Spiritual Musings

The Art of Wordsmithery: A Spiritual Experience

Writing for me has always been a bit like singing a song. It requires combining the melody of good syntax and diction with the soul of a purposeful theme. I can feel a profound sense of rhythm when I stumble upon just the right sequence of words. Its both liberating and enlightening to write with that sense of velocity. I could only compare it to the feeling of flying and careening through the skies.

But there is also another aspect to writing; a frustration and helpless abandonment of the creative muses. When I feel as if all the original thought and genius has been stripped from my soul, I know there is no hope for any writing endeavor. When a mental embargo has hindered me from putting pen to paper, I know it is time to slow down and take a breather. This describes my writing mentality perfectly: a continuous fluctuation between supreme literary prowess and the icy, empty and void-like hollowness of writer’s block.

Asking myself “who am I as a writer?” requires facing both aspects of how I feel on the subject. Both the negative and positive are important in their own right. Without this acceptance of duality, any conclusion I could make would come out skewed and biased toward one aspect over another. That is the reason I must face my own inner demons of insecurities and writer’s block. I would not be able to define who I am without total acceptance of the broad perspective of my writing.

In essence, for me, the ability to write is akin to the  ability to meditate. Some days are vastly easier than others and there is always an experience of flexing the creative muscle, just like the spiritual muscle stretched with meditation. When I try to envision the tranquility of writing, I see a vast hay field yawning out before me, wide and free. I see the sky above stretching into oblivion, patterned with shifting cotton clouds. I see the massive expanse of field spreading outward; its golden hills rolling with the richness of harvest. There is peace and pride for my hard work. There is some nameless and swelling emotion transcendent of bliss. It’s powerful and motivating. It’s what I live for as a writer.

Lewis Carol, author of Alice in Wonderland, once said “Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.” Introspection has always been a great part of my writing in general. There is always an element of questioning my own perspective and ruminating on how I simply ‘feel’ at the core. I think that any good piece of writing takes its author on a journey of self-discovery and realization. That is certainly the case for me, and I wouldn’t be the writer I am today if I hadn’t been doing this creative craft for a while. Sometimes the goal is the journey itself, and self actualization can only be found when that is accepted. Writing epitomizes this internal struggle.

For me, the image of the Buddha symbolizes peace, solitude, and inner-harmony. It provides a path for me to follow and a spiritual goal to achieve. It gives my soul a moral framework onto which I can build the rest of my life. Attaining these ideals is also the process I use to write my best work. Striving to hone the inner fire of creativity and passion is spiritual at its essence, and there is no better symbol for this act in my  opinion than the Buddha. Literature that embodies the greatest sense of clarity and divinity requires just as much restraint as it does enthusiasm. Embracing solitude and a deeper peace of mind is crucial for developing restraint.

There are moments when I am in the midst of a creative effort that I become aware of a certain emptiness in my center. Its not the void-like disparity of writer’s block, but a very light and buoyant emptiness, filled with satisfaction and confidence. Pardon the contradictory description, but that is exactly how it feels. The Buddha teaches about this emptiness and encourages all to cultivate their awareness of it. Again, this occurs most strongly when I am writing or in the middle of any art. I would hazard a strong guess that many other artists have beheld this experience as well.

At the core of any type of art or craft is a need for the sincerity of the artist. The utter honesty of self is something I strive to incorporate in my own work. There is a quote by Spencer Johnson that reflects the two natures of sincerity needed for authentic writing: “Integrity is telling myself the truth, and honesty is telling the truth to other people.” Whether I am hindered by writer’s block or my creative energies are manifest, I make it a requirement to only complete work that is genuine to my soul. Writing for me is an incredibly honest act that means far more than merely creating entertainment for someone else to enjoy. It’s a spiritual exercise that requires me to be completely and utterly sincere with myself. There is no room for obfuscation and facades; only severe, blinding truth. Like a surgeons scalpel, I use literary expression to cut away all the denial and bottled emotions from my inner integrity.

There is also a strict importance for an outward sense of honesty in my writing as well. This entails expressing my purpose and message concisely and with the desired effect. I do not wish for others to misinterpret my meaning due to faulty word choice. I also do not wish to be dishonest about myself or lead someone on a ersatz path of understanding. Whittled down to the marrow, this is the creed of my writing. That is the rule that I religiously adhere to. Just like the Spencer Johnson quote expressed, true sincerity is doubled-faceted in nature. It requires a personal sense of integrity and a public obligation to honesty. That is the ethical code I instill in all of my writing.

Calling myself a writer means a lot more than using a superficial label or identity. It means that I have taken up the sometimes painful, yet beautiful art of wordsmithery. It means that I have taken the road less travelled and delved inwards to confront my own insecurities, all in order to give my craft the tranquility, introspection, and sincerity it deserves. When I ask myself “Who am I as a writer,” there is no clearcut answer or identity that separates me from the rest of the herd. There is only the willingness to do right by my creative efforts and craft something that is truly representative of how I feel within my heart. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of writing is expressing the chaotic and complex web of intelligence, or our minds, in a way that we can give the readers the purest and most honest sense of understanding. This is ultimately the goal I live for as a writer.

Duality

I was recently lucky enough to attend a theatrical production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Located at The Talking Horse Theater here in Columbia Missouri, the performance was technically a final dress rehearsal prior to the initial opening. It left me pondering the various themes presented in this classical work, particularly the nature of duality within all humans. The characters Jekyll and Hyde are both respective personifications of the “good” and “evil” found at the heart of every man. Portrayed as polar opposites as if on a spectrum, Jekyll is described as a gentlemanly, higher class member of society. Hyde, on the other, is a primal, self-motivated and ultimately malevolent individual. These dual facets of the same character are repeatedly at odds in terms of passions and motivations.

Only towards the end of the production does one begin to realize the overlapping of both extremes and understand that “good” and “evil” may not be so clear-cut after all. After attempting to suppress his “dark” side, Dr. Jekyll begins to reveal an impurity within his own character, and only strengthens the personification of Mr. Hyde. It soon becomes apparent that Jekyll is in fact a combination of good and evil, while Hyde is purely evil. Despite a desperate attempt, it is impossible to fully separate Jekyll’s pure “goodness.” Thus, the idea of a harsh distinction between “good” and “evil” breaks down.

Talking Horse ProductionsEvery personality is merely a conglomeration or result of one’s past experiences—both the good and the bad. Each trait within an individual is determined based on the overall past conditioning that is unique to them. Personality and ego arise from environmental factors. In terms of who a person truly is, there can never be an absolute determination. Our “self” is multifaceted, and in terms of polarity we embody the entire spectrum, not simply one end or the other. Therefore it is incorrect to use the labels “good” and “evil” to describe an individual entirely or debatably even individual characteristics.

Duality within human nature can be expressed in many ways, but these expressions are merely perspectives, or certain lenses through which society looks to categorize itself. The real nature of who we are cannot be determined by looking through a monochrome lens, or one of absolutes. Humanity is not so simple as to be separated into black and white, because truthfully, the universe paints our souls with a kaleidoscope of colors.

With a broad perspective, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde challenges the preconceptions of duality that are common in society. By portraying both the characters of Hyde and Jekyll in polarity at the beginning of the production and then slowly bringing into light just how greatly their opposing characteristics truly do overlap, the audience begins to understand that both personifications of “good” and “evil” are born in unity within the individual Jekyll himself, and thus within humanity as a whole.

Talking Horse ProductionsDr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeR.L. Stevenson

Inevitability

The smell of rain permeates the air as I kick at the dust on the side of an old country road. I see where the early drops have already fallen, leaving specks of slightly darkened soil. A man sits on the curb across from where I’m standing, looking at the rusted heap of metal that was previously a bike. I can see his age in the wrinkles of his hands and the riddled liver spots adorning his lined face. I can feel the age of his soul in the bright understanding and gentle humor of the situation in his eyes. The raindrops fall with increasing intensity as I stand and observe. The dust on my shoes is wiped away and I feel the matted hair sticking to my brow. I have an umbrella in my hands, and I raise it up to shield myself. The mechanism sticks and I struggle to pull it open as a gust overtakes me.  The old man looks to the heavens pensively as if thanking the clouds for their life-giving gift.

Without even a glance to the ruined bike, he stands to his feet with more balance than I would expect. Embracing the inevitability of the situation, he raises his arms to better feel the rain. He remains there, enjoying the forces that which he cannot control and finds peace in the moment. I look to him curiously and cease my struggles with the ill-fated umbrella. I let it fall to the ground and look up, feeling each drop caress my cheeks and run down my arms in gentle rivulets. I give in to the unchangeable tidal forces of all that is, and effectively, to the forces in my life that are better accepted than opposed. And in that moment, I am the world.

In life, we will confront obstacles. They will be seemingly unmovable, impermeable obtrusions that bring about stress and dissatisfaction. A perfect situation is all we can hope for, yet perfection is a level that will never be achieved. Circumstances will always be riddled with inadequacies and tidbits that are less than desirable. It is the inherent nature of mankind to oppose the forces in life that we cannot control. It is the nature of humanity to fear that which does not fall into our dominion. In other words, shit happens. It’s going to hurt, and possibly alter your life, but it’s going to happen nevertheless. Life is multi-faceted, meaning that nothing we encounter is ever simple, black, or white. This is the nature of suffering, the immutable strife we incur internally.

Amidst this conscious strife, there is a beauty and bliss in simply accepting the shit life throws in our direction. This does not mean we couldn’t or shouldn’t alter our circumstances for the better, but sometimes the option doesn’t exist. Sometimes the best we can do is realize that suffering is an integral part of the journey. Suffering is an inherent aspect of our spiritual growing up, you could say. Like the old man who embraced the rain because he was unable to escape it, so should we embrace the hard times that persist outside our control. Within this acceptance, we will find an unexpected bliss. I guess what I’m trying to impart is that sometimes it’s foolish to resist the winds of life.

Sometimes it’s best to fly alongside.

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Special thanks to my friend Topher Otake for inspiring me.

Farewell to Writer’s Workshop

A farewell is constructed for a dual purpose: reminiscing on what’s behind and painting an image of what lies ahead. It signifies more than closure—It breathes life into a new beginning. My fellow writers, comrades, and life-wanderers, I come before you today in spirit, in joy, and in gratitude for your contribution to my future. From the beginning of our journey, I’ve seen you all as more than classmates. I’ve seen you as brothers and sisters. Something curious about writing is the honesty it demands; the authenticity it sucks from our faculties. I’ve seen this from all of you: that sheer truth between the letters on the page. It creates a bond that can only be called spiritual. It’s understanding. It’s compassion. But more than anything, it’s acceptance for each other’s individual experiences and emotions. Thank you for being my friends.

To honor the beginning after the end, I come before you today as a reminder for what life is really all about. We are not merely humans having a spiritual experience. We are spirits, living a human experience. There is more to life than the pursuit of a superficial lifestyle. This class, with my friends, is proof of that. Ambition is not a vice, but it should be forged with our spiritual future in mind, not only materialistic goals. Experiences like this class build the foundation of inspiration and motivation that allows us to pursue life creatively and passionately. It allows us to commune with the muses, and feel for ourselves the undiscovered country within life. As I say my adieu, I leave intending to inspire you, my friends, to pursue the future that matters most.

Embark.

The Secret Truth

Amidst the facade and fictional overlay of the world, there is an underlying truth. This is not a reference to the validity of factual knowledge, but more so to the truth in perception. What is the true nature of all that is? We ask these questions in every waking moment of our lives, but normally not through conscious methods. We question subconsciously. We are unaware seekers, eternally blinded by the fog of ignorance, yet still questioning what we perceive in some deeper facet of our minds. There is an aspect of humanity’s primal nature rooted in the bliss of ignorance: the conditioning of our minds on the basis of prior bias and prejudice. Environmental factors, over a period of time, result in a developing pattern of thought that tends to stick with us for life. This pattern is the epitome of ego. It leads us into an existence founded in ignorance.

The struggle between the security of ignorance and the piercing clarity of truth is well documented. Humanity is not entirely oblivious to it’s superficial perception of reality, even though most do not choose to acknowledge it. In Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” a few subjects are chained where all they can see are shadows of real objects on the wall in front of them. Their backs are to the entrance of the cave, and so the subjects did not know of anything more ingrained in truth than the faux images. They were ignorant of the honest reality of the world.

This struggle is again expressed in a modern film, “The Truman Show.” The lead character, Truman, is the star of a television show that he believes is the real world. His family, friends, and any other humans he interacts with are merely actors. His hometown, Seahaven, is only a giant set. Truman believes everything is real while his actions are unknowingly being broadcasted to the entire nation. The movie introduces Truman at a time when he is only beginning to realize there is something not right or authentic about his life. The film documents Truman’s ascension into the real world and into knowledge similar to that of Plato’s cave dwellers.

“We accept the reality of the world in which we are presented.” This quote emanated from the directer of “The Truman Show.” Truman Burbank lived his life in a television show since birth, knowing no other reality. Acceptance of the world as he saw it was ingrained in his mentality. He firmly believed that the lifestyle he was living was normal. In Plato”s “Allegory of the Cave” the subjects in the cave watched the shadows believing they were completely founded in truth. The actors Truman grew to love and trust are metaphors for the shadows the subjects in the cave accepted as real. There were times when Truman was informed he was living a life of lies in a television show, but he was unable to understand them in his ignorance. Similarly, when a subject in the cave was told that more to life existed than the cave itself, he could not believe it, proving that ignorance is blinding. It was not until he witnessed the true reality or world for himself that his eyes were opened. This struggle and eventual realization is synonymous with that of Truman’s.

In the film, the viewers of “The Truman Show” religiously watch the events in Truman’s life, basing their own lives around his decisions and actions. Like Truman, they are controlled by the puppeteers, or directors, of the show. Once Truman escaped into the true world, the viewers found other shows to watch. It can be said that people in a media-driven society are prisoners like those in Plato’s cave. We watch television as they watch the shadows of the puppets, and base our lives around such. For example, commercials espouse certain products, advertising them profusely. We give in to this pressure and purchase them accordingly, only reinforcing the metaphorical prison we all are enchained in.

Plato would agree that both his “Allegory of the Cave” and “The Truman Show” are merely paradigms of an overall human condition. We all are slaves to ignorance and a limited perception of “what is.” Each of us believes in a monochrome reality, one in which our vision of the world is truth, and anything else is in opposition to that viewpoint. Like the prisoners in the cave, we cannot see the truth, and therefore we cannot fathom the existence of it. This inhibition can be transcended, but only through courage and introspection. The truth is paramount, but unless the ignorance of accumulated conditioning and a superficial perception are overcome, we will forever be blind to the beauty of what truly “is.”

Wake up. The truth is within you.

Shades of Gray

You are the captain of a ship that has sunk. There are thirty people trying to stay afloat on a lifeboat, which is only meant to hold twenty. It will sink momentarily, unless something is done. There are two distinct choices: Since the boat will need rowed to shore, you could throw the ten weakest people overboard, thereby ensuring the safety of at least some lives. Or, you could allow everyone to stay, sinking the boat, and most likely dooming everyone aboard. What do you do?

…..

Morality and ethics are far from absolute. For each individual, the bridge between right and wrong is different. In some cases, the contrasts are only marginally at odds, although others can be more drastic in their differences. There is an aspect of the human psyche that is prone to viewing reality in black and white. This dualistic world view separates life into two distinct categories: right and wrong, moral and immoral, or good and bad.  

Not every dilemma has an answer. There may never be a perfect solution for each intricate equation we face in life. The assumption that there can only be two choices is inherently flawed. For the sake of delving into the philosophical realm of ethics, legalism and rigid boxes are fine and dandy. Nevertheless, I must disagree that this is a realistic or practical outlook. In many circumstances, it is never easy to analyze or pinpoint the “right” path to take. Of course, there are still times when a moral choice is clearly black or white, but one must realize that this outlook doesn’t apply to every situation.

In the end, it must be understood that moral dilemmas in life cannot always be answered by adhering to a civic code. We must follow our conscience, and judge dilemmas based on circumstances rather than how they apply to a strict ideology. Our intuition should be a great asset in these situations. Sometimes, all we see is the black or white, when truly, the matter is only painted in shades of gray.

Forgotten

I’ve always found it intriguing how a single perspective can become the dominate way of viewing reality. No matter how flawed the outlook, we can become blinded. Eventually we become puppets to the vision, and we lose sight of any alternative. The possibility of stepping back and seeing the bigger picture becomes null.

Every kernel of time harbors an infinite amount of possibilities and events. Each second bears witness to the indefinite and the undefinable. We often forget here on Earth that our lives and experiences only comprise an infinitesimally small fraction of the totality.

Time is relative. The reality in which our consciousness resides is certainly not the bigger picture. It is an extremely limited viewpoint that forms the basis of all suffering. It is a rampant addiction to personalizing all of the pain we endure in life. If such a perspective becomes ingrained at an early age, is there any means of transcendence?

There are moments when something akin to an epiphany intrudes upon the cacophony of our flawed reality. There are moments when we are overcome by an intuition or inspiration that renders our critical conscience useless. We become vessels of the deepest creative powers. These moments constitute true beauty. The incessant drone of that voice in our heads is halted, even if it is only for a moment. Within that single second, the truth becomes apparent. The empty expanse of the page behind the text is revealed.

We perceive ourselves in these momentary glimpses, but is is inherently not our Self that we encounter. We are encountering the crystal depths below the surface of a turbulent sea. This epiphany opens our hearts and minds to the undefinable depths that constitute our true being.

In that single second we see the bigger picture. We understand the futility of maintaining our flawed perspective. In that single blink of an eye, the truth is apparent. And like the sun obscured on a cloudy day, it’s over. And then we forget.