Sunday, 20 March 2011

Just Keep Going


*Deep sigh*

As if there aren’t already enough jellyfish to go around, a big one plopped right on Japan’s doorstep. Life is like that – whether by karmic design or happenstance, not so good things pop up without warning. In Japan’s case, we have the foreknowledge that the nation of islands sits upon major seismic faults and historically has been subject to large quakes and tsunamis, but this is little comfort to the hurting people who must deal with the horrific consequences of the tsunami and the nuclear aftermath. My heart goes out to them . . . may all beings be happy and free of suffering!

Life is always like this and there’s not much we can do to avoid the not so good times. We must deal with them head on, one day at a time – or in the case of these dire, catastrophic events, an hour at a time, maybe even a minute or two, doing whatever we must to respond in appropriate and sensible ways.

The writing life is often just a microcosm within the macrocosm of our larger lives. We doodle along, mostly having good or perhaps mediocre writing days, in the sense that we make reasonably steady progress with our projects. Sometimes we feel the bumps of occasional dissatisfaction with our daily word count or the quality of our writing. Or maybe we’re dying to start something new but haven’t the foggiest notion where to go with the first blank page. Sometimes we even hit a wall and say that we have writers block. Writers have natural ups and downs – some swear they’re affected by moon phases or planetary alignments, others simply by what is happening in their personal lives at a particular moment.

Other writers seem to be able to produce a particular word count at a particular level of quality no matter what is happening around them. In fact, both the jellyfish days and the sundog days may stimulate this type of writer to fits of creativity. I admire an artist who can use both the dark and the light sides of life to stimulate their work. This is probably a sign of true equanimity, the ability to be okay no matter what. For aren’t we really okay even when things aren’t very okay?

I suspect that the process of being able to write or create art no matter the circumstances of our lives is probably more than a gift. It’s a process that can be cultivated by anyone, in the same way that years of meditation practice or contemplation allow the practitioner to achieve emotional equanimity and stability in their practice.

My Buddhist teacher Garchen Rinpoche says equanimity is possible because the mind can be either like water or like ice. In either case, the element is the same – H2O – but ice is locked up tight, of course, and water is fluid. Our minds either grasp and cling to our experiences as good or bad or we simply accept them as they arrive and respond in the most appropriate ways we can, seeing them simply as experiences.

I think we can apply this concept to our writing as well. Our minds are responsible for our creative flow. We can conceptualize, agonize, and become over-judgmental of our work. Some writers call this listening to the inner critic or the inner editor. This line of thought locks the creative process up. These negative thoughts are always with us, but compare them to clouds momentarily sailing along a clear blue sky. Let them pass without taking a ride on them.

We can choose to allow our creativity to flow moment to moment without restraint. The particular result of our daily – or whatever unit – writing may be either good or not so good, but our focus should be on the meditative aspect of it – the process itself, the flow of contemplation that leads us deeper into understanding, that allows us to shape our thoughts on paper. The process is all good, whether or not a particular session is serene / productive or mired in mishap.

Rinpoche always says just keep going. Good session – just keep going. Bad session – just keep going. Acceptance? Just keep going. Rejection? Just keep going . . .