The Bullshit of Loneliness

Several months ago, I rode a train late at night from Manhattan to Long Island. A few young men ahead of me in the same car were chatting with each other when one started to pick a fight with another. Although I stayed where I was, an internal alarm sounded and I became filled with sudden anxiety.

The man picking the fight was furious. His face was red and veins popped out of his neck, his voice shaking as he shouted at the other guy who he perceived as a threat. I was in awe of his anger. I don’t think of myself as an angry person, mostly because my anger transmutes itself into anxiety and fear. This is my go-to emotion, the one I am most comfortable with. Yet his fury felt so similar to my fear in that moment.

And that’s when I had a moment of enlightenment— one of those all too rare insights of genius when you see outside of yourself and directly through someone else.  Looking at that guy’s face and feeling so in touch with my own fear, I realized he wasn’t any less terrified than I was.

Instead of “you don’t want to fucking mess with me, I’ll tear you up, I’ll fuck you up,” I could hear him screaming, “I’m fucking afraid, I’m fucking terrified of losing control and you winning and beating me and looking weak and foolish.” In that moment, our feelings were not so different; he wanted to fight his fear and I wanted to run from mine. He wanted to punch this other guy, but really he wanted to punch himself; he wanted out, he wanted to stop his suffering. He was fighting so hard, like a small frightened animal raging against a cage.

I tell this story because how I write and how I practice yoga is not so different, and this goes beyond seeing life as art (which I like to think it is). Both are about looking at life through a prism of oneness. In writing, we draw inward as we expand outward; we reach inside for oneness and then create specific characters from that place.

In yoga class, we come together from a very lonely place, from the seclusion of our own stories, and eventually realize we are telling ourselves a lie. This is not something we have to believe or think about, but can directly experience. We see other people falling out of poses, we hear other people talking about their fears. Of course this happens everywhere if we look for it, but people are more obvious about hopes and dreams in the studio, of wanting to feel good, of wanting not to suffer any more. We go to yoga looking for something, not even sure what that something is; many people call it “peace,” but what does peace even mean?

I think peace is realizing we’re not alone after all. So many times people come to class with the same questions or complaints. They are always ashamed, believing they are the only ones. They are usually surprised to learn that others have the same issues.

We tell ourselves we are alone, that the person in front of us is not like us one bit, that we can never understand him. We tell this story to keep from facing uncomfortable truths, to keep from realizing that, “holy shit, I am just as angry as that dude on the train.” We think we don’t want to know the truth, but if that’s what peace is, I think I’ll take it.

 

Recent Poem from an “Ars Poetica” workshop:

Spinning through that vastness,

weak but strong,

deep into the tunnel of

the center

at the crux

in the belly

at the heart of

all things and every thing.

this is why I write

this is why I feel

not to sit quiet,

but to hold up a mirror,

to wear the mirror

on my face,

to scream through the crowds,

galloping, raving mad

with relief:

“Look at me!

I am you!

I am you!

I am you!”

 

 

Best New Year’s Resources for Yogis and Writers 2014

Below are some resources for writers and yogis that I’ve been using the last day or so to find some clarity about the year ahead. Hopefully you find them helpful.

First things first, SELF-LOVE (or self-compassion or kindness to yourself, whatever language you’d prefer to use)

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Self-love end of the year meditation with Christine Arylo

Then there’s self-love + clarity:

Your Guide To Completing 2013 with Your Inner Wisdom Leading The Way by Amy Ahlers and Christine Arylo or a much shorter 4 Questions to Ask Yourself 

* The Chopra Center 2013 Guided Journal (still works for 2014)

For even more clarity…

How to discover your purpose in less than 5 seconds

How to figure out your mission in life (5 Big Ideas + 5 Journal Questions…)

For 16 nights of clarity through meditation and journaling with yogini writer JC Peters:

* Nityas- The Eternal Moon Phase Goddesses- Meditations and Writing for Jan 2014

For Writers, definitely check out:

How do you get perspective on your creative enterprise? by the fabulous Jeffrey Davis

He takes you through mapping out your 3 month horizon– but you need to sign up to receive the article. Here’s a taste:

 Your 3 Month Horizon:  look forward to the immediate horizon in front of you. Imagine yourself three months from now. Where do you want to be with your business, enterprise, or creative project?

  • Who do you want to be as a professional, enterpriser, or creative?
  • Who will you be relating to?
  • How will you feel?

Questions to Transform Your Writing Life by Rochelle Melander

  • When was I engaged with my work?
  • *When was I passionate about my work?
  • What practices added to my productivity? (Please define productivity in any way that works for you: writing more words, beginning and completing pieces, putting in a certain amount of time, etc.)
  • What practices or situations challenged my ability to be productive?
  • Based on the above, what would you like to do more of? Less of?

AND THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTIONS TO ASK:

  • What would you do if you had nothing to lose?
  • What would you do if money were no object?
  • What would you do if you didn’t care what people thought?
  • What would you do if you knew you would not fail?
  • What would you do if you knew you had one year to live?      

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Finally, Dan Blank’s article reminds us not to take life and our work too seriously: 
Your Legacy is Written in the Thoughts, Attitudes, and Actions of Others:
“The effect of your work is often a little below the surface. People who love your books or whatever else you create will rarely send you a message telling you. Instead, your legacy is forged in silence, often unknown to you, the creator. You inspire someone in a small way, help shape their worldview, and down the road, these things affect an action they take.”

“Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions” – T S Eliot

 

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An ode to NaNoWriMo (wait, I like to write?)

When I first thought I could be a writer I was 14 years old and sat down at my Brother word processor (this was before we had a computer) and wrote 10 pages single-spaced (I’d be thrilled with that now, by the way). I thought Wow.

But then I stopped. I couldn’t write anymore, I was tapped out, exhausted. I had poured out my heart and was spent. A sense of disappointment came over me. I guess I can’t be a writer, I thought. I believed being a writer meant being able to write continuously without end until it was over, never resting ever, never stopping to think or even, well, live. Literally.

Twelve years later I was older and wiser and hopefully a little less intense, and decided to see if I could actually maybe maybe write a novel. I went about it a different way. I decided to see if I could write one chapter in one week. When I did, I smiled to myself and said, “Self, you can be a writer. If you can write one chapter you can write ten.”

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), maybe you know what I’m going to say— if you can write one word, you can write 50,000. But…. maybe it’s not that easy. Maybe you can’t write because you don’t have time, can’t think of anything to say, aren’t in the mood, can’t stop editing yourself, your muse has gone on vacation, you’re tired, you’d rather get drunk or snuggle with a pillow.

I get it. The other night I came home feeling lousy about something and totally not in the mood to write. My word count was glaring at me and a moment of panic set in. What if I become one of those writers who can only write when I’m in the mood? If so, I’ll never get anything done! But then, somehow, as if coming out to me from behind a cloud, a rainbow said, “Barbara, remember why you love to write in the first place.”

Ah ha! I had so many choices suddenly: I could make my characters speak for me, either through their better mood or through my sad one. I could have them act out my feelings or escape into different ones. I could use my words to make me feel better. I could entertain myself. I could write because I loved it. Who’d have thought?

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Whether you’re new to this writing thing or not, there is good news: writing is not sitting down to pour out 50,000 words in one sitting.  It’s not eating your breakfast, lunch, and dinner all at once.

Writing is every day, a little bit at a time, one tiny word at a time. You may end up scrapping a lot of it and that’s okay. It doesn’t matter right now. The only thing that matters is creating a little something every day, even if that means infusing all your pages with angst and hopelessness about this process. In fact, go for it. That’s what writing is for. Now is not the time to hold back. Write for love, because you love it and because there’s no time like November, when we give thanks for what we love.

And then stop every once in a while. Look at what you did. You made words appear where there was nothing. You made life happen for your characters, you made beings (human or otherwise) feel and act and live. You filled a void with only your words, your beautiful words. Let yourself be amazed. I am.

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Writing a Novel in a Month with the Goddess of Death

So there is this crazy thing that happens to many writers in November. It’s called national novel writing month, when writers sign up at www.nanowrimo.org and agree to write a 50,000 word novel in one month.

In many ways I’m not ready (I’ve barely plotted my novel yet) but I do feel lucky to be taking a Writing Your Practice course with Susanna Harwood Rubin, which is lovingly preparing me with its daily writing commitment. This past week we focused on the subject of the first novel I wrote five years ago— Kali.

Goddess Kali Dancing 13 in

If you don’t know her, Kali is the goddess of death and destruction. She wears a necklace made of skulls, holds severed heads covered in blood, her tongue lolling wildly out her mouth. She is unkempt, unladylike, marginal. She is death. She is everything we don’t talk about.

I loved Kali ever since I read an article about her in Yoga Journal.  I had never heard of her before and I loved loved the way Sally Kempton described her as fierce, as unruly. I was awestruck by her wildness, her untameability. I love that she is powerful, that she is wild, that she destroys things, that she tears down walls. Basically, Kali doesn’t give a fuck. She is the very definition of liberation.

Ridiculous as it may seem, Kali reminds me of the Cosby episode when Cliff says to his son, Theo, “I brought you into this world and I will take you out.” In this same way, she represents timelessness, the dark void we are born out of and go back to. When Kali slays demons, she literally devours them up with her tongue. She takes them back into herself, into the everything from where they came from.

Her message of timelessness is comforting. She is the epitome of freedom, slaying everything that blinds us to seeing we are all one, enduring, never really bound to this world. As much as she is everything we don’t talk about, she’s also everything we do. She is limitless pure potential. She is shakti, the underlying primal energy of all things.

Although I’ve been not identifying with Kali as much in the last few months (I’ve been finding that I need a little bit of gentleness in my life right now, and luckily there are plenty of archetypes in eastern mythology for that as well), I’ve been finding that I have a strong Kali energy in me when I write. I rarely have trouble with a blank page. Not because I’m not afraid; I just don’t expect the words to be perfect.

Good or bad, I like when words pour out; I don’t mind writing similar sentences a few times right after each other to experiment with word choice. My words don’t come out shiny and rarely hit the mark right away. But that’s okay, because I never expected them to. In this way, I am lucky and it makes me fearless.

I’m terrified of the revising, the endless editing, the perfectionism that follows, but those first moments? Those Kali moments of streaming your heart out with your words? They’re ecstasy. In those moments I feel like a genius. But not me as much as the world is a genius and its pouring through me. This is when writing doesn’t need to have a point. So much of why I write is to share myself with the world, but writing stream of consciousness is writing for the sake of writing. There’s no goal. It has intrinsic worth even if no one sees it.

So if you want to start a writing practice, or think you want to gear up for nanowrimo, here’s my biggest piece of advice: just write. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense, if you hate it, if it seems terrible.

You can even write on those feelings: “ok, I’m writing this— I don’t really know why, I feel like a failure because there’s nothing that wants to come out, now my mind is blank blah blah blah.” Let yourself be carried away with the energy of thoughts and write them out as if they were coming from the dark void that is Kali.

Of course there’s more I could say, like choosing a topic you love, a project that has meaning for you, something that will sustain you when you feel like giving up. But I think it’s more important to remember that nanowrimo is not pretty; it’s not time for criticism, perfection, for clean and shiny words. Instead, write with abandon, write like you don’t give a fuck, write like our girl, Kali.

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Some fave Kali quotes:

“Emboldened by the indwelling of the Mother,
This warrior poet calls out:
‘Listen to me, Death, so your insane pride
Will at last be humbled.
You can take away only this form.
I have already begun my deathless journey,
Chanting Kali! Kali! Kali!’”
— Ramprasad Sen (1720-1781)
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“Whatever version of Kali you seek out, ‘finding your Kali’ is always about liberation.”-
Sally Kempton