Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Entering the soul of the matter

 

When you live at the periphery of your being, your thoughts are often scattered, pulling you in different directions, and draining your energy.

Too much mental activity leads to overload and, oftentimes, burnout.

When you take the time to ‘go within’ each day, by breathing deeply and fully, feeling the ‘space’ inside yourself, and witnessing your thoughts and emotions without judgment, you return to a very natural, deep sense of aliveness, which is actually your true nature; then your thoughts naturally slow down, and simultaneously gain more power and cohesiveness.

Photo: Nelson Ashberger

Think of the small, choppy waves that dance across the surface of the ocean; these represent your scattered thoughts.

Then visualize the huge waves that rise up from underneath, much like the giants the pro surfers ride. Note the difference in power.

~ Jaime Tanna

It [the struggle with evil] makes us strong, patient, helpful men and women. It lets us into the soul of things and teaches us that although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.

My optimism, then, does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort always to cooperate with the good, that it may prevail.

“Tree Hugger” by Tobey A. Ring

~ Helen Keller

Become subtle enough
To hear a tree breathe.

Succumb to warmth in the heart
Where divine fire glows.

~ John O’Donohue

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The gifts of listening, watching; waiting

Ten years ago, I made a bid on an eBay item that would change my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined at the time.

Something within me was strongly drawn to it, though I didn’t yet understand why. It was a portrait of Eva Braun drawn by an artist who never gained acclaim for his work — though his infamous name is branded on history forever. Eva Braun chose to die with him 73 years ago this spring.

That portrait is at the heart of everything that became a part of my latest novel’s story, set largely in the Germany of World War II.

The experience of writing The Munich Girl showed me that, rather than being something I “do”, writing is a process that acts upon me, strengthening my sense of connection with my own wholeness.

My responsibility, I feel, is to listen and watch, rather than impose ideas or plans of my own on what comes forth as a story.

Albert Einstein described the intuitive mind as “a sacred gift” and the rational mind as “a faithful servant.” We have, he said, “created a society that honors the servant, and has forgotten the gift.”

Creative process invites me to find a balance between that intuitive mind, which encounters the unlimited and the unknown, and my rational mind, whose tendency toward structure is what ensures that a story will be cohesive and accessible.

People often hurl themselves at creative process “head first” with the rational mind, trying to force or control things. My experience is that in creative process, intuitive mind is waiting for me to meet it, so that it can help me know and understand in new and wider ways.

Gertrude Stein expressed this beautifully: “You will write if you will write without thinking of the result in terms of a result, but think of the writing in terms of discovery.” She gets straight to the heart of what allows writing process to be a revelatory power, and a bestower, rather than a distraction or plaything.

The difference, for me, is a willing surrender into seeking and unknowing, rather than a presumed knowledge of any kind.

I know I’m immersed in that when things begin to strike with notes my inner ear can hear, when my crown and scalp suddenly tingle. But first, I must surrender to a great blankness that can seem as though it will never yield, no matter how I push or try to break through it.

And that is because I’m the one who’s meant to do the yielding, so that intuitive mind can impart its secrets to me.

This was reinforced for me one afternoon while I swam with a friend, and recognized that in order to swim, I must meet the water on its terms. I must yield to and merge with the way it envelops and supports me.

On the pathway that the portrait of Eva Braun opened before me, every aspect of the story in The Munich Girl, every theme, revelation, and scene, came to meet me in a similar way when I was ready to receive it, after I had immersed myself in its atmosphere and waited, listening, watching. Trusting.

Believing that I “know” anything about a story before it has fully shown itself is the only “writer’s block” I’ve ever created for myself. When I yield to and receive what intuitive mind wants to offer in the creative process, I am met by what I’m able to receive and integrate on the deepest levels.

I’ve come to believe that the rational mind serves best when it’s not trying to lead, or force, but to follow, when we’re seeking to discover what we don’t yet know. When we are willing to do that, the revelations that arrive via our intuitive mind will often surprise and delight us, both because they feel so inevitable, and also because they are beyond anything that rational mind, whose scope is confined only to previous experience, could imagine or predict.

The magic in the process is that when we open up to meeting the greater possibilities of what we don’t yet know, we’ll be repeatedly astonished that what comes to meet us is disarmingly precise, unfathomably generous, and remarkably right.

Find more about The Munich Girl at https://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/0996546987 .


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The quest for breadth and depth

Photo: Liz Turner

As I dive deeper into a new writing project, I am reconnecting with the power of my relationship with my thoughts — the very narration of my days. As every one of my storyteller friends knows, narration is both a daily companion we can’t escape and a maker of meaning that we all need.

I revisited an insightful article on the topic by writer Steve Almond, which is reminding me of what’s missing in much of writing these days: an effective narrator. It reinforces for me how much I need one personally, just as my writing does.

In the cultural shifts of the last decades that turned many into viewers rather than readers, “we’ve lost our grip on the essential virtues embodied by a narrator: the capacity to make sense of the world, both around and inside us,” Almond writes.

Photo: Diane Kirkup

Narrators serve the role of portraying big things, conceptually: how individual fates collide with history. More than just awakening readers’ sympathies, they help enlarge their moral imagination as “they offer a sweeping depiction of the world that helps us clarify our role in it,” he says. The perspective that narration offers helps us make meaning of a story, and of our lives, and also find a sense of place for ourselves in the scheme of things.

In times whose only constant seems to be constant change, we need narrative more than ever, even as it’s fast disappearing. While publishing gets downright pedantic that writers “show, don’t tell,” a well-developed narrative and its vital contribution to a story, like nutrition in a diet, becomes endangered through ignorance and oversight.

Narrative is as essential in human life as purpose is. It’s the one thing that, when time is shrinking, spinning, rushing past us with ever-increasing speed, points faithfully to what is timeless. We don’t need it to spoon-feed us, naturally. But we do need its signposts.   

Almond notes that media has created increasingly passive audiences, able to absorb and react, but not to imagine. That’s a pretty low (survival-based) level of human experience. And, accordingly, the focus of a lot of current writing is on the instinctual aspects of human beings — survival or perpetuation of the species (chase scenes and preoccupation with the sexual, often voyeuristically so).

Author Nathan Rutstein predicted this more than 25 years ago. He had worked in television and other media and authored many books when he made the observation that human society was increasingly losing sight (literally, as if not seeing it) of the higher possibilities and qualities in human potential as it grew more fascinated with and gripped by materialism, both in media and in the rest of what was called culture.

Almond’s article describes the approach of most media as that of “minimizing sustained attention,” which results in a flitting, easily distracted behavior that doesn’t ever engage with any depth – becomes incapable of doing so, perhaps. That’s almost the exact opposite of what a novel (or painting or play) was designed to require and invite. Or a spiritual, contemplated life.

Reading, unlike scanning and surfing, requires involvement and commitment, both from writer and reader. The narrator, and a story’s narration, is what facilitates this, helps create a book’s world, then lends it meaning. Many books now feel as much like packaged entertainment as most commercial television, and as unsatisfying and lacking in nourishment for our inner life. Much in publishing seems to train attention on mechanics, a shock-value, attention-getting and contrived writing style and manipulative repetition of “tropes.” A  cookie-cutter approach to more of the same. So much more of the same. Preoccupation with the lower nature, particularly if a series might be wrested from it. In order to have more of the same. Where is the room for discovery, depth, mystery? Soul?

Photo: Karen Darling

Almond describes how although some current works reach for these, “still work heroically to make sense of the world,” they find themselves “on the margins of a popular culture dominated by glittering fantasies of violence and fame. On a grand scale, we’ve traded perspective for immediacy, depth for speed, emotion for sensation, the panoramic vision of a narrator for a series of bright beckoning keyholes,” he says.

We’ve bartered away the riches of our indwelling higher nature, what brings meaning and depth to life, for the indulgence and absorption of our instinctual one. In a way, that is the only aspect of human being that seems to get the attention and focus now, perhaps with a thin veneer of the intellectual applied over it, or emotion that’s dealt with mainly in sentimentality, hyper-dramatization or other superficiality.

Narrative, and the meaning it serves, can restore the breadth and depth of human experience and bring it back home whole. Ennobled.

True expression, in any form, and always, in its highest one, is incomplete without it.

Find Steve Almond’s excellent article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/magazine/once-upon-a-time-there-was-a-person-who-said-once-upon-a-time.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0


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So great a favor

 

Photo: Kathy Gilman

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

It is through the power of the soul that the mind comprehendeth, imagineth and exerteth its influence, whilst the soul is a power that is free.

The mind comprehendeth the abstract by the aid of the concrete, but the soul hath limitless manifestations of its own.

~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

I have lots of wonderful company these days, as I ponder the mysteries of inspiration and creative process while I also pursue some new writing work. The pathway of The Munich Girl was an eight-year journey of discovery that always reinforced the utter uselessness of expectations. It also revealed the surprising value of open-hearted expectancy. This newest work is doing much the same.

As I reread Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, I’m reminded that: “ … When you walk a path you love, there is something deeper calling you forward on it, like a beautiful question that can never be answered. In the hard times you may turn away from it, but a part of you knows you’ll always turn back because you can’t give up on what you love, even if you try.”

Author Toko-pa Turner, who has recently released a soul-nourishing book called Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home, has shared some wise words about creative process:

“In the end, I think the real work is not finding inspiration, but attuning to it. So when I’m not feeling inspired, I know somewhere along the line I’ve been distancing myself from life.

“This feeling of being separate from ‘something greater’ is usually brought about by numbing habits; so I’ll take myself to the forest and let my senses be reawoken and warmed back to life. I think pleasure is really the gateway to feeling connected and inspired.”

Hers is a reminder of just how abundant grace and guidance are, and how they long for us to meet them. Both nature and artistic life are a part of that worship.

Image: Judy Wright

As the words of St. Francis declare:

“Such love does the sky now pour, that whenever I stand in a field, I have to wring out the light when I get home.”

Lest I think myself unworthy to receive, especially a bestowal that is so abundant, in a book called Paris Talks, Abdu’l-Baha urges:

“Try with all your hearts to be willing channels for God’s Bounty. For I say unto you that He has chosen you to be His messengers of love throughout the world, to be His bearers of spiritual gifts to man, to be the means of spreading unity and concord on the earth. Thank God with all your hearts that such a privilege has been given unto you. For a life devoted to praise is not too long in which to thank God for such a favor.”

 

 

 


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Making room for the new, and the good

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

“Taz,” courtesy of Jon Ring.

 

When you suffer because of discrimination, there’s always an urge to speak out. But even if you spend a thousand years speaking out, your suffering won’t be relieved.

Only through deep understanding and liberation from ignorance can you be liberated from your suffering.

When you break through to the truth, compassion springs up like a stream of water. With that compassion, you can embrace even the people who have persecuted you.

When you’re motivated by desire to help those who are victims of ignorance, only then are you free from your suffering and feelings of violation. 

Don’t wait for things to change around you. You have to practice liberating yourself. Then you will be equipped with the power of compassion and understanding, the only kind of power that can help transform an environment full of injustice and discrimination.

You have to become such a person — one who can embody tolerance, understanding, and compassion. You transform yourself into an instrument for social change and change in the collective consciousness of mankind.

 ~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Answers from the Heart: Practical Responses To Life’s Burning Questions

No matter how it seems out there, humanity IS evolving from war-like competitiveness to peaceful and loving connectedness and CO-existence.

… the chaos we are experiencing in the outer world is nothing more than our own resistance to freedom and peace.

And notice that the deeper “resistance to change” digs in its heels, the more irrational it becomes.

~ Christine DeLorey

I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit.

When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run.

~ Henry David Thoreau

Your life situation may be full of problems — most life situations are — but find out if you have any problem at this moment.

Not tomorrow or in ten minutes, but now. Do you have a problem now?

When you are full of problems, there is no room for anything new to enter, no room for a solution.

So whenever you can, make some room, create some space, so that you find the life underneath your life situation.

~ Eckhart Tolle

 


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The light of our kindness vanquishes the dark

Photos courtesy of David Campbell / http://gbctours.com/

 

As Winter overtakes my days, one book reviewer’s words continue to strike a chord:

 “One of the things I also enjoyed was that this story took place in a kind world, with supportive and loving folks, despite their past difficulties, even with each other.”

This is the reason that I write –  from the belief that this is the world that all of our hearts want – and that all of our hearts are capable of helping to bring it into being.

Our minds can be reinforced in a thousand ways to believe that this is unrealistic and impossible.

But our hearts know so very much better. They always hold the key to that kinder world they can envision, with love.

Perhaps this is what Carl Jung was pointing to in these words:

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence
is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.

It seems that “kindling a light of meaning” is inextricably linked with compassion, which author Christine DeLorey recently defined as “love of life.”

Our experience of life in these times can feel harsh and cold and unyielding. Those are the times when our hearts can feel stricken, fearful, confounded.

But like the sun, even in winter, there is always, each day, that waiting possibility of “radiating light throughout the world and illuminating your own darknesses” so that “your virtue becomes a sanctuary for yourself and all beings.”

Those words of Lao Tzu’s, shared a long time ago, capture the timeless essence conveyed in what we remember in every new Season of Light: the light does, indeed, shine forth most brightly, unmistakably, in darkness.


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Presence as prayer

Image courtesy of Tarot by Cecelia

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

Man is My mystery, and I am his mystery.

~ Bahá’u’lláh

We can trust that there is a knowing that is out of the realm of thoughts or emotions or circumstances. When we deeply trust, our minds open to discover what is true, regardless of what we are feeling.  

~ Gangaji

The single most important thing we can do is stop and get off the train of our own obsessive convictions and move into awareness of some sort of presence or the present time … and breathe again. That’s about as prayerful as life gets. That is about as faithful and spiritual as I mean. And everyone can relate to that.              ~ Anne Lamott

Let go of what you are not and be who you truly are. When you let go, you create space to receive more.

~ John Whiteman

Words from Michael Singer’s The Untethered Soul are also helpful:

Photo: Nelson Ashberger

“ … identify as the observer, not the experience; don’t let painful experience influence the present; you are not the thoughts you observe; a life of joy and love follows from a commitment made to a life of joy and love. Learn to live from your heart, not your ego. Take refuge in the Divine, not the temporary. Learn to control your mind rather than letting it control you. It’s just a mass of thoughts. It is possible never to ‘have’ a problem again.”

The journey that matters most to me requires that I review the events in my life for the wisdom and purpose they carry. This inventory brings questions like:

~ What are my true needs, and what is my inner “enough”?

~ How do I remember that strength, and every resource I require, arrives increment by increment, as I am ready?

~ How do I remember that inspiration and assistance will arrive, but need me to ask for them, acknowledge that I need them, and be willing to receive and act upon them?