“Without hope, there is no fear.” -Buddhist saying
“When hope dies, action begins.” -Derrick Jensen
I’ve been trying to apply these concepts to my own writing.
Writing is easy, writing is fun. Writing a novel is like digging through a wet cement wall with just my fingernails.
The difference, for me, between writing “just for the sake of writing” and “writing a novel”, is hope.
I hope I finish my novel by august.
I hope I write a really good novel.
I hope I don’t fuck up.
But hope is a killer. When you have hope, you have something to lose. When you have something to lose, you become afraid to lose it. That fear, over time, can be paralyzing.
I hope that I am successful at everything I aspire to in life.
I hope I don’t fuck up.
Hope vs. Manifestation:
Hope looks like this: I hope I finish my book by august.
Manifestation looks like this: I know I will finish my book at the right time.
In hope, there is control: I want to finish my book by august. I had better finish my book by august. I am rigid in my need for things to be exactly a certain way.
In hope, there is fear: I fear that I will not finish my book. I fear that I will fail at everything I aspire to.
In manifestation, there is acceptance: I accept that I cannot control my book. I accept that I cannot control my art. I accept that I cannot control the fluid, ever-changing creative energies of the universe, of which I am a small, humble part.
In manifestation, there is trust: I know that things will happen at the right time. I know that I am smart, creative, and prolific. I trust that everything will work out, as long as I stay grounded, focused, and open.
Behind hope hides fear and control. In manifestation there is trust and acceptance.
To quote from Natalie Goldberg’s awesome writing book, Writing Down The Bones– Writing is not a mcdonald’s hamburger. That is, writing is not exactly the same every time. In fact, nothing is a mcdonald’s hamburger. Nothing is exactly the way you want it, every time. Nothing in life can be controlled like that.
Pema Chodron says:
Milrepa, who lived in the eleventh century, was one of the heroes of Tibetan Buddhism, one of the brave ones. He was also a rather unusual fellow. He was a loner who lived in caves by himself and meditated wholeheartedly for years. He was extremely stubborn and determined.
The story goes that one evening Milrepa returned to his cave after gathering firewood, only to find it filled with demons. They were cooking his food, reading his books, sleeping in his bed. They had taken over the joint. He knew about the teaching of nonduality of self and other, but he still didn’t quite know how to get these guys out of his cave. Even though he had the sense that they were just a projection of his own mind- all the unwanted parts of himself- he didn’t know how to get rid of them.
So first he taught them the dharma. He sat on his seat that was higher than they were and said things to them about how we are all one. He talked about compassion and emptiness and other key Buddhist teachings. Nothing happened. Nothing happened. The demons were still there. Then he lost his patience and got angry and ran at them. They just laughed at him. Finally, he just gave up and sat down on the floor, saying, “I’m not going away and it looks like you’re not either, so let’s just live here together.”
At that point, all of them left except one. Milrepa said, “This one is particularly vicious.” (We all know that one. Sometimes we have lots of them like that. Sometimes we feel that’s all we’ve got.) He didn’t know what to do, so he surrendered himself even further. He walked over and put himself right in the mouth of the demon and said, “Just eat me up if you want to.” Then that demon left too.
So I am digging through a cement wall with my fingernails, and I am facing my demons.
Demon one: I will not finish my novel by august.
Demon two: I will run out of money, my novel will not be finished, I’ll be working full-time/going to school full time again, and I’ll never have a big chunk of time to devote to writing again. Ever.
Demon three: I’m too young to write a novel.
Demon four: I don’t know how to write a novel.
Demon five: I will try, and consistently fail, at writing a novel, for the rest of my life, until capitalism collapses and/or I succumb to chronic illness. The cycle will go like this- I want to write a novel, I am inspired to write a novel, I know exactly what I want to write about, but I do not have time/money to do it. Suddenly, by some random stroke of luck, time/money falls on me from the sky and I am able to write. I sit down to write and merrily hammer out the first fifteen thousand words, at which point I am abruptly crippled by my fear of failure. I am unable to write another paragraph. Instead, I think about writing, think about all the things I want to happen in my book, have dreams about the characters, talk about them. But when I sit down to write, I cannot. And so I anxiously wring my hands until my time/money is gone. Repeat cycle into infinity, until life, in retrospect, seems like a sort of hell, and I have squandered everything, with absolutely nothing to show for it.
Demons one through four are like the first demons in the parable. In my more heroic moments, I can accept them, and they vanish. But I am so, so afraid of demon five.
So here is my mantra for today.
I accept that I will fail, again and again, for the rest of my life. I accept that I will never arrive, and that things will pretty much always be the same as they are now. I accept that I will always be poor and unfocused. I accept that I will always look like a failure on paper. I accept all of my broken parts and the ways that I am flawed, and I accept the cycles that I am doomed to repeat, again and again, for all of eternity.
And Annie Dillard, my favorite eco-theologist, from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:
I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wandering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty beats and shines not IN its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them, under the wind-rent clouds, upstream and down. Simone Weil says simply, “Let us love the country of here below. It is real; it offers resistance to love.”