Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Zen Musings

I read on Aerogramme Writer's Studio Blog a list of advice from famous writers to those of us just starting out. One quote by by Tim Winton seemed to stick out of the pack.

“Writing a book is a bit like surfing . . . Most of the time you’re waiting. And it’s quite pleasant, sitting in the water waiting. But you are expecting that the result of a storm over the horizon, in another time zone, usually, days old, will radiate out in the form of waves. And eventually, when they show up, you turn around and ride that energy to the shore. It’s a lovely thing, feeling that momentum. If you’re lucky, it’s also about grace. As a writer, you roll up to the desk every day, and then you sit there, waiting, in the hope that something will come over the horizon. And then you turn around and ride it, in the form of a story.” ― Tim Winton

This seems rather incongruous to much of the other advice on the page, much of which boils down to "Writers write. Writers work at it every day. Writers write till their fingers bleed!"

I found myself on the beach this morning attempting to mentally sift through things. I grew up on the water and like Tim, I'm familiar with the concept of waiting on the wave. There were no waves today. The sea was a silken elvish grey and so flat and still you felt you wouldn't have to be Jesus to walk across it. A wait for a surfable wave on a day like this would be a long one.

 I feel like for the past three years at least, I've been waiting for something. And all my accomplishments in the meanwhile have just been a way to keep myself busy until that mystery thing presented itself. I was terrified that if I stopped I would feel empty, ineffective, and useless in a world where my work boiled down to something as inconsequential as a wave on the shore. But then in that moment I was filled with an appreciation for the vast stillness of that "place between the waves". It wasn't that sort of fruitless, abandoned, lonely sort of emptiness that I felt connected with. It was an active emptiness. An emptiness that wasn't simply waiting, but was at once anticipatory and content. An emptiness that knew it's place, a void with purpose.

Really it wasn't empty. And perhaps that's the joy of it. There were seagulls, and plovers, and starfish. Lots of little creatures going about their little creature lives. The feeble winter sun shone as best it could. The wind was soft. Perhaps it was because there were so few things on that shore, I was really able to appreciate them for what they were and why the were there.

So often my brain is so packed with schedules and goals and hoarded thoughts. It just adds up to clutter. But when I merely try to ignore them for a while to give myself a break, they're still there when I come back with the added guilt that I neglected them. I need to do more things that actively and purposefully empty my mind. Like dumping out your pencil box to get the crud out and put the pencils neatly back in. I know I need to take breaks during the day, but without the proper mindset, those just feel like indulgences instead of productive necessities. Watching tv on my lunch break, I feel like a procrastinating child who doesn't want to do homework. Going for a run, I just mentally run through all the things I need to do when I get back and chastise myself for not doing them that very moment! It turns out I'm not really emptying my mind, I'm just filling it with more things that are themselves inherently mindless.

I need to stop. I need to rest in that place between the waves and empty myself into it. When wave watching, it's so easy to be so focused on one nebulous point on the horizon that you forget where you are in the big picture. You don't get the sense of where to place yourself, so when the wave is upon you, you're not in the position to take advantage of it. But even in that there is a beauty: once a wave passes, it's gone, unreclaimable. You can only watch, and feel it under you, and then turn your eyes to the horizon again. Rest in the waiting. Connect with the waiting. Wait positively. Wait actively. Have patience with the thing you are waiting for, or working towards, but also patience with yourself.

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