I had a great idea for a new book, although come to think of it, maybe it is just a Facebook post. But it would be called Pre First Draft, and address the way we suit up and show up to be writers, artists, and general tribal-two-stomp creative types.
I think it would begin with an admonition: if you used to love writing, painting, dancing, singing, whatever, but you stopped doing it when you had kids or began a strenuous career, then you have to ask yourself if you are okay about not doing it anymore.
If you always dreamed of writing a novel or a memoir, and you used to love to write, and were pretty good at it, will it break your heart if it turns out you never got around to it? If you wake up one day at eighty, will you feel nonchalant that something always took precedence over a daily commitment to discovering your creative spirit?
If not—if this very thought fills you with regret—then what are you waiting for?
Back in the days when I had writing students, they used to spend half their time explaining to me why it was too hard to get around to writing every day, but how once this or that happens—they retired, or their last kid moved out—they could get to work.
I use to say very nicely, “That’s very nice; but it’s a total crock. Continue reading
If you can’t see what you’re looking for,
see what’s there.
One of the most difficult things for us to accept is that beneath all our dreams and disappointments, we live and breathe in abundance. It is hard when in pain to believe that all we ever need is before us, around us, within us. And yet it is true.
Like leafless trees waiting for morning, something as great and as constant as the Earth holds us up and turns us ever so slowly toward the light. Our task is only to be rooted and patient.
Never was this more painfully true for me than during the aftermath of my first chemo treatment. I was in a Holiday Inn at five in the morning after twenty-four hours of vomiting every twenty minutes. I was slumped on the floor, holding the space of a rib that had been removed three weeks earlier. And my wife—in anger, in panic, in desperation—called out, “Where is God?” And from some unknown place in me, through my pale slouched form, I uttered, “Here…right here.”
The presence of God has never eliminated pain, only made it more bearable. Now, when things don’t go the way I want, Continue reading
There is only one important point you must keep in your mind and let it be your guide. No matter what people call you, you are just who you are. Keep to this truth. You must ask yourself how is it you want to live your life. We live and we die, this is the truth that we can only face alone. No one can help us, not even the Buddha. So consider carefully, what prevents you from living the way you want to live your life?
~Dalai Lama XIV
It’s difficult to make people see that what you have been taught counts for nothing, and that the only things worth having are the things you find out for yourself. Also, that when so many brands of what Chesterton calls ‘fancy souls’ and theories of life are offered you, there is no sense in not looking pretty carefully to see what you are going in for. [...] It isn’t a case of ‘Here is the Christian religion, the one authoritative and respectable rule of life. Take it or leave it’. It’s ‘Here’s a muddling kind of affair called Life, and here are nineteen or twenty different explanations of it, all supported by people whose opinions are not to be sneezed at. Among them is the Christian religion in which you happen to have been brought up. Your friend so-and-so has been brought up in quite a different way of thinking; is a perfectly splendid person and thoroughly happy. What are you going to do about it?’ — I’m worrying it out quietly, and whatever I get hold of will be valuable, because I’ve got it for myself; but really, you know, the whole question is not as simple as it looks.
~Dorothy L. Sayers, The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers: 1899-1936: The Making of a Detective Novelist
My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, “I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,” that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, “It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,” it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real—really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.
So prayer is our sometimes real selves trying to communicate with the Real, with Truth, with the Light. It is us reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world, instead of darkness and cold. Even mushrooms respond to light—I suppose they blink their mushroomy eyes, like the rest of us.
Light reveals us to ourselves, which is not always so great if you find yourself in a big disgusting mess, possibly of your own creation. But like sunflowers we turn toward light. Light warms, and in most cases it draws us to itself. And in this light, we can see beyond our modest receptors, to what is way beyond us, and deep inside.
~Anne Lamott, Help Thanks Wow: Three Essential Prayers
Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.
~Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
All good deeds that are prompted by hope of happiness in the next world cease to be moral.
~Mohandas K. Gandhi
To be as kind as I possibly can be, even (especially!) to those who make it difficult.
To listen for and listen to my inner wisdom.
To create something beautiful every day.
To do more of the things that make my heart sing.
To look for the good in everyone.
To focus on what can be instead of what is.
To be true to myself, even when others might not like it.
To live every moment as if it is the most important one (and of course it is).
To cultivate joy in myself and others.
To focus on the things I have in common with people instead of the things that divide us.
To be present.
To make forgiveness a way of life.
To do things I’m afraid to do on a regular basis.
To choose happiness.
To make a difference.
To remember that the people that make me so mad and boggle my mind with the way they think and the things they do also have mothers and sisters and uncles and kids and dogs and favorite ice cream flavors and fears and loves, just like me.
To give myself a break when I don’t live up to all of the above (for I will surely have lots of days when I don’t).
(happy new year!)
What we speak becomes the house we live in.
Do not believe anything merely because you are told it is so, because others believe it, because it comes from tradition, or because you have imagined it. Do not believe what your teacher tells you merely out of respect. Believe, take for your doctrine, and hold true to that which, after serious investigation, seems to you to further the welfare of all beings. (47)
~Jean-Yves Leloup, Compassion and Meditation: The Spiritual Dynamic between Buddhism and Christianity
I know you’re tired, but come, this is the way.
It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.