Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Writing About Writing

"Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.”

“So okay― there you are in your room with the shade down and the door shut and the plug pulled out of the base of the telephone. You've blown up your TV and committed yourself to a thousand words a day, come hell or high water. Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want.”

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

When I write about writing, I’m not writing only about writing.  I’m writing about how finding something, anything, to which we are willing to devote our time and lives.  I call this Purpose and I think it has the following criteria:
First, it is, as I said, something to which we devote our time and lives.  For me, this means late nights, weekends, vacation times, and early mornings.  It is something around which I schedule my day and I do it as long as possible and as often as possible.  I don’t take many breaks from this.
Second, it is something that we believe makes life better, directly or indirectly, for the world, for those around us, and/or for ourselves.  This positive difference can be spiritual, emotional, physical, and/or financial.  Although I said “directly or indirectly” I hope that my work makes a direct difference and that I may see the effects. 
Third, it requires more commitment than enthusiasm.  Enthusiasm is great when it occurs.  But it usually only occurs after I begin working, not before. This is closely related to the first principle.  I’m devoting my life to this, not only during the good times, but in the difficult times, when I have little or no enthusiasm, when I’m not getting the response I’d like, when I feel apathetic or even when I’ve lost faith in my ability or my relevance.   I work through loneliness, fear, and, sometimes, even illness.  It’s that important to me.  The only thing that should legitimately prevent me from being in Purpose is an emergency or a new Purpose…and sometimes not even then.
There are also benefits to my writing, or Purpose if writing isn’t your thing.
First, it’s cathartic.  It allows me to work through emotions, such as fear and sadness.  Sometimes the catharsis comes in doing the very act itself.  Other times it comes as a benefit.  Perhaps there’s a little of both.  Once in a while, especially if I’m in a fearful state, catharsis doesn’t come at all.  Still, I do my work and wait for healing to come in another way.
Second, it’s fun.  This is not true all the time, but it’s true, more often than not.  It’s fun because I’m in the moment.  There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.  Even when it’s difficult, it’s fun.  Currently I’m working towards a Master’s degree.  I’ve never worked harder or more diligently in my life (except when I began writing these blogs), but it’s still fun.  It’s certainly more fun than the fun I thought I would have when I avoided my work in the past.
Third, I’m producing something of substance.  Even if what you’re doing doesn’t provide tangible or measurable results, trust me, you’re making a difference.  In writing, I’m fortunate to see the results.  I can count the blogs, reread them, or count the number of pages I’ve written in my journals.  It’s nice to be able to see it, but if all my work, mysteriously disappeared, I would still retain the inner growth I achieved in doing my work.    Purpose always leads to personal growth.

So when I’m writing about writing, I’m not.  I’m writing about how powerful and freeing it is to Get Started and to Keep Going every day.  And that’s worth writing about.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Keeping Busy...Sort Of....

“The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Sometimes the trick is to keep busy.  Well, it’s more than that.  It’s to follow through on the commitments I’ve made, my Purpose, my goals.  There are some benefits to this.  First, it keeps my mind occupied.  My mind can be my friend or it can be my worst Enemy.  It is my Enemy when I just leave it to its own devices.  Imagine leaving a young child alone and saying, “Do whatever you want.”  Chances are that child will cause problems. 
I find my mind works the same way.  If I just let it think what it wants, it will go to the most negative, the most frightening, or the saddest.  I don’t know if this is all of us, most of us, or just me, but my mind at least tends to get in trouble and wander off into bad places.  So, again, like a small child, I have to take King Solomon’s advice and “train it in the way it should go, and when it is old it will not depart from me.”
First, I want to acknowledge that my mind wants to go somewhere negative.  I see the sadness or the fear or the anger.  I’m not ignoring it or telling it to shut up.  Again, using the analogy of the child, that doesn’t work.  But nor will I try to reason with it.  I’m simply going to lead it differently.  I know what my mind is prone to do.  It will get me lost in darkness and despair.  This happens every time.  So I’m going to be a good parent and lead it to a better place.
I think I’ll take it to my house on the beach.
Am I now in an imaginary future that is just as useless as where my mind would rather go?  No.  Because this is more than an imagination – this is a goal.  This is my plan.  No matter what happens in the next few weeks or months, this is what I am working for.  It’s best to be present in this moment, but it’s also good to have a future orientation.  Those ideas do not contradict but complement like a hummingbird and a flower.  Each needs the other.
When I think of my house on the beach, I begin to think not only of that image, but also of the work I must do to get there.  I don’t mind the work.  This is why I have daily goals.  This is why I work on weekends and nights and during my time off.  This is why I rarely do anything anymore that doesn’t move me at least a little bit forward.  This is why I write.  This is why I study.  This is why I will work no matter what happens –through loneliness, fear, sadness, worry, or any other distracting emotions – I will not stop.  In fact, I will probably increase my output.
Instead of writing three pages by hand, I will write five.
Instead of putting one thing on eBay, I will put ten.
Instead of writing one blog, I will write two.
Instead of reading 50 pages, I will read 60.
Instead of walking two miles today, I will walk…well, probably still two.  It’s cold outside today.
As I said, the point in increasing my output isn’t just to keep busy; it’s to focus my mind on pursuits far worthier than fear.  It’s also to train my mind.  When we train something, a child, a pet, an employee, or ourselves, we are trying to change behavior, by adding a positive one and preventing or eliminating a negative one.  We are, in some way, trying to make a better and more productive world.  When I train my mind, I am not just trying to keep busy.  I am trying to get somewhere.  Specifically, I am trying to get to my house on the beach.  And negative feelings just slow me down.
In writing this blog, I feel better.  I know that today might be a battle for my mind.  Some days are like that.  But I have a battle plan.  My plan is to accept what is, and then change what I can and let go of what I can’t.  Then I will work on my stated goals. 
Already I feel love and peace flowing through me.  I’m not completely there yet, but I’m not where I was when I started writing.    That is a huge step forward.  By taking action, by remembering to Get Started and to Keep Going, I was able to discipline my mind, to have self-mastery, one of the greatest skills one can have.  In disciplining myself, I have actually freed myself. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

"War Is Over..."

“A very Merry Christmas
And a Happy New Year,
Let’s hope it’s a good one,
Without any fear.

War is over
If you want it.”

John Lennon and Yoko Ono – Happy Xmas/War Is Over

“War is over, if you want it.”  Do we really want it?  Do I?  Eckhart Tolle writes about the Pain Body, the entity that creates and then feeds on misery, anger, sadness, negativity, regret, guilt, and all other unhappy emotions.  He says, “The pain-body wants to survive, just like every other entity in existence, and it can only survive if it gets you to unconsciously identify with it.”
In other words, it wants me to believe that my “unhappy false self” is actually me.  It’s not.  It feels like me.  It sounds like me.  It seems to have my memories and know my stories.  But it’s not me.  It’s the Pain Body.  It’s the Enemy.   It’s the entity that wants to keep me miserable, unproductive, and destructive.  It hates me.  It’s personal and it’s impersonal.  It is, as Steven Pressfield describes it in The War of Art, “a force of nature.”  Every bad impulse, action, and thought comes from this.  Every single one.
If I feel hatred…
If I feel critical…
If I feel guilty…
If I’m embarrassed…
If I’m overly sensitive…
If I’m jealous…
If I’m resentful…
If I’m regretful…
If my mind is anywhere but in the present moment, then I am being attacked by the Pain Body, which is to say, most of the time.  Or it has been most of the time through much of my life.  I have spent the last few years trying to live and think differently.  Recently, I had a victory over my Pain Body simply by acknowledging it and allowing it to be there.  I simply observed it.  I shone a light on it until it went away.  It was a very powerful victory, made all the better because it is a discipline I can practice.
I’ve had these victories before, but now I am determined to live differently so I am making this my “spiritual practice.”  Every time I encounter negativity of any kind – fear, anger, guilt, sadness, regret – I observe it without judgment, blame, or self-criticism.  I don’t tell myself that I shouldn’t feel that way.  Any way I feel is acceptable, or at least is present.  Admitting and accepting that it’s there is the first step to being free of it.
When it goes away, it is often replaced by joy.  Sometimes my joy feels like one of Abraham Maslow’s peak experiences.  I feel so happy that it’s indescribable.   At other times, I just feel calm.  Sometimes I feel somewhere in between the two.  What I don’t feel is afraid. 
I read The Power of Now at least seven years ago, but I’m really working on practicing it now and doing so consistently.  I don’t know if it’s possible to be peaceful every moment, but it’s certainly possible to be peaceful a lot more.  It’s also possible to not be caught in the grip of any negative emotion.
What does this have to do with war?
As I said, we have an Enemy that wants to destroy us.  It will use every weapon in its arsenal, but it always starts by attacking our minds.  Saint Paul said,
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Maybe the war will never end.  Or maybe it will.  Maybe I can always be peaceful, joyful, loving, and productive.  Or maybe I will have to fight for it.  I’m going to act as if the war is over, because I want it.  I’m going to Get Started and Keep Going…because I want that, too.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.

Roy L. Smith

Christmas isn't a season. It's a feeling.

Edna Ferber

I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.

Charles Dickens

It’s Christmas Eve and I’ve wrapped presents for my girls and I’m not feeling well, but I’ve taken some medicine so I feel okay for now.  I’m listening to December by George Winston and I’m feeling grateful for all that I have and all that I’ve done this year and all that I am and am becoming. 
Christmas can be a very difficult and stressful time because we put all these extraordinary expectations on it:
·      It should be perfect.
·      Everyone should get what they want.
·      No one should be alone.

I’ve always believed these things myself.  And that can make it harder.  I’d like to discuss each of these beliefs.
First, the idea that Christmas should be perfect just creates too much stress.  What does that mean anyway?  Does it mean that there’s no stress or strife or complaining or negativity?  I don’t mean to be cynical, but December 25 is just another day.  Granted, it is the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus, but it could have been any day.  It may also help to remember much of the world literally does see this as just another day because they don’t celebrate Christmas.  So they don’t have unrealistic expectations about how the day should go.  They probably have no expectations at all.
But it’s important here and I understand why we want it to be perfect.   People work hard to make it perfect.  We decorate trees and our homes.  We make sumptuous meals.  We travel and we make special arrangements to see friends and family.  Some people get time off, but the Christmas season can feel like a second job.  And then there’s the shopping.
There have been times in my life when I found just the right gift for someone and it made me happy to buy it.  Gift-giving comes from a long tradition starting with the Magi, the three wise kings, giving gifts to the baby Jesus.  Chances are that didn’t happen on the night of Jesus’s birth.  But things have morphed over the centuries and now gift-giving and shopping are the main focus of Christmas for many people.  Lately, I’ve found it not only stressful, but also arbitrary, odd, and contradictory.  There seems to be very little peace on earth and good will towards all men when I’m just trying to find a parking space or I’m irritable because the last Cotton Candy Maker, the one I’ve been trying to get my daughter, is gone. I like gifts.  I like giving them and receiving them.  But there’s something strange about fighting crowds and traffic to buy things that may or may not make others happy.  And if things are what make us happy, then our priorities may be wrong anyway. 
Finally, there’s the idea that no one should be alone on Christmas Day.  No one should be alone on any day, unless they want to be.  More accurately, no one should be lonely on Christmas Day, or any other day.  I enjoy being alone, but I hate being lonely.  The difference is obvious.  Loneliness tells me that I am incomplete or that I am not wanted or accepted.  But the truth is if I can’t learn to love myself, it’s hard to accept the love of others.  Other people can and do enrich our lives.  And they can make them make our lives more challenging.  But most of my strife is internal.  External factors only bring out what is already in me, including fear, anger, or neediness.  Companionship is good.  Neediness is not.
Last night I felt very needy.  An external event triggered it.  But I am tired of being needy and afraid.  So I practiced the discipline of being in the moment, first by observing my fear and then by realizing it was only a thing, like a physical object.  I could choose to hold onto it or to let it go.  I kept observing it until I felt neutral about it, until it no longer controlled me.  I let it go.  Within a few minutes, I felt calm and all my fear was gone.  Soon I felt love, joy, and peace – the ideals of Christmas.
So then Christmas, the true spirit of Christmas is not about getting, or even about giving, but about being… being peaceful, being joyful, and being loving so that we can give and receive in the spirit with which it was intended.  I can do this by being present in each moment.  I can create peace on Earth and good will towards all men.  I can Get Started and Keep Going…and make every day like Christmas.