The Quiet Teachers

As I have mentioned more than once, I’m spending this year with Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening, meaning that I begin my daily meditation by reading one of his 365 observations. More often than not, a series of readings—one day after another—will seem an awakening designed only for me. This past week, Nepo introduced me to the quiet teachers.

The quiet teachers are often ignored but are everywhere and are as solid as the ground upon which we walk. We know these quiet teachers by their “lessons [that] dissolve as accidents or coincidence…offering us direction that can only be heard in the roots of how we feel and think” (Nepo).

For me, the lessons have been clear but somewhat noisy for I am in the process of completely restructuring a novel I wrote seventeen years ago. What that means is the destruction of a weakly structured novel in order to salvage a stubborn story that has waited a long time to be told. It has required me to immerse myself into an old world, awakening characters long silent and provoking images fraught with memories. There has been much shattering of ideals but the shards of those ideals proved to be quiet teachers, the first of others that I met this week.

Nepo also introduced me to an observation from Megan Scribner: “‘I’m only lost if I’m going someplace in particular.'” I could not have described my own first attempt at writing a novel more succinctly. For over 80,000 words and seventeen years, I stayed with a story I no longer believed rather than facing the story that was trying to emerge. Once I began stripping away the façade, I heard the heart of the story and found myself at journey’s beginning: “Practice letting go of your plan and discover the path of interest that waits beneath your plan” (Nepo).

Not being attached to outcome or plan reveals the story waiting to be written. It is only when I have the courage to face failure do I heed the lessons of the quiet teachers. Accident and coincidence dissolve into the direction of the story. I am struck by the synchronicity of my own life’s direction with that of my writing life. Not for the last time, I am in awe at the oneness that is all.

“‘Be serene in the oneness of things and erroneous views will disappear by themselves'” (Seng-Ts’an) became clearer and clearer to me as I separated the heart of the story from the remnants of what was once a novel. All of the tearing apart and leaving of words is less difficult than I imagine. There are thorny moments but eventually, they give way to the relief of no longer having to hold up the façade of novel.

While the shininess of a new structure of a novel is a gift, the fear of idolizing structure at the cost of story, wherever it may wend, is a battle that will wage until structure and story support one another as a whole. I am confident in the lessons of the quiet teachers but mostly, I am vigilant for like life, writing is fraught with accident and coincidence as is the beating of my heart.

“As you enter your day, try not to reach for life. Try not to leave or arrive. Try to let life into you” (Nepo).

A Resilient Life

In my studies this past week, I read a novel on death from a teenage perspective, began an introduction into traditional Chinese medicine, and watched a DVD on coincidence, all within the context of discovering a resilient life.

Melissa Bowersock Image
WANA Commons

Increasingly, my posts refer to a resilient life–not my phrase–by which I mean that in all of existence all happens simultaneously. For human beings, a resilient life requires a fully functioning mind-body organism to create and re-create one’s life as a work of art. Essentially, then, living a resilient life is everyone’s purpose as Dr. Symeon Rodger offers in The Five Pillars of Life. Dr. Rodger acknowledges that the idea of a resilient life  can be found in all of the authentic ancient traditions, although each ancient  tradition expresses the concept a bit differently.

Similarly, all of the ancient traditions embrace Seng Ts’an’s observation: “There’s no need to seek the truth—just put a stop to your opinions!” Not surprisingly, if you search for Seng Ts’an’s quote on the Internet, the top search results reveal the Buddhist monk’s words as status updates on various Facebook pages. And no, I did not investigate any of the search results, having more than enough opinions of my own to stop.

In that regard, I found another element critical to my understanding a resilient life–my daily routine–where routine is not a schedule of minutes but every minute is a way of life, a distinct  difference.  In essence, every moment is free, without attachment. Any qualifying baggage such as right or wrong is attached to those moments considered future or past but never in the moment that is. Of course, time-space is much, much more than this casual allusion but I had not considered every moment as unattached. It changes a lot.

I discovered this idea of every moment being free  from a Deepak Chopra’s DVD seminar, The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire. Chopra acknowledges that the concept of every moment as free has its origins in the “ancient traditions of wisdom,” what Dr. Rodger refers to as authentic ancient traditions. To me, the title of Chopra’s 2003 DVD belies the heart of the seven-hour seminar, which is better revealed in the DVD’s subtitle: Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence.

Amber N West Image
WANA Commons

Speaking of, I discovered Chopra’s DVD at the local library after being notified that a novel for which I waiting was now available. Chopra’s DVD was on display near the library circulation desk, and once I was aware of the DVD’s existence, there was never a doubt I would check it out. This is the same morning I was writing an essay on Seng Ts’an’s quote on truth.

Moving ever backward into this same morning, I was not considering making a trip to the library at all. As I reviewed my work for the week, an email notice from the library showed up in my Inbox, advising that a book I had requested was available. I seized the moment and decided a drive to the library was in order, much to the delight of Cooper James.

It had been at least a month since I requested John Green’s The Fault in our Stars, a young adult novel about teenagers, cancer, and dying, not in any predictable order but the story is a good one. It explores the idea of life being a side effect of death, specifically how chronic illness warps not only life but the entire experience of death, how chronic illness might provide a single moment in which we believe not that we will cheat death but that we will come to it prepared. Yet more often than not, life ends mid sentence. Green writes with wit and grit—it is a novel I recommend–I found it to be a page turner.

I did not anticipate reading a novel as part of this week’s course in a resilient life any more than I anticipated watching a seminar on coincidence but I had hoped to discover a text on traditional Chinese medicine, and I did, The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine by Ted J. Kaptchuk who is quick to explain: “The Chinese method is based on the idea that no single part can be understood except in its relation to the whole,” yet another expression of a resilient life.