Grace in a Line of Risk

Grace is the bud of a rose in late summer risking the security of self to burst forth as a blossom that cannot close again.

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…and the day came

 when the risk to remain tight,

in a bud,

became more painful

than the risk it took to blossom.

(Elizabeth Appell)

This line has been appearing for around 35 years on journal covers, inside greeting cards, on opening pages of published books and, of course, on the Internet.

The only attribution I had seen was to Anaïs Nin who did not, it seems, write these words. There is a tangential reference to a bud in one of her novels but these words do not seem to appear in any of Nin’s work.

As much maligned as Internet resources are, this misattribution precedes the pervasive use of the worldwide web. I had to reach way back into my memory but I remembered first seeing the quote in the mid 1980s. This time, my memory was accurate.

It seems Elizabeth Appell wrote these words in 1979 when she was known as Lassie Benton, Public Relations Director at John F. Kennedy University (Orinda, CA) and editor of its adult education brochure.

Appell maintains she was “on deadline” when she scribbled those twenty plus words for the opening page of the brochure, perhaps determining their destiny to appear on other opening pages.

As editor, Appell would have not provided any personal attribution. In the ensuing years, the single line would Bud Opening 0814also be offered as a poem with the title “Risk.” Yet, life and truth have a way of revealing their sources, ultimately.

In 2009, the Anaïs Nin Blog received an inquiry about the risk line’s source but it was not until 2013 that Appell decided to offer her story as well as provide a copy of the brochure page that first featured the line.

Appell revealed that she has known of the confusion as far back as the 1980s having read her words in a greeting card. She wrote to the card’s publisher who never responded.

There does seem to be one instance of the poem attributed to Appell as Lassie Benton as well as some anonymous attributions but mostly, the poem is attributed to Anaïs Nin.

It was only when two of Appell’s friends brought her their published books with the quotation attributed to Nin that Appell decided to correct years of misattribution.

And she did so with the grace of the line she wrote. Honored that her hastily scribbled words to meet a deadline have meant much to many, Appell may have taken another risk in her response to a comment on the Anaïs Nin Blog:

I have been writing for a long time. Every now and then I hit a chord, but never like the chord I hit with the “Risk” line. To be in the literary circle of Anaïs Nin is a thrill. I’m proud and grateful.

(Elizabeth Appell)

To me, this story of grace in a line of risk demonstrates the lifetime that unfolds in each moment we experience. Rarely can we know the impact of the series of snapshots that are the moments of our lives. Yet, some snapshots will return revealing their source.

May we have the grace of Elizabeth Appell in the face of risk and blossom.

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In the Presence of Coffee and Oatmeal

Each morning, I drop into a reverie that is becoming more routine than not. It occurs after my meditation and yoga practice but before that meditative state settles into my day.

It is a time in-between, this hour between the dog and the wolf, this waking up to the day Bloom of Peace 0613where thoughts define what must be done but being present provides the focus.

Breakfast often serves as a bridge for the meditative state to make its way into my day. A steaming bowl of oatmeal and coffee brewing simultaneously reach a point requiring a similar action, to pour.

The thought of pouring defines what is required but being present focuses the thought, which is either to pour almond milk into a steaming bowl of oatmeal or to pour freshly brewed coffee into a mug. If the general thought of pouring swirls between oatmeal and coffee, what was one or the other might just become another.

Such coffee-in-the-oatmeal mornings bring reality to our attention, courtesy of the meditative state. The realization of what has occurred intensifies our focus on what might happen next. This shape shifting of our lives uncovers us.

Give your real being

a chance

to shape your life.

~ Nisargadatta Maharaj~

Mindfulness does not multi-task but awakens us to where we are, to what we are doing. It is a snapshot, a jolt of opportunity to consider the untried, the untested. When our real being emerges, it is an hour between the dog and the wolf not so much of reverie but of reality.

I have many coffee-in-the-oatmeal mornings and just recently, I watched a writing life I had envisioned evaporate. The writer I was trying to be was not the writer I am. It was just that basic. I was trying so hard to secure a writing life not meant for me that I almost missed living the writing life I have.

I used to think I wrote because there was something I wanted to say. Then I thought, ‘I will continue to write because I have not yet said what I wanted to say’; but I know now I continue to write because I have not yet heard what I have been listening to.

~Mary Ruefle, “On Secrets”~

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I am not a writer of fiction but for years fiction is what I thought I heard yet no center of any story I wrote ever held.

In my poetry, prose crowded meter, and the lines went flat. I did not distinguish what I heard.

Some sentences stand alone until the day they pour into a single paragraph not about one or the other but another, like coffee in oatmeal. For me, this shifting of my writer’s shape is my awakening to the writer I am.

Rather than hearing story or rhyme as one or the other I hear another, a beat in-between, a meditation on the story of a human being, sometimes a verse worthy of song.

If you begin to understand what you are without trying to change it, then what you are undergoes a transformation.

~ J. Krishnamurti ~

In Buddha Nature, No Excuse is Necessary

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“The reason everything looks beautiful is
because it is out of balance,
but its background is always in perfect harmony.

This is how everything exists
in the realm of Buddha nature, losing its balance
against a background of perfect balance.

So if you see things without
realizing the background of Buddha nature,
everything appears to be in the form of suffering.

But if you understand the background of existence,
you realize that suffering itself is how we live,
and how we extend our life.”

~Shunryu Suzuki

My blog posts are a bit out of sync for this has been a week of resistance, meaning accepting what is has not come easily. Whenever we resist what is, we suffer, for we hold on and tug at a moment, as if to reshape it and the future, as if we could.

That kind of attachment never works, ultimately. The freedom inherent in every moment is not only more palatable but more realistic, for every moment is framed within the harmony of Buddha nature.

When suffering is viewed through Buddha nature, resistance reveals itself as a struggle against what is being extended to us. If we just open up to whatever the moment is offering us, if we just trust the harmony of Buddha nature, we do not escape suffering nor do we push it away for another day. We accept and move through it.

It is tempting to trot out reasons and excuses for why we resist–some of them are really good stories in and of themselves–yet resistance relies on past moments that are beyond changing, which is not to say those moments may not find themselves in a story. Writing extends life to any moment as a new story playing out within the balance of Buddha nature.

Quite often, I lose my balance in life, unlike the old woman whose story I am writing. She knows her story and accepts Buddha nature as basic but she did not always. Writing a story is secondary to living one but like real life, story plays out on a blank canvas, as choices color each scene, ultimately revealing Buddha nature.

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I try to remember the old woman when I slip away from Buddha nature for her story shows me what is possible—no matter what—but unlike the old woman, I do not have the benefit of knowing all my story, not yet. Rather, my advantage is the clean slate that every moment presents to me, as a writer and as an old woman, uncertain in both and curious about what happens next for either.

“Do not try to know the truth, for knowledge by the mind is not true knowledge. But you can know what is not true—which is enough to liberate you from the false. The idea that you know what is true is dangerous, for it keeps you imprisoned in the mind. It is when you do not know, that you are free to investigate. And there can be no salvation, without investigation, because non investigation is the main cause of bondage.”

~Nisargadatta Maharaj

Finding Story Anew

My last two blog posts have been an examination of my current mind-body consciousness, specifically my meditation practice and eating habits. I share Deepak Chopra’s belief that a change in one’s consciousness or awareness affects a change in one’s physiology at the cellular level.

I don’t remember when I did not believe in the mind-body connection but I know that reading Chopra’s Quantum Healing helped me consider what quantum healing may mean for me. I first read the book in the early 1990s and again just recently.

Old Woman Tree; KMHuberImage; Tallahassee Park in Winter

Of course, my current level of awareness is quite different these twenty years later. Then, I was completely attached to outcome—clinging the Buddhists call it—meaning my attention was always focused on the end result. Mostly, I was on a pendulum, swinging back to the past and then to the future without a thought to the moment. No wonder I never felt free.

Becoming aware that the moment is where freedom resides broke me open to Chopra’s “field of infinite possibilities” both physically and spiritually. Now, every facet of my life is fluid as I focus on what is and not what might be, which takes a lot more energy but in every moment, there is more energy.

Nowhere is this more evident than in my writing. When I began blogging, my writing focus was entirely outcome based: I set myself a certain number of words per day, I joined various writing challenges, and I troubled my readers with my angst over whether to plot out a novel scene by scene or just write it out by the seat of my pants. In nine months, I produced 220,000+ words in what I have come to regard as my daily writing practice. It is as valuable as my daily meditation practice, and  I don’t regret a word.

I was so attached to the outcome of writing– was it a novel, was it a memoir, was it a compilation of essays–that I abandoned story in search of format or genre. I could not free myself of what my words might become until I settled into the moment to write. One word after another, each sentence emerged from life rather than artifice. I re-discovered how I write.

In writing from the field of infinite possibilities, format/genre didn’t matter nor did structure, which is not to say that format and structure do not matter. They do and are critical to a successful outcome but like story, they have their moments for each writer to discover. For me, that meant having to know my story first, and I wrote in a way I have never written.

Having always appreciated a good story, I was well aware that I did not know the structure of story so I found out from those who did. I read, I watched movies, I discovered scene, and I wrote every day. I began to see snatches of story and I was reminded of John Irving’s response to the question of how he writes: “I start writing my autobiography and then I begin to lie.”

Pond in Winter; KMHuberImage; Tallahasse Park in Winter

I am writing an old woman story, and I am an old woman. If one can come of age at age 60, this woman does it. I cannot say that she is sympathetic or even likable—yet—but she exists in more faces and more places than is comfortable for any of us. Age or aging is still a thorny subject, and we have many clichés and euphemisms to avoid the word old.

But what can a woman make of a life at 60, if she has just awakened? That does sound rather autobiographical but I was lying before the end of the first paragraph–such is the way of story. For all I know, the old woman story—for lack of a better title–will remain part of my writing practice, as publication is not the outcome it once was for me. It’s too soon to tell.

For now, I go to the writing every day just to see what happens  with the old woman for I have not lived her life, although an old woman myself.

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).

Final Days of 59

“… Transformation always involves the falling away of things we have relied on, and we are left with the feeling that the world as we know it is coming to an end, because it is” (Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening).

This past February, I wrote a post about some unexpected milestones at age 59 ½. At the time, I was struck by the synchronicity. Still am. As this is my final week at age 59, I decided to revisit those milestones before I step into my sixth decade, one that promises even more transformation.

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I have continued to lose weight beyond the 59 ½ pounds of February; I am down 69 pounds with another fifteen-twenty to lose but no more than that. My eating habits have not changed in the past six months but my taste buds have adjusted to other options, and I enjoy eating again. I found millet-buckwheat bread made with chicory root and without refined starch, absolutely critical for me.  Almond butter sandwiches are now a staple. While my future remains gluten, yeast, sugar, dairy and soy free, my grocery list items are crisp and fresh.

In my last week as a fifty-nine-year-old, I am in better health than I was at 58, sans an arsenal of allopathic medicine. I remain convinced that Eastern medicine– Ayurveda and Chinese–has a better understanding of autoimmune disease. Ted J. Kaptchuk’s The Web That Has No Weaver is an excellent overview of traditional Chinese medicine, and I am searching for a similar Ayurveda text. Until I find it, I am enjoying Deepak Chopra’s Perfect Health, an informative volume regarding Ayurveda traditions.  This Tuesday, I have my first meeting with a practitioner of Eastern medicine.

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But in these final days of my 59th year, it is my writing that is undergoing the greatest transformation. My numbers alone are major personal milestones.  I no longer publish blog posts twice a week as I did in February but on June 2, I began writing the initial draft of a nonfiction manuscript. Currently, I am producing over 9200 words per week on this manuscript alone. At my 59 ½ milestone, my word count was 9800 words for the entire month of February.

While I do not write for a specific word or page count, numbers gauge a manuscript’s size so I knew the end of the nonfiction manuscript was close: currently, it is 330 pages or just over 91,000 words. But even before I tallied the numbers, synchronicity had come to call; what Deepak Chopra calls “a quantum leap of creativity…a relinquishing of the known for the unknown.” And like milestones, coincidence comes wrapped in the ordinary.

In February, I included my participation in ROW 80 as part of my regular blog posts.  Frequently, I discussed the initial draft of a novel that I wrote seventeen years ago; in some blog posts I’d opt for rewriting the novel and in other posts I’d refer to the novel as a life once lived. Rather than letting go, I was very like the speaker in Linda Pastan’s poem, “Ethics,” unable to decide whether to save the old woman or the painting.

So, I signed up for an online workshop, Conflict and Idea with Bob Mayer, and learned about “kernel idea.” I have not been the same since so I consider it my toehold in the unknown, a piece of a milestone.

Bob says that the kernel idea is what initially inspires the writing of a novel–it is the Alpha and Omega of a book–it starts and completes the creative process but here is the key point: the story that you write may and probably does change but the kernel idea of a book does not, ever.

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During the course of the workshop, I came to understand that the “kernel idea” for my novel was not the story I had written. The kernel idea had not changed but the story I wrote moved away from the idea within the first 100 pages. Finally, I realized what I was hanging onto for seventeen years—my kernel idea and 100 pages—yet, it took me a while to understand just what that might mean but when I did, it felt like a “quantum leap of creativity.” Still does.

Thus, as I started writing a new nonfiction book—my current manuscript–I discovered the way to tell the story of my original kernel idea. Maybe the years sorted themselves, maybe I was letting go of what no longer serves but with transformation there is also revelation. In letting  go of a seventeen-year-old-story that no longer served, I discovered the kernel idea for a new nonfiction book.

“When faced with great change—in self, in relationship, in our sense of calling–we somehow must take in all that has enclosed, nurtured and incubated us so when the new life is upon us, the old is within us” (Nepo).

Go for the Metaphor

Eleven days ago, I stopped blogging regularly on Wednesdays and Sundays and my mind shutdown, leaving me alone with my ego.  It had been years since that had happened, and I did not want to go there, again.

And so I begin my second Round of Words in 80 days, the writing challenge that knows I have a life and probably has similar suspicions about my ego. Wayne Dyer refers to ego as “Edging God Out,” and when it comes to God, I’m with Joseph Campbell:

Joseph Campbell
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 “God is a metaphor for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It’s as simple as that” (PBS Power of Myth Series with Bill Moyers).

It is always advantageous to define one’s terms succinctly, if possible, and if not, find others who can and do.

Our fearless ROW80 leader, Kait Nolan, provided an initial inspirational post for her ROW80 ranks of writers.  In particular, Kait dispelled a popular fallacy for many writers: if writing were their full-time job, writers would write as many as three or four novels a year, at the very least.

Once again,  ego spins falsely into fantasy.

Before I retired to writing, I, had that fantasy, which faded–frankly, on my first day– with full-time watching of Turner Classic Movies, then PBS, then British television, simply seductive. While some movie/television gazing can be considered studying the craft of scene and dialogue, reading and actual writing are closer to the grindstone.

As a writer and a human being—at times, known to be one and the same—my ego chatters constantly but I want the metaphor, aware  that I cannot know what transcends all intellectual thought but I can contemplate.

Frankly, ROW80 is what got me pursuing metaphor, in a most practical way. When I began round one in January, I was determined to publish a Sunday and Wednesday blog post for the entire round.

I did.

However, success has consequences, often overlooked in the glow of self-satisfaction, but for every action, there is a reaction.

The amount of time I spent writing blog posts, thinking about blog posts, and trying to have a week’s worth of posts written so I would not be always writing to deadline took on a life of its own, admittedly, a life bigger than screen gazing but it was not the metaphor.

So, here I am writing this post on the afternoon of April 2, the deadline for my first post of the second round of ROW80, battling my ego that says, “Post a couple goals. By Wednesday, you’ll be organized.”

No, I’m following fearless leader Kait Nolan:

“I want to help you develop that discipline and establish those good habits in your everyday life.  I want to help you take YOURSELF seriously as a writer, treat YOURSELF as a professional, so that bracket of time you can devote to writing, be it an hour or a day, becomes set in your mind as Writing Time–something you protect with the fierceness of a honey badger.”

See what happens when you go for the metaphor?

ROW80 Goal Posting

I have a separate blog page for the precise accounting of my R0W80 goals and updates, although I will probably  include a summary on main blog posts. Frankly, I can decide that later but for now, here we go:

Writing and Reading

Writing: Beginning April 4, 2012, write 500 words five days a week on my current manuscript. Word counts will be updated every Wednesday starting April 11, 2012.

Reading: Beginning April 4, 2012, read at least 50 pages every night to re-establish my reading routine. Am currently reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Beginning Sunday, April 8, 2012, I will comment on my reading progress each Sunday.

Blog Posts

By Sunday, April 15, 2012, I will have at least one week’s posts written and scheduled so I am not writing to deadline. 

Honey badger, honey badger….