Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.
Because all young people are taught to be ambitious, I began as all young artists do—working toward some imagined greatness that might reveal itself in time if I could stay devoted enough to my craft. But along the way, I was humbled to be more uplifted by what was true rather than what was great, by what was heartfelt rather than what was intricate. It kept me close to my own experience, which when entered honestly began to reveal the common ground of all experience and all time.
From there, I risked more by entering the poems than by writing them, not sure where they might go, and found myself touched and changed by showing up in my life so completely. Well, that’s not very different than being changed by loving another, is it? Now in the second half of life, I am devoted to being in that holy space where the conversation of aliveness exists. It’s not about the words but the poetry of life that is revealed and enlivened by our honest engagement.
The process of writing and expressing—whether you become a writer or not—offers many valuable tools for living. If you concentrate on learning what those tools are and are diligent in using them, this concentration of wakefulness will help you live, and chances are that you’ll surface good writing.
Ultimately, we need to focus on seeing, not being seen, on verifying and not being verified, on clarity and truth rather than producing beautiful art. Too often, young writers want to create and write themselves rather than give voice to what they are experiencing. A Thomas Merton quote that has helped me in this regard is, “Eyes were not meant to see themselves.”In all honesty, I can affirm what you already know, that once you’ve lived the work and done the work, you are the work. And going public with the work is about casting seeds and seeing which will sprout in the world. Regardless of which seeds come up or not, the truth we serve drips like medicine beyond our dreams and needs, as when it reaches the mother who lost her daughter just in time to revive her belief in life. Each time we give our full being, a small miracle issues forth beyond our control.
So, when feeling the pain of being lost or insecure, when alone and out of touch with all that matters, give your attention to anything, quickly and fully. And the Universe, which has always been near, will come rushing back to fill you.
A Question to Walk With: Describe which dominates your time: giving attention or getting attention. Explore why. Whatever part of you needs attention, how can you use your life-force to give attention to yourself?
This excerpt is from my new book, Drinking from the River of Light, published this fall by Sounds True.
*Photo credit: Markus Spiske