November 28, 2011

We are all afraid. How mindful writing can help.

Fiona writes: When I’m looking for inspiration, I often return to favourite books. These books are my old friends. They always have something fresh and wise to say.

Today I visited Terrance Keenan in ‘St Nadie in Winter: Zen Encounters with Loneliness’. I opened the book at random and this is what I found:

“This is how we begin – in the morning with small birds near and echoing train yards in the distance – afraid. Exactly like one another.”

Keenan is talking about what it is like to be human. There is a lot for us to feel afraid of. Smaller impermanences – close friends moving away, or apparent financial security shifting like sand under our feet. The big impermanence, which will come to all those we love, unless it comes for us first.

This is what we have in common. We are all afraid, of something or the other – we are all trying to hold everything together.

There are two sources of hope in this short quote.

We are exactly like one another. This can be hard to believe, when we’re struggling with a situation that seems entirely unique and nobody seems to understand the first thing about it. But it is always true. Look deeper, and cosmetic differences (what jobs we do, what we look like, how much money we have) seem less and less important. Our struggles and our joys are our common ground.

Also, there are small birds and train yards.

How can small birds help us, in the face of such fear?

I will show you how. The next time you are outside, look for (or listen out for) a bird. When you’ve found one, watch him closely. What colour is his beak? How do his feathers catch the light? How does he move?

To help you observe, think about what word you would use for the colour of his eye. How would you describe the texture of the skin on his ankles? How would you describe his song?

If you can’t find a bird, choose something else. Notice the sky. The cold breeze. That man across the street with his limp and his old dog. Something. Anything.

How do you feel now?

If we can observe the details of things, and if we can allow ourselves to be influenced by what is ‘other’, then we will get to know the ‘other’ more intimately. We will feel a kinship with this particular bird, as he forages for food in the winter. We might recognise him when he visits again.

This approach works with all animate objects (even slugs) and also with inanimate ones. Pausing to reflect on our favourite mug will put us into a deeper relationship with it – to wonder who designed those orange swirly petals, or where the paint came from, and to feel gratitude to whoever invented bone china to keep your tea nice and hot.

This reverent observation is exactly what our January mindful writing challenge, the River of Stones, is all about. Don’t take my word for it. Commit to noticing one thing properly every day during January, and to writing it down. Every day we’ll have a guest post to encourage and inspire you, and a post where you can post your small stone. I’ve created a practice blog here to help you get into the hang of things.

Find out more here. Join us. This is how we begin.

Image: Birds in flight by Temari, used with permission and thanks.

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