Even shorter than a power-nap

Woooo, today was SO busy that I just, at eleven pm, wrinkled my brow and grabbed my phone to check…surely I had posted today?  Ach, crivens; I had not! 

Fortunatelyish, the 8pm flight that consumed all of my day that wasn't spent working is now delayed to midnight at least, soooo yeah, I've read most of a book this evening and still got time to kill.  Yay?

(But in spite of the long wait, I want to keep this short, because you can't trust airports or battery-power, really.  :P  I hope you understand!)

A SUPER useful habit I've developed lately is to "fall back to breathing".  I mean "fall back" in the attention-sense:  By removing my focus from everything else for a short time.  Loud thoughts, especially aggressively unpleasant ones, can't be easily replaced with other thoughts or no thoughts…but, at least for me, paying attention to the body does a pretty good job of filling the channels with more useful chatter.  I've known for a while that I could use taiji to quiet my brain, but that's complicated and takes some space and is really easy to talk yourself out of doing when things are tough. 

Breathing, though, is always there.  You don't have to do anything other than notice it; and because it's a movement, it's easier to notice than other feelings in your body.  But in spite of its ease and obviousness, it's still enough, I'm finding, to get spinning thoughts to wind down.

Focusing on your breathing works a lot better when you do it just a little longer than you think you want to, by the way.  I've done it for ten to thirty seconds plenty before, but recently I was asked to set a timer for three minutes, and I find that much more helpful, while still being wicked fast.

I've not quite gotten the hang of "practicing" this kind of quiet on a regular basis, but I am getting pretty good at responding to difficult things — such as spending your entire evening in an airport! — by stealing three minutes and for that time, just holding my attention tight to my breathing, and bringing it back there whenever it wanders.  It was a bit tricky to sustain at first, but now, those little breaks are almost as good as a nap sometimes.  I said almost!

But still, almost nap-levels of restorative is damn impressive, so I figured this is something y'all might want to play with, if you haven't. 

Oh and lastly, I would like to remind everyone that most airports are horrendously designed, and the fact that they make it difficult to nap in them is gobsmackingly ludicrous.

Thank you and have a nice night.  :)

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Endings

Maybe it's comforting to think about endings, since we're only actually halfway through the month.  O.O

The Buddhists have this lovely metaphor of "eight winds", explaining how the forces of external life-stuff shove at you, challenging you to maintain your balance and keep your feet planted (or your stance rooted, if you like the kungfu angle).  The "winds" are basically four kinds of pleasure (gain, praise, etc) and four kinds of pain (loss, dissin', etc) — exactly what you'd think.  There could just as easily be two kinds, or four, but the Chinese hate(d) the number four and love(d) eight, and were probably too fancy for two, so there you go. 

This is related to endings, I swear. 

The thing about endings is, they're all arbitrary, anything could be seen as an ending; but every one shares one characteristic:  You have to get to them.  The ending is a point you have to make it to, and the only way to do that..yup, is to keep your balance while those winds are hitting you.

The false thing about the idea of endings is that after them, the winds stop — ha, no, because again, they're all arbitrary, which means that there's always an ending past the one you're thinking about.  So after you make it there, however it goes, things keep going on, largely indifferent to the fact that you happened to think there was an end-point there.

And I used to think that that falsity meant that constructing or declaring endings was a mistake; but I take that back.  As long as we don't forget they're all arbitrary and minor in the scheme of things, as long as we aren't fooled into expecting the winds to just stop because we Reached That Point we were aiming for, I now think they can be quite healthy. 

For one thing, I couldn't have done any of these blog posts without leaning heavily on my completely arbitrary idea of The Ending of it.  I've always had such trouble stopping writing, because I'm always so hyper-aware that I'm making up the part where it stops, and that I could be (am!) changing everything, the whole story, by deciding that place should be X instead of Y.  It's harrowing, let me tell you.  I am so aware that nothing stops where I say it does, or when I give up on continuing to tell it.  So every time I reach an ending, I kinda feel like a liar.

But I've had to get comfortable with endings, these last two weeks.  To admit that even though they're fake, they have value; they're part of this craft (and most others), and part of living.  A curse of consciousness, I guess; a price you have to pay in order to Do Stuff.

This makes all our symbolism of the Reaper and Death really interesting to me, by the way.  Cutting the string, ending the story, is a task none of us wants, maybe, so we dress it in black and fear and try to convince ourselves that it's a force outside our control.  Buuuuut the evidence, I think, says otherwise.  An ending exists in our minds.  That's an idea that just gets more sobering the more I let it be, y'know?

I ended some things today, including this.  All the parts involved will keep spinnin', and the winds of their effects will keep buffetting me around (more or less successfully, depending on my stance), but to me, that thing as I had encapsulated it is over.

This thing is over, because I said it is, and for no other reason.  To the Universe, nothing of any note has changed whatsoever. 

It is both a tiny meaningless action, and a terrifying power to be forced to wield.

Let's do it again tomorrow, shall we?

Posted in 'pocalypse, aesthetica, better thinking | Leave a comment

What’s possible? NO WAIT DON’T ANSWER THAT

Lately my brain has been finding its truths in two-and-three-word chunks, which is interesting, for very restricted values of "interest", heh.

Recently I was driving and thinking and a song came on that, combined with the thoughts and scenery, made me feel a huge rush of…something, something both big and good, something that could be powerful, I sensed.  But what was this feeling?  I poked around and let it simmer until finally some words surfaced — very, very clearly, too.  The words were, "What's possible?"

Yes, I thought immediately; those are the words for this feeling!

But then another part of my brain responded, automatically I think, to the question-mark in those words, and it started trying to formulate "answers" to the "question", "What's possible?"  True to normal form, it went looking for true words, good words, meaningful words, sifting and choosing…but while this was going on, the part of me that had given me the words "What's possible?" started screaming:  STOP THAT.  NO.  THIS IS NOT A QUESTION.

I was a little shocked by that, but I did stop.  For one thing, I kind of knew it wasn't a question:  It was an answer.  I asked a question, "what is this powerful feeling?", and the answer just happened to have a question-mark in it — but that doesn't make it a question, I eventually realized.  Or rather, it is a question in the sense that the good part of it, the bit you're looking for, is beyond the boundary of the words themselves — but it isn't other, different words.  It's the space where you'd find them! 

"What's possible?" is pointing to a room, basically; a place, a space; and yes, it's the place you'd go to find certain things, certain answers — but my answer, the thing I was looking to learn, wasn't any of the stuff in the room; it was the room itself.  The space that contained those potentialities.  And — this bit's a little weird, but maybe you've experienced something like this too — the possibilities themselves, but not any of them in actuality.  "What's possible?" points to a space filled with things only some of which can be true, and which depends on a lot — me, and luck, and physics, and tons of stuff — but that powerful feeling was about the space and the possibilities as they exist before I, or anything else, chooses any.

If you want to maybe experience a fun thing, try pointing your mind at What's Possible?, and not letting yourself focus on any answers.  Just hang out in that space — see if you can get used to it, or at least get enough of a feeling for it that if you wanted to, you could return there again. 

It's a huge space, and it's full of a ton of stuff (not everything!  but lots) — and yet, as soon as you judge any of the stuff, as soon as you say "I like this possibility" or "I hate that one" or anything like that, you get kicked out of the space.  What's Possible is a space you can only hang out in for as long as you're able to make room in yourself for all of it.  And that isn't usually very long — zow does the mind like answers, and it'll start judging possibilities as soon as you give it an eighth-inch of leeway — but — BUT — while you're there, it does really nice things to your emotions, I'm finding.  What's Possible is a space of no pressure, no endings, no artificial Point At Which This Has All Failed If X.  And it's an immortal space too:  Long past when you and I are gone, What's Possible will still be there, and just as full. 

It's not, I suppose, a comfortable space to hang out in — it doesn't soothe the ego one bit — but it is, by necessity, relaxing.  And also, by definition, hopeful. 

I've really enjoyed the time I've spent there the last few days, since I heard those words and realized that space exists.

Maybe — this is conjecture, but hey, I'm allowed — maybe people could be less anxious and depressed (lack of relaxation and lack of hope, respectively), if they knew how to find and spend a few minutes here and there in What's Possible.

Too bad this is the best I can do for giving directions there!  …So far.  ;)

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AAAAAAAAAAAAAH

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAH no, nothing's wrong I just promised myself AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH that if this blog post thing got really hard I could just write AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH and it would count for one day, dammit.

…which is obviously just a way to get myself writing something, which will of course result in something else — and maybe it won't be a particularly good something else today.  That's also fine.  This is a sort of practice, and if there's anything I managed to pick up from kungfu, it's that when you can't do the thing you "meant" to do or "thought" or "expected" to do, you find some other way to practice.  There is always practice.  

Heck, in taiji you can totally spend an entire hour shifting your weight.  Or just standing.  (I've done the former, but the latter (zhangzhaung) is physically grueling and hell no I can't do it for an hour!  Breathing is practice, if you're doing it correctly and correct-mindedly. 

I haven't been able to dive back into my fiction-writing yet, for silly but real reasons; but I will overcome them eventually.  And in the meantime, there is still practice to do everywhere.  I wrote in two different notebooks today already, not counting my phone.  I'm writing this.  And while I do it, I'm thinking about writing, and clarity, and what it means to do it and why I do it. 

Ahem.  So I guess my point is that yes, in kungfu and writing and a lot else I'm sure, sometimes practice does just look like screaming AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH at a wall.  Sometimes just showing up, picking up the sword even though you know it's gonna be a travesty of an ugly freaking form today, is what you can do.  Practice is doing what you can do.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

…man, that feels good today. 

 

(AAAAH!)

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Witch movies, you ask?

…Or didn't you?  Well, let's say you did.  I happen to have opinions on witch movies, and a blog and a daily post-challenge, so let's just pretend you asked about it, just for a second.  Cooooool.

The hands-down best Scary Witch Movie is The VVitch, no contest.  As a horror movie, it is an incredible feat of artistry, and if the witch-character isn't necessarily it's bad guy, that's only because it runs like nine horror plots at once, each with its own bad guy, swapping them out with card-shark slickness to produce a grim masterpiece that gets deeper the more you pay attention, but is likely to have a thoroughly terrifying moment for everyone from the word go(at).  Its use of religious horror, social horror, family horror and straight-up fear of the unknown also make for a compelling fictional "theory of witches / witchcraft" while, having nothing to do with anything historical we're aware of, is nonetheless a fascinating set of ideas, perhaps festooned with some possibilities.

…I can't, honestly, even think of a contender to that one in the "serious scary" category.  But an important and awesome subcategory win has to go to the Scariest Kids' Witch Movie:  Roald Dahl's The Witches.  Just cheesy enough to keep from being outright scarring, and just unrealistic enough to keep it teaching lessons instead of informing opinions about witchcraft or women or history, I enjoy this one every time I encounter it.  Also a fantastic book, btw.  (I read the book first, if maybe that matters.)

When it comes to not-scary adult Witch Movies, there are a zillion (and a ton of TV besides), but about 90% of these suffer greatly in their enjoyability, at least to me, by being blatantly sexist, grotesquely inaccurate, or both.

The standout in this category, and therefore the winner, is 1998's Practical Magic.  And I can't tell you how rare it is for me to give Meaningless Personal Movie Awards to romantic comedies, but in this case (and pretty much this case alone), every time I rewatch this weird and wonderful gem, my joy is affirmed. 

The acting is stellar, partly because it's just old enough that it didn't need to cost 750,000,000 to pay for the kind of star power it has:  Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Diane Weist, and Aidan Quinn all star, and they all kill it, providing the yes, sometimes silly story with a slew of interesting and engaging characters. 

And didja notice that there's 3 women to 1 man in that list?  The whole movie is actually like that — the gender-ratio of non-starring actors is similar, even — but it's in no way ham-handed about it.  Instead, it uses the prominence of women and women's stories to enable cool and surprising plot-elements.  The result is a story that's real, intense, and fun enough to overcome its formulaic underpinnings.  It even manages to make up for being "about love" by being equally about sisters, generations, neighbors and kids, all in uplifting and truthy ways.  Shit, even the love-plot has a lot more depth and emotional power than most.  In one of my more favorite quotes, the hero's profession of love to a woman it seems impossible to figure out a way to have a relationship with is is…"Why don't you do what you do, and I'll do what I do, and we'll see where we end up."  Not, "I must have you," or "I don't deserve you," or any of the miles of bullshit you usually get in this genre.  Instead, we get a profession of acceptance, a granting of agency to both parties, and good wishes without neediness.  Hell to the yes.  …But in all honesty, it's easy to just ignore that and focus on the awesome scenes with "midnight margaritas", the PTA exorcism, etc. that you won't even notice are all well-developed female characters unless you think about it on purpose.  (I'm sorry if I just made it more likely that you will, but how can one not squee about such a thing, done well, 20 years ago and somehow under everybody's radar??)

Magic-wise, sure, it's inaccurate.  But not in horrible, ignernt*, ill-read ways — instead, it takes the kinds of liberties with magic that it's supposed to take in order for magic to to be part of the plot of a good story.  And I have to say, as someone who's read every authenticish text on the subject I could find since I was a kid, that magic and inaccuracy also go hand in hand on purpose.  Partly because that fuzziness, that metaphoric reality, is part of how it works.  And partly because it's been such a guarded set of secrets for every second its been known, that (almost?) everything  "authentic" is bluffing you too.  …And given all that, it's kind of especially beautiful that in addition to their curse, the Owens women passed down the ability to fall from great heights and litrerally land on their feet — there's a moment at the end that taps that nail in beautifully.

I've thoroughly scanned my mental repositories, but chances are pretty good that I'm forgetting some runners-up and honorable mentions — though I'm sure it's true that I've seen and read waaaaay more bad Witch Stories than good!  If you think of anything I ought to add to my utterly unimportant yet enjoyable collection of opinions on this subject, please do let me know!

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Realizations about Posting, Part 1

It's been a little over a week (actually a Novena; nine days) of BlogPostVember.  What have we learned, mind-children?

1. We've learned that its really hard, especially to push "post" once a day; but then again, we strongly suspected it would be, so maybe that doesn't count as learning.

2. We've also learned (again, a thing we "knew", but it's meaningful that now we know it more clearly) that writing this much every day does the opposite of "tiring us out on writing"; contrarily, it's giving me the almost overwhelming urge to write a LOT more, and I'm getting frustrated that I don't have / can't find the time to do it (yet).

3. There's a big lesson about the value of fiction lurking in the mists around this mountain, but I need to climb a little more, maybe get a little colder and more desperate, before I really encounter it.  :brr: It's scary!

4. The kinda staggering degree to which my time-management skills were eaten alive and pooped out and buried by this latest long-ass bout of depression is becoming ever more clear.  I think it's a good thing and I'm ready to encounter this (though immediately regretting framing that encounter as digging up poop?  (p)oops) — but it needs further contemplation, and a careful alchemy of brutal honesty and gentle acceptance, before it's useful.  Good thing there's a bunch more days of this left?  ::weak laugh::

5.  The gap — maybe it's a quantum gap — between knowing things and communicating them is also getting a lot of light shed on it.  Forcing myself to stare down that chasm and take a leap over it, however successful, every day, is changing how I see it…and that's a lesson I had hoped to learn, so if it finishes cooking over the next few weeks, that'll be a huge win!

6.  This challenge also pretty much eliminates the research phase:  I usually take quite a few days to write a post, as I check things out against existing knowledge, and ponder what I'm saying and why…in order to keep up this pace, there's much less of that.  I feel like it'll recover itself somewhat, once I'm more used to the pace — maybe once "hitting post" becomes more normal and stops sucking so much energy?  But I always found the research phase a) not difficult to do and b) easy to get lost in / stop at / do forever, so it seems like forcibly relegating it to a timebox, even if for now that makes it feel like I can't do it at all really, is another good balancing of things.

7.  The act of screaming into a relative void — posting for no-one, or no-one who'll reciprocate — used to bother the shit out of me; but it doesn't seem to anymore, or at least not in this context.  (This feels like it'll wind up tied to #3, given more time & clarity.)  Maybe that's a defense mechanism against the anxiety caused by "hitting post" — I'm certainly glad for that nobody-cares feeling, more often than not — but also, it's a good exploration of the purpose of sharing, even when the writing itself isn't other-focused.  I had a massive realization this week about making space for myself, which maybe I'll manage to put into another post in more detail; but I think some of that knoweldge has definitely been predicated on "writing for me, but also sharing" as a thing I've done literally every day this week.

Sorry I missed yesterday — I did write most of it then, but I passed out from a stressful day before I Hit Post — but I'm back, not giving up; even if the month produces not a damn thing "of value", lessons like the above are still valuable — and thank you, if you're reading this, for coming along for that ride with me!  If you have any thoughts you'd like to share, now or in the future, I would absolutely appreciate hearing them (and if you don't, you are still more than welcome to read and to have your thoughts about it…that's kind of one of the wonderful things about this, isn't it?  Maybe a Lesson #7.5 is that space to think what you want, and then share what *and if* you feel like, is a wonderful, and maybe too-rare, thing.)

Peace!

Posted in aesthetica, better thinking, writing | Leave a comment

Three-measure time

Lately I've been fascinated by the intersectionality of poetry & song lyrics.  During my music theory classes in college, I learned that [some important person, probably a dude, knowing history, whose name I forget] was strongly opinionated towards lyrics never belonging in music.  One potential reason given for this strong, arts-dividing objection is ostensibly because it was so hard for words to actually have scansion good enough to not fuck up the music (especially complex instrumental music, which is still often wordless, to be fair).  With study, I came to sort of understood the truth of that, even though it was antithetical to my heavy-metal musical leanings and near-fanatical memorization of and enjoyment of good lyrics.  (I memorize poems too, but at nowhere near the rate of lyrics, cuz duh, the music makes it easier.)

So this is a post about all of those things:  poetry, song-lyrics, heavy metal, and music theory. 

…I'm sorry?

I'm fascinated by song lyrics that were clearly poetry first, probably because for a long time in teenagerhood, I wrote tons of poetry that I imagined would make good lyrics, but really didn't.  Anyway, System of a Down and Rob Zombie (especially White Zombie's first few albums) are great examples of this:  That's poetry, you can hear it; and yes, there's confirmation out there that both of those song-writers were/are poetry-writers.  Good on them!  — But it makes for weird song-lyrics.  Good!  But weird.

Another fun case is Slipknot, whose lyrics seem close enough to the music that they probably weren't poetry (or if they were, were deliberately made very simple and 4/4-friendly in their scansion) — but damn, they're powerful, compared to a lot of lyrics.  Everybody (I think) knows Wait and Bleed, which has really good verses; but the ones to Before I Forget really dropped my jaw when I first heard them:

I am a world before I am a man
I was a creature before I could stand
I will remember before I forget
Before I forget this

OooOOOOo.  Up till I heard that, I'm pretty sure I was only listening to SK for the drums.  (I'm a drums-junkie.)  But daaaang.

I should add that whoever the doubtless-a-dude who was against all lyrics in music (Palestrina?  Maybe?), he wound up conceding that lyrics which were already famous poems would be maybe ok, if we had to have lyrics.  Was he just being stuffy, and resistant to changing the Established Arts?  …Probably, I think.  He definitely was all about the religiosity of "proper" music, and can therefore go F himself on at least that front.  Though maybe he did have a point about poetry…I do tend to like the poetic (whether poetry-first or poetry-seeming) ones myself.  This is art, though, so there really isn't any defending the things you like as "better".  Even if they are more complex, took more skill to string together, or are more evocative…some people are always going to prefer (or be spoken to by) things that are less complex or less evocative, making those things just as valuable as art.

And as we've said, there was at least that one famous dude (and I'm really kind of ok just lumping together "famous dudes" at this point; I'd feel bad if it was an underrepresented person, but dudes from The Classics have earned a little smudging and name-forgetting by now) who argued that music with any lyrics was sacrilege to the art.  That bit is clearly wrong, yeah?

Here, I'll end this (several hours late!  I fell asleep on the couch after a long day :/) post with some excellent rock lyrics that strike me as very poetic, though I have no idea if they were poetry first (probably not?  If anybody knows Clutch personally, please ask them? :P).  Regardless of origin, in fusion with the music they've found, these words have attained a great power as art, at least for me.

The song these are from is called Drink to the Dead.

Oh, and fascinatingly, the first of these two verses is actually sung in 3/4 (actually probably 6/8, but they count the same) time, which is a cool music trick!  To give Palestrina (or whoever) the finger a bit more, I love when the fusion of words and music makes a nifty point that way.  \o/

So

May you go marching in three-measure time
Dressed up as asses, drunk to the nines
Swing from the rafters, shouting those songs
Gone unsung for far too long

[switch back to 4/4 cut-time]

Drink to the dead, all you still alive!
We shall join them in good time
Should you go crossing that silvery brook,
It's best to leap before you look!

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Sometimes a guest house is pooped and demoralized

Hoo boy, it's been a long, tough day and I am, I think, unable to grasp hold of any really great ideas to write about.  (Yes, I have a list…but as we both know, the hard part isn't having one, it's using it.  :P). 

I mean, I knew this would happen at some point, over a whole month of daily stuff.  One day there was bound to just be…::crickets::

It's fine though. There are lessons in today too, and in everything that's currently being difficult.  I may be too pooped and demoralized to list them right now, or even to argue pointless semantics about the nature of how that works — but tomorrow I'll be less so, and I'll be able to see more of it as a challenge and an opportunity.  …Just not tonight.  :)

(Anybody know what "pooped and demoralized" is from?  Mad props if you do!)

Oo, hey, instead of explaining my point / lesson / metalesson / whatever, I can just quote someone smarter than me who already did!  That's handy!

This is by Rumi; it's called "The Guest House":

 

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

 

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The Temple

Your body (from which your mind is not separate) is a temple — literally, a "house of god".  Whatever "god" is — consciousness, life, energy, awareness, everything — your body is where it lives, and from whence it emanates into this world.  It's like your stronghold:  the stronghold of life, of you.

Your body is a temple — so how often do you go there?  When was the last time you — your attention — just arrived and sat in it and quietly observed?  Maybe even pondered a bit that a holy thing, something far bigger than you that is also central to the definition of you, lives there — but even aside from that, just sat and existed there?

Nevermind all those construction projects and beautification drives and whatnot that you're doing to the building — how often do you actually go there, inside, just, you know, to worship?  To appreciate?  To be aware?

If the temple feels like a mess, if we've let it get run down and neglected, going there can be amazingly sad.  But there is no fix for a messy temple that doesn't involve getting familiar with being there again.  It puts the difficult step of accepting that it's a mess in here in front of making any improvements — but again, there can't *be* any improvements without that.  Without just looking around and letting the reality of it, of this holy place and the state of it — mentally, emotionally, and physically — sink in.

I was given an interesting exercise lately:  Three times a day, and additionally whenever you're having a rough time, set a timer for THREE WHOLE MINUTES and visit your inner body.  Sit still and just feel your breathing.  Let your thoughts go — they'll be there still in 180 seconds, promise — and just pay attention.  Sit there and be in yourself.  Don't change a thing, or make plans to change it; suspend all judgment and simply observe; just let what it is sink in.

It is STUPENDOUSLY HARD to do this, at least for me.  Can you do it?  Just pay attention to your breath and what it feels like to sit there in your body, for three minutes?  Can you do it three times in one day?

I find it difficult af, so of course I've been trying and trying it, because WTF why is this such a hard thing?  Why does it feel so…profound, so real, so DUH MEANINGFUL, and yet for as much as it calms and irons out my thinking, it also seems to poke me in all the softest places, and make my brain whisper constantly that this is an impossible ask, this sitting in the temple for three minutes?  And I won't even get into what happens when I try it for 30 minutes — which I've been doing once or twice a week — sure I can *do* it, but it's gobsmackingly tricky. 

I've read enough to recognize that without actually spending some time in your body, in that temple, you can't make any meaningful change.  Oh sure, you can enact all kinds of "self improvement" programs, but without observation, without seeing and accepting what it is first, you're like a home-improvement enthusiast who puts on a blindfold and runs through the house swinging a wrecking ball and throwing paint. 

When you imagine someone who is "at peace", don't you figure they are able to sit in their own temple, to rest in their own mindbody, comfortably?  That they're used to being there, that they go there all the time; hell, isn't it definitionally "home base"? 

But mine is filled with rubble, and noise, and old crap strewn everywhere.  And learning to simply look at it, as a necessary precursor to being able to ever do anything about it, is one shockingly tough education. 

I'm tickled on a deep level by things that seem easy and are amazingly tricky — I feel like there are big truths there.  I certainly learned more from, say, learning to walk, and breathe, in advanced ways — taking the "simple" acts of moving or holding air and really trying to do them fully and well — than I did from anything in a school or job. 

So I'm keeping on this, trying over and over again, and most days not even able to do it more than once, just three minutes…

Just sitting.  Just paying attention to what it's like "in here". 

And you know what, I can't say much about what it IS like yet, but I can say that the "temple" metaphor is superbly apt.  If I've learned nothing else from practicing this for a month so far, I am clear on one thing, and that's that sitting here is powerful and necessary.  Who knows what other truths it may reveal, but the first one, the basic fact that one must go in the temple as a precursor to finding any kind of peace, is pretty glaring already.

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Some surprises about writing

I had some really interesting conversations about writing yesterday, so I thought I'd use today's post to collect some of the ideas that came out of it, as well as some that I've just had kicking around for a while (and so, for reasons that are now satisfyingly meta, I wanted to write them down :)).

Writing helps you organize your thoughts:  It holds a mirror up to some of your hidden assumptions, and lets you "go back over" your internal processes and smooth out or correct things, in ways that just thinking or talking don't do.  When thinking or ralking, the "ticker-tape" of your ideas burns away as soon as you're past it, leaving just a whiff of it in the air; but when you write it down, it sticks around, and many truths can be learned by holding up what you're thinking now with what you thought before, even five minutes ago.  So, in a group of other constant-writers-who've-published-little, I realized with some surprise that it's not just me who finds immense value in writing even when it isn't and never becomes communication.  It gains more utility when you bring others into it, arguably; but as a single mind's attempt to think more clearly, writing on napkins and in never-opened-again files and such is actually a powerful tool all on its own.

When writing fiction, there are usually two layers of writing going on:  The story itself, which you're crafting out of plots, characters, and carefully-chosen words (such as engrossing descriptions and meaningful metaphors); and the "organization/thinking" writing that most (not all, but most) writers need to do "on the side" to create the world, give the characters background, iron out the plot points, etc.  You can see how, in stories where the writer either feels rushed, or feels very comfortable that they already have an audience (i.e. the sequel-books in a successful series), they often wind up publishing the latter — their notes, essentially; lots of infodump about what the world and the characters and the plots are, and much less actual story.  For every excellent, tight, engaging story out there, you can be pretty sure there's an equal amount of written material that never made it into the story / was never part of it, but rather is writing about it that the author had to do to get it organized.

Writing in poetic form is often "easier" for people than writing stories, because they're shorter and there's less there to edit, so you can "feel done" sooner.  But the depth of editing required to write a GOOD poem is much more than what's needed for a good story — a story can still be good if it says "and then" in one place when it shouldn't, or says "dark" when "dim" would be a better word — but those mistakes could ruin a poem.  The other occasional-poet I was talking with and I were forced to leave open the questions of whether poetry is actually easier to write or not, and whether writing "bad poetry" (i.e. most poetry; poetry that's ok in places but didn't get the machined-precise editing really good poetry needs) constitutes a useful writing exercise, or just laziness (failure to finish either a whole story or a proper poem).

* Editing is both the strength and the weakness of writing.  The potential to edit, to iterate and improve, makes writing potentially way more powerful than slung-out thoughts in other forms; but the difficulty of editing as a mental exercise means that writing often won't be able to take advantage of that strength, and will instead just wind up being only as good as most/other thoughts, but also nailed down and critiquable in ways that, say, the spoken word usually escapes.

*  On one level, editing your thoughts feels "less  honest" than simply writing/saying/expressing them; but seen another way, it feels MORE honest.  It's not like we don't edit ourselves anyway — we do, almost all the time, even without knowing it.  And when we edit as little as we possibly can — say, when we blurt "straight from the heart" — it may be more "honest" in the technical sense of coming more directly from the (perceived) source, but it's not always better — not even in the sense of being more accurately what we really think/feel/believe.  Unedited(-as-possible) ideas may be the results of our real feelings at that moment, but a good bit of the time, our awareness of those feelings isn't complete, fair, accurate or realistic — so do we really gain anything from presenting them more quickly and with less thought?  …At first our answer to this was something like, "ok, editing yourself is still honest, but if other people are editing your words…" –but then we quickly realized that no, all of this is communication, and having another person, another point of view, review and suggest ways to make what you're trying to say more clear, is way more often helpful than harmful (particularly if the editor is a pro at it).  The end result / idea, that actually, edited thoughts are quite possibly more honest ones, surprised us all!

*  Of the writers I was chatting with, one is doing NaNoWriMo (which I've done before, a few times), and I'm doing this, and the other two weren't currently doing anything particular to make themselves write every day.  I expected us to conclude that Mz NaNoWriMo was getting the most skill-benefit, I the second most, and the others none…but that turned out not to be true!  Since "writing" is a skill that encompasses many other, smaller skills (I guess like any art-form), there's lots there to practice…and what I'm practicing is arguably the part that I'm worst at:  finishing and publishing.  Kungfu and the killer book on learning skills, "The Inner Game of Tennis", both agree that to master a skill, you need to focus your practice where you need it, not where you're already comfortable.  The person doing NaNoWriMo and I are both getting daily writing in for a month, which all of us agreed is helpful — but one of the people-doing-nothing already has a good daily writing-habit, so didn't need that.  And is the NNWM writer just spewing more of the same stuff they're already comfortable with for a month, in greater volume; or is it being used to hone story-telling skills they need?  …I didn't get a chance to ask that bit, but it's a fascinating angle.  Really hammers home that effective skills-practice can't be codified, and looks different for everyone at different times in their development.

 

So those are today's thoughts, and hey, appropriately enough, they're better than they otherwise would be, thanks to bouncing them off of a couple other brains, and then organizing them into sentences (maybe not great sentences, but…improvement continues :P) here.

 

A NOTE ON THE LINK:  I linked to The Inner Game Of Tennis on GoodReads, where I do occasionally, not often but sometimes, rate and review books.  Most of my dead cold favorites are there.  Feel free to follow me / share books & ideas with me over there, if you like.

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