Friday, 1 November 2013

The Next Step

How do I write what I don’t want to write?

These words have been lingering almost a year. The question invites me forward and, feeling their pull, I retract again and again. Just look at this blog; the most recent post is eleven months old. In the year prior to this, more than thirty pieces appeared. This is a sudden and dramatic downturn.

Life is not a neutral force. She is active, communicative, engaging. And she requests the same of us: action, communication, engagement. Put another way, she asks us to grow, literally to become bigger. Life is constantly inviting us to hold more and more of the fullness that we are. This is a generous and compassionate act. It is a fact that I currently, to some extent at least - Write this, she whispers - resist.

I have inserted the phrase ‘to some extent’ here because there has been engagement with her invitation and some of this has occurred through the written word. I have, for example, composed more than one hundred poems over the past months. This is a striking development for one who does not write poetry. But in what has been a torrent at some times and a trickle at others they have come - compact reflections of moments as they move in and through this body. Images of the moon, one could say, seen from many perspectives as she shines on the water of my being.

Just the other night I was kept up into the early hours by this. My pen traced mad the outlines of words as they arose, continued until all movement in my hand ceased. Then, with the space of the body laying still and open, I went to bed.

What words emerged in the course of this vigil? Six poems were completed. Here is one entitled ‘Care For This Body’. Though all were distinct, these lines are typical of what expressed that evening:

How does one care for a body
Braced against long ago assaults
Assailants who still linger
Through even these days

A mother sits up late tonight
Child at rest in her lap
Darkness pressing in
But she will not flinch

Her fingers trace gentle rivers
Through long strands of hair
As her voice offers hushed tones
Attention never wavers

“I am here child,”
She whispers
“I am

Other pieces, too, have been composed in the span since my last post. Most are long stream of embodiment explorations. Works that let go much clinging to notion and expectation and, instead, surrender to the ebbs and flows of life as I type in a coffee shop, write at our kitchen table. There are probably several dozen of these. Notably, all of this number are first drafts; not one has been polished in the slight but deliberate way these blog pieces are, not one has been shared.

I remember hearing Bruce Cockburn describe his creative process as unfolding through three parts: writing, recording, performing. Moving through each of these, he explained, brought completion to the work. I understand this. The requirements of the second and third of these - or their near equivalents - bring something to the practice I’ve engaged here that the poems and the longer pieces described above lack. There is awareness that ignites with polishing, for instance, and vulnerability that opens with sharing. Both seem essential to realizing the wholeness of this work, and yet...

Have I ever mentioned why this writing began? I’m certain I have at some point. There are, I suppose, several motivations. This one seems most relevant here: a desire to see more clearly what this journey, this path, what this life wants to reveal. And there is something in this process, in this practice of pen to paper, that gives birth to such clarity of sight in a powerful way. I follow energies as they give birth to words, and revelations come that are surprising and affecting both. Which is, in truth, part of the reason I have shied away from this place, absented myself from this blog.

There is an impressive amount of judgement in this fact. A barrage of self-condemnation heavy with the punishment implicit in words like ‘coward’ and ‘fraud’ and ‘loser’. More punishing still when the invitation is right there before me - a road sign, it’s surface alive with large, curling script: Write this.

Not enjoying this experience of worthlessness, I soon turn from that sign, angle away from that fork in the road, and wander so far that I soon forget I ever stood in that place. Fork? Sign? Invitation? I feel like shit but the threat of the call has been conveniently ignored. I am able to return to more comforting pastimes: checking out Taylor Swift on Youtube, visiting in order to get the latest on Bob Dylan.

Only hours ago I got off the phone with a friend. In the course of our discussion, bringing him up to date on the going ons in my life, I spoke of a realization. “I have a tendency to ignore,” I reported. Buddhism notes three basic strategies we use to manipulate the world in which we live, to make it - or try to make it - a little more cozy and agreeable. There is passion, in which we build things up: “That was great, don’t you think that was really great?” There is aggression, which involves pushing away what we do not like: “I don’t want to talk about it!” And then there is ignorance, the tendency to plain old ignore what’s waiting, calling, inviting.

I’m sure I employ all of these in one way or another. I’m certain we all do. Lately, however, I have become aware of the prevalence of the third in my life, the ways in which I do not see - I ignore - what’s going on.

This can manifest in as ordinary an arena as my relationship with email. A message comes in, requiring a response I’m uncomfortable with. I put this note in the ‘To Do’ folder, knowing full well (a) I never check this folder and, consequently, (b) anything placed here pretty much goes unaddressed. I put the notice here, in other words, and ignore what’s being asked of me. Or at least pretend to ignore, because that email, while not seen, becomes ever present after this. In one way, shape, or form, it pulls at my awareness - a subtle ill-ease in the body, reminding me always of its existence.

My typical response to the invitation to ‘write what I do not want to write’ fits neatly into this pattern. Condemning myself for not accepting that call has proven a most effective distraction from - a great way to ignore - what is being asked of me. It gets me not only to turn away from that sign at the fork in the road but also, because I feel so crappy while this is going on, to completely lose track of any sense this is what I am doing. ‘I suck,’ it seems, offers a very efficient set of blinders.

Let’s pause here, okay? Can you feel the subtle / not so subtle self critique in the above? It’s there. I can feel it skulking through the body. There is a tenor of exorcism in my words. Like in describing this pattern of ignorance I will somehow get rid of it. Beneath this, a sense there is something sinful about this ignorance, sinful in myself. I’m still behind those blinders, I suspect. Devil begone!

So let’s pause.

The teacher I work with, Reggie Ray, speaks from time to time about the ‘next step’ being asked of him. This subject has arisen several times in the years I have known the man and seems to have come up again. I have heard several whispers of this sort recently and what is notable on this occasion is the personal invitation - there’s that word again - I hear in these.

In the past, these times of transition have, from my perspective, been ‘Reggie’s thing’. He’s felt some sort of call. He’s going through some sort of change. My part in this has been peripheral at best: I sit back and wait for him to re-emerge and tell me what’s happening. “This is our direction,” he might announce. Very dutifully, I then rise from my seat and fall in line.

Now, however - right here, right now, tonight - I don’t feel this way. The issue of ‘next step’ is floating in the air, lingering like mist. This seems to be percolating through my system, absorbing into my flesh and bones and blood. That question has assumed a very personal resonance. What is my next step?

Write this, she whispers.

There is a landscape I have long walked as means of ignoring the invitations of life. This is a difficult and uneven terrain marked by crevices of worthlessness and boulders of self-doubt. Marked by high, flat rock walls of shame and embarrassment. Looking up one of these dark faces right now, I can see there are no hand-holds on its surface, nothing to grip in order to climb its blank features. This leaves two choices: Stand here and stare down this thick face of stone or turn around, go back in the direction I have come from.

Both, I suspect, have value. Stare at this wall long enough and I am sure a degree of porousness will become apparent. Its stony impenetrability will open up and begin to reveal things not immediately apparent. Looking - like the words ‘Open Sesame’ in the Ali Baba stories - has the power to do this. We look and we look and we look - and, when we have looked long enough, we are granted the gift of sight.

For now, however, I am going to turn around. I am going to move back across this landscape and return to stand at that fork in the road. Feeling so very small beneath a massive signpost, I will keep my eyes angled upward in order to follow that curling script and wonder for the thousandth time: ‘How do I write what I don’t want to write?’

Maybe I’ll end up right back here before too long. Though I now step away from the shame and embarrassment of that high, flat wall, it’s presence lingers. I can feel it in the body - tight chest, warm cheeks, an impulse to hide. The pull is still there, strong. The result of decades’ familiarity, I’m sure. The same could be said for any element of this landscape - the twisted tree, that cluster of stone, the black crow cawing high, circling hungry overhead.

Maybe I’ll end up back here before too long; probably I will.

But for now I find myself standing at this fork, staring at this sign, asking what those words hold. There is power in words, I know this. Just as with looking, if we hold words long enough - remain faithful and true to their company - they begin to unfold for us. They reveal to us something we need to know. Something we need to understand. Someplace we need to be. Words can show us our next step when we stay close to them in this way. So here I stand. Waiting and wondering. And waiting some more.