Monday, 19 September 2016

The Path Through the Forest

There have been many ups and downs since I wrote Being the Mountain in July, and I am still trying to rest and re-centre myself after a trying month or so, still needing to be that firmly rooted mountain on occasion. I am not very well at present, not at my best physically, and in a bit of a low period emotionally, but I do feel like something is beginning to change within me, and that gives me hope. 


Lost by Frederick McCubbin, 1886
When I am not feeling well, I often feel lost, or stuck in one place. So, finding a direction, a path to take, to get me out of that stasis of lostness and stuckness, that is important. Though over the years I have come to realise that lostness is a gift too. For the lack of direction, the feeling of emptiness, gives me an opportunity to reassess things, to rediscover the direction that I should be moving in. I need to fully empty myself out so that I can refill myself again; and I look forward to this process of refilling, which, with time, leads once again to a spilling over of my inner wellspring. Creativity will flow again, and I will feel more sure of the path I am walking.

This is far from easy, however, for when I am tired and run down (and I am sure many people with chronic illness would agree), it is very difficult to feel interested in anything, for there is simply no energy to devote to that. And without interests and passions and a desire to enjoy life, it is very hard to motivate myself to get out of the mess I am in and to find the elusive path that I am seeking. So, as I am being pared down to the bare bones of my existence in the world, I find I need to return to essentials, a few key strategies:


1. Reading


Though I am almost always reading something, I have felt a particular need for story lately, so I have turned to novels. They help to distract me from my own thoughts, and to feed my soul. There are two I would like to mention—the kind of rare books that not only tell a compelling story, but are also just what I needed, with much wisdom to relay; and both deal with shamanism:

Ceremony (1977) by Leslie Marmon Silko

Considered to be a classic of Native American literature, this is one powerful book. It tells the story of Tayo, a young indigenous man who fights in the second world war, is taken captive by the Japanese, and returns to the US sick and traumatised. But instead of turning to violence and alcohol as his friends do, he feels drawn to the old ways of his people, and spends time with a medicine man who creates a ceremony for him. This ceremony expands to become an unfolding of the living world all around Tayo, because ‘His sickness was only part of something larger, and his cure would be found only in something great and inclusive of everything’ (125–6). The story itself, and the ceremony within it, is the cure. As it says in the opening:

I will tell you something about stories,
[he said]
They aren’t just entertainment.
Don’t be fooled.
They are all we have, you see,
all we have to fight off 
illness and death.

You don’t have anything 
if you don’t have stories. (2)

This is true. Stories can heal, can nurture, can teach us much about ourselves and others, and I particularly loved this book for being written by a woman of mixed ancestry (Laguna Pueblo, Mexican and white), who therefore has expressed a very different take on ‘civilisation’ and the accepted way of things. Ceremony speaks of violence, injustice, racism and addiction, and some of it is confronting to read—but it also shows us what is important: a relationship with the land, which cannot be ‘owned’ or ‘colonised’, only belonged to; and the power of dreams, visions, magic—all of which are available to us if we are humble, trusting, and we open our hearts. Which leads me to the next book … 

Now is the Time to Open Your Heart (2004) by Alice Walker 

This book is about Kate, a successful writer, who at 57 years of age, feels lost in her life, and goes on a journey of discovery, first down the Colorado river, and then into the Amazon jungle, where she meets and learns from Grandmother—yagé, also known as Ayahuasca, or simply la medicina, a powerful entheogenic and healing plant. Meanwhile, her partner Yolo goes on his own journey.

Once again, I loved the fact that this book was written by someone with a different perspective on the world, an African-American woman, who does not take civilisation at face value, and provides alternative ways of thinking and being. Furthermore, the way she has written this story, about shamanism and spiritual awakenings, is very real and accessible. It is supremely grounded, and I found myself typing out many passages to add to my rather large file of quotes, because the key passages are not, in my eyes, fictions, but truths that spoke directly to me. This quotation stood out:

For her life, like human life everywhere on the planet, had speeded up and speeded up until peace was rarely possible. Always there was movement, noise, inevitable and constant distraction … A madness has seized earth. The madness of speed. As if to speed things up meant to actually go somewhere. And where, after all, was there to go? The present is all there ever is, no matter how you lean forward or back. (28)

And this idea of the need to slow down, as an antidote to the madness of speed and distraction that we are constantly plagued with in the modern world, leads to my next strategy …


2. Meditation


Feeling as I have recently, and being unable to do much, meditation has been calling to me. I can’t claim to be very good at it, as my mind tends to wander about as if it has a mind of its own (ha!), but it is something that I have done on and off for a number of years, and there are definite benefits, I am sure.

Sometimes I need stillness and silence. I just need to rest, within myself. Even if there are thoughts floating by, nonetheless, that commitment to stillness and silence is helpful. To simply be in the moment, to remember the goodness in being, as opposed to the constant doing that is so often expected of us. And yet, here is the paradox: sometimes much emerges out of that non-doing, that nothingness, the emptiness that has led me to meditate in the first place. Regular mediation, I feel, helps with my creative flow. Which leads to my next strategy …


3. Writing


For a few years I have been doing ‘Morning Pages’, as based on Julia Cameron’s model from The Artist’s Way (1992). Though I cheat a little, typing them, instead of handwriting as advised. And I don’t always do them in the morning either. But I’ve found that this year I have not stuck to my daily practice. Partly this was because I was beginning to get bored, and needed a change; and then when I started blogging I was doing quite a lot of other writing anyway. Nevertheless, recently I have returned to the work, realising (as I have known from the beginning), that regular writing not only helps to keep the River of Creativity flowing, but it is also therapeutic. It helps me to get irritating or upsetting thoughts out of my head and onto the page, where they do far less damage, and to boost my positivity and self-belief, so that I sail above negative feelings, rather than being dragged down by them. It may not always be the best writing—in fact, mostly it is terrible—but it is healing writing, which engenders motivation, inspiration and ideas, and therefore it is invaluable.

The interesting thing is that I think my strategies are beginning to work, for recently I began to write a story. It still needs a lot more work, but it is a beginning, and I am confident that I will find an ending for it, if I remain patient and trusting. I have also written a post for the upcoming vernal equinox (so stay tuned for that). I know that this little burst of creativity has come about as a direct consequence of my reading, meditation and writing. 

So, while I’m not out of the woods yet, I think I’ve found a forest path I quite like. I will follow it.

9 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. (had to delete first comment - didn't proofread it before I hit Publish...)
    Sorry you are not feeling well... A life of good days and bad days, I know all too well :/ I am glad you are writing, though... I find the interaction between reading/meditating/writing is how the creative 'it' works best for me - although I read few novels, preferring biographies/memoirs/non-fiction :)
    Wishing you well on your Path, Therese xx

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    1. Thank you, Claire. I feel a bit like a yo-yo sometimes, there are so many ups and downs. I read plenty of nonfiction too, but sometimes I feel the need to 'escape' through story. And as a writer I also like to see how other writers do it. It's always inspiring. The Path I walk is not an easy one, but I am doing my best to love it anyway. x

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  3. I hope you feel better soon. ((Hugs))

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