The Writer’s Life



you're so wonderful

An old mentor of mine, whom I left for being so positive – “That’s wonderful! You’re so talented!” – when I felt the need to be shredded –  just became disabled. Some kind of brain injury. Now she can’t talk, can barely walk, can only write. When I was in her group she would often tell us stories of her own difficulties. She wasn’t lying. Her life had been a tough one, and I was helpless to do more for her than sit and listen. Most of us, I think, can only be with so much of another person’s trash until we have dealt with our own, can’t we? Continue reading “The Writer’s Life”

Self is the Lord of Self…

We read in the Dhammapada that “self is the lord of self.” Does this make sense? It depends on whether we are speaking of self-will or self-control. If self-will, then the self – the desires, ambitions, lusts, and resentments within the self have no lord, but run their own courses to self-destruction. If self-control, then there is a “lord” over them, a higher self, that knows what is right, and chooses it. Which self is self? What is “self?” There is the inner self, which we can call, “nous,” which observes what is and isn’t. The outer self can be angry; the nous recognises the anger rather than being swept away in it. The outer self may be intoxicated; the nous recognises the intoxication as outside itself. The outer self may be consumed with lusts for this or that; the nous observes, and questions whether this is right.

True religion, authentic spirituality, enables the nous to live unattached from these passions, and to live wisely. The liberated nous is able to guide the self above what would degrade and destroy it. Passion is part of being human. In itself, it is like a horse which, rightly trained, is a powerful friend and servant. Untrained, it can cause great harm. When the nous is aligned with the Tao one lives wisely, and, being free from the selfish and mindless passions’ influence, can guide them to do great good in the inner, and outer, world.

Bigger on the Inside

How big is the universe? How big is the mind? How big is the human heart? Modern reasoning would tell us that the first is the largest, and the third the smallest. Is it, though? All the “secrets of the universe” are there to be analysed, categorised, and conveniently packaged by the human mind, so the mind must be greater. Likewise, the ancient sages, who have known the human heart most fully, tell us that the first step of prayer or meditation is to bring the mind into the heart. So, at least in potential, the greatest space in all of nature is the very center of your own being.

King David, of early-ancient Israel, wrote in a hymn of praise, “You have set my heart in a large place,” and, “You have enlarged my heart.” In the speech of that day wisdom was seen as having a large heart. Today, a friend is someone who has given us their heart, and we, ours, to them. First of all, in doing this we give that friend the gift of space, of the possibility to be truly him- or her-self, and as our hearts enlarge we discover our place in the universe, and its place in us.

Holy Nature

meditation blue mtns

The Celts never doubted it, and surely few peoples ever did. Every landscape, be it snow-covered prairies, bald stone mountains, or green bogs that go on forever to the gaze, there is a sense of majesty that, at the same time, appears to us as infinitely Other, and yet quietly draws us to somehow, intimately, take part in the whole of it. All of Nature is, after all, Creation, and, as even the smallest creation – any snapshot or trinket – draws us to see something of that creator’s own personhood, and to see as the artist sees, the Universe cries out constantly, with sound, or without, to see it, and see ourselves, through the eyes of a greater Artist.

I have stood atop a mountain, two miles high, and felt the urge to throw myself as a soaring bird into the beauty of the peaks below, even as into the arms of a waiting lover. The encompassing swell of the sea has called me with the soft, unyielding power of its waves. The green sod of my ancestral Isle has called to me, “here you will rest.” None of this is unusual. Too many people have felt the same, even gazing at the transcendent colors of an evening’s sunset.

In “another life” I worked as a photographer. I made my money on smaller things – recording the joy of a wedding, the love of a family reunion, or the tragedy of a fire or a tornado’s damage. No film, no matter how fine the grain or contrast, no lens, no matter how perfectly polished, could ever do more for a landscape or a vespers sky than to say, “it was there,” or, “it happened.” The only way to experience such things is just that – to experience them, personally.

In the same way, what little I have experienced, what shards I know, of the Tao’s mysteries can only be known first-hand. The best photograph, the most detailed painting, tell us first of all not of the thing pictured but the artist’s skill at capturing the image. Even so, I must seek to know all I can of this wonder, share what little I’m able, and disappear, so it will be that Wonder, and not this wanderer, filling your own life.

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