Make Positive Effort For The Good, Sand Graffiti on Lake Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
I bumped into a coworker in the file room this morning. She said she finally looked at her 401K; she lost $7000. The Presidential candidates debated in a town hall forum tonight. Millions of people tuned in. Win, lose, or tie, how do we keep our center?
I’m not always that good at it. I need a little help. Practice can be anything you come back to that grounds you, moves you back to center. red Ravine was built on the premise that writing is a spiritual practice. Writing Practice can be a sane thread through the constant unraveling.
I pulled Bones and Wild Mind off the shelf after work this afternoon. The dog-eared corners lead me where I need to go — the deep-seated roots of three things Natalie learned from Katagiri Roshi. She passed them on to all of us. I thought her words might be helpful during these uncertain, anxious, and fearful times.
Three friends and I went on a weekend writing and meditation retreat last May. On one of our silent afternoon breaks, I sat by Lake Michigan writing haiku in a red notebook, and slow walked barefoot along the sand, carrying a big stick (no Presidential pun intended). Sand graffiti emerged from the fingertip of a white pine. I like to think the angels were cheering for us.
Continue, continue, continue.
Make Positive Effort For The Good
During all the thick days of my divorce eight years ago, only one thing helped. I remember Roshi saying, “Make positive effort for the good.” For me it meant, “Get up and get dressed. Just get up.” He meant to make human effort under all circumstances. If you make effort, beings seen and unseen will help. There are angels cheering for us when we lift up our pens, because they know we want to do it. In this torrential moment we have decided to change the energy of the world. We are going to write down what we think. Right or wrong doesn’t matter. We are standing up and saying who we are.
-Natalie Goldberg, from Wild Mind – Living The Writer’s Life, Chapter 37: Positive Effort, Bantam Books, 1990
Don’t Be Tossed Away, Sand Graffiti on Lake
Michigan, Sheboygan County, Wisconsin,
May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey.
All rights reserved.
Don’t Be Tossed Away
Don’t be tossed away by your monkey mind. You say you want to do something — “I really want to be a writer” — then that little voice comes along, “but I might not make enough money as a writer.” “Oh, okay, then I won’t write.” That’s being tossed away. These little voices are constantly going to be nagging us. If you make a decision to do something, you do it. Don’t be tossed away. But part of not being tossed away is understanding your mind, not believing it so much when it comes up with all these objections and then loads you with all these insecurities and reasons not to do something.
-Natalie Goldberg, from Writing Down The Bones — Freeing The Writer Within, Afterward, Shambala Publications, 1986
Continue Under All Circumstances, Fading
Sand Graffiti on Lake Michigan, Sheboygan
County, Wisconsin, May 2008, photo © 2008 by
QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.
Continue Under All Circumstances
Our senses by themselves are dumb. They take in experience, but they need the richness of sifting for a while through our consciousness and through our whole bodies. I call this “composting.” Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories. But this does not come all at once. It takes time. Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil.
…Katagiri Roshi said: “Your little will can’t do anything. It takes Great Determination. Great Determination doesn’t mean just you making great effort. It means the whole universe is behind you and with you — the birds, trees, sky, moon, and ten directions.” Suddenly, after much composting, you are in alignment with the stars or the moment or the dining-room chandelier above your head, and your body opens and speaks.
Understanding this process cultivates patience and produces less anxiety. We aren’t running everything, not even the writing we do. At the same time, we must keep practicing. It is not an excuse to not write and sit on the couch eating bonbons. We must continue to work the compost pile, enriching it and making it fertile so that something beautiful may bloom and so that our writing muscles are in good shape to ride the universe when it moves through us.
This understanding also helps us to accept someone else’s success and not to be too greedy. It is simply that person’s time. Ours will come in this lifetime or the next. No matter. Continue to practice.
-Natalie Goldberg, from Writing Down The Bones — Freeing The Writer Within, Composting, Shambala Publications, 1986
-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, October 7th, 2008, with gratitude to Natalie