Post by Brandybuck on Jul 25, 2006 14:44:01 GMT -5
In this thread, I will attempt to guide any of the writers on the site (myself included) who seem to be stuck in the process of their writing. By this I mean: feeling limited in creative expression, not being able to move past the themes you keep writing about, or just plain writer's block. I will set up my entries in the form of "lessons". The main inspiration that I have found has been Peter Levitt's "Fingerpainting on the Moon..Writing and Creativity as a path to Freedom. This book has become like a writer's bible to me, and I very much recommend picking up a copy for yourself. I will be using his book a lot in this thread.
Also, keep in mind that this isn't just "my thread." Feel free to add and advice that you feel may help any of the other writer's/aspiring writer's on this site. This thread is also the place to pose all of your questions relating to writing. Hopefully, either myself or someone else on the site can answer them. In conclusion, this thread can be know as the "Ultimate Self-Help for Writer's."
Last Edit: Jul 25, 2006 14:45:27 GMT -5 by Brandybuck
Post by Brandybuck on Jul 25, 2006 15:16:43 GMT -5
Lesson 1: RISK
All creative expression depends on our willingness to take a risk, and yet just to say the word "risk" creates a feeling of excitement and fear in most people, a sense of danger rooted in the threat of change. Our willingness to risk brings that moment, ourselves, and our work to life in a way that did not exist just seconds before. It can be very exhilirating and powerful when risk taking ignites us into the new. Of course, while riskdoes create life, death is also present. Often, just before we risk something in our lives, the fear of dying can be found. It is only natural to feel this way, especially since in creative work, something does die. Something must die for our work to create something new, even if it is only an old idea. The key is to risk everything, to let everything go and die into our work.
One gateway to freedom depends on our ability to alter how we look at what is right before us. When we do, what has previously blocked our way, appears to unlock itself as if by slight of hand. As it says in the Heart Sutra, chanted in Zen temples around the world, "when there is no hindrance in the mind, there is no hindrance at all, and therefore no fear exists." When we make risk our ally for an onrush of creative, life-affirming energy becomes available to us equal to the amount that had been held in check. Then the environment of our inner lives becomes more free and feels instantly permeated with a sense of rightful peace. Such freedom is what it is all about. For us to know such freedom, our work must be a "standout performance". In other words, do not go where all authors have gone before you. Stake your claim! Be an individual! Do not rehash old stories already written. Risk which is needed for us to become intimate with what is solid and real within us, is at the fore.
As the following stories show, risk implies that something we hold dear may be threatened. Just as every heartbeat and breath is the agency of a new beginning in our lives, taking a risk is the very same agency for maintaining a beginning writer's mind with every word we write.
Two Zen Stories
** One day a nun was walking in the mountains near a cliff when suddenly she felt the ground slip from beneath her feet. She experienced herself falling, and at the last moment, as she fell, she grabbed onto a branch that was sticking out from the side of the cliff. Frightened, she called out. "Help! Help!", but no one was around to hear her. After some time a teacher and some students who were walking nearby heard her cries and came to the edge of the cliff. When the nun saw them she shouted, "Please! You've got to help me!" The teacher looked at the situation and said to her, "Just let go!." The nun was terrified, because she knew she was hanging vertically in midair high above the ground, and yet this teacher was telling her to let go. "I can't!", she cried. But the teacher was very kind, and very firm, and told her, "You've got to let go! Without any hesitation, you've got to let go now!" So she did. The nun let go and found out that she had not been hanging vertically in midair after all. The entire time she had been lying horizontally on the ground, and the ground had been supporting her all along.**
** One day, toward the end of the year when his modest temple was about to close during the most difficult weeks of winter, a disciple of an old and venerated Zen master invited his teacher to stay with him at his family's humble home situated in the nearby mountains. The Zen master agreed, and the two of them set out. As the disciple led his master along a mountain path during their journey to his home, they found themselves gradually enveloped in a fog that whitened the mountain air and made it impossible to see more than two steps ahead. Nevertheless, without the slightest resistance on the part of the old man, the disciple led his teacher into the thickening fog. Suddenly, with his teacher at his side, the disciple felt his foot slip and grabbed his master's kimono to keep from falling into what turned out to be a deep abyss of ice and snow that lay at their feet. When they looked at what was right before them, the disciple realized that he had lost his way, and, in his confusion, had brought his teacher to the edge of a treacherous cliff. "I'm sorry." he said, feeling somewhat frightened and ashamed. "I seem to have lost my way in the mountain and have no idea where we are." The teacher looked at his young student for only a moment, and then turned his old eyes back to the snowed-in valley below. "Jump!", he said. "Take my hand and jump from this ledge if you value your life and mine!" The disciple could barely believe his ears, but despite his terrible fear and the shaking of his bones, he did exactly as the teacher said. Grabbing the hand of the person that he trusted most in the world, he jumped from the icy cliff, and in the very next second, discovered that he and his teacher were walking, hand in hand, on the sun-drenched road that led to the village where he was born.
As writers, what we need to do is step off the ledge of the fearful inclination. Just step right off. This involves both risk and surrender. When we do, we strengthen our intimate connection to what makes authentic expression possible, and, just like the disciple who jumped into the snowy abyss while holding onto the hand of his old master, the one whose beginner's mind was ready for every possiblity, we will find ourselves walking down the road of imbounded joy that leads to the place where we are born. If while writing, we allow any wobble to throw us off track, we may not discover our own wisdom, our own creative and spiritual courage. Often the 'burst of energy' we feel while taking a risk is the very energy that drives the writing and makes it possible for us to discover and express what has always crouched within hoping to be found.
Last Edit: Jul 25, 2006 15:19:23 GMT -5 by Brandybuck
Post by Brandybuck on Aug 10, 2006 14:44:19 GMT -5
Lesson 2: Everything is Permitted in the Imagination
There is room in our lives for every image, dream, fantasy, thought, and all the various forms of sensation and imaginings that occur. No matter how many obstructions are thrown up in an attempt by some fearful part of ourselves to disrupt the natural flow of our expressive lives, no fear, no writer's block, no personal history, no internal conflict or neuroses changes this fact of permission. Of course, in order to truly express, we do have to work with such obstructions. Our task, then, is to recognize and accept this permission--and the freedom it implies--as part of our life force, and to find a way to use these gifts to further express ourselves.
Sometimes what your imagination thinks you need may appear rather extreme. It has its own way of catching your attention, and some of its methods can be quite provocative. Just think about your most recent frightening or sexual dream and the confusing feelings it brings forth. But these are just some of the methods the imagination has of reeling us in so we will come closer to ourselves and discover the true meaning it wants us to have. What the imagination really wants is for us to readily receive its gifts and the permission inherent in these gifts without judgement. It wants its gifts greeted with an open disposition of mind and heart that allows us to really see what we have been given.
The quality of our listening is crucial to expression. When we listen deeply, giving no concern to previous notions of good and bad, right and wrong, desirable or not, we create a pathway that takes us through the unmapped territory of our deepest selves. This pathway is actually a lifeline to the Creative Source. Once we accept the imagination's gifts as given, which depends in part on our willingness to risk, our writing begins to change. It becomes authentic, charged, and compelling. It possesses a power that drives every image, noun and verb. As we work with our writing over time, exploring its contents and refining what we discover until what we have written rings true, it reveals that we have been expanded to a shape and size more truly our own.
The imagination is always here, complete within itself, but we must practice granting ourselves permission to hear it until our imagination gains full expression in our own lives. What does it promote, whom does it serve, when we block entry, deny permission, and turn our back on the gift. To help you remember this, here is a simple suggestion. Make a sign and write in letters big enough for you to see:
As you make this sign, allow everything you've learned so far to crystallize into these two words. Let them signify your commitment to thinking and feeling with a freedom granted to you by your imagination. Let them remind you of your absolute right to free exploration and expression in your writing and in your life. Perhaps you might put this sign up beside the place where you write. Or you might take a card and carry it around and look at it when you feel your imagination becoming clouded. You might even let it become your mantra and chant it from time to time, but do not forget it. Permission is granted because you are alive. This fact alone is its source.
Post by Brandybuck on Oct 10, 2006 15:10:24 GMT -5
Lesson 3: How To Feed A Hungry Ghost
If you could name your unspoken fears in regard to your creative life, what would you say? Perhaps you may believe that you really can't do it--that you can't write well, or at least well enough to express what most needs to be said. Perhaps you fear that in truth, you have nothing of interest, nothing deep or wise enough to say. These fears are very common. But they are very useful. While they do cause the creative tension that drives us crazy with insecurity and doubt, they also provide the energy necessary to go where we have to go, to get said what must be said.
If this energizing, maddening tension finds itself in the hands of the hungry ghost who serves the part of the ego that fears what you might discover or create, the situation can get very serious very fast. The awakening of this apetite can bring forth behaviors of a destructive nature. It can unbalance your creative tension and turn it into an unreasonable irritability or anger that loved ones fing hard to withstand. It can transform this unbalance into self-hatred. It can create nightmares. It can enforce a large wasting of time during our supposed work hours, which eventually eats away at confidence and self-esteem. It is a self-destructive domino effect which is easy to fall into.
Sometimes, in order to satisfy their appetite, these hungry ghosts can appear friendly. How many times have you set time aside to write only to end up with much less than you planned to accomplish? And how often has this caused you to doubt your sincerity and skill? Here is an example of this: It occurs when our writing is going well. In this circumstance the shakiness of the destructive part of our ego, and therefore the appetite of the ghost, grows larger with every authentic word. We neglect this part of ourselves during these times, so it begins thinking what about me? Hence, it seeks to protect itself with a very subtle move. It allows us a feeling of self-satisfaction. Not so bad, all in all, except that it simultaneously plants within hearing distance of our conscious mind the seed that perhaps the satisfaction may not really be deserved if looked at closely. In other words, we begin to feel doubt. Such is the trick of the hungry ghost.
Once both elements of this move are in place, the ghost begins to inflate us. It tells us we are really great. It may even mirror its own feelings of neglect and begin to argue that others are not as good as we are; that we deserve a kind of recognition we have not yet received. This is bad news indeed. Feelings of grandiosity are often the flip side of low self-esteem. The hungry ghost has thus won--it has emeshed us in a psychic seesaw where no matter which seat we are on, our situation is not good.
It may seem impossible to defeat such an internal process as the hungry ghost. The idea of battling a common and, some may argue natural process of the human psyche makes no sense. We do not have to defeat ourselves. We do not have to hate any part of ourselves. To engage in such a confrontation is itself, a trick of the hungry ghost. It will be in control. Rather than engaging them in battle, we can understand the functioning of these hungry ghosts well enough to actually feed them, but in a manner that frees us from their control. It is a life-giving action, an expression of love applied to ourselves, and it works out well in the end.
The Method of Feeding A Hungry Ghost
The method we will use comes from the Zen practice of eating the lunchtime meal in a ritualized, formal style called oryoki in Japanese. It means "just the right amount." At a certain point during the meal, all of the participants put down their utensils and take a small pinch of food, sometimes as small as one grain of rice, from the first of the three bowls before them. This bowl which rests on the left side of the eating mat, is the largest of the three. It is known as the Buddha Bowl, and therefore it is said to contain the food of awakening within it. The bit of food is grasped between the thumb and index finger and placed on the end of a utensil which resembles a small spatula, which will be used to clean the bowls after the meal. All of this traditionally takes place right at the mat where the person meditates, eats, and sometimes sleeps. As the participants do this the leader chants the following words:
"All evil spirits, now I give you this offering. This food will pervade everywhere."
This ritual is sometimes known as the Feeding of the Hungry Ghosts, and it is these ghosts that are referred to by the words evil spirits. Please note that despite these ghosts' identification as "evil", they are fed directly from the Buddha's bowl, from the food of awakening. You should recognize the wisdom in this. If we offer the food of awakening to a part of ourselves that is lost, it has a chance to realize something it needs very badly.
You, too, can take care of your own hungry ghosts by ritualizing a way of feeding them just the right amount. One technique that has proven to work well is done every day as you sit down to write. All that is needed is for you to jot down just one phrase of poetry, or even just one word that calls forth an image you really love. Some people prefer to write a word symbolic of a spiritual teaching that expresses their aspirations. Remeber, whatever you write can be the symbolize size, and carry the symbolic significance of one grain of rice. Your offering can be big and small at the same time. The most important thing is for you to make your offering with the same kind of mind that Zen practitioners have when they place that single grain of rice upon the cleaning stick. Do it with the intention of acknowledging your hungry ghosts and feeding them the very best of foods. Then, if you like, place the paper with the writing you have done into a beautiful bowl beside the area where you write.
Of course, this is only one possible way to appease your hungry ghosts, and it may work for you--or it may not. Lighting a candle or incense works well. Closing your eyes, centering and telling yourself I am here works as well. The techniques you can use are infinite. The most important part of this ritual, however, is the spirit and continuity with which you carry it out. Done in the right spirit every day before you write, it is an offering, a practice, well worth doing.
After this part of the ritual is performed, there is one more thing you need to do for it to be complete. If you find that as you work--or later, after you have written--the hungry ghosts appear with their appetite in full disorder, offer them a generous and gentle smile of recognition that lights up their world as the most delicious of foods, and tell them, I fed you today. You've already eaten. Then, without a second's thought, go back to what you were doing. This will remind them, and you that they have been fed and will receive no further attention or consideration than that. Practice often, and even the most insistent intruder will vanish.
Feeding our hungry ghosts is a necessary part of our own process of becoming who we really are. The physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual and creative energy we've used in the past to battle the hungry ghosts becomes released by these means. The true nature of our own being will emerge.