George Orwell on Clear Thinking, Good Writing, and, as I find it, a Spiritual Practice
There are many spiritual practices.
Some are more useful than others.
For me the heart of that matter is revealed in Zen meditation and koan introspection.
But even so there are other disciplines that touch the heart and inform the mind.
One I think about is writing as a spiritual practice.
I have lots of friends who use journaling and other forms of writing as an important part of their interior lives. While I think one need be careful about any spiritual discipline that doesn’t include a significant way to check one’s ego, and writing can be a narcissistic enterprise, I do think writing has much merit as both an adjunct and as a principal spiritual discipline.
Mostly checking is done by having another human being whom one trusts deeply to speak with on a regular basis. Someone walking the path, and is a tad farther along the way. Someone who has made tons of mistakes, and has learned from them, and ideally has been herself or himself guided. And, hopefully, one who has tasted the fruits of victory, or in Zen’s terminology seen into the heart of the matter.
Of course we’re each of us, ultimately, responsible for our path, we must come to taste, to see for ourselves. So, we should try, whatever our disciplines might be, to start out strong. And, to be open to course changes, as we encounter sound seeming advice.
With that I find myself thinking of Eric Arthur Blair, or to you & me, George Orwell. Given the givens of our times he has been much on my mind. I find myself considering the virtues of George Orwell’s thinking in many areas and wishing people were paying closer attention to his cajoling and pushing.
There’s a good example of this in a 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language.” There he offers six points for clear writing and out of that on clear thinking. I recall when I first read them and thought I’d also stumbled onto a hint of a way to use writing as a spiritual discipline.
Without a doubt Orwell was one of the signal intellectual figures of his day and I believe does have something to say to us beyond what one gets out of Animal Farm or 1984. Lots of good warnings. Lots of good pointers. Even for us spiritual types.
So, those six points.
(1) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
(2) Never us a long word where a short one will do.
(3) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
(4) Never use the passive where you can use the active.
(5) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
(6) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
I have to admit they seem a lot more useful than Strunk & White, who have from my perspective been justifiably dragged over the coals of late.
I know this advice would be good for me in my writing. And probably for those who have to hear me hold forth. Me, I plan on contemplating these rules, then, hopefully, throw them away. Which, of course, is an important part of any spiritual enterprise; if it’s a spiritual practice it’s about liberation not slavishly following some set of rules.
So, study and throw away. Out of that perhaps my writing, and who knows, maybe my thinking might benefit. And, out of that, maybe my spiritual eye, as well.
It might be useful for you, too.
Try it, you might like it.
Or, better yet, it might transform you in good and healthy ways…