Tag Archives: writing

Meeting Karma

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I began to seriously study Buddhism about ten years ago. And by study, I mean reading copious books, highlighting and taking notes and incorporating various practices into my spiritual life. I’ve attended dharma talks at the Kadampa Centre but didn’t really connect to the community. It felt like everyone knew what they were doing except me. The myriad of Buddhist disciplines confuses me.

I’ve been to hear the Dalai Lama talk on several occasions and have even taken my first Bodhisattva vow in an elaborate ceremony over which he presided from his golden throne. And yet, I’ve received no formal teachings apart from the few dharma talks I’ve attended. For years I’ve longed to find my own teacher.

One of my favourite authors, Natalie Goldberg, studied with her Zen Buddhist teacher, Katagiri Roshi, for twelve years. It formed her life and infused her writing with powerful messages. I read her first book, Writing Down the Bones, almost thirty years ago, and have read almost every one of her fourteen other books she’s written since then. She has merged the words practice and writing and birthed a spiritual movement. Writing is a spiritual practice, not a craft to master, and this is both permission to let go of the critic, as well as a call to discipline. I’ve long wanted to study with Natalie, to attend one of her workshops to sit zazen with her and to write.

The Great Spring, Writing, Zen and this ZigZag Life is her latest memoir and her most intimate book yet. In her mid-sixties, with a bout of cancer newly behind her, she writes of how she is nearing the time to leave her body.

And I think, “Not yet! Not until I’ve had a chance to study with you!” With a new grandson pushing me even further away from my own birth, I’m imbued with the feeling of time pressing.

Yesterday evening I had the opportunity to listen to Natalie read from The Great Spring and answer questions. I’ve had this date marked in my calendar for weeks and wanted a good seat at this free event. I arrived at the Vancouver Public Library an hour before the 7pm start time to find over fifty people already lined up along the wall outside the room. Dratigan. I stand behind a woman in a silver parka and geometric leggings just as the line curves back in on itself. She swipes her finger along her phone and I watch as more and more people join their friends in front of me. Oh well, I think and smile to myself, I would do the same thing if I had a someone joining me.

I have an hour to wait, but instead of pulling out my own phone I take the time to gently meditate, feeling the energy vibrate through me and down into the floor. I scan the crowd and write silent stories in my head, eavesdropping on conversations around me. I wonder if it is too obtrusive and obvious if I take out my notebook and actually write. Will they know it is them I am transcribing?

The door at the front finally opens and the line slowly shuffles forward. I move into the already crowded room and begin scanning the back rows of chairs, looking for an empty one with optimum viewing. Lots of seats are being saved and just as I’m about to turn into the centre aisle I feel a hand and see an older woman leaning forward to block my path.

“Are you alone?” she asks.

“Yes,” I nod.

“Sit here.” She instructs, removing a rice-paddy-straw-hat from the seat beside her. “I need someone with calm energy to sit beside me. The energy in this room is too excited.” She slides the hat under her seat.

I thank her and sit, folding my puffy coat onto my lap and resting my purse on top of that.

“I’m a Buddhist nun.” She says, leaning towards me.

I truly look at her now and see the familiar burgundy garb and the shaved head covered in an orange knit toque. I can’t believe the incredible synchronistic happenstance. I’m sitting beside a Buddhist nun in the first row directly in front of the dias behind which Natalie Goldberg will soon be standing! Seriously! Ask and ye shall receive.

“I don’t know why I’m here,” she confesses several times, “I’ve only read part of a book she’s written….Bones?”

 “Writing Down the Bones.” I affirm. I know exactly why she’s here.

I go with what the Universe has handed to me and make my own confession. I talk about my interest in Buddhism and my scattered studying. She stumps me with question after question, whereupon I finally sigh my ignorance.

“All the different forms of Buddhism really confuse me.”

She smiles, “Everything is confusing.”

And so begins a remarkable conversation. She shows me picture after picture of her teachers on her phone. We share our thoughts on how energy affects us. She asks if I’m a writer and I find myself telling her about the book I’m working on, about how it’s about going beyond forgiveness.

“Beyond forgiveness?” she asks.

Oh no”, I think, all of a sudden it feels like I’ve stepped into a world in which I’m wholly inadequate. Who am I to talk about going beyond forgiveness to a seventy-two year old Buddhist nun?

“When you’ve reached a level or an awareness that transcends forgiveness, where you realize that there is no need for forgiveness because there was no injury in the first place.” I’m talking about soul to soul contracts, but in the whispered confines of our conversation there is no time to expand. I wonder if I’ve jumped off the deep end and have lost my nascent connection with her.

“No injury…” She repeats, leaning back slightly, and then nodding her head she begins to share her own story about a physical injury she’s being challenged with. Now we are simply two women sharing tips on healing physical injuries and operating on an energetic level within a potentially litigious world.

Just before Natalie Goldberg takes the stage, my Buddhist nun friend takes my contact information and forwards me an email containing dharma talks that may interest me. She promises to text me and we make tentative plans to have tea together.

I spend the next hour listening to Natalie Goldberg read and share bits of writing-practice wisdom. I smile to myself. I’m sitting in the front row listening to one of my favourite writing and spiritual teachers, and beside me Karma quietly murmurs. The Universe has placed me exactly where I asked to be – both in front of and beside a Buddhist teacher.

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Lost and Found

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Forgive me readers, for I have sinned, it’s been six long months since my last post. Six months! The word ‘sin’ for me doesn’t adhere to the heavy-handed Christian interpretation. Rather I hold onto the Hebrew or Aramaic etymology, wherein I missed the mark, or was forgetting my Self. And so I was…somewhat.

Although my fingers slowed to a crawl, I didn’t stop writing. I’ve been pecking and poking away at my long-form project, in a steady, sloth sort of way. That is to say, when I have been writing, my thoughts line up as though coated in molasses. I seem to have sticky residue gumming up the pages in my brain.

Sometimes an impending earthquake can rumble through your life long before the earth moves beneath your feet. It causes all sorts of unexpected and unplanned mayhem; furniture gets tossed about, books tumble from the shelves and dishes fly out of the cupboards. Sometimes, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, it picks you up and drops you down in a completely different and unexpected place. The force of nature moving within you.

It was an article in the New Yorker about “the really big one” due to hit the West Coast that got guts churning. It was the report from the structural engineer that got my feet moving. It turns out that the cement foundation poured in 1938 is slowly turning to dust and ruin and no amount of expensive remediation will make her sound. Not to mention what might happen if the bedrock my cottage sits on begins to shake, rattle and roll. Suddenly I’m faced with a complete tear-down and rebuild….or move again.

In January, my spiritual teacher asked, “What image, word or phrase will you carry  through this year?”

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Immediately the image of a big, beautiful tree with wide-spreading branches and deep, long-reaching roots came to mind. No longer do I need a house to put down roots. I am the tree. The roots are deep within me. Wherever I go, here I am. Home.

And so, almost settled into another, smaller-again-by-half house, I am writing once more. The words are flying around inside my head like caged birds looking for an open door. I am oiling the hinges…

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Falling Into Books

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Sometimes when I’m reading a book, I have to lay it down because a certain sentence or a phrase has just passed through my body and forever altered me. It takes a few minutes or a few hours to adjust to the frisson of energy carried by those words.

I have to stop and breathe those words deep into my body. The soft caress that comes with a phrasing so beautifully gentle it’s as if they are growing down from the heavens and up from the earth at the same time. The first green shoots of the daffodil in January, the crocus in February (here in Vancouver anyway). Strong and resilient, yet tender and vulnerable.

Sometimes they are the sudden crashing of a heavy spruce into the ground. My body shudders with the strength and fury of the sentences driving deep into my being.

They are words that meet and grow in my heart.

Oh, how I want to write like this!” I think, as I lay the book across my heart, hoping to infuse myself with the talent through some kind of magical osmosis.

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a writer. And then I wanted to be a dancer on the Carol Burnett Show. And when I was introduced to the world of plays I added Actor to that list. To me they are all interconnected threads of creativity, cut one away and my entire world begins to unravel.

I feel so at home surrounded by words. Surrounded by the world of storytelling. I grew up the daughter of a broadcaster, playing among sets at the TV studio, appearing in TV shows, specials and commercials. By the time I was six years old I was winning public speaking contests, too young to even know to be nervous. It was as natural to me as breathing.

I wrapped my imagination around me like my own favourite blanket. I still do. Whenever I am feeling lost or alone, I reach for a book and immediately ground myself in the wonders of the world within.  Reading and writing (and acting) are as integral to my spiritual practice as is meditation and prayer.

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The Summer I Turned Fifteen….part one

The summer I turned fifteen was the summer when Darla and I were best friends. She went to Shuswap Junior High and I went to J L Jackson, back when there were two Junior High schools in town and long before they tore down Jackson to make way for an empty lot. Gone, now, is the original first High School in town.

I remember the wide wooden stairs with the thick, curved balustrades that went from the first floor to the second floor, the basement lockers along the dark, dungeon-like hallway, the second story double-hung windows along the front of the school that opened wide to let the air flow in and let the students hang out. We were just beginning to use seat-belts in cars so no one much thought about how someone might jump out of a second story school window, even when that window was really three stories high.

The summer I turned fifteen I had my first real full-time job working as a car-hop at the A&W Drive-In just outside of town along the two lane Trans-Canada highway. I couldn’t work for Parks and Rec like all of my other friends because they’d just introduced a new rule that limited the hiring of siblings to two, and my older brother and sister were already lifeguards at Fletcher pool. I think someone got tired of the monopoly the Johnson, Davidson and the Taylor families had on the local lifeguarding and swimming teacher jobs and decided it was time to do something before we took over the world. Either that or they saw me coming. I took it personally.

tbc

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The Quiet Gift of Desperation

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I seem to be at a pivot point in my writing ‘project’ and feel like I’m standing on a slippery moss-covered rock in the midst of crossing a fast moving stream and suddenly the way forward is blocked. Perhaps the reason I’m blocked is because I keep calling it a ‘project’ instead of admitting and committing to the fact that I’m writing a book.

Because it’s scary to even think I’m writing a book.

Because, “Who am I to think I can write a book?”

But then…..who am I to think that I can’t write a book?

I’ve written a lot of words, almost 50,000 of them, covering the wounding-enmeshed-in-Victim part of the story. My story. This part is called The Red Bird of Betrayal because I like the colour red, which is also meant to convey the blood of the wounding. And because I like alliteration. And because it’s only a ‘for me’ title, not one which will carry forward into the book. Yes, it’s a book.

Red Bird of Betrayal ~ line drawing by Patrick O'Neill

Red Bird of Betrayal ~ line drawing by Patrick O’Neill

Now I’m at the pivot point, the point where the healing begins. Where I begin living by my new mantra of I will show my children what is possible in a time of crisis (which later, much later, became shortened simply to I will show what is possible).

And this is where we find me standing on the slippery moss-covered rock in the middle of that fast moving stream. Confused and frustrated. I’ve written the first part in almost chronological order, but that doesn’t feel right for the next part, so the way ahead isn’t clearly marked with stepping-stones. I have to find a new path, a new way to forge the river.

And maybe that’s just perfectly fitting because that’s exactly what I had to do in my life, in my healing. Find a new way of Being. Perhaps I need to just begin where I am and trust in the process.  Trust that the right words will find me.  Step off the rock and slip into the flow of the stream and stop trying to row the boat.  Now is the time to let go, to surrender completely into the writing and be surprised by the discoveries that move through my fingers.

And now I’m excited because I know the words are there, that the wisdom is there, just waiting for the opportunity to download onto the page.  I simply have to surrender to the process and delight in the discoveries.

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By the way, the title of my newly proclaimed book is, Transcending Forgiveness – Healing into Wholeness After Betrayal.

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Repotting My Life

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The music in the coffee shop where I’m currently writing is too loud, making it harder to let the words flow through my fingers. The coffee grinder adds to the chaos, the noise swirling around my head and through my being, jangling apart my thoughts. It’s time to move to a quieter spot to make space for the story that is floating just beyond my fingers.   To Summon the Sacred.

There is an older man sitting at the table just in front of me, grey wiry hair sprouting sporadically from the top of his head and growing in a bushy ring like an elderly monk in need of a haircut. He has a beard to match and wire framed glasses perching on the end of his nose. He’s reading a well-marked book, with many curling pink, orange and yellow post-it notes marking the pages. Occasionally he reaches for his black leather journal and makes notations in pencil. I wonder what he’s working on, what story is being written.

Beyond him is a younger man scrolling through his phone, an open laptop on the table in front of him. He’s joined by what could be his mother, who is slowly and deliberately writing on a folded piece of paper. So many stories. We are each living inside the stories of lives that we are creating moment by moment by moment, intersecting and bumping into each other. Physically and energetically. Unspoken connections sharing the experience of this physical existence.

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I’m writing the story of my life, or rather, one thread that weaves through my tapestry.  As I write and explore and examine, something slowly rises to the surface of awareness, the realization that it’s time to move.  This recognition both scares, thrills and saddens me all at the same time.  Emotions can be messy and mixed up like that.  I’ve lived in this house the longest I’ve lived anywhere and my roots grow deep, it’s going to be hard to leave.

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As I clean and declutter I consciously bless and fill my house with loving energy, preparing and polishing it for the new family that is waiting in the wings.

As I wander through my garden, I stop for a while and talk to my favourite trees and plants, thanking them for their presence and telling them that a new family will soon be enjoying them. I notice them with new eyes and a sad/glad heart.

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Caroline Myss says, “The inability to accept the natural cycle of change interferes with the growth and that interferes with health. It is impossible to stop the process of movement and growth. A negative response to change will produce negative growth. A seedling eventually requires transplanting to a larger pot. If this need for change is not acknowledged, though the plant may fight desperately for its life, it will die, never having reached its full maturity – we are no different.”

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I’m getting ready to repot myself.  May the new family that is destined to live here love the land and the plants and trees as much as me.

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Turning Trauma Into Art

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I’m sitting in the Anchor Eatery in the next neighbourhood over from mine, which is currently without power for the next two to three hours.  I’m cozily ensconced beside a gas fireplace with my custom ordered vegan smoothie, listening to the conversations floating past from this table and that.  The rain continues to pour down outside, but we’re all warmly happy here drinking our smoothies and lattes and eating our scones.

I’ve just returned from NYC where I studied with my great teacher Larry Moss, who is not only my acting teacher but also one of my most treasured spiritual teachers.  Acting has become one of my most profound spiritual practices.  When I immerse myself in the study of a play, in the world of “my” character, I oftentimes find lost fragments of myself that I hadn’t known were lost.  I find where and when I’m not breathing fully into my whole body, and where and when my voice becomes trapped or choked down.  My character speaks to me from the inside out and reveals herself to me in colours painted from the well-spring of my glorious swampy reservoir of memories and emotions.  So, so much of great acting is learned and practiced technique.  And so, so much of great acting is the unfettered access to that deep swamp of healed wounds.

To dip into the ink of sores still festering, that we have either long forgotten or have actively chosen to ignore, is to step into dangerous territory.  We risk losing ourselves once more in the darkness of the injury and our physical bodies act instinctively and stop our voices and our deep, belly breathing, which is the conduit through which we travel to the magnificence of our swamp.

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To honour the writer, to honour the story and the truth of the character, I have to know which parts of myself to bring to the table and which parts do not serve.  In order to allow the character to animate fully into the truth of her being and in order to fully serve the story the writer has imagined, I have to first not only learn and become proficient at the technique of my craft, but equally, and perhaps more importantly, I have to do my own deep, ongoing inner work.  I need to work on healing all of my wounds on every level – physical, emotional and spiritual.  It is only when I come from a neutral place of being that my character is fully brought to life.  And when that happens….it is magical and mystical.

Which brings me to the impetus for writing this in the first place – I have always been a tangential writer.  My last post pulled back the curtain to reveal the sexual abuse that happened to me as a child and it was shocking to many and instigated a domino of clunking healing.  My job here – and by here I mean here in my physical existence – is to free my voice, in all ways.  To stand in and speak the truth of the feminine.  To crack open the feminine heart.

Larry Moss says, “There is no higher healing than turning trauma into art.”  By writing the words that shines a light on the childhood sexual abuse, I am calling on the power of the Midas within me and I’m invoking the powerful alchemy of turning my wound into a powerful force of healing.

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And here is the important element – without this there is no healing, there is no gold being offered.  In order for my words to be an agent of healing for others, I must FIRST HEAL MYSELF.  Otherwise I am doing a great disservice.  If I have not done my own inner work and if I am not writing from that powerful place of higher healing, then what I am doing instead is spreading the poisonous toxins of a still infected wound – and that is dark magic.

However, if I dip my pen into the blood of my healed wounds, then my words can act as a catalyst of higher healing for others.  And this is where the reader of my words can sometimes become confused.

If they read my story of sexual abuse and find themselves feeling great pain and discomfort, then that is their body speaking to them, telling them that they have an unhealed wound inside of them.  The arrow of the story has pierced their own wound and the blood they feel flowing is not mine, but their own.  The pain they feel is emanating from their own wound.  And this is the both the rainspout of their confusion and also of their possible cleansing.  They think they are feeling the pain from my own original injury, when in fact, they are feeling the pain of their own, long-hidden wound.

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It is the healed Truth of my wound that is the alchemical agent.  As I write and as I act, I pull from the blood of my healed injuries to bring the alchemical truth to light.  I never, ever write or act from the poisonous venom of unhealed wounds.  If you feel pain when reading my words, lovingly ask yourselves what within you is asking to be healed.  What a gracious opportunity you have been given.

“The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. 
The challenge is to silence the mind.” ~ Caroline Myss

 

 

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