we are making choices every day and those choices shape our lives. With each choice, we give something up and we let something go. Every moment is a new beginning, and if the truth be known no matter where we are or what we are doing, there is only this moment and our ability to be fully present and conscious with it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Passion as Being

I did not write yesterday. Didn't feel like it. Rather, I enjoyed my morning tea, reading the newspaper, and working the crossword puzzle before heading out to work. It was lovely, peaceful, and I felt guilty as hell for the rest of the day!
In the previous blog, I quoted Sri Aurobindo's admonition about wandering at the call of one's Soul and this morning I woke thinking about a quote from his collaborator, The Mother, born Mirra Alfassa in Paris to an Egyptian mother and a Turkish father, "When you do anything with a sense of compression of one's being, you can be sure you are doing it in the wrong way." This teaching brought an awareness that passion is about being and not about being driven. A passion that primarily has a driven force behind it easily looses sight of itself. A passion that is the driving force finds its fullest and most complete expression. Discipline is required in either case. Driven discipline causes the spirit of passion to become dry, depleted. Lived passion waters and nourishes the Spirit and being and doing are merged. Its opposite is what, to me, is meant by the "sense of a compression of one's being."
Like most writers, I too, have had my vision of the great work of fiction that would stand alongside War and Peace. I'm quite certain that is not to be, because despite my love of great fiction, I have been painfully aware of my own pathetic attempts at it. I am meant to write differently.
The Mother also instructs:
"The first thing to do then is to find out what it is that you are meant to realise, what is the role you have to play, your particular mission, and the capacity or quality you have to express. You have to discover that and also the thing or things that oppose and do not allow it to flower or come to full manifestation. In other words, you have to know yourself, recognise your soul or psychic being." (from the Collected Works of The Mother - Centenary Edition,Volume 15, page. 257, copyright Sri Aurobindo Ashram Pres, Pondicherry, India, 1978)
I have always had the fantastical illusion that somehow the expression of my passion would be an event. I understand now that it is not an event. Rather, it is a process of removing those things that oppose it. If constancy to the process is maintained, being and doing will gradually merge and be manifested by effortless discipline, and hesitancy will disappear.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

On belonging...

One of the most important points of reference for humans is our sense of belonging. This may come easily for some, while others may have to work very hard at it. I remember when in the 3rd or 4th grade, I learned the word "shelter." I immediately fell in love with this word. To me, it exuded its meanings of protection and safety, and it just rolled deliciously off my tongue when I said it. Shelter. (Later that week, I would get a spanking for using the word, but that's another story for another time.)
Shelter and belonging are connected, deeply connected. When we belong and when we know our tribe, we have a sense of being sheltered, somehow protected. There is an element of our tribalism that of necessity frames an "us and them" mentality, though it need not have the pejorative implications that it often does. Finding and knowing our tribe is essential to our mental and social health.
My favorite picture of myself as a little girl is one taken when I was about two years-old, maybe three. I'm standing by a phone table, fiercely clutching an Orphan Annie doll. She was my toddler's talisman. It must have been my parents who gave me the doll, and years later when I was in my forties, they would give me another and she still rests on a bookcase by my bed. Orphan Annie was a perfect metaphor for what would be my life. Like Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling, I would be lost and displaced and it would take time to find my tribe with whom I would no longer be an orphan.
Now I know that my tribe is that of writers. Some weeks ago I attended a reading at a local university, and the audience numbered at least fifty people. I had never been there before, but as the group gathered in and listened to the author's reading and then discussed his book and the writing process, I knew I was home. I didn't know another soul there. I didn't understand some of their conversation. I was not part of any writing program. Yet the thread that connected everyone in that room is a thread that has always weaved my life: we write. I knew I belonged.
When I was a senior in high school, the advisor to our newspaper staff invited a local journalist to come talk to us about writing. After his introduction, he asked our small group who among us wanted to be a writer. I wanted to flash my arm to the sky in ecstatic commitment like a sinner going down the aisle to be saved on Sunday. What I did was I sat there silent and stiff. No other hands went up either. My heart pounded from the inner energy that wanted to shout, "I do!," and yet I sat paralyzed. I could not do what I wanted to do, which was grab him by the collar and shout "I want to write! I want to write! Now tell me how to do it!" He finally gave up and said in frustration, "Well, what's the point of talking about writing if none of you wants to write?"
That was one of many steps I would take to walk away from my tribe. I got lost, stayed lost, and even when I realized what I needed in order to become "unlost," I would struggle to find the path back again. When I was in college a professor asked me whether I knew what I wanted to do when I finished school. My reply was that I knew more about what I didn't want to do than what I wanted to do. He answered, "Well, that's not a bad start." Many years later I would read an inspirational quote from Sri Aurobindo Ghose, Indian mystic, guru, and leader, " 'Tis better to wander at the call of one's Soul than to go straight by the path of reason."
His words helped me to hang on to the belief that all my years of feeling lost and wandering about were not purposeless. Like clinging to Ariadne's thread, I just had to keep following the song of my Soul, no matter how elusive, and trust that I would find my way back to my tribe. It has been a journey with many false starts, dead-end paths, and many moments of "what was I thinking!" In the end, though, I know now not a moment was wasted. I am home. I write. I have found shelter.

Monday, August 2, 2010

On Paying Attention

Recently I was musing about the word "care" and all its many mutations. Care free, careful, etc., and one of the most interesting to me is that of "care less." There is "I could care less," which can genuinely mean complete disinterest in a subject, or "I could care less," as in "I'm bored with this silly subject, which is an older equivalent of the more modern "whatever." Many years ago I learned an important and difficult lesson about another form of care, which was that of carelessness.
Like most writers, I have my affectionate eccentricities. My most treasured is that whenever I write anything of any real importance, I use a fountain pen. Much younger readers may have to look it up, but most of us know the fountain pen to be that wonderful writing instrument whose parts include a cap, a barrel, and a nib and one must fill it up with ink from a bottle. There is a quality and feel of writing with a fountain pen that somehow connects me to some primal, organic experience of writing that no other writing instrument can do.
I have always kept a high quality fountain pen for the writing that really matters: journaling, letters (yes, I still write them), and birthday cards, etc. I never let anyone else use it and whenever there have been moves in my life (and there have been many), I always know at all times where two items can be found, any medications I required and of course, my fountain pen. Everything else could be lost in the process of the move, but those two items have always been guarded with my life. I swear if a person needed the aid of a writing tool to sign a check to me for a million dollars and my fountain pen were the only such item around, I know I would flinch at the imposition.
There was a period in my life during which I journaled faithfully on at least a daily basis and sometimes more, and of course, I would only do so with my fountain pen. I began having problems with the pen. The ink simply did not flow in that fluid way that is so magical with a fountain pen, and day by day it kept becoming worse. Finally, one morning despite being recently refilled it would barely write at all. I became quite frustrated, irritated, and downright angry. I was ready to toss the pen out altogher.
When the strain was almost more than could be tolerated, I had the "brilliant" idea of consulting the little instruction booklet that came with the pen. To my astonishment, the instructions, which I had never before read (because who needs help using a fountain pen?), pointed out that from time to time one must rinse the nib and the ink barrel in cold water in order to keep the pen functioning properly. I felt admonished and was quite sure I now knew the source of the problem. I stopped writing and went to the sink to carefully clean and rinse the pen.
Sure enough, the pen, when refilled with ink, resumed its marvelous contribution to the flow of words I was pouring out, and I realized I had been very careless with this thing I supposedly treasured. Of course, on the scale of problems in life that confront us, the workings of my fountain pen are in reality way on down the scale of importance. Yet my failure to take care of this pen made me stop to think about other valued parts of my life with which I had been careless - relationships, time, money, health, etc. I knew that if I were to think about it, I had often been neglectful of many things I, at least verbally, would have stated I valued a good deal more than that pen. How many other instructions had I failed to read and follow?
There are many public debates and private self assurances about what our values are. Yet I know that whenever I have done in inward "power point" presentation juxtaposing the stated values I held and the actual behaviors maintained, the lack of congruence has frequently been painfully obvious. It was a humbling lesson those many years ago. It is said that our time is our most important asset. That being said, however, how many works of art, relationships, and other so-called "values" have fallen by the wayside from neglect with no more than the flick of the remote control for the television, endless shopping for things we "need," or over-scheduled calendars and to-do lists?
I have been careless. I want to care more. I want to pay attention. Of course, it means that life will not be carefree, which it never is anyway, but as Janis Joplin sang, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." It is a startling awareness to realize that the way one actually spends one's time and resources can so little reflect what is really yearned for. I want to pay more attention to that inward power point presentation. I suspect it will be instructive.

Writing as necessity

For many reasons too numerous to ask anyone to contend with, this blogging venture is an intimidating step. By way of partial explanation for the angst, it is a lack of familiarity with this medium of expression and it also derives from an intensely private nature that cowers before such a public domain. Nevertheless, swallowing my fears and with the encouragement of others, I plow on.
I fell in love with words, the written word in particular, at a very young age and soon knew I wanted to write and be a writer. However, I lived in an environment where such dreams were, at best, considered odd, and at worst, were downright discouraged with dire predictions of the consequences of any attempt at realization. For decades I fought writing. Along the way there were many valiant attempts to let go the resistance to my passion only to collapse into panicked retreat once more.
After decades of this love/hate relationship with writing, there finally came an acceptance that this I must do, for better or for worse. I recently read an essay "Shitty First Drafts" by Ann Lamott about fears provoked in the writing process. (It's a great read and very encouraging: see "the Making of a Story" by Alice LaPlante, W. W. Norton & Company, 2007, pp. 574-578). In it she describes a fellow writer who tells himself every morning, "It's not like you don't have a choice, because you do - you can either type or kill yourself." (p. 575).
So here it goes. I recently read a quote from Samuel Beckett: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." I think I can do that much.