Message from the Page: “Would you please pay attention?!”

Graph PaperYour primary job as an artist is to seduce other people into paying attention. You are not creating anything new; you are re-creating what already exists so that people will recognize it and deal with it. You describe activities and name states of being so that the people who witness your work will have a fuller vocabulary for their own life. You help people see what has been in front of them all along. You help them remember what has been buried so deep that they couldn’t find it on their own. You enable them to see themselves a little more clearly.  –Vintia Hampton Wright, The Soul Tells a Story

During 2016 I arrived at surprising clarity about my spiritual path: I’m a contemplative, albeit one who walks her daughter to school in the morning, struggles with a perpetually cluttered house, and writes as my primary practice. To contemplate is to stand in the temple. The world with its dirty socks and hidden cruelties and winter sunrises is my temple. I stand in it when I pay attention.

My best way to listen for life’s emergence, to peel away falsehoods, to sink into experience, to reflect deeply, and name what is is to write. Diane Ackerman says that “science and art have a habit of waking us up, turning on all the lights, grabbing us by the collar and saying Would you please pay attention!” Before my work grabs anyone else it grabs me. I’m grateful for the shake-up but also at times furious, annoyed, impatient, and resistant. A big part of me doesn’t want to do the work of attending; it just wants the glory of attention for having attended.

Silly little self! That’s no way to live.

What I’m beginning to realize is that my writing will never do the job of seducing others into paying attention unless I’m vastly committed to that endeavor myself—not just when I’m sitting down to write but every other dish-washing, temper-tantrum-calming, distressed-by-newspaper-reading moment of my days. Contemplation is my central task as a writer, and as a human being.

We come alive when we pay profound and complete attention. One path into this temple is made of blank pages. Write your way in!  –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

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Here’s wishing you a fruitful 2016!

Upcoming opportunities:

Are you working on a book? I’m accepting applications for my next manuscript review seminar until January 11th. Email me for more information.

Writing the Sacred Journey: The Art & Practice of Spiritual Memoir
Introductory workshop February 6, 2016, 9:00-noon. Drop-in classes Fridays, January 22, February 26, March 25, April 22, and May 27, 2016, 1:30 – 3:30 pm at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.

The Reflective Voice in Creative Nonfiction
February 13, 2016, 1:30-4:30 p.m. at The Loft Literary Center.

The Inner Life of Stories: Writing as Deep Listening
February 27, 2016, 9:00-noon at Plymouth Congregational Church.

The Inner Life of Stories: Writing as Deep Listening retreat
June 19-23, 2016 at The Christine Center in central WI.

Alone Together Writing Retreat
September 12-16, 2016 at the Madeline Island School of the Arts.

4 Comments

  1. I’m still amazed at the confluence (is that the right word?) of all I am reading/thinking/teaching these days. We are reading Walt Whitman in my American lit class right now, and I am talking w/ my students about this very idea — of waking up to their lives. I remind them that Emerson said the same thing in “Self-Reliance” and Thoreau in WALDEN. Each year when I start teaching my writing classes, I talk of how close science and writing are, that each discipline demands that you look closely at the world and wonder. And of course, all of this coincides with what I’m reading daily by Richard Rohr. Somehow, I feel as though I’m getting closer to my idea of a book — teaching as spiritual practice — “Preparing for the Transcendentalists” I’d like to call it… Thank you!

    Reply
  2. I need this book, Patty! How exciting. I love how immersed you are in Transcendentalism and wish I could take your class. Perhaps a conversation someday? Are you ever in MN?

    I assume you’re familiar with Parker Palmer’s work in education. Such good stuff.

    Warmly, Elizabeth

    Reply
  3. Reading your post today is Holy Synchronicity. I feel so drawn to your insights and know it is time for me to study with you. I am not a newby to the craft. I have a carton of journals, live more in my thoughts than my exterior life. Words have helped me to understand life, writing is essential to my being. Time to “come out of the closet” about writing and the wisdom that comes when Spirit and I join hands at my desk.

    Reply
    • I’m grateful my words and your inner world are connecting, Eve. Your writing life sounds rich! Feel free to contact me by email: elizabeth (at) spiritualmemoir.com

      Reply

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