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Inspiration-Letters: Destiny Edition

sri-chinmoy-authorThrift stores, cheap chocolates and masterpieces by Van Gogh and Cezanne—so begins the 16th edition of Inspiration-Letters, magazine style forum for inspired writers of the Sri Chinmoy Centre. A fitting beginning it is too, for all the authors are koan-carrying members of a meditation group espousing a philosophy of merging the heights of spirituality with the here and everyday, and what could be more lofty and lowly than the two masters of post-impressionism rubbing shoulders in a one dollar shop? All the world may well be a stage, and we the players therein, but some of the sets are truth be told, less than top-drawer. The Inspiration-Letters editor, in possession of red pen and hugely discounted bargains, proceeds to the check-out, continues his introduction:
“As the cashier was checking me out, I happened to glance at her name tag: ‘Karamvir’ it said. I knew ‘vir’ means hero in many Indian languages. I asked her what ‘karam’ meant. She told me that ‘karam’ means fate. So ‘Karamvir’ means ‘she who is the master of her destiny, the one who is victorious over her fate!’ Apparently she had never thought about the meaning of her name before, so she just nodded, smiled shyly and handed me my merchandise.”
checkout-operatorI am reminded of a supermarket closer to home, where checkout operators are likely as not to be Indian, lowly in station but sweeter in nature than the most expensive chocolates, and names hand-picked from the loftiest spiritual literature. While shopping for bread and milk I have been charmed and served by the entire pantheon of Indian goddesses—Saraswati, Lakshmi and Durga included. The topic for this latest issue of Inspiration-Letters is “Destiny”, and it was the destiny of seven writers and myself to contribute, stories all of the moving and workings of nature’s most mysterious force—fate, and its invisible hold on our lives.

Home Is Where The Heart Is

Inspiration-Letters opens with top-drawer writer Sumangali Morhall’s Home Is Where The Heart Is, a tale of time spent in Thailand and the titular lesson learned: home is where the heart is, no matter where mind or body may roam. Sumangali is a master of poetry and lyricism—her gentle evocation of landscapes inner and outer sing a tale of destiny as sweetly as a nightingale’s call, and moved one reader to comment “no one describes nature better than her. Her description of monsoon rains will rise like steam in your memory every time you get caught in heavy rain ever again.”
“I arrived at the start of monsoon. From a veranda I would watch the sky as it jealously gathered navy blue cloud with long grey fingers, until its arms could hold no more, and the whole hoard was spilt on the earth at once. The traffic thickened and curdled, borders between road and path were eaten away by hungry torrents, where sandalled feet sloshed towards any cover they could find. It was at those times I liked to go for a walk.”

It Is Written

Alaskan Palyati Fouse weaves in It Is Written the working of destiny with film of the moment Slumdog Millionaire, and recounts a recent discussion with someone described only as a genius:
“I had a lengthy discussion with a genius recently about destiny. I asked many questions because, at first, I did not agree with what he had to say.”
I for one am highly curious to discover the name of the genius, for it is not written. Perhaps he is unnamed deliberately by the author, lest lost sheep like myself beat a grassy path to his isolated mountain top. Telling of living alone like a beacon in the dark, just her and destiny on the uppermost edge of the American continent, Palyati talks and inspires with her account of swimming against the spiritual tide, and deserves more than just the respect of some distant shaper of destiny in doing so.

There Was A Child Went Forth

A reader of my own story, There Was A Child Went Forth—title lifted directly from Whitman—commented that he found me to be a good writer, but my stories somewhat depressing. While not ego-shattering, his feedback was certainly unexpected, and from far enough left field to make me pause and reflect. Am I a depressing person; is there less joy in my writing than there should be; in my life as well?
“The journey from child to man is said to be a passage, but for me childhood and adulthood were separated not by distance but a straight line, worlds cleaved apart as if by sharpest knife.”
There is a simple answer to both question and self-doubt—the true story of my life is a tale far more intense than any written. The experiences I went through before joining the spiritual life were more harrowing than any yet related, and while as prone to exaggeration as any writer, in the case of my own backstory, I am not writing larger than reality. With admirable honesty, Palyati Fouse in It Is Written follows the very same thread:
“Recalling life experiences and my reactions to them before joining this path makes my stomach knot up. There is nothing for me there in the deepest sense. It is the continual inner urge to progress spiritually that keeps me alive.”
Destiny may at times be a blunt instrument, but none can deny the necessity of its scalpel-like role, its work and operation, through trial and tribulation, needed for our ultimate good. Yes this is an intimidating truth, but it is one anything but depressing, for it speaks of perfection, promises a happiness never-ending.

Magical Mystery Tour

In Magical Mystery Tour, professional writer and published author Noivedya Juddery tells of his new preoccupation as film screenwriter, and how the casting of a young aspiring actress really is an act of destiny. At times a treatise on the millennia old debate on determinism, Noivedya writes and winds to the conclusion that life is the greatest mystery tour of them all.
“Occasionally, airlines and tour organisers speak of mystery tours, for which adventurous travellers pay for a tour to a place unknown. It might not be where you wanted or expected to go, but you will hopefully enjoy the destination. Life, of course, is the greatest mystery tour of them all – and however much you might influence your pilot, you never know where he will take you.”

How I Came To The Spiritual Life

In How I Came To The Spiritual Life, Abhinabha Tangerman relates with a Zen-like directness how he came to the spiritual life. To approximate an old Zen saying, if you see the Buddha on the road, you see the Buddha on the road, and in getting lost on a dark Dutch road Abhinabha found his own path to enlightenment—a lecture that would change his life forever.
“The speaker was a Belgian man of about forty years, exuding a marked inner poise. As soon as he started speaking my disappointment vanished. He talked about a spiritual life, a life of peace, love and happiness and the ways to bring these qualities to the fore through meditation. The man was very nice, humble and likeable. And his words were like music to my ears.”
Courageously, Abhinabha shares two dreams of Sri Chinmoy which convinced him to become a full time student of meditation, and concludes that he guesses it was destiny. For me there is no guesswork in this convincing, inspiring story.

Some Thoughts On The Way Forward

In Some Thoughts On The Way Forward, Jogyata Dallas waves the banner and writes a ringing call to arms on karma yoga—the yoga of action and work, and his forceful words are like an Emersonian edict for a new spiritual age. Jogyata is at his best writing of nature inner and outer, poetically intertwining the idyllic landscape of Bali with the sometimes smooth, sometimes rocky contours of the human soul:
“Horizoned and other-worldly, magnified by haze, the grey pencil sketch of Mt. Agung soars up to improbable altitudes, its ragged bulk cloud-garlanded, mysterious and remote from the far-below, scrambling destinies of man. Beyond the shoreline grey skeins of wrinkled seas crest and break—long ocean rollers at their journey’s end. Away from our usual melodramas, Bali’s peace and languor and the heavy gravity of the afternoon conspire, press you down supine.”

Overcoming Destiny

Mahiruha Klein writes in Overcoming Destiny of his first personal message from Sri Chinmoy, and of the message received the very eve of his Guru’s passing: “Hope is sweeter than the sweetest. Sweeter than ambrosia.” Chasing hope like a bee to nectar, Mahiruha is all parts sincere and heart-felt, and his words possess the silent width and weight of the best, other-world inspired writing.
“That was the last time I ever saw Sri Chinmoy. He passed away the following morning, quite early. But his last words to us, that hope is sweeter than ambrosia, touched me deeply. My Master told me in that phrase to keep a positive attitude, to stay happy and well, and to remain hopeful. Sri Chinmoy’s first message to me was to forswear anxiety about what people think of me or how I am judged in the eyes of society. His last message to me was to keep hope alive forever.”
In my case, it is tempting to dwell upon the fact that I had few personal messages from Sri Chinmoy, but like doubt itself this is the path and fiat of a false, never profitable coin. I was one of Sri Chinmoy’s students who had very little outer contact with him—I can count literally on fingertips the times he spoke to me—but to flail now for what will never be would be to miss totally an inner contact that has always been. I can write books of all the messages that have come in quiet moments and dreams, and it this inner communication that is the true currency of spirituality, a wealth of heart and soul that can never be spent, now or when the flickering flame of human life finally burns out. Again where doubt is concerned, memory is without doubt the quickest, easiest to reach for antidote, and I need look no further than my own submission to Inspiration-Letters to be reunited with Destiny’s eternal, inner communion:
“I remember a vivid dream not long after I returned to New Zealand, of a most beautiful young woman who took me to house where many people were meeting, and above the head of each a small, shining speck of light. The woman, whom I instantly felt a deep, wordless love for, explained this point of light as the soul. Her name may well have been Destiny, for that was what I found upon joining Sri Chinmoy’s path.”
There is a sense now that we students of Sri Chinmoy are swimming in lonely seas, all coming to terms with a sudden, unexpected change of course. But how much and what has changed, and what exactly has been lost? In vanishing from sight it can be said that the boatman has merely charged garments, shed his human appearance to become the ocean and sea itself. In staying the course and continuing to sail, even though upon seas uncharted, are we not in the heart of where we have always been? In the Master’s boat. On board an immortal journey of the soul.

On Journeys Through the Australian States

Time passed writing about passing time in an airport coffee shop... Coffee at Melbourne AirportTravelling. Again. In Melbourne Airport, for four and half hours, but not my final destination, or even second to final in this marathon, budget airline leapfrog across the Pacific, Tasman and Indian Oceans. I am in an airport café sipping the oh so treasured caffeinated chocolate beverage I swore yet again to give up. And shall swear again, once the well of heart-quickened words dries, trails to a final period, final drop of coffee swallowed at the end of this page... I am flying to Bali today, a Christmas holiday come a month late but not a moment too soon. A break from work and yet more work, a break of some considerable force to my cheerfully forgotten, paid just on time bottom line. Work to live or live to work? In truth I would prefer neither, but forced to choose I am working to be alive, and right now is the time for living. It is not such a bad place to be stranded, this sun-burned, lucky land. I have always liked Australia—more so than anywhere else on Earth save the United Kingdom, it is just like home—albeit a sun-drenched, sun-worshiping version of such. Hotter of temperature and temperament than New Zealand, it is our louder, brasher “across the ditch” own. I admire the self-confidence and assertiveness here, rare in my home of birds that do not fly and single lone predator—the Katipo spider, a pint-sized beast of passive-aggressive hostility at best, likely to bite only when pushed into corner or shoe. New Zealanders, more like the sheep who outnumber us twenty to one than killer spiders, tend to follow the herd, herd instinctively to the back of a pen. Like the damp, green pastures from mountains to sea, we are softer round surface and edge than Australians; we shrink from a person of loud, sure hand. Australia has a vastness not just of its land, although perhaps learned of it; of wide open spaces and limitless, continental horizons—a vastness of heart and mind less sighted in smaller, skinnier isles. “Mateship,” the word for universal friendship between blokes really exists in Australia. The airport security officer who gave directions not with authority but airless amity; the student who made my coffee neither embarrassed to be serving me, or by way of compensation, haughty—such is far from common in less secure, narrow lands. It took a while, several hours in fact, and all of the previous words, before untold Australian flags, t-shirts and hats of yellow and green led me to realise that today is January 26, Australia Day, the one day of three hundred and sixty-five that Australians take even more pride in being themselves than their unabashed norm. Serendipity has a way of following me around, especially when writing...
Salutation To The Soul Of Australia My aspiring heart is saluting you. My illumining soul is loving you. In you I see the perfect combination of the body's service and the vital's dynamism. Your soul is at once the embodiment of the ancient sun and revelation of tomorrow's dawn. Your body's consciousness is the expansion of vastness. Your heart's delight is the perfection of illumination. Slowly and steadily your body walks. Pointedly and unerringly your mind runs. Devotedly and unconditionally your heart dives. Eternally and supremely your soul flies. Your life's greatness-dream is humanity's transcendental pride. Your life's goodness-reality is humanity's universal treasure. —Sri Chinmoy, My Heart's Salutation To Australia, Part 1.
* * * During my first year of university, a time now so long ago tales of such begin increasingly to sound like they belong in the history books I read there, one of the highlights of each week was the student newspaper, more read by the student community than any tiresome book or text. I would in maturity and time end up working for this newspaper—my first ever graphic design and typesetting role, and my first ever writing—but for now, unaware of greater horizons ahead, I admired those vaster in others. In the writing of the editor and staff of this newspaper there was an assuredness of thought and pen that I, just out of high school not yet out of teenage angst, desperately, instinctively craved—an assuredness of self I sought the words for but could not actually name. Meditation would eventually provide that name. That year the editor wrote the same editorial twenty-six times, every week of publication drafted different versions of the same theme—how to get to the end and find the words to fill his long past due, inspiration long past gone editorial. It was an editorial on writing an editorial if you will, and was often surprisingly funny. Some fifteen years later I am reminded of this editor’s confident, stream of consciousness notes about nothing, for it seems I too am writing a story about writing a story—a feat I literally thought myself incapable of once upon a distant time. Like running a race I expect this story will have an ebb and flow, tired and energetic patches, and in time, one foot and word in front of the other, a second wind. Then, hopefully and finally, second cup of coffee consumed, an end. * * * Hours are passing slowly, words less easily in this airport coffee shop, sitting in a corner surrounded by no-one, monopolising a power outlet meant not for laptop but lamp. My coffee is finished, once confident pen not so loud or bold, its flight near grounded and my plane, hours yet to board, not yet departed. They say the most common opening sentence in blogging is “Sorry I haven't written for a long time...” Is this the internet era version of every English teacher’s most hated closure, “And then I woke up”? I certainly hope, as my pen leans into a drifting doze, that unlike newspaper reading students in a university lecture, my readers are still half awake... It's a funny thing, the waxing and waning of creativity, writing’s ebb and flow. When you ”want” words they often do not come, for writing is a horse that can be ridden but not controlled, a ship to be sailed rather than boat to be rowed. Like meditation, you don't “do” it—it is a state that comes to you when you forget to ”do,” cease to strive and struggle, control and command. Becoming a good writer is often described as a process of finding your “voice;” an analogy to the meditative discipline of listening to the still small voice within. Like true meditation, good writing comes from a place deep within, beyond the noisy, scattered and often directionless voice of the mind. So am I doing good writing? I hope so, but can a writer truly judge his own cover? Such is surely the prerogative of his readers, not pejorative of a caffeine-addled ego, and to know the answer to this question it surely would not hurt to listen longer to the writer’s voice within...
“We can listen to the dictates of the soul, or feel the presence of the inner voice, without being guided by a very deep meditation. Even in the hustle and bustle of life we can hear the inner voice, but if we meditate, then it becomes extremely easy to listen to the voice within. Without practising spirituality we may hear the inner voice, we may even see the soul, but we will doubt our experience. We will say, “This cannot be the soul; this voice is not coming from the soul.” But if we have a very good, deep meditation, we can hear the voice, we can see the soul with inner certainty.” —Sri Chinmoy, Sri Chinmoy Answers, Part 13.
January 26th, Australia Day, 2009.

The Most Shocking Ending in All Literature

“How oddly situated a man is apt to find himself at the age of thirty-eight! His youth belongs to the distant past. Yet the period of memory beginning with the end of youth and extending to the present has left him not a single vivid impression. And therefore he persists in feeling that nothing more than a fragile barrier separates him from his youth. He is forever hearing with the utmost clarity the sounds of this neighboring domain, but there is no way to penetrate the barrier.” –Yukio  Mishima

A Biography of Author Yukio Mishima

Three times nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Yukio Mishima is considered the most important Japanese novelist of the twentieth century, and until the arrival in more recent times of Murakami Haruki and Yoshimoto Banana, was the writer with the largest readership outside Japan. Extremely prolific despite a comparatively short life, he produced forty novels, at least twenty books of essays, poetry, eighteen plays—including modern Kabuki and Noh dramas, some of which he also acted in—and one libretto. He was an astute critic—his talent rated higher by some than his fiction—and appeared in four films as an actor of some ability, one of which he also directed and produced. Mishima was considered to be the only author of his time talented enough to write Kabuki plays in the traditional manner; a professor from Kyoto University described him as a man of “frightening talent.” Born Kimitaké Hiraoka, he was seized from his parents and raised by his Grandmother, the only one of the family of samurai descent, who both instilled in her grandson a love of literature, and according to some biographers, sickness and neuroses. Many trace his literary themes and later actions to these early, difficult beginnings. At sixteen he assumed the pen name Yukio Mishima, a move alternatively explained as hiding his writing from an anti-literary father and hiding his true age. Yukio comes from the word yuki, which means snow, and Mishima is a town known for its view of the snowy peaks of Mt. Fuji. Mishima avoided being conscripted by the army during World War II after being falsely diagnosed with pleurisy. While a student of law at Tokyo Imperial University he published his first collection of short stories, and the following year in 1944 published his first major work, The Forest in Full Bloom, a great achievement for any Japanese writer as few books were being published during the war. The first edition of 4000 copies sold out within a week. All of his novels contain paradoxes: beauty contrasted with violence and death; the yearning for love and its rejection when offered; the dichotomy between traditional Japanese values and the spiritual barrenness of contemporary life; paradoxes he himself embodied—his writing was in all cases semi-autobigraphical, sometimes fully. Mishima's best known works include the autobiographical Confessions of a Mask, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion and the tetralogy The Sea of Fertility, regarded by many as his most lasting achievement—he sent the final volume to his publisher on the day of his suicide. At the end of The Decay of the Angel, the last volume of The Sea of Fertility, Mishima turned the entire series upside down, a single, blinding burst of prose undermining the very foundation of all that has gone before, a stunning plot-twist that the author pulled off brilliantly. Some reviewers suggest that committing seppuku immediately following writing such a passage is understandable—how could one continue living after writing something so brilliant? The ending to The Decay of the Angel has been called possibly the most shocking ending in all of literature; it was followed by one of the most shocking endings of all real life—an author who vehemently didn't want grow old or decline bowed out at the very top of his game, aged 45; following an elaborately planned yet guaranteed to fail coup attempt aimed at restoring traditional values to a Japanese society he deigned bereft of them, he committed ritual suicide, 25 November 1970.
“The whole of Japan was under a curse. Everyone ran after money. The old spiritual tradition had vanished: materialism was the order of the day. Modern Japan is ugly.”
Toshiro Mayuzumi, close friend of Mishima's for twenty years, explained: “He was a man of action. His suicide death was an attempt to change the world, at least to spur it by alerting the sensible population to the inconsistencies surrounding postwar Japan, the Constitution, the Self-Defense Forces, education, moral decay.” Friend, former follower and fellow novelist Yasunari Kawabata honored Mishima with the statement “a writer of [Mishima's] calibre appears only once every 200 to 300 years.” Ironically Kawabata won the Nobel Prize for Literature two years earlier in 1968, the first Japanese to receive an award long expected to be Mishima’s. His funeral was attended by 10,000, the largest of its kind ever held in Japan, and his commentary on the Hagakure—the moral code taught to samurai—immediately became a best-seller. Mishima wrote in his diary “All I desire is beauty.” A dedicated body-builder, practitioner of karate and kendo master, he sought throughout his life to make himself more beautiful, and strong. He saw beauty as a form of purity which could also be realised through noble action, and death.
“If we value so highly the dignity of life, how can we not also value the dignity of death? No death may be called futile."

Video of Yukio Mishima conducting the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra

Recommended books about Yukio Mishima

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Find your true voice as a writer

Jack KerouacFinding one’s voice as a writer is the difficult but necessary first task facing every new author—spelling and grammar perhaps excepted. While there is no better or other way to become an authentic, original writer than to write, and write, and write... the practise of making perfect, of being true to yourself by finding your own true voice can be aided and abetted in a number of ways.

7 ideas to discover your true writer's voice

1. Avoid over-analysis and intellectualisation Inspiration is like a sky rocket, a fast moving, suddenly lit firework; ride it heavenwards while the flame burns bright; ride it without care for length of journey or name of destination. If inspiration is a sky rocket, excessive intellectualism is surely a fire extinguisher; suspend the dampening effect of critical thought by putting aside the intellectual mind, and its tendency to doubt, limit and measure—listen instead to the voice of inspiration within. The more you let it take its own form and course, to speak unhindered, the more fruitful and authentic your writing will be. 2. Seek inspiration in silence Jack KerouacInspiration can also be sought in silence and in depth, just as in the practise of meditation. Some writers talk of the process of learning to write as “finding their voice,” an experience analogous to the subtle, instructive inner voice sought in meditative discipline. In a contemplative, instructive vein, Jack Kerouac advised “Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind.” You can find your true writer’s voice, and in fact the source of creativity itself in stillness of thought. With patience, wait for the ripples upon the mind's surface to subside; there you will see inspiration and creativity staring back at you. Listen always to their whisper. 3. Form and technique are destructive, not constructive Don’t get distracted by technique in the beginning; the pen should be the instrument of your inner voice—not the other way around. On a computer, ignore layout, font-size and line-spacing; just let words pour forth. Form can be addressed at a later date, and often more constructively from a suitable distance. When starting out, stay up close and focused, one word at a time. 4. Writing is a conversation View writing as a conversation. If you imagine yourself as writing for an audience, which really is the point of writing—having something worth saying to somebody worth saying it to—writing becomes not a solitary act but a communication, talking in silence with potentially the entire world. Imagine and then feel a conversation with another as though they were actually present, like a best friend, close inside your heart; then the words naturally will come. This technique is one to way find your true writer’s voice—you give it expression in the act of talking to an imagined other. This method is also used in television and in radio, where the reality of being in front of millions of people can produce fearful paralysis. Also for actors, who use their imagination to aid a more natural performance, to ‘just be themselves’ in front of a lifeless camera. It is no different writing at a computer—not always in truth an environment conducive to natural, expressive conversation. When done well, writing is a conversation, but with you as listener, dictating a voice that speaks from within. 5. Be courageous Be courageous, even if you have to lie to yourself; convince yourself that you are brilliant! You are a writer—imagination is your chosen weapon, so use it to your advantage. A blank page can be daunting, a failure of ideas discouraging; if imagining yourself as a great writer gives you the necessary courage and self-belief to be able to write, then do so. As meditation teacher, poet and writer Sri Chinmoy explains, “Insecurity goes away when we acquire the capacity of identification.” If you can identify with the capacity to write well you are half-way to actually doing it. Repeat bravely with Jack Kerouac “You're a Genius all the time,” for almost anything goes when you have an empty page to fill. 6. Be your best critic, not your worst If a word or idea refuses to come you, a sentence denies completion, and ‘next’ remains an unanswered question, the worst sin is to get caught up over it. Negativity, worry and self-doubt are an anathema to creativity; anything that stops you moving, progressing forward should be shunned. Remember this as a maxim: “keep moving, keep moving.” Like Jack Kerouac again, who would imagine himself heroically as author-athlete, his writing an act of physical and mental athleticism. Arguably his best novel, On the Road was written in a single three week sitting, a Herculean effort of endurance which required an unbroken ream of typewriter paper 120 feet in length. Obviously this is somewhat extreme, and to continue the sporting analogy, it is suggested that his performance was illegally ‘enhanced,’ but the analogy is good; like an athlete keep moving, keep writing—skip a paragraph, write back to front if necessary or in order of thought; even move on to a completely different project—writers often have scores of works on the go simultaneously, awaiting the muse of inspiration for their completion. 7. First-thought, best-thought Allen GinsbergThe “first-thought, best-thought” aesthetic of Zen Buddhism is one well-practiced technique used to find the authentic writing voice, a technique borrowed from meditation to bypass the filter of intellectual mind, appropriated but not invented in the modern era by the Beat poets and writers—Allen Ginsberg most famously. First thought here is considered to be ‘true’ thought: perception unmediated by the distorting lens of intellect or the surface personality. It is another way of describing intuition, and is the basis of the saying “First impressions don't lie.” Formalised as “spontaneous prose” by Kerouac; and by Ginsberg, “spontaneous, fearless telling of the truth of naked, authentic experience” to paraphrase, developing spontaneity and intuition in your writing will work miracles for your creativity, not to mention sense of authenticity and authorial power. Discarding rationality and reason is a hotline to your heart as a writer, and getting your heart, your authentic voice and self on the page is the only way to move and inspire your readers. The final word goes to Allen Ginsberg:
“The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That's what poetry does.”
In its capacity to convey truth and feeling, prose written from the heart may just save the world as well.

Make your writing effortless

jackkerouac-ny-1953.jpgHaving written all of half a dozen blog posts in a handful of months, it might seem likely a less than timely time to write about how to make one’s writing effortless, but maybe this is a kind of reverse serendipity—for right now effortless writing is just what I need.

Read on—where these seven ideas are concerned, I for one will definitely be taking my own advice...

7 ideas to make your writing effortless

Writing doesn't have to be hard; in fact it can be as easy and natural as spoken conversation. All writers struggle in the beginning to develop creativity and flow; use the following seven tips to sharpen your talent and reach your goals.

1. Carry a notebook

Carry a notebook with you at all times; when inspiration hits, seize it and your notebook with both hands. All writers recommend carrying a notebook; use it for the surreptitious jotting of thoughts when and where ever they might appear. Jack Kerouac, foremost writer of the Beat movement of the 50's and '60s—a moniker and eminence he was deeply uncomfortable with—carried one everywhere, forever sketching poetry and novels to be in the most unlikely of places—"Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy" in his words. Likewise Walt Whitman, 19th Century 'Father of American Poetry' and inspiration to Kerouac, who went one step further and carried an entire manuscript, a paperweight sized bundle that would one day be his Leaves of Grass.

2. But use it in the right place

walt whitmanFunnily enough, this oft revised and reworked masterpiece was the cause of Whitman's dismissal from at least one job—fired from the Department of the Interior by an enraged employer upon closer inspection of the 'paperwork' on his desk. Which suggests that some places are better to write in than others, although in Whitman's defence, most writers can relate to the truth that inspiration may strike in the most unexpected places.

3. Make writing a good habit

Writing is a good habit which can benefit from a little encouragement. To this ends, many writers recommend a specific place to write, almost like a meditation shrine, dedicated to this solo, inspirational practise. For some a specific time of day is conducive—a daily regimen just like eating, sleeping and exercise. Creativity can wax and wane like the passage of the moon; take time and place of writing as two aids to assist obstructing clouds to part.

4. Regularity builds the muscles of writing

Make an attempt to write every day, without thought or judgment for the quality you produce. Writing is like a creative flow; it will not begin if you do not turn on the tap. One method is to write like a river bursting its dam, words spilling over onto the paper before you. Follow the rivers' flow as far as you can, and in time the distance you travel will grow. Look not at this metaphorical river's banks or rocks ahead of you; flow forth like water, always moving.

5. Writing is like meditation

Writing can be like the act of meditation itself, a secret known to centuries of haiku poets who were also meditators, and practised it as such. Write regularly, in silence and with one-pointed focus to achieve your goal. Furthermore, the discipline of regular practise, as in meditation, encourages an ever deepening flow of creativity, and a more fruitful, productive experience.

6. Suspend critical thought

Suspend judgment during a first draft, even if your mind screams that you are writing poorly. More important is to write, write, write; regardless of quality let the words pour upon the page—revising and polishing are for a later date. The editing process is a different mindset from that of writing, which requires creativity to flow directed but unimpeded; for the sake of creativity leave this more critical part of your being to one side. It is not without reason that professional writing seldom sees the occupations of writer and editor in a single person.

7. Exercise your body, not your mind

Running, and exercise in general, will actually help your writing. Meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy calls running meditation for the body; it clears the mind and purifies the emotions in the manner of a breath of fresh air, dispersing anger and depression as though clouds in the sky. Negative qualities are an anathema to creativity—it's total polar opposite; take physical exercise as a simple tool to clear the road ahead when you are writing. It also makes a good time out. Writing is like running in a sense; the hardest part is getting under way, but once started a momentum is built which will carry you along. Surrender to this and your writing may one day become effortless.

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The Seeker-Writer, and expressing God in words

Sumangali Morhall of Sumangali.org recently wrote a fine play in rhyming verse, The Seeker-Writer, based on a short story of the same name by meditation teacher Sri Chinmoy—“a humorous story with a spiritual lesson behind it” as she describes it. Despite my being a few days late in responding—not to mention several months late in updating what was once a regularly tended web diary—late is better than never in the case of this particular talented author, whose small, divine army of writing, poems and plays are worthy all of further attention and readership—Krishna’s Supreme Love and Music and Religion among them. In Sumangali’s play come masterpiece, one rhyming couplet come brilliantly crafted jewel stood out for me from many:
“God told you to your face your words were all perfection. You became disgusted, but you missed His true Inflection!”
To me, this line says much about the art of writing, the art of poetry, and even reading. Some may claim a writer’s greatness is as readily apparent as the page their words appear upon—as though a book, page or poem is itself a finished product, and while of course they are correct in one sense, such a conception misses the fact that writing is meaningless, even useless if it is not read, understood or appreciated by a second and third party. If it is not appreciated by a reader. And here begins something of a philosophical treatise. Forgive me if I have been doing too much thinking... To me, a writer’s greatness is, just like God himself, mostly hidden from ordinary human sight. Like casting pearls among swine, to partially quote a famous carpenter’s son, the art of great writing is only able to be properly, truly appreciated by those with a trained, refined eye—an eye for correct, true “inflection”—the depth, meaning and intention of the author, the breath behind their written word. Understanding great writing, just like the foolish writer protagonist of The Seeker-Writer—a vain, foolish sycophant who completely misses the truths, true context of the appreciation much sought for his efforts—is a matter of “inflection”—a matter of being able to appreciate what are often ordinary, lifeless garments—words—in the true context and depth which they were written—wear them as they were intended by their author to be worn. Here I am reminded about a point, more personal anecdote about Sri Chinmoy’s poetry and writing. I must, somewhat red-faced, admit that when I first began to practice meditation as a student of Sri Chinmoy, I was overburdened with intellectual knowledge, in the midst as I was of a university degree, and while I hope it is to my credit that I immediately recognised this state of being, in the face of true knowledge, knowledge of the Eternal, Immortal and Infinite, for the weakness and (spiritual) deficiency that it is, and took (long, sometimes arduous) steps to rectify it, I did find the apparent simplicity of Sri Chinmoy’s words—in poetry or in writing—initially hard to fathom. But not any longer. The longer I have been meditating, the wiser I grow (which is just a little I do hope), and the deeper Sri Chinmoy’s words appear; even a single sentence enough now to transport this little mind to a vast place of wisdom and understanding—a place where the mind is truly no longer needed. But Sri Chinmoy’s words haven't changed—rather I have changed. I am reading and re-reading the same books I read when I was a new member of the Sri Chinmoy Centre, some twelve years ago now, only now I am seeing new depths, new “inflections” in them, like an echo or resonance within that I never could have imagined then. Inflection, hidden meaning, hidden depth is what writing and poetry are all about for me. Not obliqueness, willful obscurantism, plain sophistry or outright confusion, but meaning larger, grander, deeper and more beautiful than words themselves. True writing and poetry, ultimately, is about expressing God in words.

5 Tips to Being Interesting

It might seem obvious, but to stand out from the crowd, be a successful writer and blogger—even a successful person for that matter—you have to be interesting. Pique people’s interest with your words or website and they will definitely come back; bore them and you will never see them again. I've been writing, mostly about myself, for almost a year now—surely the least interesting topic you would think—yet have steadily built readership and traffic, mostly through writing alone. It's simple, self-evident even, but when I write, the interest of my readers is always foremost in mind. In trying to be interesting and relevant to my readership, often writing about things that are anything but mainstream, here are a couple of things I have learnt, some tips to lift your writing above the mundane.

1. Talking about yourself is never interesting

Most of us probably recognise the archetypal bore—the person who only talks about themselves, demands attention but never listens in return. In terms of blogging it might seem like a contradiction, and in the context of my site even hypocritical—is not the very definition of blogging to talk about oneself, an online diary shared with the entire world? Yes, but there is a world of difference between the conversational forms of writing: confession, auto-biography, story-telling, and their paler, water-thin imitations: writing that is all narcissism, self-aggrandisement and self-interest. Even in the form of a diary or autobiography, good writers maintain interest by offering rather than taking, sharing their valuable insight, impressions or emotions—sometime literally spilling blood and tears on the page for the sake of their readers, rather than boring to tears. As an example, you might assume that the life of a restaurant waiter would be anything but interesting, but by sharing the intimate details of his life with others, along with acerbic wit and insight, the writer of Waiter Rant has built a massive readership, landed a book deal and won awards—and is for the most part 100% interesting. Interesting writers don’t just talk about themselves, they share themselves as well.

2. Talk to people, not at them

Are you talking to people, or at them? Are you having a conversation, or instead making a speech? If the difference is not obvious you may have a little to learn, for the art of conversation implies the participation of more than one person. A true conversation is shared communication, listening by both parties. Unlike conversation, a speech is a one way street—in the blogging sense, your readers can either listen or get out of the way. Of course every rule admits an exception—the writer of Violent Acres takes opinion, ranting and unabashed raving to their logical, sometimes illogical extremes—naval gazing with a sharpened seppuku knife if you will, the writing equivalent of “going postal”—but is therefore one of the most interesting, readable blogs around. It's ok to rant and rave, even be offensive and disagreeable if you do it very, very well.

3. Write what people want to read

Kind of obvious this one, but it can imply something of a mind-shift. To be a good writer you need an appreciation of what others might find interesting, whether that be about yourself or a particular topic, as opposed to what you yourself find interesting. Unfortunately, our own and other’s interest are not always the same thing—a successful, interesting writer always has this point foremost in mind, a semi-critical reader of their own work as they are writing it.

4. Cut the chaff, keep the wheat

Less is often more in writing. Particularly online writing, where attention spans are smaller than they ever have been, competition for attention greater than ever before, it is imperative to keep in mind whether every line is necessary to making your point? Does each sentence, each paragraph further your argument or story? Can you complete your sentence with less words, finish a thought in half the...? You can immediately recognise good from bad writing by the focus of the author; a good writer stays on topic, builds steadily and maintains energy and flow. Their every word, sentence and paragraph is well chosen and appropriate. Fast-paced, brief, more concentrated writing is easier and more enjoyable to read, and therefore more interesting.

5. Be selfless

To some extent blogging is fundamentally a selfless act, albeit perhaps unconsciously so. For most who blog there is little reward, attention or fame—hours are spent creating, offering something to the world for little in return. Being selfless is synonymous with self-giving, which, believe it or not, intentionally or otherwise, is almost always interesting. When we offer something that people truly want—good writing, useful advice, helpful information—we automatically become interesting. We all run a mile when we encounter websites that want something from us without giving anything in return—“sign up,” “complete this survey,” “buy this service;” conversely, the most popular, highly trafficked sites on the internet offer something freely, without explicit reward. Ultimately selfish people or websites are never interesting—they demand our attention, interest, energy but give nothing in return.

But I’m already interesting?

So you already think you’re interesting? Witty, original and creative. Are you tempted to play with fire, dance with the devil and go for broke? Submit a suitably interesting catchphrase (my entry: “Putting the Miss in Misanthropic”) to the ongoing Violent Acres Catchphrase Contest and receive a link from a high-traffic, PR5 site. And maybe a little personal abuse...

Update

The final list of entrants in the Tips and Tricks Contest has just been released,  and it includes entries by Sensitivity to Things friends NetWriting, AllAboutRunning and DontBeShy. Hopefully I didn’t miss anyone as it’s a long list.