I’ve been very busy with writing lately, but in a one step forward, two steps back kind of way. It has also been a time of discouraging words, to paraphrase “Home on the Range.” Discouraging words about the never-so-crowded playing field for those trying to get into print. Discouraging result (or lack thereof) from yet another writing contest I entered in the fall to no avail. This is stuff I ordinarily blow off, but right now I’m in a doldrum phase in my novel.
**Doldrums** – Popular name for the “intertropical convergence zone,” just north of the equator, where winds of the northern and southern latitudes combine, causing extended periods of light or non-existant breezes. (When my writing hits the doldrums, I Google way too much!)
I picked up a hand full of early chapters of the book to review, but found I was still too close to do any kind of evaluation. A mass of questions arose: This seems okay but is that all is – just okay? Is this still the story I want or need to tell? Should I take an extended break to write some short stories? Should I take a non-fiction break. Would it help to just walk away for a while?
When questions like this bounce around my head, I think of a section of Jack Kornfield’s marvelous book, A Path With Heart.
After a traumatic event, a former student came to Kornfield in a state of great confusion. Lot’s of well meaning people, each with some claim to spiritual expertise, had been giving her contradictory advice, and she didn’t know who to believe or which way to turn.
Kornfield told her the 2500 year old story of a group of well-meaning spiritual seekers who faced similar confusion. The sought out the Buddha to ask his advice. He told them to take no one’s word for the truth, not even his, but to test what they heard for themselves and see which teachings led to “welfare and happiness…virtue, honesty, loving-kindness, clarity, and freedom.” Kornfield reminds us that “in his last words, the Buddha said we must be a lamp unto ourselves, we must find our own true way.” Based on this teaching, Kornfield posed a question to the woman:
I asked her to consider carefully what she actually knew herself. If she put aside the Tibetan teachings, the Sufi teachings, the Christian mystical teachings, and looked in her own being and heart, what did she know that was so certain that even if Jesus and the Buddha were to sit in the same room and say, “No, it’s not,” she could look them straight in the eye and say, “Yes, it is.”
Through great good fortune, I know what that truth is for me in the spiritual realm – I’ve written about it, or around it, or hinted at it in the “No-Self” series I posted in November and early December. What startled me and led to this post was the realization I do not know what the equivalent truth is for me in writing. What do I know beyond what any expert may say? What have I hammered out of my own experience? What is “my own true way?” I’ve been mulling it over, and if I don’t know the truth, I’m pretty darn sure of a few things:
- In writing as in living, my own true way seems most likely to manifest when the me gets out of the way, and that implies that the first thing necessary, the main thing to take a break from, is attention to results.
- Whatever kind of writing it is, when it comes alive, it is surprising. If I am writing honestly, I learn things about myself and about the world. “Oh, I didn’t quite realize I felt that way, but I guess I do.”
- On a spectacular day like this, in between winter storms, it’s time to get outside and breathe some fresh air.
Keeping an eye on truths like these, even if they are not quite eternal verities, may be enough to spark a breeze in the doldrums and get the ship moving again.