Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Dreams Dissolve Without Warning

In my universe, the month of May began with the announcement that Osama bin Laden had been discovered and killed in a raid in Pakistan. It’s closing with a Christian sect prediction of the Biblical Rapture that didn’t materialize, punctuated by all too frequent real-life earthquakes and destructive storms. We seem to be lurching from big event to bigger event and back again. I’m a fairly imaginative fiction writer, and I couldn’t make some of this stuff up! Real life is so awe-inspiring at the moment that I find myself reading much less fiction and many more news features, op-eds, and narrative non-fiction books.  

I’ve had a dozen different thoughts this month about what to write for this blog post. Out of those dozen ideas, maybe half of them would have yielded solid essays. But I didn’t write them down and my laziness led to loss. That’s probably a testament to keeping an idea notebook or file. I have one, but didn’t note any of the elusive thoughts inspired by either by randomness, the day’s newsworthy events, or maybe something I saw in the news or read on another writer’s blog.  

Also, I meant to do the next post on a Keats quote I mentioned in my last post, but I didn’t note this and then forgot about my plan! It wasn’t until I finished this installment and copied it into my long document of all my blog entries did I notice my previous intention! 

That’s a double jellyfish moment, for sure. 

The writing life is like that. If you don’t pluck them from the ether, ideas and the inspiration to use them evaporate:


Sheer as pearldust
stories flutter
at poets’ tongues

butterfly exuberant

Speak freshly
dreams dissolve
without warning

KR 1997

You’d think I’d learn my own lesson. I keep a pocket notebook with me wherever I go, and spend half my life in front ofa computer and near pencil and paper, but I still let ideas vanish. I often make the excuse that a good idea is so memorable I’ll never forget it. Either that or I’m in the middle of something I don’t want to interrupt. Or I’m simply being lazy. But in this age of information overload coupled with my aging brain and ADD, I forget my bright ideas very quickly. 

So act on your creative thoughts immediately. Jot them down, whether on paper or in a Word file. Interrupt yourself to do this even though you might not use your ideas immediately. I’ve perused old lists and then written poems, essays, and stories years after writing down the initial idea down. You never know what powerful writing might spring from a sudden idea if you allow yourself the grace to accept it.

That’s not to say that we need to grasp at all thoughts. As we do with our writing, we have to know what thoughts to follow and what thoughts to let go. It’s appropriate to simply observe thoughts arising in our minds without chasing them. This is because the human mind is prone to chatter; most of this chatter is rather useless and even debilitating. Attaching to some thoughts and continuing to follow them, as in letting our brain stay “on automatic”, leads to habitual patterns in our behavior that are hard to overcome. 

These are the thoughts that bind us to our own worst fears. Usually these thoughts run in the direction of self-hatred or hatred for others, ranging from envy to bigotry. Or these thoughts are tied to anxiety and insecurity. Some simply replay past issues, things we regard with negative emotions like resentment. 

Sometimes these binding thoughts are more practical, but they create narrow parameters for our lives. You know, like the ones that tell us that we must always prioritize things like making grocery lists and cleaning the bathroom. Sometimes we stand in our own creative path rather than letting some of the daily stuff go. Sometimes we have important, creative missions we effectively avoid by safely adhering to routine. 

We often spend considerable energy reviewing thoughts that bind us to a past that is over or a future that doesn’t exist (or even a present that lacks creative spark). Living in the present moment frees our minds to respond more appropriately and creatively to life as it happens. This is sort of like narrowing a beam of light onto the task at hand, a practice of concentration that’s very useful for creative work. 

So our thoughts are the threads that bind us to our own suffering, that create the webs that become obstacles to our creativity and eventual enlightenment. Both the negative and ordinary thoughts that bind us can be handled by simply observing them and watching them evaporate, like watching a time-lapse video of clouds forming and dissolving, swirling eternally across the sky. The true nature of our minds is like the sky, pure and boundless above those clouds. This practice of limiting mental chatter in order to maintain awareness is the point of meditative practice. 

When we’re engaged in deep creation, whether as writers and artists, or cooks and inventors, neuroscientists have discovered that our brains produce the gamma and theta brainwaves that also occur during deep meditation. We go into “the zone”. I suspect by training ourselves to clear unnecessary chatter that we open our mind for clearer and more creative thought. 

An open mind allows our own underlying wisdom, compassion, and creative energy to shine through. We all have this awake Buddha mind, this connected creativity – it’s the eternal sunshine that those clouds and storm fronts obscure only temporarily. The clouds are ephemeral but the sun’s light and energy is constant. 

The never-ending motion of waves at the ocean’s surface is another analogy or metaphor for the mind. Underneath the surface of the restless ocean lies a vast layer of imperturbable water. The waves are similar to the thoughts that constantly arise in our mind and disappear back into the source. The practice of mindfully observing arising thoughts and allowing them to disappear without following them makes us all happier people. 

We gaze with wonder at the rainbows and sundogs that appear unexpectedly in the sky. We view them with a sense of joy because they’re a metaphor for our luminous nature and our innate creative spark. The ideas our minds gift us with appear suddenly like rainbows. Cultivating only the most positive, necessary thoughts clears the way for creating good art or finding creative solutions to mend the world’s woes. 

Perspiration must follow inspiration. So when creative ideas appear unbidden, we writers should make the extra effort to note these special thoughts and let our ordinary ones drift away . . .