Thirty-four years ago, in my mid-thirties, I was working hard at becoming a good poet, when I was thrust into my journey with cancer. The torque of that experience pulled me from all my goals and routines and aspirations. I was left in the raw, uncertain simplicity of being alive and trying, by any means possible, to stay alive. I had few native gifts to help me through. The one closest to my heart was the aliveness of expression that lived below my want to be a poet. And so, I began to journal daily about my deepest fears, feelings, pains, and dreams, about the prospects of living and dying. I didn’t think of it as “writing” or as “material.” More, I was climbing the rope of honest expression, day by day, into tomorrow. It became a muscular and tender, honest space in which I began to access my own inner healing. This was my first in-depth experience of writing as a spiritual practice.
To discover the thread that goes through everything is the main reason to listen, express, and write. Years after this, I learned about the Buddhist myth of Indra’s Net, which encircles the Earth. At every knot in the net is a jewel in which you can see all the other jewels and the entire net reflected. This is a metaphor for our part in a living Universe. For each soul is such a jewel, which when clear, will reveal all the other souls in existence as well as the net of being that connects us.I began to understand that listening, expressing, and writing are the means by which we stay clear, the inner practices by which we realize our connection to other souls and a living Universe. So, to discover the thread that goes through everything is not only how we survive the tumble through life, it is also the way we inhabit our connections. In truth, when we write, we wipe our jewel clean and sustain the threads that hold the world together.
A Question to Walk With: The poet William Stafford speaks about a thread that goes through everything that we follow no matter what. Begin to describe what the thread is for you.
This excerpt is from my new book, Drinking from the River of Light: The Life of Expression, due out in September from Sounds True.
*Photo credit: Steve Johnson