The following words I delivered March 19, 2010 at the close of the 5th Annual Yoga As Muse for Authentic Writing & Creativity Retreat held at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, NM. Our focus for six days had been on writing into “layers of truth” – the layer of intimate detail, the layer of points of view, the tragic layer, the comedic layer, and the mythic layer. I have modified it to fit this blog.
Freedom is Not Just Another Word
I would like to offer a few closing words.
Writing toward truth requires more than saying, “Well, I am living and speaking my truth!” To write, live, and speak the truth, seems to me, requires that I frequently check in with the foundation of my writing,
speaking, and living: the mind. The embodied mind, more precisely. And
even more precisely, I check in with what I know to be the truth and
what I think I know to be the truth – both of which are jnana.
Knowledge. Knowledge can bind us; knowledge can liberate us. Being in a
physical body can bind us; and it can liberate us. Our actions can bind
us; the actor behind the actions can liberate us. The sounds of
language can bind us; the sounds of language can liberate us.
It turns out that liberation for most of us is neither immediate nor permanent in this lifetime. To live with consciousness of consciousness in a non-dual world involves dancing between freedom and bondage. The
promise and the reality are that as you practice, the ratio can shift.
You can dance in freedom for more frequent and longer periods, and even
when you’re in bondage you can recognize it more readily, know that
it’s temporary, and be versatile enough to find the tools that will
unlock the shackles or unravel the ropes.
The light on your reactivity meter will still be active at certain surprising times. You will still have inexplicable emotional bursts, judgmental thoughts will still raise their heads like prairie dogs, but
less so perhaps and the energy those undesirable thought patterns once
held on the mind may gradually have less and less and less sustaining
Mind spreads out wide like the New Mexico sky. It wants to be given shape with purpose and focus the way earth’s horizon defines sky, but the sky-mind does not want to stay locked up in old adolescent patterns.
Would you want to stay in seventh grade all your life? Neither does the mind.
As writers, we are more than our characters even though we cannot control them. We are more than our poem’s speakers and our stories’ narrators even though we must step out of the way that they may speak
with freedom and truth beyond what our processor minds could say. When
we let True Self reside deeply and at home in Animate Body, and when we
write from that space, that center, then, yes, we can write into the
unknown labyrinth and perhaps hear the voice behind the voices that
helps us find our way home.
Writing, it might turn out, is self-exploration and self-expansion – an expanded awareness of what is the self, an awareness that allows the self to inhabit multiple points of view, an awareness that allows the
self to delve into complex layers and mythic layers.
But we must practice. Yoga. Every. Day. Do so for fifteen days from March 22-April 5. See what happens. The commentary in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika makes claims such as, “Try this tool for 15 days, and you will be
free.” When I first read that, I’d say to myself, “Well, there’s an
early New Age self-help claim.” But, it’s true. You try a yogic tool
deliberately for 15 days, and you observe the mind and body, and you will observe
a shift, and that observation of the shift is a movement toward freedom
from old habits. Practice Yoga As Muse at least three times a week.
Write for only 45 minutes at first.
You can spend a lifetime analyzing why you act the way you do, why you don’t do what you know you want to do. And maybe, maybe after twenty years of psychoanalysis, you might or might not get to “the bottom” of things only to find out that you still act the way you
do; only now, you have an excuse for those habits. I suggest you stop
Act differently. When you act differently, the mind’s habits will follow.
A practice asks us to cultivate tapas – a series of voluntary self-challenges. A series of voluntary
self-challenges – that is the heart of being a writer. It demands you not talk away your project, that you only talk about what you have written, not what you
are going to write. That you grow accustomed to rejection. Cultivate
the ability to be disappointed. And move on.
Above all, you keep writing. Better fifteen minutes a day no matter what than 90 minutes a week or every two weeks. All of which let’s you move toward the difficult and lets you hang up on the Inner Heckler.
The Return and the Ultimate Responsibility
When you return home, you will still need allies. Find one to three others with whom to share your Yoga As Muse wisdom. Start them with the
Concentration Sequence, rotate facilitating one another. This journey
is beautiful, and it’s also rife with obstacles and challenges. Don’t
surrender to the obstacles. Greet them. Welcome them. And stay in
touch with one another for encouragement and for generosity, for
compassion and for truthfulness.
You will return home, most of you, a different person. When Odysseus returned from his 20-year journey, he returned disguised as a beggar. That is, no one recognized him. And some of your loved ones may not
recognize you as you start to act and speak and write differently.
Don’t judge them for not having changed the way you have. Have
compassion and patience for their own growth. When Odysseus returned
home, Penelope reminded the hero he was also a husband. He was both: a
hero and a husband. In that sense, he was transfigured. He could live
in both worlds simultaneously. When you practice Yoga As Muse, you can
live in the world of ideas and creativity and spirit and in the world of chores and a job. They are not at odds.
But be responsible. And know to what you ultimately must be responsible. The Self has a dharma. Something calls the Self to act well in the world. Your ultimate responsibility is not your small obligations to others – although you
cannot abnegate those obligations. Be responsible to that part of the
Self that you cannot even call your own. I remember every day what
Krishna said to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita:
“It is better to perform your own duty imperfectly than someone else’s perfectly.”
Here’s to responsible imperfection.
And this, too:
A retreat is to the soul what winter is to the earth. It is a time to withdraw, to let seeds sink deep into soil, to be in darkness where
Remember Sunday evening when with seeds at your heart you asked, What am I here for? You might have fulfilled your intention. You might have gotten more than you asked for.
Now, spring is just around the bend. Make a commitment for the next fifteen days—from March 22 to April 6—to meet with your muse at least 6 times.
Let a place find you here before you leave and plant half your seeds. Then go home, find a place, a small pot, a patch of yard, and plant them.
The Gift of Writing the Truth
When I traveled through the Himalayas, an affable retired engineer who had a lovely house and orchard and two children had invited me into his
home and told me a story about Vac. Vac is a feminine force of sacred
speech described in the Vedas, but this story is not in there. He said
that Vac deeply desired to grant the gift of sacred speech to human
beings. The other deities who dwelled on a high mountain thought that
idea inane. “They’ll abuse the gift!” one of them said. “They don’t
know how to use sacred speech,” another protested. But Vac insisted.
Well, they wanted to persecute Vac for her insubordination, so she fled
among the banyan trees. When the gods demanded the trees extradite her
for punishment, the trees held out on behalf of Vac and said, “We will
let her go, but only if you grant her wish.”
The gods gave in. And Vac gave us the gift of scared speech. And so musicians who played wooden instruments and writers who use paper remember the role that the trees played in granting us this gift of
sacred speech and of writing and singing toward the truth in all of its
To speak and write the truth assumes great risks. People bristle at the truth. They’re offended. Your mother will cringe. Writers risk be alienated from families and whole communities. Such exile is the risk
some of us must take not to do battle with the world but to continue
loving the world with the wish that all creatures will remember that
they are or can be happy and they can be free from their own suffering.
You’ll feel when you write from the truth. It vibrates differently than when you’re merely spinning your ego’s wheels. An authentic intention lines up with the words, and from that centered alignment Vac
brings the words to the page. It’s a gift. Use it responsibly. And be
responsible to use it.
I wish you grace and peace on your travels home. Om Gum Ganapataye Namaha.
The best in me reaching out to the best in you.