The Gifts of Being Curious

Isn’t curiosity marvelous? Something sparks your interest, and you’re off—questioning, learning, exploring, pondering. Say you meet someone new, share a bit about yourself, and they’re genuinely curious; suddenly you’re deep in conversation, sharing details about yourself or your work that you rarely otherwise disclose, and you begin to wonder whether this person might become a friend. Or say you receive a new artistic medium, a set of oil pastels; you’re eager to feel one in your hand, run it across a blank page, be surprised by the streak of color. Or say you’re a writer with one idea that leads to another, that leads to a few weeks buried in the library stacks and then a few years pursuing a project; you’re absorbed, you’re riding the rails of your heart without a clue where the train is going.

It’s exhilarating.

The gift of curiosity is this: We lose ourselves. (more…)

Developing the Inner Witness

Here is sure evidence that I am a born writer: By high school, I couldn’t walk down the hallway or open my locker without a little story-teller voice whispering in my ear, “With stealthy steps, Elizabeth paced the institutional hall, fluorescent lights buzzing overhead, until she stopped, suddenly, at a combination lock.” My every lived moment was instantly narrated. Call it a self-consciousness, psychosis, or literary genius, regardless, I had an instinctive, even impulsive need to relate events which was only released by writing.

Over the years my inner narrator has served me well, mostly because I’ve learned to work with her. She’s the story-teller in me as well as the essayist, the self that happily hops on a train of thought and rides it across the page. As a teacher, I’m particularly good at facilitating the development of my students’ reflective voices. “What’s your story?” is a great question to begin with, but it must be followed by “What do you make of your story?” before creation really begins. What do you think—and feel and wonder and deeply know—about your experience? (more…)

Enduring the Discomfort of Writing

mandalas-3After allowing my novel to rest for half a year, I launched back in to make some major changes. I restructured the first hundred pages, shifted the personality of the main character, and changed her reasons for making a pivotal decision. As I revised, I experienced the complicated joy of being fully immersed in a project. The sensation is one of absolute concentration—I move into the cosmos of the book and see nothing beyond its boundaries—coexisting with absolute rebellion. I squirm, I want to get a glass of water, and then ice, then a coaster. I need to clip my toenails. When these powerful, contrary forces rise up, I know I’m in the heat of writing.

This discomfort reminds me of meditation, how part of me is drawn into the vast oblivion of silence and another part fights mightily to maintain the dignity of selfhood. (more…)

Aroused to Love

For years I’ve struggled with meditation. I’m faithful about taking time, getting still, and waiting; I’m disciplined if nothing else. But the spiders of my thoughts begin crawling, and none of my methodical attempts to corral them (attending my breath, reading poetry, reading scripture, practicing zen meditation, practicing centering prayer, kneeling, walking, walking the labyrinth, repeating a mantra, reciting psalms, chanting, toning) seems to help. These failures nonetheless lend a sort of focus to my days. I know that research shows physical and mental health benefits of meditation, and I believe relationship with mystery needs tending much like every other relationship. So I soldier on, determined but painfully aware that as a modern contemplative I’m disastrous. (more…)