Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Morning Pages

After having numerous people recommend it for what seems like the past decade, I finally picked up a copy of The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. Based on Cameron's workshops, the book seeks to equip readers for a spiritual path to deeper and more consistent creativity.

One key tool that Cameron emphasizes early on is something she calls the "morning pages." The assignment is simply to write three pages each morning, stream of consciousness, unpolished, non-evaluative, just what is on one's mind. A brain dump so to speak. Usually what pours out are the blockages to creativity, the excuses, the self-condemnation. All the reasons not to be creative.

Always eager for a new process to help kick-start creative momentum, I immediately went to the store and bought a fresh spiral notebook and a decent pen. (There's something symbolically energizing about actually going out and getting new paper and ink, as opposed to finding whatever is laying around.) I've decided to experiment this week with this whole pursuit, taking my notebook instead of a book to my 5:30 a.m. workouts and seeing what kind of creative flow takes place.

I actually began this morning when I arrived at Starbucks for my weekly 6 a.m. creative writing time, and found my work on my newest memoir project to be quite fruitful. My relationship with journaling has been sporadic, but this is a different angle to get at accomplishing what the best writers do best: write every single day, despite the mood.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Walking and Innocent

Our present neighborhood here in Franklin, Tenn., is located just across the street from a shopping center that includes a Blockbuster store. Normally just a three-minute drive, when we decided to rent a movie today I did something unusual: I walked there.

Now, I felt a bit strange doing this. A bit like an outcast as I strolled along the sidewalk and unevenly through the parking lot in blue jeans, cars streaming past me. Why should this be?

There's a certain stigma to walking for a task that usually calls for a car, as crazy as this sounds. And we all contribute to it in a sense. Catch sight of anyone walking along a busy road or through a shopping center who isn't dressed for a workout, and it's hard not to almost subconsciously conclude they either are homeless or can't drive because of a DUI or don't have a job--and perhaps all three. And for some reason tonight, doing the perfectly sane, environmentally and healthy friendly act of walking to Blockbuster when I could have drove, I felt a bit marginalized.

All in my head, of course. Or is it? Is there not some collective madness when walking is, like, weird? I've heard myself say many times the past couple of years that I would like to ride a bicycle or walk all the time and not have to own a car. And yet I don't want to live in New York City or another large metropolitan area with a transportation network that removes the daily need for a personal vehicle.

I guess, in general, I am looking for ways to simplify things where I am, in the now. Taking a short walk tonight felt like the first few steps, some very common sense steps. Despite whatever stigma I'm paranoid about fulfilling.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Know Much About Mythology?

I highly recommend the popular softcover book Don't Know Much About Mythology--unless, of course, you know so much about the subject that you can instinctively connect the threads between the multitude of stories and sacred texts that tend to bear striking similarities.

This book is helping me place some of my other reading into a fuller context, giving me a stronger feel for the broad stage upon which history, religion and art intersect--and what it can mean for leadership and personal growth. I know that, when I start to recognize certain names or themes from previous books I've already read, that I'm getting somewhere--and David's long but very readable text certainly helps because of its comprehensive nature.

I have started to realize that my self-directed journey into mythology this past year is building upon the foundation of my Master of Divinity degree studies and the intense religious learning I embraced during the late 1990s and early 2000s. It is a continuation rather than a refutation, a deepening rather than a rejection. The same dynamic is being paralleled in my personal faith. How richer, how much more profound, how much less labeled and therefore more awe-inspiring is my sense of the divine. I don't know where this journey ends, but the ride is quite delicious.

Recently I was working on my current memoir project about my college years, and interacted with some papers I wrote as a freshman. Joseph Campbell's "Journey of the Hero" played an integral role in my very first semester of college, when I was in a program that integrated humanities, English and psychology. From what I wrote back then, nearly 22 years ago, he made quite an impression on me. I'm amazed that I got caught up in other distractions for so long and didn't get Campbell back on my radar until 2007. But such is the lifelong learning adventure.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thoughts on Truth

In A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle touches upon a notion that has always made sense to me--that one absolute Truth is the source behind all other fragments of truth as they reveal themselves through religions, art, music, dance, relationships and so forth. This is a Truth that transcends languages, cultures or ideologies. I've always felt, for example, that God can make himself known in more ways than we realize and that the more we seek to leverage doctrine to box God in, the more he pours out and evades us. Like Moses in the Old Testament, we only catch a glimpse of his back as he passes us by with terrible glory.

Many religious folks will cringe at Tolle's assertion that "the Truth is who you are." If you look for it elsewhere, the author writes, "you will be deceived every time." Jesus, Tolle further claims, attempted to convey this is in the famous statement from the Gospel of John, "I am the way, the truth, the life." Jesus, Tolle says here, speaks of "the innermost I Am, the essence identity of every man and woman, every life-form, in fact." He adds that "laws, commandments, rules and regulations are necessary for those who are cut off from who they are, the Truth within."

Start saying you are "I Am," and you'd better dodge the stones and have a thick skin for accusations of heresy. But I fail to see how what Tolle claims is that different, if you think in terms of metaphor rather than literal meaning, from us Christ followers when we speak of "Christ in you" or "the Christ within." Christian theology has long held that we must believe in a truth that will set us free. The Truth is an external thing, and only upon belief does it get inside of us. We are not God, we have to believe to get God "inside our hearts." It's all quite linear. Believe, then receive.

But what about this "radical" notion that we already are a part of the Truth, that the union with Christ that the Bible speaks of upon conversion and hence salvation is already at hand--and that the crucifixion, resurrection and subsequent ascension of Christ is metaphorical of every person, every life form that is inextricably connected to the same source as Christ, the same Truth?

Tolle would contend that the disconnect we perceive or feel is illusory, a construct of the mind, a lack of awareness or blatant unconsciousness. Consciousness he equates with Being, Being with Truth--basically, God. The Scriptures as commonly exegeted imply more of a physical and spiritual separation, that we must seek something outside of us in order to get something back inside of us that we literally lost as a human race long ago.

When you begin to look at these same verses metaphorically, as Tolle, Joseph Campbell and others have done, the meaning seems to not move against a vibrant faith in God but deepens it. There's a more palpable sense of awe and mystery; it's not all so formulated, like, "do this, pray this, believe this, go through this ritual, and you're in. Now, get back to work."

I wonder why Christian people feel so threatened when traditional notions of sin, heaven, hell and the like are called into question, when law and doctrine are seen as less essential or necessary than have been preached for millions upon millions of Sunday morning hours. Often it seems we love our dogma more than Christ himself. Certainly more than we love others at times, and not too seldom more than we love ourselves. I wonder why we are so afraid of the idea that we might not just be able to become united with Christ, but that we might already share the same Essence, the same Being, and that he is not just our Lord and Savior but our archetype.

I was chatting with a Christian woman at work the other day, and I mentioned A New Earth. She recalled another colleague recommending the book, and then unfortunately fell into the predictable cliched response of, "Hey, isn't that New Age or something?" After I teasingly asked her to tell me what she meant by "New Age" (she couldn't, and we often cannot define many of the divisive buzzwords we carelessly toss around like beach balls in the ocean breeze), I briefly started to summarize the book. I said something about the Truth being found in many different expressions, art forms, religions, etc., and she literally started plugging her ears. "No," she said, "I only believe in the Bible! I want to make sure I go to heaven!" I laughed, and she laughed--but she was dead serious. I could see the fear on her face.

The dogma certainly triumphs over the joy when push comes to shove, and my friend--like many believers--personifies Tolle's observation that we miss the peace of the present moment because we are working so hard to get somewhere else. Like heaven. Wherever, whenever, however that is. We can toil toward misery to make sure we don't mess up. Ain't that the truth?

Monday, April 07, 2008

Spring Has Sprung

Yesterday began a long-awaited outburst of spring in middle Tennessee. For the past five months I have felt somewhat lost under a large gray dome with fluctuating temperatures, but yesterday was all about the smell of freshly cut grass and barbecue grills and the sound of persons of all ages frolicking about. It was teeming with life and vibrancy. My own grill, lying in pieces since the move from Florida, was hastily reassembled and I dashed off to the grocery store to secure a new canister of gas and some burgers and hot dogs.

I have noticed across these months how much weather, and especially sunlight, impacts my mood. I feel more energetic and confident when it is bright and temperatures are mild. I have tried to convince myself that none of this weather stuff matters--especially with my efforts to surrender to the present moment--but it seems to in a deeper way than I can fully understand.

This will be my first summer to live without immediate ocean availability for many years. I love a walk along the shore, staring out at the ocean. Always have since I was a kid. I love bodysurfing on extremely hot summer days, and floating along the waves. The ocean seems to have a certain healing power to it. Right now I have plans to visit Florida twice this summer, and I'll need to get my fix. I'll spend most of the spring and summer discovering hiking trails and enjoying the different type of beauty and wonder offered by this part of the country.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

More From A New Earth

More from Eckhart Tolle's book. These two paragraphs in particular resonate powerfully with me:

"So while you are perhaps still waiting for something significant to happen in your life, you may not realize that the most significant thing that an happen to a human being has already happened within you: the beginning of the separation process of thinking and awareness.

Many people who are going through the early stages of the awakening process are no longer certain what their outer purpose is. What drives the world no longer drives them. Seeing the madness of our civilization so clearly, they may feel somewhat alienated from the culture around them. Some feel they inhabit a no-man's-land between two worlds."

I usually highlight books that I read, and occasionally draw an asterisk next to the most salient points. However, every great once in a while I scribble a big "YES!" next to a particular passage that seems to shout with intensity what I have felt inside for so long. This section garnered such an affirmation.

Often I have felt as if I am living on the "Island of Misfit Toys" (see Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer). I don't seem to ever want a lot of the stuff the culture wants, or get caught up in the same anxieties concerning what seem to be very trivial matters. I get frustrated by group think and pressure to conform, to out-spend. I question the ending value of naked ambition.

I see, like a key theme in a book I helped write called Wide Awake Leadership, that often we "live in a world thoroughly committed to our mediocrity." Tolle's description of living between such a mediocre world, and the emerging world of deeper awareness that I cannot always wrap my arms around, speaks quite profoundly to me.