Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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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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Setting a course for Soul-sized expression

photoAs I celebrate another year in The Munich Girl’s life, and my own, I’m pondering the power of expression in the world, the double-edged qualities of speech, the timeless gifts of questions and listening, and the potential of art to convey the wholeness of our experience.

I’m revisiting the path along which the novel led me, hoping to mine some reflective memoir. As I do, I’m inspired by words like the following ones from writers with soul-sized perspectives.

“Writing about one’s own or another’s life poses serious challenges. A writer trying to represent his life in a book engages himself in ongoing negotiations about what information to include and what to withhold, what he believes is true and what he wants readers to think is true,” says Helena Hjalmarsson. Meme1959335_758163877584949_5796047359521828465_n

“The need for synthesis – coherence, connections between past and present – is a constant struggle … ” Hjalmarsson notes. “Often, the sense of life as a logical, purposeful unfolding becomes more important to the autobiographer than objective truth. Also vital to writers of autobiographies is the drive to make their work relevant and accessible to their readership – as well as a desire for connection, a social and spiritual need to ‘reincarnate,’ to have their hard-won perspective exist outside themselves.”

Jhumpa Lahiri writes, “It was not in my nature to be an assertive person. I was used to looking to others for guidance, for influence, sometimes for the most basic cues of life.

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Painting: Judy Wright

“And yet writing stories is one of the most assertive things a person can do. Fiction is an act of willfulness, a deliberate effort to reconceive, to rearrange, to reconstitute nothing short of reality itself. Even among the most reluctant and doubtful of writers, this willfulness must emerge. Being a writer means taking the leap from listening to saying, ‘Listen to me.’ ” Lahiri cuts right to the core, in this.

Elizabeth Sims recently shared timely words about this process in a blog post called “A Real Writer’s Duty”:

“These days when extraordinary, historic events occur, everybody becomes a writer. Social media enables all of us to spew impassioned opinions—joy, outrage, elation, despair—if we want to. And so many do. And free speech is great.  the soul ajar_congdon2

“But a real writer of either fiction or nonfiction takes a much longer and deeper view of human affairs and human nature than most people.” (How I love this. Indeed, I live for it.)

“A real writer is more curious than defensive,” she continues. “A real writer explores. A real writer is ready to be surprised. A real writer never panics. A real writer knows the world is in the work.”

Find Elizabeth’s Zestful Writing Blog here:

http://esimsauthor.blogspot.com/2016/11/a-real-writers-duty.html

 

 

 


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At the shores of discovery

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.

~ Gertrude Stein

I’m always searching for descriptions of what writing process feels like at its most essential level, and haven’t found any that describe it better than Gertrude Stein does here.

She’s gone 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 between these is a willing surrender into seeking and unknowing, rather than a presumed knowledge of any kind. The fact that what she observes about the experience of writing also applies to that of living makes her simple truth seem even more sublime.

As she suggests, my experience of writing is of something to be approached on the only terms it truly allows – the terms of discovery. I know that I’m immersed back in that process when things begin to strike with notes my inner ear can hear, when my crown and scalp suddenly tingle.

Before I reach that however, there’s the unavoidable surrender to that great blank that seems that it will never yield, no matter how I push on or try to break through it. And that is because I’m the one who’s meant to do the yielding.

Recognizing this — rather early, thankfully — is probably the reason I’ve continued writing at all. It was reinforced for me one afternoon while I swam with a friend, and remembered that in order to even be able to do this, I must meet the water where it is. I don’t take hold of it or try to manage it, but rather yield to and work with the way it envelops and supports me.

Every aspect of the story in my novel, The Munich Girl, every theme, revelation, and scene, has come 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. Eva_Braun_by_PrinzessinHeinrike

Believing that I “know” anything about a story before it has fully shown itself is the only “writer’s block” I’ve ever placed in my own way. “Save it for the page,” one character tells another about the experience of writing. “You know that it will lose its edge — its charge — if you don’t.” Save yourself, your willingness to not know, for what the page — or the day — will reveal, is how I might express that today.

Every story I’ve carried through to completion began with seeing or hearing something in the daily noise of life that stayed with me and took root inside, or was like a silent presence that followed me home. Just as with an animal for whom we would offer a home, it requires that a relationship of mutual trust be built.

Part of that trust for the soul who surrenders to creative process is that we will be met by what we are able to receive, and to integrate, on the deepest levels. A swimmer flailing in fear will not find herself very well supported by the water, even though its quality of buoyancy is always there. We learn to swim by learning to respect the qualities of the water, and shape our own ability to working with it. In a way, we become one with it. Creative process, when met with regard and respect, brings a very similar kind of connection with our own wholeness, and that of the whole world.


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Spiritual intelligence and subtleties of truth

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Image: D. Kirkup Designs /https://www.etsy.com/shop/DKirkupDesigns

“Collective spiritual intelligence (SQ) is low in modern society,” physicist and philosopher Danah Zohar has said. “We live in a spiritually dumb culture characterized by materialism, expediency, narrow self-centredness, lack of meaning and dearth of commitment.”

However discouraging that assessment may sound, she goes on to describe how, as individuals “we can act to raise our personal SQ – indeed, the further evolution of society depends upon enough individuals doing so …”

Among the ways she describes that we can light up that darkness are to use our inner gifts:

–     to look for the connections between things;

–     to bring to the surface the assumptions we have been making about the meaning behind and within things;

–     to become more reflective;

–     to reach beyond ourselves a little;

–      to take responsibility;

–      to become more self-aware; and

–      to be more honest with ourselves and more courageous.”

“Happy are those who spend their days in gaining knowledge, in discovering the secrets of nature, and in penetrating the subtleties of pure truth,” Abdu’l-Bahá has reminded in a book called Some Answered Questions.

SO! The means of raising our SQ — and assuring the further evolution of society — is also – the source of happiness!

Each day presents us with a blank new canvas on which to place our steps toward this.

The world may seem a mess, but divine design remains both wondrous and unlimited, when we turn toward it and receive it with WTOEimage.phpwillingness.

Explore more about the spiritual invitation of our times in With Thine Own Eyes: Why Imitate the Past, When We Can Investigate Reality? at:

http://www.amazon.com/With-Thine-Own-Eyes-Investigate-ebook/dp/B00I1JPC7I/ref=pd_sim_kstore_11?ie=UTF8&refRID=0TQC490J7FVBRTJWM70H

Also available in print version at: http://www.bahairesources.com/with-thine-own-eyes.html


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The miracle of being here

Gleanings appreciated here and there:

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Image: Cary Enoch Reinstein /

 

Our heart knows what our mind has forgotten – it knows the sacred that is within all that exists, and through a depth of feeling we can once again experience this connection, this belonging.
~ Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

It is a strange and wonderful fact to be here, walking around in a body, to have a whole world within you and a world at your fingertips outside you. It is an immense privilege, and it is incredible that humans manage to forget the miracle of being here.

Rilke said, “Being here is so much,” and it is uncanny how social reality can deaden and numb us so that the mystical wonder of our lives goes totally unnoticed. We are here. We are wildly and dangerously free.

Rogue River Adventure

“Rogue River Adventure” by Judy Wright

~ John O’Donohue

All humans have the capacity to drop the past – and change in an instant. Any other viewpoint is coming from fear, and not truth.

We only limit others by believing that they can’t change. We limit ourselves by believing we can’t change.

Holding the light of consciousness means we must continually envision a new, and higher, level of expression for ourselves and for others, and allowing this to manifest.

~ Jaime Tanna


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Angels all around

IMG_6021A reader recently wrote about an aspect of my novel, Snow Fence Road, that’s dear to my heart, though not something about which I’ve received a lot of feedback.

She described a scene in which the story’s protagonist, Tess, is struggling with things she can’t seem to resolve.

Her mother urges that Tess keep and drive her deceased father’s car, an old Mercedes he brought home to New England from Europe years before.

“It will help you feel close to Dad. He wants to help you,” her mother reminds.

The reader, who lost her own father while still a child, writes,

800px-Mercedes-Benz_220S_(W_111)_01“It is so comforting to me that besides the concourse of angels (are they comprised of those we know?) and God (well there is nothing but God really, but that is belief, not really an experience), there could be others wanting to help me. People that I can and do know, like my father and others, whom I can feel closer to by having their possessions near, or by visiting places we knew in common.”

Without a doubt, this is a theme that recurs for me, as a writer. It’s a foundation in my nonfiction about the relationship between spiritual and material life, and the relationships that human souls share.IMG_5703

And it’s woven all through the 300-plus pages of my next novel.

The reader’s kind message concludes:

“The sense of the next world and the connection we have with it is sprinkled throughout your book and tends to both relax me (I’m not all alone doing everything by myself) and to open my heart to a continuing relationship with those in the next world (I needn’t forget about them because they are dead). Thank you.”

If you’d like to be on my mailing list to receive news about upcoming releases, please just send a request to info@phyllisring.com

Find more about Snow Fence Road, and all of my books in print or Kindle, at:

http://www.amazon.com/Phyllis-Edgerly-Ring/e/B001RXUFD6/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0


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Letters give the gift of time

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Photo: Nelson Ashberger

I wrote last time about the deliberate intimacy of the written word and how we share it in letters and correspondence.

A wonderful resource, Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children, from author Dorie McCullough Lawson shares three centuries of correspondence collected from the likes of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ansel Adams, Jack London, Albert Einstein, Mary Todd Lincoln, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Thomas Edison. In addition to the good counsel they often share, these letters offer an intimate glimpse into families and relationships and represent the truest kind of history — the kind that’s people-based and gives us the most from which to learn.

In a wartime letter written as though penned by the family dog, Groucho Marx not only gave his soldier son plenty to laugh about during a tough time, but was able to express some of his deepest sentiments for his son, too.

Women’s-suffrage activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote that she was “making the path smoother” for her own daughters and everyone else’s. posterity

Illustrator N.C. Wyeth cautioned Andrew Wyeth: “There’s a real task on our hands, Andy. Modern art critics and their supine followers like the flat and the shallow.” Imagine how those words kept his artist son company in later years.

As historian David McCullough, father of the book’s author, observes so aptly in the book’s foreword, “Often the authors want only to save their children from making the mistakes they have.” Of course, while they can’t accomplish that, such “missives of love,” as he calls them, can at least keep the next generation company and give them heart and encouragement on the path.  China3.2009 169

Within the letters our daughter sent us from China, we were able to see the heights and depths of the strong young woman she was becoming. These could be harder to see in crowded family gatherings or busy day-to-day details, when so much of what we “share” and “communicate” with each other involves so little of our truest feelings or best intentions. I remember how moved I was the day she told me that reading our letters, unlike talking with us, was like knowing more of who we really were — even more deeply.

Letters give both the writer and the recipient the opportunity to invest one of the most precious and rarest of resources in a relationship these days — time. You can’t write or read a letter and give your attention to anything else at the same time. It is truly a visit, and one that reminds us that what’s most real about our selves and our relationships absolutely transcends time and place.