Why does it seem so much easier to write vividly about pain and despair than it does to write about happiness and contentment? This morning, sitting in a sun-warmed arm-chair with my journal on my lap watching the blue jays and the cardinals quarrel over the sunflower seeds, I do not feel I have to write. At times I’m driven to write in order to alleviate pain, calm agitation, deal with uneasiness or probe a disturbing dilemma. Today, I am content to be with the world.
So I sit and ponder. Slowly, without any sense of needing to find “an answer,” I bring the practice of open inquiry that I often use for dealing with uncomfortable states to the moment, wondering: What is this thing I call contentment? Still taking in the hush of the wind through the pines and the light of the sun shining through the clear cold water to the muddy bottom of the pond- I start to write. But what comes are mostly descriptions of what this inner place of ease is not: not wanting to be anywhere else; not making lists; not worrying about what comes next or happened yesterday; not trying to unravel the mysteries of life.
Does it matter whether or not I can describe this thing I call joy or happiness or contentment? There is no suffering in need of easing in this morning happiness. Sometimes, I write to share and illuminate our struggles in the hope that others might find solace and strength in the sharing. But moments of contentment, whether alone or shared, do not need anything to be complete. If I am alone, the sun shines. If you are beside me, the sun shines. We could call it “just being” or “being present,” but something in me reaches for words- for an image or a sensually described movement- that reflect the profound peace in my arms and legs, my chest and abdomen.
Driving home last week I listened to Wade Davis giving one of the current Massey Lectures entitled The Wayfinders, on CBC radio. Davis eloquently described the sophisticated spiritual ideas and practices of the Australian aborigines. For hundreds of years these people have had faith that their nomadic wandering, the following of the “songlines” of their ancestors across an often harsh landscape, has enabled them to “dream” the world into being, preserving an essential aspect of creation. I cannot do justice here to the way they literally and metaphorically use the terms “dream” and “songlines,” but it occurs to me that my desire to write- any desire to access and manifest our creativity- is another way of dreaming the world into being. I want my writing, my “dreaming” and the songline I create and/or follow to include images and metaphors and descriptions that reflect both the struggles and the joy of life.
Good writing – like good music, painting, or any other art- evokes the universal by touching the particular that sparks our sensory memory and our heart’s imagination. I once described my depletion after meeting many people on a too-long book tour by saying I felt as if I’d had a cheese grater taken to my skin. I needed to go home, to be wrapped in the protective gauze of being still and alone in the forest. Whether or not you are a fellow introvert, these words give you some sense of what I felt.
I want to find images and metaphors that are equally strong in evoking the experience of joy and contentment. And I want the words to be vivid and real, to contribute to dreaming a world that is vivid and real. I want to avoid spiritual platitudes that reassure me that being is enough but do not reflect the full taste or vibrancy of being. I cannot claim to know how this dreaming (that of my creative work or of the Australian aboriginals’ songline) works, but it is not a simplistic matter of magical thinking. It is something that happens on a deeper level when we engage the moment completely and let our creative life flow outward in images, songs, stories and movements that hold colour, texture, sound, shape, scent, and taste. There are hundreds of way to dream the world into being with all of the fire and the beauty of that first moment of creation.
The contentment I feel in this moment is not marred by my desire to share it with words. And as I write this one of the season’s first butterflies appears- wings of brown velvet rimmed with red and gold. Trailing threads of sunlight, it dips and dives on windwaves, a flicker of movement so tenuous and tenacious it takes my breath away. And I think of a quote by Trina Paulus- guidance for all of us who want to take the risk of participating in dreaming the world into being:
“How does one become a butterfly?” she asked pensively. “You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.” – Trina Paulus
Oriah (c) 2010