Writing – a sentence at a time…

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I am reading Julia Cameron‘s The Right to Write and feel like I’ve made a new friend who keeps urging me to write.  In her chapter titled “The Time Lie” she writes,

“If I had a year off, I’d write a novel,”
Maybe you would.  Maybe you wouldn’t.  Often the greased slide to writer’s block is a huge batch of time earmarked: “Now write.”  Making writing a big deal tends to make writing more difficult. Keeping writing casual tends to keep it possible.[1]

And literally she read my mind.  I had thought, “Maybe, I’ll write a novel… but I really don’t have time.  I’ll stick to poetry.”

Later in the chapter she writes,

The “if-I-had-time” lie is a convenient way to ignore the fact that novels require being written and that writing happens a sentence at a time.  Sentences can happen in a moment.  Enough stolen moments, enough stolen sentences, and a novel is born – without the luxury of time.[2]

So I decided to try it.  And the past couple of days I’ve been sick in bed so in between napping I’ve been writing down sentences shooting for a novel.  And it’s funny I’ll get going a little bit and then stop – not knowing where to go next.  And as soon as I stop I start thinking.  Oh no! Am I ever going to be able to finish this?? Is it going to be any good??

And I realized yesterday that all the art I’ve ever done has taken no more than a couple of hours.  I haven’t taken on projects that take weeks and months to finish.  I write a poem, I finish it, and I immediately decide whether it is any good. So this concept of writing something that will take weeks or months to finish is in some ways terrifying.  How will I know if it’s any good until I finish?  And how can I trust that it’s good enough to keep going?

So I’m heading into uncharted territories – and some parts of it are amazing as funny ideas spring out from no where. And the characters emerge from the page taking on quirks and heading in directions I hadn’t planned for them.  And other parts of it are scary.

And so I’m learning to lean into the discomfort of not knowing where it’s going and somehow when I am able to do that, is exactly when the characters surprise me in amazing ways.  And it’s kind of like life – I don’t really know where it’s going and the more I am okay with not knowing the more interesting opportunities emerge.

So slowly but surely – a sentence at a time – I am learning to live, and I am learning to write.


[1] Cameron, Julia. The Right to Write. New York: Penguin Putman Inc, 1998, p. 13.
[2] Cameron, Julia. The Right to Write. New York: Penguin Putman Inc, 1998, p. 14.

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Paradigm Shift

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Since I was a child, I’ve hated scary movies.  And as I grew up I learned to avoid the genres of action, adventure, crime, fantasy, horror, mystery, thriller and science fiction.  I am a sensitive person and so I would get so caught up in the film it would feel like I was a participant.   For example – when I was in high school I chose to stop watching The Amazing Race because I would get so wrapped up that I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep afterwards.

Last week I went to the movie theatres to watch the relatively calm film Inside Llewyn Davis and as usual there was a preview for an action film before the movie started.  And I had the realization that if I focussed on breathing deeply while watching the preview – I didn’t get caught up in it.  I didn’t get carried away into thinking that I was actually the main character in a fight for my life.  My body didn’t go into fight or flight mode.  And I could relax even while watching the preview.

Now this might not seem like that big deal but this has been a huge paradigm shift for me.  Instead of avoiding all the things and all the people that make me tense (which ends up being A LOT of things and A LOT of people and gets quite complicated) – I can shift the way I interact with them.  By connecting to my breath and to myself I can change the experience of the situation.

And now there are a lot of opportunities for me to practice :).  Living and working in a shared space means I end up bumping into others and into myself.  So what helps me stay connected to my breath in the midst of conflict?

I am practicing and I am finding out.  And I am learning to change how I experience the challenges in my life.

Black/White/Grey

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In the Yoga Development Course I took last winter we studied the Bhavagad Gita – an ancient yogic text.  And we read the entire text out loud in groups in four days.  Then wrote a couple of papers.

And I’m realizing now that it’s a text that I could spend years studying intensively.  That the initial four days was only dipping my toe in.

In the text Krishna says, “By the delusion of the pairs of opposites arising from desire and aversion, O Bharata, all beings are subject to delusion at birth.”  And ‘the Pairs of Opposites’ was something I was beginning to understand then, and as I continue to reflect I am able to understand more fully now.

Last week I went on vacation from Yasodhara Ashram, where I work and live. It was beautiful and special.  It was spacious.  I spent lots of time outside, with people I love and alone.  I went to a few dance classes and helped my sister look for jobs in the non-profit sector.

And suddenly I was seeing the world outside of the Ashram as a beautiful place and almost immediately after this realization began to see my world inside the Ashram as a place of limitation and pressure.  One was good and therefore the other must be bad.

Now that I’m entering back into the Ashram, I’m seeing the tricks of my mind.  Yes, there are limitations and challenges living here, but there are also supportive aspects and beauty.  There is an amazing team of passionate and intelligent women who run the place and who I get to work with.

And so it’s not that one’s good and therefore the other must be bad but both experiences – living at the Ashram and living away from the Ashram – are dynamic.  In both experiences I have choice of how I work with the supports and limitations that exist.  And in both situations I am in control of my life.

And for me – for today – that is transcending the Pairs of Opposites.  Things are not black or white but grey.  And wherever I am I can take responsibility for how I experience my life.

Pressure

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I am on a vacation from the community that I live in – spending a week skiing and hiking and sitting in coffee shops.  And as I stepped out of the flow of community life, the first thing I noticed was how a pressure was lifted.

Suddenly I’m in a town where people don’t know my story – my habits and my background, my strengths and my weaknesses.  And suddenly I can breath more fully.

So what is this pressure? Where does it come from?  What is the source?  And what is the cause?

In community living there are a lot of pressures.  I get into disagreements.  I get feedback about how I could have done something better.  I give feedback about how I feel like something could be done better.

And there’s a pressure that comes with being seen by my community.  There’s no hiding my habits or choices.  Everyone knows and everyone is free to comment.

I’ve been in situations before where someone is trying to put the pressure on me – convince me to do something in the way that they would.  And it’s easy for me to step out, to let go, to breath, to not take on the pressure.

So how can I do this where I live and work now?  How can I notice the pressures but not take them on?

The first step is where I am now – to see the pressures and to acknowledge that they are impacting my life.  And the next step is learning to step out when I don’t need to be in them.  Taking a deep breath and realizing that what is happening doesn’t need to be taken personally.  Acknowledging the facts and at the same time to not say it’s “all my fault.”

And my life in the community is the perfect place to practice this.  Pressure will come up and I have a choice of how to work with it.

So Tuesday I step back, into the community, into the flow and into the pressures.  By stepping out I could see what was happening.  Now I can step back in and make a change.