One day in my creative writing workshop we were discussing creativity and the mind. The main point I wanted to make was that the mind is a wonderful tool but elusive and fickle. The mind doesn't like to be coerced into being creative on demand. When a problem comes up in writing, a writer has
to learn to trust that the mind is working on an answer even when we're not consciously trying. Those wonderful ideas that seem to come out of "nowhere" actually come from nowhere else but our minds, when we get out of their way and let them do their job.

How well do we really know our own minds? I asked. Then I thought it would be a useful exercise to have the students try some meditation, to spend a few minutes paying close attention to their own minds. I wanted them to see how hard it is to get the mind to concentrate on one thing for any
length of time. I wanted them to see how alive the mind is, how hard it is to tame.

Sit up straight, hands in your lap, eyes closed or looking downward, I told them. Take three slow deep breaths and then do nothing but stay in the present moment. When a thought comes up, let it pass and continue holding your attention on the here and now. If you notice yourself going
off on a train of thought, gently drop it and return to the present moment.

And off they went. A hush, which is usually a terrible thing in teaching, descended over the room. At the end of 5 very long minutes I called a halt.

Okay, I said, expecting sheepish laughter and lots of head-shaking, how many people were able to stay completely focused on the present moment for the full five minutes?

Every hand in the room went up.

I gaped.

Nobody caught themselves drifting off, daydreaming, not even for a second?

Nope. Nobody.

It was astonishing. It seemed that I had before me a room of unacknowledged young Zen masters. I realized later that what I had before me was a room of keen, competitive students, none of whom wanted to look like they hadn't been able to complete the assignment.

Secret pocket

I'm back from my writer's train journey, and I'm working on a photo essay about the trip, but in the meantime, here is a post from my old blog, The Logogryph:

biking in the hot sun, legs pedalling, breath like swift waves rushing in
and out, heart bumping around in its bone room, remembering a half-waking dream last night in which I saw one of my characters set aside some small part of herself, I can't be very clear about what this “part” was or where it came from, it was more an idea than something concrete that I could "see" (but then again maybe that's what all dream images are -- ideas that hover somewhere between physical objects and abstract concepts), she was putting part of herself into a secret pocket, a kind of little bag like kids put marbles in (back when kids actually collected marbles), and when I woke up I thought well, that was a rather cliched symbol about the hidden part of oneself, the part we don't let others see (as often happens when one's thoughts are flooded by the aquatic emotions / impulses of the half-dreaming state, trite ideas seem profound and original and brimming with meaning, but quickly cool and go brittle in the cold light of waking consciousness).

but just now, on the bike, in the heat, crossing a busy intersection with the sun flashing off car metal and people streaming along the sidewalks and me with my own streaming, flashing thoughts zinging along in my head, the idea of someone setting aside or pocketing a part of the self merged with the sensations of biking, and for a moment there were just the sensations themselves, without inner commentary, without past or future, and the thing kept in the pocket was Self … itself. I can’t explain it very well at all, I’m afraid, because it wasn’t an idea exactly. It was a momentary image with no
labels on it, and if I try to explain it or conceptualize it, I’m only going
to kill it. But what the heck:

There is a physical body, and a consciousness, and a stream of
moment-by-moment experience, and in a secret pocket there is a self, like a favourite marble or an ID card or a passport. Always carry it with you because you never know when you’ll need to prove that you are. Not who you are, but that you are.

And then the insight was gone. The intersection was crossed, the passport was checked and stamped, the thought dissolved into other thoughts, the stream flowed on and I was just me again, on my bicycle, safely and soundly me…

A writer' journey

I'm away from home for a few days, on the coast to "find somewhere quiet where I can finish my book," as Bilbo tells Gandalf. I didn't even bring a computer, which is no great hardship since I brought my smartphone. But it does mean I can't post images to my blog (for some reason I can't paste my phone photos into these blog posts). So you'll just have to take my word for it that the northern BC coast is experiencing a rare week of utterly gorgeous sunny weather. Makes it hard to sit and write. But that's why I'm here. Couldn't find Rivendell in the real world so this seemed the next best thing.