Jizo 30Happy New Year all! We recently returned from a family trip to Puerto Rico, where we spent a wonderful week. We visited the beach and rainforest, kayaked in a nature reserve replete with iguanas and birds, and went horseback riding, an activity that scares me but is loved by my children. For myself, however, the highpoint was the hours I spent on the porch outside our rental house, sitting and staring down into the verdant valley below. There was something captivating about the way that the breeze caught the trees, undulating multihued leaves and brightly colored flowers. I simply couldn’t get enough of that view!

I’m not generally someone who just sits and looks. In fact, I spend most of my year in a frenzy of activity, rushing to check things off my never-ending to-do list. I can be a bit obsessed with/addicted to what I’m beginning to think of as the myth of “productivity”. And yet underneath the frenzy I feel I have a deep-seated need to just be, to just sit and observe. In fact, I think that just being is critical not just to my mental and spiritual health, but also to my creative process.

Since the end of NaNoWriMo, I’ve read two widely respected books on the writing process: Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg and Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. They are both wonderful books and I look forward to rereading them throughout this year for creative guidance, motivation, and inspiration. Anne Lamott had some striking advice on writer’s block that I happened to read while in Puerto Rico. She writes that “The word block suggests that you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you’re empty.”

This resonated so much with me. When the negative voices (fear, hopelessness, despair) are taking over and it feels like you’re never going to be able to write an original sentence again, Anne Lamott says to live as if you were dying. Be fully in the moment, “just really participate in ordinary life”, because that will fill you up “with observations, flavors, ideas, visions, memories.” Opening oneself fully to the present moment, inhaling that amazing view for instance, replenishes the wellspring of creativity.

And this perfectly intersected with what Natalie Goldberg writes about creative composting. She writes:

Our senses by themselves are dumb. They take in experience, but they need the richness of sifting for a while through our consciousness and through our whole bodies. . . we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds, and old steak minds of our minds come nitrogen, heat, and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories. But this does not come all at once. It takes time. Continue to turn over and over the organic details of your life until some of them fall through the garbage of discursive thoughts to the solid ground of black soil. . . We must continue to work the compost pile, enriching it and making it fertile so that something beautiful may bloom and so that our writing muscles are in good shape to rise the universe when it moves through us.

Thus she recommends filling notebooks with writing practice, for just as a runner stretches every morning before her run, regardless of whether she stretched and ran the day before, so too does a writer need the process of regularly putting words on paper in order to allow the subconscious to process experience. Even if it seems that you are simply rehashing the same concepts over and over again, that is necessary work, the creative composting in action. Eventually, a flower may shoot forth. Or not. The important thing is to do the work necessary to create fertile soil.

My experiences in Puerto Rico and these wise words of creative process align with my intention in this new year to be more present, more here, more at peace with “This is it“, no matter what “this” is. To be more gentle with myself. To take time to replenish when I need replenishing. To be more stable and steady, notwithstanding any storms that may come. To be in the present, rather than straining ahead towards the future or constantly replaying the past.

And my Still Water oracle card for this year is right in harmony with that:

Without opening your door,
you can open your heart to the world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the essence of the Tao.

The more you know,
the less you understand.

The Master arrives without leaving,
sees the light without looking,
achieves without doing a thing.

Tao Te Ching, Stephen Mitchell translation

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