Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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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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The foundation of all learning

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

“We need mystery. Creator in her wisdom knew this.

Mystery fills us with awe and wonder. They are the foundations of humility, and humility is the foundation of all learning.

So we do not seek to unravel this. We honour it by letting it be that way forever.”

Quote of a grandmother explaining The Great Mystery of the universe to her grandson.

~ Richard Wagamese, Indian Horse

The unexpected and the incredible belong in this world.

Only then is life whole.

 ~ Carl Jung

 

When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.

 ~ G. K. Chesterton 

The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.

 ~ William James


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Human being is a privilege

JWFRender

Painting: “So Bright” by Judy Wright.

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

The fact of storytelling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection.

Where there is perfection there is no story to tell.

~ Ben Okri

We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles.

JWIMG_1632

Painting: “Voices of the Ancients” by Judy Wright.

Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air,

that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living, participating human being is a privilege, that we are miraculously, part of something, rather than nothing.

~ David Whyte


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Restoring breadth and depth

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Photo: David Campbell

I’m at that (re)writing and editing stage where everything is closing toward the end in a work I’ve lived with — that has lived with me — for lots of years. The simultaneous presence of joy and fear can be nearly overwhelming, some days.

This has reconnected me with the power of my relationship with my thoughts — the very narration of my days. And revisiting an insightful article by writer Steve Almond reminds me of what’s missing in much of writing these days: an effective narrator. It strikes me that I need one personally, just as much 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. 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.

Here Comes the Sun on the Summit 211

Photo: Kathy Gilman

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.

Diedenbergen_signsAlmond’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?

DCshadow10838049_10153018587101802_1682083468061168927_o

Photo: David Campbell

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



3 Comments

Questions asked the wrong way

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

Problems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way.
~ Alan Watts

The feminine is the matrix of creation.

The choice is simple. Can we remember the wholeness that is within us, the wholeness that unites spirit and matter?

Or will we continue walking down this road that has abandoned the divine feminine, that has cut women off from their sacred power and knowledge?intuition

If we choose the former we can begin to reclaim the world, not with masculine plans, but with the wisdom of the feminine, the wisdom that belongs to life itself.

If we choose the latter we may attempt some surface solutions with new technology. We may combat global warming and pollution with scientific plans.

But there will be no real change. A world that is not connected to its soul cannot heal. Without the participation of the divine feminine nothing new can be born.

leaflet

Photo: Eric Olson

~ Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

The feminine is the love of nature, and a belief in the body as a part of nature as we see it outside in the woods or rivers.

The feminine takes time for spontaneity and slow time, honors inner reality, and gives values to feelings without brutally repressing them as “sissy” or meaningless.

Rivulet

“Rivulet” by Judy Hughey Wright

Those living the feminine way choose to do something because it’s of genuine worth, and because they love it, and can therefore put their energy into something honestly.

Whether a man or a woman, they’re guided by the question: Is this of value to me personally? Is this worth putting my energy and effort into it? Is this who I really am?

This path is different from hammering through something, even though one’s heart isn’t in it. But living from the heart in this culture takes courage.

  ~ Marion Woodman

… the soul of this world is the subtle growth of spirituality, heavenly morals, divine favors and sacred powers.

~ ‘Abdul’-Baha


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The road to reunion always waits for us

Israel 139

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

Keep knocking and the joy inside will eventually open a window and look out to see who’s there.
 ~ Rumi

Israel 142When from our better selves we have too long
Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,
Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,
How gracious, how benign, is Solitude!
~ William Wordsworth

Man alone is very helpless. Man plus existence is enormous, huge, infinite. Prayer is a meeting of the tiny part with the whole. The tiny part dissolves into the whole and becomes the whole.
~ Osho

” … when we are present in life, free from demands and agendas, when we allow life to unfold according to its own inner principles, we open up a doorway again between the worlds. Within our consciousness the inner and the outer, the visible and the unseen worlds, can come together and speak to each other, and our split apart world can become whole again.”

 ~ Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee