Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Art of Revision

Your protagonist is not you. Your protagonist is the reader. You are not telling your story for yourself. You’re telling it for her. You’re telling her life story. You’re expressing her pain, her longing, her struggle. 

—  Steven Pressfield

The Pressfield quote arrived in my inbox moments ago.

I had nixed the idea of following-up on my big day, but decided that the struggle isn’t about me, it’s about sharing the journey.

I had every intention of completing 26.2 going into Boston, despite my previous protests.   But I kept my intention to myself, because I was simply going to hunker down and do it.

This was not to be.  There were early warning signs.  I wore a pair of cute, casual dress shoes on the bus and into Boston.  Navigating the “T” and its stairs, walking around downtown Boston, it didn’t occur to me that dressing with a bit of chic might not be a great strategy.  They weren’t exactly pumps, but they weren’t sneakers.

Saturday night, my left leg, down the side of my leg and my calf contracted in painful charlie horses, deep spasms that curled my foot up.

I took a breath.  “This too shall pass,” I told myself.  Steadfastly refusing to think that this charlie horsing had anything to do with my intention, refusing to let it change my will.

I slept well.  But the alarm did not go off.  Crazy.  That never happens with my cell phone alarm.  (I later discovered that I unknowingly changed the setting from a.m. to p.m.  Really?  That has never happened before.  Ever.  Hmmm.)

Two hours late.  Ooops.

What I didn’t realize is that it wouldn’t matter, and that Providence was allowing me a good night’s rest, despite my self.

I showered, dressed, loaded my day pack, including chia seeds, water bottle, Ibuprofen, change of socks, Vaseline for chafing.  I put on a pair of angel earrings from my godfather and his wife, who gave a large donation.  I then took out my Jimmy Fund sticker that says, “I participate for . . .”, wrote in “My Father,” spelled out his full name in big purple letters, and placed the sticker over my heart.

I was out the door of the College Club of Boston while it was still dark, and I headed for the shuttle buses parked at Copley Plaza.  I boarded the bus, arrived at the Hopkinton check-in, ate a sesame bagel, and grabbed an onion bagel for my day pack.

Took off, though I was terribly slow.

The weather was perfect.  No problems.

Every two miles, there was an impressive entourage of volunteers cheering everyone on.  “You are amazing,” they yelled, and immediately I felt my spirit soar, despite the increasing burn in my knee.  “NO,” I yelled back, “you’re the amazing ones!”

I realized how many volunteers make this event happen, the folks who show up to encourage other folks, and make it a success.

Every mile there’s a marker of a child — some as young as two — whom Dana-Farber is serving, with a quote from the child telling what they enjoy doing or what they want to be when they grow up.  I wanted to complete the journey for these kids, knowing their pain more than mine.

As I learned the first year I participated, probably a decade ago, it’s a tradition to touch the mile placards as you pass, connect with the kids.  I placed my fingers to my lips, then patted their picture on the mile marker each mile, and waves of emotion passed over me.

Something deeper than my little 26.2 goal was at stake.

I was okay until mile 8 or so.   By mile 9 or so, my knee was trashed, the pain brutal.  I caught up with a man who was going slower than was I, and we started chatting.  I slowed my pace a bit thinking it would help, and I was grateful for the company.  After a few minutes, I realized the pace would kill me, and I had to find a sweeter spot, which meant leaving Glenn on his own.

I apologized.  I wanted to get to the mile 10 refueling station and sit and stretch.

I did.  I talked to the medic, who I was apt to ignore, but why not chat as long as I needed to take some pressure off my knee.  He told me to call it a day; the long-term damage not worth the price.  “All medics in these situations say things like this,” I told myself.   Not what I wanted to hear.

Glenn showed up.  “Here’s my old friend Glenn, ” I said, laughing and smiling.  He sat down and talked with the medical crew.  He asked about the medical van.  The next one would arrive in about 15 minutes.

“You know, buddy, you’re going to be screwed if you screw your knee,” he said.  He kept calling me buddy.  Very endearing, coming from him.

“Bone on bone,” he told me, pointing to his knee.   “The doctor told me bone on bone, but I just did ten and I am so proud.”

Glenn had the right attitude.  There was something about him that I  liked, and something told me to listen to him.

“You know, Glenn, I wore these angel earrings today,” I said dangling the small angels hanging off my ears, “to lift me over the finish line.  But I think you’re my angel today.”  He laughed, gave me a high-five, and said, “yeah, buddy.”

So I went with Glenn into the medical van, sat down, and started yammering about my failure.  He looked at me in shock and said, “what failure?  You completed 10 miles!  That’s amazing!”   I then continued complaining about how I didn’t even get my revised goal of a half-marathon in, that I felt like if I just would have pulled out enough grit, I would have done the 26.2.

“No, buddy.  Listen, you would be screwed if you screwed that knee.  You gotta take care of yourself, buddy.  Really, you gotta take care of yourself.”

The medical bus stopped at mile 14 and 16.  More folks with serious IT band issues.

I was not alone.  This wasn’t about grit.  And I was learning that it’s not always about grit.  Sometimes, it’s about smarts.

At mile 18 a woman hobbled on the bus.  It was her 17th year.  She told us she’s having knee replacement surgery this upcoming year.  She told the driver to let her off at Cleveland Circle, mile 22.  There’s a hangout that old timers meet out, a kind of secret society, she whispered to us.  She told us she could catch a ride from one of the old-timers.

Mile 22.  I quickly calculated, that’s 4.2 to the finish line.  4.2 plus 10 —  I’d beat my revised goal, by a mile.

I looked at Glenn and smiled, “I’m getting off.  I can meet my goal if I get off at 22.”

“You sure, buddy?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.”  And then I started laughing.  “I AM SO HAPPY, I’M GOING TO GET MY HALF IN.  WHOOO HOOH!”

Glenn high-fived me about four times, the other medical van folks cheered me on, including Linda, a woman who had the same left knee IT band issues as myself.

“I’m going to be waiting for you with a chorus singing as you cross,” said Glenn, as he gave me another high-five.

I got off at 22.  My knee was insanely tight, but I’d been off of it for about an hour and a half, so I was good.  I felt re-energized and ready to finish strong.

For about a mile and half.  BAM.  The pain started again, and with every quarter-of-a-mile it exponentially worsened.

The crowds the last three miles were in the thousands.

There are four starts for the Jimmy Fund: the 26.2, the 13.1, the 3 mile start, and the 1 mile start, which is where the families with children usually begin, as well as many folks with challenges or injuries.  The shorter entries have later start times, so there was a flood of folks coalescing near the last mile.

My knee was burning, and I could barely move it.  Going from the road to the sidewalk and stepping up seemed barely doable.  To change my pace was torture, the sidewalk and road were a deluge of people walking, running, skating, men and women with baby strollers, and I was trying to navigate the crowd through the pain.

It was not a competition, it was a big party, and everyone was enjoying themselves, though the pain level of the 26.2’ers was obvious.  “Take your time,” I heard myself say, “take your time.”  This day is not about winning, and it’s one of the reasons I love this event.

Yes, it’s a great way to push one’s self and take on the Boston Marathon route, but this was about something bigger than winning, it’s about all kinds of folks who show up, some to do the marathon route, but most have family or friends touched by cancer.

They want a world without cancer, and raising money for research no matter the distance is their way to create change.

Winning isn’t only about mileage, it’s the magic created by caring.

I then thought about how many of our great athletes have been outed for doping, because we live in a culture that values winning, success, and qualifying everything more than we value the journey itself, something my angel Glenn was trying to tell me.

A little past mile 25, and the families were pouring into the last mile.

An adorable little girl, probably two years old, started running as toddlers do, down the sidewalk, her arms waving in the air, screaming and laughing in excitement.  She was a toddler runner, and she was so excited for all the people, and she was happy to live and be in the moment.

Her enthusiasm was pure, her joy unabated.

I smiled as her father tried to reign her in, so she didn’t trip someone.

“It’s all about play,” I thought to myself.  “Just play.”

Then I realized that I had smiled.  I did not grimace in pain or implode in a psychological melt down as I did two weeks ago.

I don’t know if this enlightened perspective is permanent, but it’s  a turn of my mind and heart in which I take satisfaction.

Thousands and thousands of people crossed the finish line, received medals, because everyone who participated was a winner.

Every volunteer, every person who contributed money, every person who completed one, three, 13.1, or 26.2 and did their best, found something in themselves that was bigger than themselves.

Those words sound platitudinous, but to feel them deeply, understand that life and its experiences are larger and more breathtaking than we allow ourselves to believe, but we can’t stay fixed in narratives that we refuse to revise.

Experiencing life deeply isn’t measured in miles, though miles sometimes may feed our aliveness, and sharing that experience with others may feed their life experience, enlarge their emotional and spiritual journey, while challenging their physical one.

I crossed the finish line, picked up my medal, and refused to listen to that voice telling me that I had no right to a medal, because I didn’t do 26.2.

“I enjoyed a beautiful day, I crossed the finish line on two walking legs, I met wonderful people, I raised money for a good cause,” I told that voice.

I wore the medal proudly, and I smiled that my angels carried me across the finish line to my half-marathon goal, through the most fortuitous of circumstances.

Among the thousands and thousands of people, I ran into Linda, the other left-leg with IT band issues person from the bus.

“Did you get your medal,” I asked.

“Yes,” she smiled.

******

 

I talked with a friend on Monday, and the first thing I said to him was, “I didn’t get the 26.2 under my belt this time.”

He said, “you’ve already completed the marathon, a million times over.”

I’ll take that, and give it back to the world.

For I see a little more clearly that revision encompasses not only writing and goal setting, but the art of life, in how we choose to speak of it, look at it, and live it.

It’s life’s most important art, revising how we view the world, where everything is a miracle or nothing is, and living in the belief that life’s unlimited miracles are worthwhile, every moment of every day, as best we can.

The art of revision without judgement is perhaps our most sacred life duty, to grasp pure enthusiasm and unabated joy a little more deeply, moment by moment, one day at a time.

 

****

(Please note: I may be away for the next few months, though I may pop in for brief visits, i.e., entries.  I’m not lost, just working on other things.

Peace, love, and good stuff.)

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A Fable

“Because philosophy arises from awe, a philosopher is bound to be a lover of myths and poetic fables.  Poets and philosophers are alike in being big with wonder.”  —  Thomas Aquinas

demons

The Well

“Love is an abyss,” a learned man
once told himself, fearing that he’d fall.
An abyss of monsters, he imagined,
a morass where
sun, moon, and stars
shine no light, their radiance
consumed by memory’s demons,
creatures resembling an ancient mask decorated
with hellish visions.  Yet he wore such a mask,
for he sagaciously convinced himself
that it let him breathe, as falling into the abyss
would certainly suffocate him.

One day, he heard a song playing,
its notes rode on the wind,
and though he wasn’t certain,
it seemed a familiar tune.  If he
removed the mask, he might
hear it better, he might learn if it
were the song he remembered.
Though the mask allowed him to breathe,
he removed it so as to hear the melody,
while certain that the abyss waited steps ahead,
the music compelled him.

He followed the notes to a clear well;
he dipped his hand into its sun dappled surface,
lifted his palm to his lips, and tasted
the water.  As the water trickled down
his throat, light flowed through his body;
the sun above dimmed in the light of
the bright coalescing nebulae that grew in
his chest.  As the star inside his heart grew, the man
began laughing, he laughed at himself, he laughed
at the sun, the moon, and the stars above,
he laughed at the green hills under his feet,
he laughed at everything he thought he knew.
As he laughed he felt his hands lift in the air above his head,
his palms met, and without a second thought he dove into the well.

He dove deep, deeper, deeper, deeper still;
he kept swimming, swimming without the mask that he believed
helped him breathe.  He saw worlds under the well’s waters
that he never knew existed; fantastic creatures with
luminous spirits, incandescent eyes, and iridescent bodies
beckoned him on, guided him further into the deep.
Soon he understood that the well had led him
to a breathable ocean of measureless expanse and depth:
he’d traveled eons in an unfathomable journey of beautiful wonders.

The man smiled; for he now saw
that what he thought was an abyss was
in reality an Eternal well
waiting for his arrival.

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More Notes From A Burgeoning Gardener

What we plant in the soil of contemplation, we shall reap in the harvest of action. —  Meister Eckhart

These are my “Victory Roses.”  That’s the name printed on the tab of these miniature roses that I purchased this past spring at the supermarket:

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About a month after purchasing them, they were near dead.  Not because I didn’t care for them; I think they weren’t happy because I cared [read: worried] too much.   I kept futzing around trying to make sure that they were happy.  They didn’t respond well to all that hands on mothering.  After withering away to two scrawny branches with a few leaves, and blossoms that kept rotting near the bud base, I thought for certain they had made the transition to the Great Garden.

“Perhaps in their next life they’ll get a better home,” I thought, putting them on the outside porch after the move, and leaving them alone.

In the heat and humidity, they have thrived.  For the past two months, they haven’t stopped blooming.  If you look at the very top of photo, you’ll see another bud waiting to pop.  And if you are inclined to look even more closely, you may even see five or more small buds buried in the green, a bit of pink peeking out here and there.

“Victory Rose” indeed.

No help from me needed, thank you very much.

*****

Here are my two sunflowers getting read to burst:

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They are my height now, rising a little over five feet, their magnificence ready to make itself known.

They, too, had a rough start.  I seeded them in the early spring, in the closet, and didn’t think to check them for a week, believing they’d be fine.  They sprouted and grew fast, and when I went to transplant them, the lot of them had grown too quickly, their stems not able to hold the plant up.  This is what you avoid when seeding, a rapid overgrowth in which the plants’ stems grow long but not deep enough to root.  Would they get enough strength in their stems after my bad parenting?  I didn’t know.  Not all of them did.  These two managed to survive my inexperience, the transplanting, the move, and the plethora of grasshoppers that feast on their leaves.

They are giving themselves to the autumn sun and preparing to show their splendor.

 

*****

My sweet peas have been giving fewer flowers.  I was disappointed, thought it was my over seeding, my experience to blame, until this week I made a discovery.  I noticed the sweetest little pea pods emerging: life giving itself to life.  The flowers were just the prelude to the blossoming pods.  And in this evolution, the sweet pea didn’t say, “she put in me too small a pot, and now I can only make little tiny pea pods, because that inexperienced gardener didn’t give me what I needed to grow.”

No such story.  The precious sweet pea just lives and does what it does, despite my over seeding the pot, and the unquestioned, glorious wild, overgrowth that the pot gives to the sun and sky, the bees and the butterflies.

 

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*******

Here is a zinnia blossom from the same pot that cherishes the sweet peas.  My zinnias are miniature in size, because there’s not room enough for them to extend massive blooms.  But that is part of their charm, and why they give me extraordinary pleasure.  When I look at them, they flower profuse and resplendent,  just as regular zinnias, but their diminutive size allows their stems to reach gracefully in the air, extending their dancer like arms in all directions.

They don’t complain that I didn’t properly give them space; they don’t care that they are in cramped quarters with the sweet peas.

I’ve noticed that the bees don’t sit on the porch railing and say, “wow, someone really didn’t know what they were doing when they planted those zinnias.”

No, they just gather nectar in the afternoon sun, with a lusty, greedy exuberance.

 

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*****

Nature is resilient, without blame or judgements.

To surrender ourselves to that depth of trust is what I believe we call “Enlightenment.”

 

 

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The Pains of Eighteen

“Failure lies concealed in every success, and success in every failure.”  —Eckhart Tolle

Yesterday, I completed eighteen miles.  The first seven or eight were easy.

The rest were as torture: emotional, physical, psychological.

I’m not convinced I can complete 26.2, especially after what yesterday delivered to my left knee.  Not only have I been ignoring my ITBS (Iliotibial Band Syndrome) which isn’t the smartest prep, I tumbled on my bad knee yesterday while avoiding a car.

All in all, instead of feeling well-trained and strong going in, I feel exhausted and discombobulated.  I should, in ideal worlds, have in at least two 20 miles stints before attempting 26.2, but that’s not happening.

Somewhere about mile ten, or so I think it was, I broke down sobbing in the middle of the woods.  From what I understand, this is a common phenomenon when undertaking any distance attempt, foot, bike, swimming, the stress often eliciting strong emotional reactions.  The roots are biological, a catharsis of mind and spirit given by the body.

*****

Two events triggered the sobbing yesterday, that I didn’t put together until about one a.m. Sunday morning.

The first was my impromptu stop into the local farm stand.  Since my place is on route to the owner’s home, she kindly delivers my pesticide – insecticide free fruit and vegetable bounty.  After hurriedly loading up my box and going to the register, the clerk, who I’ve come to know over the past month, asked me when I was doing the 26.2.  I said the 27th.  Another woman said, “Oh, is that a half-marathon?”  “No,” I corrected, “13.1 is a half marathon.  I’ll be completing the Boston Marathon route, the hardest marathon route in the U.S.”

The farm stand is about three miles out. The next four were easy.  Then the cloud cover started parting.  Soon, I was under the full sun on one of the route’s worst parts.  No trees beside the road.  No cloud cover.  My heart rate spiked.  I turned on a back road, one of my favorites, near the village where I used to live.  The woods there are like friends that I have missed, but my heart rate would not go down.

There’s a lake on the road, where I used to meditate.  It’s a private boat club, but if you’re not using a boat, no one bothers to card you (so I tell myself), even though the sign says, “PRIVATE BOAT CLUB, MEMBERSHIP PASS REQUIRED.”  There’s a port-a-potty that the boat club puts up from about May or June until September or October.  I counted on it being there, thankfully it was.  Before stepping into the potty, out on the docks, in the lake, I noticed a girl and her father playing, enjoying the sun, swimming in the water, relaxing.

I guess doing what kids do with their parents.  “Oh, that is how it looks, that’s what fathers and daughters do.”

Overwhelming pain hit me as I entered the portable green commode.  Where was my childhood?  Grief over a childhood denied, made visible in the love of a father enjoying a Saturday afternoon with his daughter.  This is an old reaction, one I’ve not had in a long time.  Seeing fathers with their young daughters always used to send me into a spin, constrict my body in pain, make me wrench in nausea.  The loss wasn’t just about my father, but about a childhood that in too many respects never existed.

“Why,” I asked, “why is this happening.  What can I make by revisiting these feelings, now.  What is the point?  Why here?  Why now?”

Meanwhile, my knee was on fire, my bra straps cut into my shoulders, my heart rate would not go down, and I was a mile to the half-way mark, and only then could I loop back home.

My mind was all over the place.  All the practice I’ve had on “process,” “presence,” breathing in the moment, taking my self to unexplored regions of open awareness were shot to hell.  Because it was hell, right then and there.  There was no being present, I was in pain, all of it.  Physical pain, psychological pain, emotional pain, and I was less concerned with some great catharsis than getting out of the pain.

Which was probably the point: no choice but to deal with the pain, no running from it (literally and figuratively), no hiding, no diversions, no instant gratification, no emotional numbing way to deal with it, on the road, in the middle of nowhere, no ability to do anything but live in it and through it.  Ten more miles to go.

I’m not certain, but I believe it was about this time I broke down sobbing, sobbing, sobbing.

And until I fell, which was probably about 16 miles in or so, the rest was living in pain.  Ironically, the fall on my bad knee delivered me from the hell of psychic pain, aroused me from the psychic morass into which I sunk, making the last two miles of physical pain relatively more bearable.

Despite the physical and mental anguish, a voice behind me removed from the turmoil gently kept saying, “You’ve got this.  You can do it.”

*****

I came home convinced that I would not do 26.2, and started drafting this blog entry in my head.

The knee injury, the pain, the self-inflicted masochism necessary to complete the task, not worth it.  Just no.  And I have no intention of doing long term damage to my left knee, which is the most pressing issue.

The original title was “Making It A Half,” for I decided that come September 27th, I would only do a half.

My mind wandered back to the conversation at the farm stand, “The Boston marathon route is the toughest in the U.S.,” and I thought, why did I need to say that?  What was the point in that “it’s really hard, but I am doing it” identification?  It certainly wouldn’t matter to anyone who didn’t know the difference between a half-marathon length and a full marathon length.

The observer in me noted: why do you make your narratives about the toughest, the hardest, the most difficult?  Why do you keep doing this?  If life is about being present, just enjoy it.

I then remembered my port-a-potty questions, “Why is this happening.  What can I make by revisiting these feelings, now.  What is the point?  Why here?  Why now?”

Perhaps, the thought came, because life is too short to worry about the toughest, the most demanding.  Just do your best, and your best doesn’t have to measure up to anyone else’s standard: there’s no compensating for deprivation or pain, pushing back at the world doesn’t change the past, and it won’t make life better.  It’s a bad habit, time to drop it.  If today shapes tomorrow, then making unconscious, poor choices based on the past doesn’t help.

Without awareness, it’s an empty fight, a meaningless push against one’s self and one’s self only.

Not coincidentally, when I came home, the Eckhart Tolle quote waited for me in my inbox.

I then remembered my Harvard graduation.  I remember thinking how “hard” I worked for that success, measuring myself by that G.P.A., always sure to remind myself that I received only “three A minuses during my graduate school career, the rest were A’s, and two of the three were from the thesis adviser from hell, who had to give me an A on the thesis.”  I remember the years of hacking out sentence after sentence, the weeks without sleep, the drive to make sure I met the goal.

Then there is the story about how my thesis was on “one of the most difficult texts in modern literature, it’s so difficult that no one writes on it.”

The drone of the difficult.  A meaningless narrative.

So what?  Who cares?

The better story is how much I loved my thesis work, how much I loved writing insightful and well written papers, and loosing sleep seemed a small price to pay for the result, papers that I deeply immersed myself in, that every so often flew off the page with their own wings.

There’s a saying much like the Eckhart aphorism that came to me in my recovery hours: sometimes what we think are our greatest successes are our biggest failings, and what we think are our greatest failings emerge as our greatest successes.

When I left Cambridge, I felt a complete failure.  My life and identity washed up on an unknown shore.  In addition to leaving all my future ambitions for an academic life, a life for which I was poorly suited, I remember throwing away the medals and celebration beads from the previous three times I participated in The Jimmy Fund, thinking, “you’ll never do that again.”

Of course I can do it again, if I want to.

And it doesn’t have happen this time around, barring major illness, the 26.2 is always there, if I care for my flesh and blood vehicle with love and compassion.  Until then, the training itself has been the gift, immersing myself again in a physical challenge to make my life better.

Seeing a girl with her loving father, and me breaking down in waves of loss as I trained for an event that I’ve dedicated to my absent father, was a circumstance not lost on me.  I don’t know the meaning.  I am too close to the emotional and behavioral layers, as well as the beautiful unfolding enveloping my life.

But I came to understand last night that if I only do 13.1 that is no failure, and doing the harder thing isn’t itself success, or demonstration of a life well lived.  The mileage is an arbitrary marker, and as the Tolle quote intimates, success and failure are fluid, relative states related to our awareness, which is life’s substance.  The life we’re born to live is one that is aware, not one that is “successful.”  Success can blind us to awareness; failure can open us to it.  If training opened me to insights that I’ve long-buried, made me stay with pain for longer than I would have liked while delivering something brilliant, it achieved the deeper goal: peeling away layers so that I am more aware.

A half-marathon, five miles, one mile, with and for my father is the gift, a gift that I’ve come to understand.

That I have legs, lungs, a heart, arms, and can undertake two miles, five miles, thirteen miles, or twenty-six miles is relative.   Whatever contributes to my unfolding development is long enough.  I don’t have to prove anything any more, nor do I need to injure myself needlessly while worrying about not measuring up.

Being fully present while being alive is the real distance.

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On Being Written

One does not have a life.  One is life.

The trick is getting out-of-the-way.  Given our dependence on language, the subject – object divide between self and life is permanent and messy.  When we do language, language does us, and part of that doing is perpetually framing the world in a subject-verb-object construction.

We erroneously place ourselves as creatures who act on the world in meaningful ways, be those actions noble or ignoble, conscious or unconscious; in fact, what we do with most of our precious time is create walls between ourselves and life.

Most of us don’t live; we frame life, shape it, control it in ways to make it better, because we fail to recognize that we are life already.  We strive and do to live, while not recognizing that life is who we are.

This is it.  Here.  Now.

No special requirement to get in.

Life’s “isness” is why meditation frees us — be it a theistic or an a-theistic practice — because the subject-verb-object distinctions lose their hold on our consciousness, however briefly.

In practicing stillness, life emerges again, briefly untangled from language’s myth that we are separate agents needing to do to be in a reality that exists as a constructed object.

We are.  We are life, individually and collectively.

And we share life with all life, though we rarely glimpse this breathtaking and beautiful truth.

I reread Anne Dillard’s “The Writing Life” this morning, an exquisite meditation on the practice of writing.  Rather, I stumbled on an Anne Dillard quote and felt inspired to return to the book.  So “The Writing Life” presented itself again to me.

The happy fortune of circumstance; life unfolding with the dawn.

Dillard describes writing practice as living; not practice as in a verb acted out by a subject so that the subject successfully marks itself on an object, that is, the world.  “I will practice writing, and I will be a writer, and a book proves that.”  No, that’s not how it works.  What I took away from Dillard, she never explicitly stated; interpretation says more about reader than writer.

This morning, this was how I read Dillard on writing: her view of writing practice emerged as the moments when subject and object dissolve, life opens itself, and one is written from life’s depths.  The more one practices, the deeper the dive into life.  One shows up , and surrenders over and again to its unknown ocean; then is one written.

Note that the WordPress proofreader alerts me with a green line that in “is written” I used the verboten passive voice.

Yes.  That’s right, the passive voice.  She who is written; the one open to being written.

A mere 113 pages, Dillard’s crown jewel sits near Chapter Five’s end, and shines gloriously:

“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time.  Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.   The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now.  Something more will arise for later, something better.  These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.  Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive.  Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you.  You open your safe and find ashes.”

If spiritual traditions teach us to give all away, it goes back to this truth, that the more one gives, the more one has.  We understand giving as “giving away,” but giving isn’t about loss, giving makes space for life’s tireless and resplendent energies.  Giving is “giving to.”  And giving is more than a tally, where the Divine sits ready to bless us for being oh-so-generous or working oh-so-hard.  Giving allows life to flow through us, for we don’t cling to one set of circumstances or realities, because the life choking subject-object distinction beautifully recedes; we’re restless, exploring, alive, creating, while still living in stillness’ center.  Carried to life’s mysterious peripheries, we trust everything that comes, then give more away in greater resplendence.  Whatever the art, the practice, it’s the dance between stillness and expanding radiance that returns us to life.

If we’re truly fortunate, the giving “I” disappears, becomes erased in living, as life overflows without thought.

In a similar spirit, Maya Angelou wrote, “You can’t use up creativity, the more you use the more you have.”  Because the creative well isn’t that lonely subject sitting there writing, hacking out sentence after sentence in a need for accomplishment.  The work is always its own reward in the dance, the well bottomless in its desire fill the one willing to be written.  The more we give ourselves, the more the stars, the sun, the moon, the earth, and life’s infinity unfold in us and for us, which is life itself.

I am not a writer.  I am written.  Poem by poem, essay by essay, page by page, chapter by chapter, book by book, until the return beyond subject-verb-object completes itself as many times as possible during my days.

And so it is.

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