If you can break through fight, flight, or freeze,
If you can tune out the madness in the media,
If you can find some semblance of silence and solitude,
This is an extraordinary time to go within.
Meditation and writing practice open the mind.
Reading something good, listening to wisdom teachers, making for the sake of making, and gathering with like-minded travelers also feed you.
Here are a few things that have moved and deepened my life and my writing this week. I’d love to know what has been feeding you as well.
1) On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong.
A novel written as a letter from a young man to his mother, trying to account for her monstrous behavior after being traumatized by the Vietnam war. It is also as accounting of the narrator’s own suffering and joy as a gay, Asian man in America.
Through writing, he stands up.
“Maybe we look into mirrors not merely to seek beauty,” he writes, “regardless how elusive, but to make sure, despite the facts, that we are still here.”
The mirror he is his talking about is the telling of one’s story.
Also in this book, gorgeous language, beautiful structure often broken for effect, and this line, which feels particularly poignant:
“What is a country if not a life sentence?”
2) “An Ordinary Woman,” Dharma talk by Natalie Goldberg, at Upaya Zen Center.
The question of how we become ordinary seems particularly poignant now, sitting alone in our rooms with our messy hair without much thought to public life.
Natalie talks about the path of waking up being not a straight line, but a zig-zag, constantly going away and then coming back to practice. (“This Zig-Zag Life” is also a section of her book, The Great Spring, which would also be a great read for quarantine).
In addition to reading from The Hidden Lamp, a collection of koans and commentary by women in Zen, Natalie brings in a quotation by the painter, David Park. About Park and painting she says,
“There is awake mind outside of the Zendo, but you have to recognize it, and the Zendo helps you recognize it.”
As someone who found art twenty years before I discovered my teacher, I’ve long understood that art had been the first way I woke up in this world.
Here is an line she read from David Park:
“As you grow older, it dawns on you that you are yourself.”
That is the path you are on, to land back inside of yourself, not to keep reaching to be someone or something else.
What a relief, and I suppose, ordinary.
It’s also the path of the Heroine’s Journey Home for Writers.
Feminism, Zen, and two Jewish Bubbes (grandmothers). So much wisdom from my teacher. If you’re looking for inspiration, this is it.
You can watch Natalie’s talk here. Please consider a donation to Upaya Zen Center as well.
3) interview with Barry Lopez.
Something else about quarantine, there’s time to read back issues of the New Yorker and The Sun. It turns out I’ve missed a lot, including this mind-opening piece in the December 2019 issues of the Sun.
Lopez had traveled and written extensively about our planet. He admits he doesn’t know how to solve our biggest problems, but as a writer, he can make them clear and hand his observations over to those who know how to implement strategies.
He also has some things to say about writing that I think will resonate with you.
“What you remember personally, and what your people or your community remembers, are crucial to your own sense of self as a writer. The ability to give language to pain or injury or injustice, for example, is of great help to those who are unable to sort this out on their own.”
“We need new narratives at the center of which is a concern for the fate of all people. The story can’t be about the heroism of one person. It has to be about the heroism of communities.”
Back issues of The Sun available here.
4) Making collage.
At night, I watch television with my daughter (we’ve turned off the news and are in the midst of a Harry Potter marathon) and make collage. I make one a night, quickly, with whatever is on hand. In addition to the physical pleasure of cutting stuff up and gluing it on things, assembling disparate words and images loosens the mind in unexpected ways.
Ideas emerge. Solutions to problems appear.
Also, I don’t care about outcome so much, so becomes is a chance to practice imperfection.
5) Coming Home to Ourselves: Meditation and Writing Practice Periods.
Seeing your faces on my screen, hearing your voices, gathering to share our sorrow and joy opens my heart. Also, we’ve been reading a lot of poetry and borrowing lines to write from.
In the words of my dear friend and poet, Laura Kooris, “Poetry is the new chicken soup.” Since we won’t be able to hold another Chicken Soup retreat for a while, it’s sweet that we can share nourishment in this way.
Information about today’s session and our Wednesday meeting below.
6) Heroine’s Journey Home individual meetings. These writers are going deep, getting real, allowing themselves to be honest and vulnerable. And they are already reclaiming their writing lives.
Are you ready to reclaim the lost pieces of your life and renew your faith in the still, clear voice inside?
I’ll continue to offer free coaching and work periods at least through the end of the month.