Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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We meet what we are able to receive

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 and creative process feel like in their essence, 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.

The “price” for this is willing surrender into seeking and not knowing, rather than a holding to 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.

Also, I simply feel good. If the pathway of shaping a novel taught me anything, it is that when I welcome a better-feeling inner emotional tone, it becomes a bridge to what inner life and intuition have to offer up to me. 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.

This 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 I yield to and work with how it envelops and supports me.

Every aspect of the story in my novel, 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 placed in my own way.

Every story I’ve accompanied 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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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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Creativity’s invitation to discovery, and wholeness

IMG_2709Very grateful this week for the opportunity to share a guest post at reviewer Rachel Poli’s blog:

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

“Creative process invites me to find a balance between my intuitive mind, which encounters the unlimited and unknown, and rational mind, whose structuring perception helps a story be both cohesive and accessible.

424 “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.”

Read the rest at: https://rachelpoli.com/2016/05/17/creativitys-invitation-to-discovery-and-wholeness/

Find more about The Munich Girl at:

http://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/0996546987/

goodreads_icon_100x100-4a7d81b31d932cfc0be621ee15a14e70And for those so inclined, a Goodreads Giveaway for the book is offered beginning at midnight Wednesday, May 18, through May 27.

Find entry info. at: https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/187198-the-munich-girl-a-novel-of-the-legacies-that-outlast-war?utm_medium=email&utm_source=giveaway_approved


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Leaps ahead of thinking

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Bernhard Kretschmar’s “Tram”, part of collection of art cache recently uncovered in Munich.

 

I am often, in my writing, great leaps ahead of where I am in my thinking …

~ Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

This insight is one of the things I love most about creative process.The author shares it in a book that’s a longtime favorite of mine, the first of her Crosswicks Journal works.

I experienced a serendipitous example of what she describes while researching my current novel during a visit to Munich. A portrait of Eva Braun is a key element in the book’s story — a real portrait with a 1936 framer’s label on the back that says “Promenade Platz 7, Muenchen (Munich)”, together with an August date. I’d tried for some time to locate this address without success and figured that whatever building had been there on that day was long gone since the bombing damage from the war.

Spontaneously one afternoon, my ever-patient husband asked whether I’d like to go see the Hotel Bayerischer Hof, one of Munich’s historic hotels. It just so happened that a scene set there had “arrived” on the page that very week, not that I’d told him anything about that.

It was still a bit of a surprise to me, as these often are. It had also somehow “connected itself” with a scene in that framer’s shop whose address I couldn’t find.

When we reached the Bayerischer Hof, I looked up and saw a street sign that said: “Promenade Platz” And there, on a stone building directly across from the hotel, was a blue address sign with the number 7 — !

munichgirl_card_frontBut more, the setting outside it – a long, slender park between it and hotel – was exactly what I had “visualized” as I’d imagined the framer’s shop. So were the two sets of tram tracks on either side of it. Although I hadn’t yet known where Promenade Platz was, the scene that includes it had already taken shape on the page – and here it was right before me, just as my inner eye had seen it. Yet it wasn’t until that scene had been captured down that – without trying – I was led to discover exactly where that address is.

I also learned that day during a tour of the hotel that its dining salon/lounge, where my writing’s process had just sketched a new scene – a huge, elegant space with a beautiful stained-glass dome overhead — is the only part of that massive hotel to survive bombing damage in the war.

These sorts of impromptu research discoveries leave me speechless. Indeed, in creative process, as L’Engle describes, mind lags far behind, like the slowest hiker on the climb.

Find more about The Munich Girl at:

http://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/0996546987/


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Every plant has its fragrance

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

 

Regard thou faith as a tree. 

Its fruits, leaves, boughs and branches are, and have ever been,

trustworthiness, truthfulness, uprightness and forbearance.

~ Baha’u’lláh

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Photo: David Campbell / http://www.gbctours.com/

 

What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves?

This is the most important of all voyages of discovery.

~ Thomas Merton

 

Most of the shadows of this life are caused by our standing in our own sunshine.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

The herb is not without its fruit, although it seemeth so, for in this garden of God every plant exerteth its own influence and hath its own properties, and every plant can even match the laughing, hundred-petalled rose in rejoicing the sense with fragrance.

Be thou assured of this.

Although the pages of a book know nothing of the words and the meanings traced upon them, even so, because of their connection with these words, friends pass them reverently from hand to hand.

This connection, furthermore, is purest bounty.

 ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá


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The pathway to the sacred gift

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Photo: Suzanne Birdsall-Stone

I’m reminded daily that faithfulness to any kind of creating process involves being present to discover what is ready to be revealed, rather than trying to impose anything.

Like all creative endeavor, writing is an invitation to authenticity — a powerful and liberating experience of investigation and discovery, as life itself is meant to be.

Creative process’s greatest gift may be the way that it leads quite naturally to the harmonizing of heart and mind as collaborators in a journey of learning and expression, in service to truth. In fact, it requires this harmonizing and partnership, this dynamic balance.

3454_10151125875427031_932845487_nAnd isn’t our world in great need of that dynamic balance — coherence — too?

I find that while my focus and intent must train in like a camera in order to make any progress with writing work, they must also merge in a kind of surrender that my mind can’t ever fully grasp or encompass, but my spirit can recognize, and respond to.

Indeed, my mind must become a servant to that surrender, and whatever it is that spirit can draw from and impart to it.

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

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Photo: Lara Kearns

I am writing out of my own search. Authenticity comes from keeping the commitment, while not knowing, something I consider sacred practice.

I keep watch, and bide, in all the faithful presence I can muster, for what that “sacred gift” will bestow.

More about The Munich Girl: A novel of the legacies that outlast war:

http://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/0996546987/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1448266057&sr=8-1&keywords=the+munich+girl

To receive info. about book-related events, please email:

info@phyllisring.com


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Right timing is one of life’s kindest gifts

DSCF3564I was grateful to discover this week that the number of reviews at Amazon for Snow Fence Road had reached 100.

“… coming to the last page was like saying good-bye to a dear friend,” the kind reader wrote, asking also, in reference to the book’s themes, “Are there miraculous rewards found in healing?”

As the trail of my current novel comes to its end, I’m reflecting again on what my first one has revealed for me. I had a lot of expectations for Snow Fence Road when I began writing it in my 30s. Never did I imagine that when it was finally published, my strongest feeling would be, “Thank heaven this didn’t happen sooner.”

This stage of my life reinforces that anything of value is not only worth waiting for, but subject to a right-timing factor we can never predict. As I’ve attempted to determine and establish the publishing path of The Munich Girl, my next novel, and the the first book I’ll publish myself, I recognize more than ever that greater forces are always at work in the right timing of everything. angelsIMG_5926

Snow Fence Road looked ready to fly more than 20 years ago when a respected literary agency agreed to represent it. Things seemed on-track for success until life brought changes in the outer world that decided otherwise.

Today, it’s my inner world that appreciates this the most.

Today it’s a different book, in a different world, and I’m a writer with a far different perspective. Two decades ago, this book most likely had a narrow (i.e. months-long) window of time and opportunity to reach readers. Now its possibilities seem as wide as my willingness to follow an ever-unfolding learning curve. Social media and a digital world extend a global reach that astonishes me almost as much as the role readers themselves now play in advancing awareness of and appreciation for the book.

Yes, there are wildly shifting sands in the publishing experience now, but there are horizons I couldn’t have imagined 25 years ago.

READ THE REST AT BoomerCafé: http://www.boomercafe.com/2014/04/02/boomer-authors-reflections-finishing-book-later-life/

LogoFind more about Snow Fence Road, from Black Lyon Publishing, at: http://www.amazon.com/Snow-Fence-Road-Phyllis-Edgerly/dp/1934912549/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1372083362&sr=8-2&keywords=Snow+Fence+Road+Phyllis+Ring


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Awake to life, alive in the moment

It’s my privilege to share a thoughtful writer friend’s guest post.

Karen K. Mason ponders how a writer is often moved toward “placing the particular against the larger backdrop”. This can lead to a kind of being alive in the moment that “makes it possible to be aware of other dimensions of the reality I’m inhabiting”.

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Photo: Saffron Moser

Alive in the Moment

by Karen K. Mason

To write, for me, is the opportunity to reflect and ruminate – and be surprised by my own spontaneous emotion if some forgotten memory should surface in the process of writing.

Of course, a lot of writing I do is like the journalistic news article, a straight presentation of what happened to whom. The challenge is then to get the story “straight”. This kind of writing or reporting requires me to concentrate on information. It’s good mental exercise that disciplines my craft and develops skills in the areas of critical thinking and communication. But when the writing task is to share my views confidently with a wider audience, the process of wrestling with a complex issue means that, as I look for the piece of the issue that speaks to me, the current topic invariably gets set against another place or time. I end up placing the particular against the larger backdrop, usually societal, that forces me to think and feel outside a knee-jerk response.

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Image: Lauren Chuslo-Shur

This second more exploratory kind of work is where spontaneous associations with the past leads to insight and personal learning, where being alive in the moment makes it possible to be aware of other dimensions of the reality I’m inhabiting.

If my senses are awake to the moment, being alive in the moment adds fuel to the writing process. As my craft has developed writing nonfiction essays and poetry, I’ve discovered sensory memory kicks in to recreate a scene, remind me of my feelings, provide graphic detail, give a name to the thing needing a name or at least clarify it.

No matter how lifeless a topic may first appear, as in “minimum age for a driver’s license”, the details I need to build a case, tell a story, explain a situation come from my personal archive of sensory detail, from testimony and first-person accounts. Sometimes I relive the moment, actually experience it again. More often my thinking process leads to a reconstruction, which helps me analyze the work at hand. To the extent that my senses were awake to the whole moment at the time, the moment recreates itself.

10347543_846302745461694_8266923788768021570_nThinking about the prompt, “minimum age for a driver’s license”, and apart from listing reasons for an argument pro or con, can I even access that period of my life? I remembered that I failed the road test, which led to this:

Once again I’m 16, being driven home by my mother from the Department of Motor Vehicles. The silence is awkward because normally Mom would be talking, but I sit quietly crying. I must retake the road-test portion of the exam. My future slips further into the distance because I don’t know if I’ll pass the test the next time. This bit opened a window for me onto a particular place and time in my life when days seemed like years.

I attribute my aptitude for life in the moment to family culture and spiritual practice. My family immigrated to America in the 1840s but our roots are in Norway, and family traditions and culture are still closely tied to that country. I’m fifth generation. My family identifies less closely with ancestors these days than in years past, but my approach to life is a die that was cast before I was 10. I had already begun to look at life through the eyes of the immigrant, thanks to the stories I heard from relatives. 

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Photo: David Campbell / http://gbctours.com

When I was 25, I discovered first-hand what it means to be the foreigner. My husband’s work took us to live for years in Switzerland and later Luxembourg. We moved house many times. Moving often was a reality for my birth family, too. Each time in a new locale I noticed the many ways my otherness rubbed up against the manners of the local population, a habit that as an adult became intentional, building on my natural inclination to live in the moment.

With counter-culture shock upon returning to the US, I began to look for details in place and in people that makes something “American” or “Swiss” – looked for “thing-ness”. The practice of being awake to life for reasons of learning something new enhanced my effort to be “in” a place but not “of” it, which is a spiritual discipline.

It seems to me that what values people display transcend place and time even as they are seen in the moment. So, the spiritual practice helps me perceive the other in a context outside of the physical one we inhabit. This mode of thinking adds another dimension to being alive and leads to being alive to the intangibles that exist in the moment, a kind of out-of-body experience. These are discoveries I’ve made as a writer by developing craft. 337Mason_KarenHeadshot

Karen Mason was born and raised in Illinois and spent nearly 20 years in Europe as a result of her husband’s job transfers. She is a teacher by profession, an inevitable choice given her fascination with the contents of the family bookshelf before she could even read.

She started writing stories as soon as she was able to write a sentence and turned seriously to poetry in college. Karen has taught writing in Illinois, Geneva and online from Luxembourg. She now lives in New Hampshire.

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Karen Mason’s chapbook of poetry, Not From Around Here, was published by Finishing Line Press.

Find the book at: https://finishinglinepress.com/product_info.php?products_id=1638.


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The grace that wakes my heart

When I awake with a prayer running through my head like a song, I know that my day is already wide open to happiness.

Instead of finding myself awash in thoughts run rampant — or consciousness dragging to life like sluggish motor oil, here is a mild, reassuring rhythm already oscillating inside me. All-embracing, and transporting.

This affects me so deeply that when it’s time to read the prayers I customarily say with my husband each morning, the mere sight of words like “the All-Merciful, the Ever-Forgiving” and “the ocean of Thy nearness” overwhelm me to astonished tears, like immersion in an ocean of light.

I am embarking upon what members of the Bahá’í Faith sometimes call the “Season of Restraint.” This is a period at the close of our calendar year when, for 19 days, we are asked to undergo a material fast from food and drink during daylight hours as “an outer token of the spiritual fast … the withholding of oneself from all appetites of the self, taking on the characteristics of the spirit, being carried away by the breathings of heaven and catching fire from the love of God.” 

Fasting from the appetites of the body reminds me how insistent these appetites can be; how unsatisfied, and unsatisfying.

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Photo: Saffron Moser

And it also helps me be aware of how much time the business of survival can consume in my day, and my awareness — especially when it’s overemphasized by the culture around me to the point at which I might begin to forget that I have a spiritual life at all.

Fasting reminds me that there is an entirely other possibility waiting in my living that’s like a portal to a wider, kinder refuge. One in which I am visited and accompanied by a grace like the prayer that woke my heart.

coverthumbAdapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details:

http://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-Details-ebook/dp/B00B5MR9B0/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=


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The secret life of alleys

Wertroofs76971_374138912682406_791237199_nAn editor reviewing my novel manuscript asked whether I might include a smidgen more variety in my use of sensory details. I tend to engage with life visually, like scenes in a movie, and must remember that we humans need all of our senses satisfied.

A curious surprise surfaced in a notebook when I set to work on revisions, like a postcard from the Universe: jottings I’d made last spring and then forgotten. They record what my senses encountered as I hurried through alleyways in a small German town one rainy day.

Perhaps it was the confinement of those narrow spaces immersing me in shadows and light that made everything seem so pronounced and strong that I was moved to sketch it down from fresh memory the moment I was inside a warm café.

Maybe, as sensing and comprehending beings, we need a scale of manageable size in which to experience what we encounter, like the pathways I navigated on my way to these rediscovered impressions:

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When she stopped for me at the crosswalk, it felt like a rabbit-hole of role-reversal. SHE was the one on the red, four-wheeled scooter with its sticker that grants parking and other privileges to those traveling through life with disability.

Her nod was authoritative as she waved me across, adjusting the strap on her helmet while she waited. When I took too long in my confused indecision, she squeezed a horn that played bars of a Brahms lullaby. Teasing this laggard, perhaps?

A long-haul lorry slowed and panted behind her like a smokestack. I scurried across, a startled chicken, and heard her hoarse cackle — a smoker’s. Not unkind, but unquestionably satisfied. Her scooter’s motor was a roar, then a whir, then a faint whine as she sped away, lumbering lorry in close pursuit.

Enveloped by a cobble-stoned alley, I was greeted by tinkling piano scales, nearly machine-like in their precision. They grew louder when I neared the open window that was letting them escape. I reached the house as a steel-haired man arrived from the opposite direction carrying a sewing machine under one arm. Photo on 6-4-14 at 12.39 PM

When he unlocked the door, a face-full of frying-onions fragrance blasted out at us so forcefully, I was sure I’d never smell anything else again. My mouth watered instantly. Even the insistent piano sounds, louder, now, seemed muted by this aroma.

It followed me past three more doorways before a thin ozone of rain on cobblestones replaced it. The drops gradually grew larger and louder as the speed of their fall increased.

strudel629-10-gdcomOverhangs on the buildings jutting into the alley sheltered me nearly as well as my umbrella would have, had I remembered to bring it.

The piano was having the last word as the café door shut behind me.

My glasses steamed up over a bakery case lying in wait, crammed with sweet temptation, inescapable as a huge, friendly dog.

“Why, yes, a slice of that warm strudel WOULD be lovely with my coffee, thank you.”