“If you go slowly enough, six or seven months is an eternity—if you let it be—if you forget old things, and learn new ones. Even a week can last forever.”
Rick Bass, Winter

"In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer."
Albert Camus

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Day 97: Inviting the Muse Through Meditation and Acceptance of What Is

For a big chunk of Monday I was worried about Zoe.  She was so eager on Saturday that she ran like mad, and we now think she strained her back leg like one of those middle aged weekend warriors with desk jobs who get a little too excited about that hike into the Adirondacks.  On Sunday she didn't want to walk as far as usual, and Monday morning she was sitting down and saying Not, today, duckies. 

Of course she's perfectly content to sit for hours at the balcony, staring at the waves, doing her doggy meditation, but I worried about her being in pain.  And we are up three flights of stairs at this hotel.

Our other concern is that she always gets a little clingy when we travel, crying when one of us leaves the car for anything, and not wanting either of us to go anywhere without her, but she's even more like this now.  I wouldn't mind that so much but I know stress takes a toll on her gut, and here she is taking those drugs that give her gastrointestinal system a real workout.

So before I sat down to write on Monday I was wrestling with some concerns.  Even paradise had snakes in it.  (But of course, snakes are good for the ecosystem, sacred in many cultures, and Eve was framed.)

I've always written well here in this peaceful place, sitting here with the view of the ocean coming in, and the sound itself calms my breath and my mind.  The old me would have worked hard at not letting my worries interrupt the work.  But that resistance to the here and now would also limit what I invited into the work--those sweet surprises. So, instead of demanding a great performance, my goal was to just let my worries float along in my brain along with the steady sound of the waves.  In other words, to
not worry about worrying.

And so I went to a passage of the work when my character is a bit fraught, and just went with it.  By late afternoon, I felt my peace return.

And then, guess what?  On the afternoon walk, she was in fine form.  She had more energy than we did.  And I will have some pictures and a post soon about Zoe at play with the dogs of Dixie.

Today, the world already looks brighter.  And this is what it looks like through the window:

I like to read before I meditate.  I open to Roger Rosenblatt's Kayak Morning: Reflections on Love, Grief, and Small Boats:
There's only one point to writing.  It allows you to do impossible things.  Sure, most of the time it's chimney sweeping and dung removal.  Or plastering.  A lot of the time, writing is plastering or caulking or pointing up the bricks.  But every so often there is a moment in the dead of morning where everything is still as starlight and something invades your room, like a bird that has flown through the window, and you are filled with as much joy as panic.  And then you think: I can do anything.
That's what it feels like to me when the muse says, Why, hello, Natalia.  May I visit you today?  And oh, that blessed presence: that bird that flies through the window into a room of stillness.

On the subject of mindfulness and writing and inspiration, I want to recommend a blog by Brenda Miller, "A Spa for the Mind," which I've just linked you to.  She's a wonderful essayist and editor, and I absolutely adore her resonant blog voice.  She and a colleague/friend of hers named Holly Hughes have a book coming out soon called The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World, which I know I'm going to want to read and possibly teach. 

What she and Holly Hughes have come to realize is that the interruptions to our writing life, and the interruptions to our contemplative lives are not interruptions, but are actually part of the path itself.
Brenda Miller writes:
We came to fully understand that all those interruptions are really life itself, not something apart from that life. Contemplation and writing do not happen only in quiet places, in sanctified rooms. In fact, we need to be in contact with the world, to feel ourselves in dialogue with our ordinary lives, rather than resisting them. If we train ourselves, we’ll see that our writing material, and our contemplative state of mind, can be found anywhere: in the Volkswagen repair shop, at the doctor’s office, in a traffic jam, at PetSmart.
This is so true.  It isn't easy--it's work--but I have at times entered a contemplative state of mind even in a busy coffee shop while waiting for Zoe's chemotherapy to be done, and waiting to find out the results of her latest lung X-rays.  I wrote my favorite post, Day 57: The Purple Heart Meditation, in a scenario like the one I just described.  And when I think I'm too scared to write, I just write through it.

I also love/love/love the Denise Levertov poem they quote in the book, which Brenda includes in her lovely post from Sunday.  I met Denise Levertov twice in my life: once when I was an undergraduate at Northwestern University, and she came there to read, and then in Seattle in the 1990s, not long before she died, via a friend who had done some work for her.  Her poetry always inspired me.  O Taste and See, the collection, as well as the title poem, made me want to write.

Here's the quote, that I just copied from Brenda's post, but do go over there and check out the whole post anyway, and look at her back pages about her dog, her yoga practice, her writing practice, and her serious attacks on the clutter in her house.
"A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me—a sky, air, light:
a being. And before it started to descend
from the height of noon, it leaned over
and struck my shoulder as if with
the flat of a sword, granting me
honor and a task. The day’s blow
rang out, metallic—or it was I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it knew: I can."
    —Denise Levertov, “Variation on a Theme by Rilke”
That bell awakened reminds me of the end of Annie Dillard's essay "On Seeing" from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, where she finally finds "the tree with lights in it" after wandering through the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia trying to view the natural world with the same wonder and the same absence of preconceived ideas as the newly sighted.  She writes:
"I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked
breathless by a powerful glance. The flood of fire abated, but I’m still spending the power. Gradually the lights went out in the cedar, the colors died, the cells unflamed and disappeared. I was still ringing. I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck."
I love the idea of being the bell, not just listening to it.  Of feeling oneself to be struck by an outside agent of beauty and breath, life and energy.  To reverberate with that ringing.

I'll end with "O Taste and See," Levertov's great 1964 poem that inspired another generation of writers:
"O Taste and See" by Denise LevertovMan.jpg

The world is
not with us enough
O taste and see

the subway Bible poster said,

meaning The Lord, meaning
if anything all that lives
to the imagination’s tongue,

grief, mercy, language,
tangerine, weather, to
breathe them, bite,
savor, chew, swallow, transform

into our flesh our
deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,
living in the orchard and being

hungry, and plucking
the fruit.

Gentle readers, may the muse inspire you today, whatever you do, and if you are one of my readers for whom grief is the language you speak most right now, I also wish you mercy, plum, quince, and many bushels of tangerines.



  1. Especially quince.

  2. so many things to respond to: so glad Zoe feels better. I love what writing can do- I picked up this quote yesterday on the news: "The use of fiction gives us models of possibility."Marilynne Robinson, here: http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=148238949
    and I love the photo! I love the graphic quality of it.

  3. Thank you so much, Sara. And thank you for your amazing words of wisdom yesterday too. xx

  4. Thanks for the shout out Natalia! And thanks for a beautiful post.

  5. A pleasure, Brenda, and thank you.