words of wonder?

“Is anyone worried that creativity will be stifled by (such an) exercise? Not at all. There is a certainty that the dialogue between instructor and student will shed light on any number of questions about technique, and give knowledge (power) that will open doors of process. It is craft, after all, that carries an individual’s ideas to the far edge of familiar territory” – Mary Oliver

There are three places in my life (oh, there are probably dozens, 100’s, in truth, but sometimes a soul has to narrow its focus in order to realize beauty) where I feel an abiding sense of aliveness …. Woods, Water, and Words.  Okay, okay, I could add ‘sky’ to those three but I can’t find a word that begins with a ‘w’ for that, although while paddling or lying back on granite ledges beneath that great dome I am filled with ‘Wonder’, so perhaps that w-word can suffice?  Wonder is the essential element in each of these, whether exploring the outer or inner terrain. Words are the vehicle I slip into in order to explore that inner one, always available to me even when the water and the woods are not.

But I am working hard at writing these days and, as with any time a passion or a gift becomes a job, honing techniques and skills can seem to inhibit and diminish the feeling of wonder in it. I am working to develop a consistent practice by showing up there every day, as if I have an appointment, trusting that doing so will allow this elusive, cautious, and creative part of myself to have faith in my commitment to her, and so have confidence to emerge.  (Mary Oliver).  I am reading good books, in order ‘to have good sentences in my ears’ (Jane Kenyon) , and exploring a wide range of poetry.  And I am trying my hand at writing exercises and prompts that can often feel unnatural and awkward to me. My writing feels stunted and less inspired right now because of it, less heart and more head.

But I am endeavoring to nurture a connection between these two.

Just as the overhead presses and lunges, which I practice at the gym in order for my legs and back to become strong enough to carry me to the places where I truly come alive, can feel mechanical and don’t necessarily bring me alive in the same way that hefting that canoe over my head and setting out across the portage trail can do, so it is with these word exercises.  Missing is the bright aliveness that comes with following an unknown trail, the sense of mystery and wonder at not knowing what might be revealed in that next body of water, where there might be waiting an intimate, log-and-lily-strewn, mist blanketed, cove, for instance. Or a more sweeping invitation to get back into the boat and paddle beyond that intimate bay into that unchartered vastness with its long horizon. Or the heart-stopping surprise of a female moose wading up to her shoulders next to her calf, stripping water shields and lily pads from a marshy bog.

Free flow writing is like that following of a trail for me, raw and fresh. I am often as filled with delight at the end of it as I am at the end of a portage trail, in awe at where I have been led, at what has been revealed – wonder upon wonder- that I hadn’t known before I embarked on the journey.  Writing to an exercise can feel more like gym-work as my mind labors to lift from the murkiness of a prompt something inspired, or to unclutter and bridge the connection between my heart and my head.

Those overhead shoulder presses and leg lifts develop my strength in a way that can feel awkward and unnatural, too. This rebellious part of me wants to believe that I ought to be able to hone my body in a more primal way, becoming wild, not practicing/pretending to be so, living purely off of the land and my body’s deep wisdom. I dream of a season of paddling remote lakes like some dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail, imagining that such a pilgrimage would transform not only my body but my life and the way that I move in it.  But I also practice my paddling technique in our quiet pond, I develop my wilderness skills… knot tying and fire building and compass reading….for I know that these winter practices will help carry me to that other place when the ice melts.

Moreover, , if I pay attention in the right kind of way, I notice that there can be, even in the lifting of dumbells and holding of planks,a certain quality of aliveness in the utterly exhausted yet powerful sense of embodiment and determination I experience right there. At times I can realize a reverent honoring and celebrational gratitude of my body’s strengths and gifts. Intentional daily physical practice can get me to pay attention to and honor my body as marvelous vessel in a way that my day-to-day mindless movements elude, rather like going to temple once a week, or an intentional daily practice of sitting in silence, can do for the life of the spirit.  As in the infamous phrase, ‘If you build it, they will come’, it’s not the practices that cause the sacred show up; it is that such practice opens you up and prepares you to attend to the sacred, which is ever-present but often unacknowledged. And, as with those spiritual practices, if I allow myself to acknowledge it, there is a distinctly sacred quality to those physical disciplines in and of themselves…practice itself as sacred. Here, as in all things, I can avoid the either/or of dualistic thinking (the sacred is in this place but not in that). With any ritual or practice or work, there is something innately sacred about simply and  intentionally attending to them.

With my daily body practices,  as with my writing ones, I am nurturing, paying homage and offering gratitude for the ways they bear my spirit into life. I have discovered that physical exercise in the water aides immensely these understandings and connections, as the sensuality of the water awakens other aspects of my awareness…the silky liquid sensation on my skin, the echo of the womb in my ears….making of the movement itself a more whole-being experience rather than simply a physical one.  I wonder if there is a way that I might tap into this particular wisdom in my writing exercises too. Discover a way to make of them a whole-being experience rather than just a mental one, for there can be the sense of having left the rest of my being behind when I engage with them too. Might I think of them, perhaps, as sitting down to prayer, honoring them as such, and remember to invite my heart along with my head  into the practice. Perhaps light a candle, put on some music as visceral reminders, continue to take those long meandering walks in the woods that feed me.

Oh, I must admit that there has been this idealistic – both naïve and arrogant – part of me that has wanted to believe that there is something more genius and pure about raw, untrained writing without the restrictions of structure and style. Like many inexperienced writers, who come upon the practice of writing, there has been the fear of losing my both my passion and my voice when adding technical elements, prompts and exercises, or reading another writer’s work  in order to grow. I am ready to move past that, ready to marry the knowledge of my brain to the wisdom of my heart, ready to honor diligence and practice as sacred as giftedness, to regard nurture as important as nature in the development of a potential. Perhaps then I can find the words to share the music that I hear.

The key for me may be to keep the practice embodied by building into it those intentional elements of practice … physically showing up everyday, honoring the set-apart time as sacred, bringing my whole being into the work—senses, body, mind, heart– so as not to get lost in a disconnected head that can feel for me so empty.  And as has been proven with my physical body, I can trust that with regular practice, my writing will also be transformed, and soon more adept at carrying me deeper into places of wonder..

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. kidfriendlyyoga
    Apr 20, 2016 @ 22:22:06

    Beautifully expressed. I admire your discipline in writing.



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