Day 5: Passion and Zen

My 14 year old brother is one of the most passionate people I know. He eats, sleeps, breathes, wears, reads, and polishes cars. Sometimes it seems there’s not much room in his brain for anything else. I don’t think I’ve ever known someone so single-minded in their love for something.

Okay *shuffles feet* maybe I have.

Today he had to write a poem for class based around an abstract idea of his choosing. He picked passion. A wise and pertinent choice, I thought.

I tried to come up with a few exercises to help him clear his mind and let him experience his passion in its raw, pure state. “What does that look like? How does it move? How does it feel?”

He wrote such a joyous, full-hearted poem about his love for cars, about being carried away on the wings of something like that. About losing yourself in devotion.

One of the things I am most passionate about is spirituality, in every form. And one of my favourite forms is Buddhism. I’ve been meditating on and off for ten years, with fervent passion and zeal, seeking the bliss and peace of enlightenment. The more I studied about Buddhism, the more I wondered if my passionate fiery personality was something to be quashed. Was my intense sensitivity the root of my suffering? The reason I struggled to get to the mat every day? I didn’t know how to stop feeling so much. I could watch my emotions; sometimes I could even have the awareness that they would soon pass. But I couldn’t get rid of them.

It’s only recently that I’ve started to realize without being so passionate, I never would have sought out meditation practice. I never would have read book after book after book on Buddhism, Taoism, Yoga, and Sufism. I wouldn’t still be getting up at dawn to keep my commitment to a 31 day yoga challenge. My feelings aren’t the problem, quite the reverse. Me being over-dramatic or overly sensitive is what has made me into the person I am and keeps me pursuing new knowledge and realization. It keeps me working ever harder to be the best version of myself. Passion keeps me moving in pursuit of peace.

Passionately Zen. It’s a bit of an oxymoron, I admit. But Zen is also about learning how to live with ease amid apparent opposites – being and non-being, Oneness and the Void.

So there must be a way to harmonize my fire and zest for life with the calm, observing part of myself I work so hard to cultivate. Can I learn to listen so closely (and yet with ease) that I can pick out the moment when the notes of passion and peace come together to produce one soul-stirring chord? What would that sound like?

For me, I’m beginning to think it sounds like poetry.

 

my heart is burning

under Shiva’s dancing feet

to limitless ash

 

 

I try to ignore

longing to go to the woods

yet the flute plays on

 

 

P.S. I now have an Etsy store up and running, in an attempt to raise a bit of money for The Humane League, and express my creativity at the same time. Check it out if you’re interested. Thank you very much🙂

https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/SoftSpotAccessories?ref=search_shop_redirect

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Day 4: Daring to Question

I’m watching Yentl for the first time, in which Barbra Streisand dresses as a man in order to attend school and study sacred texts. She falls in love with Mandy Patinkin and arguably wrestles with her gender and sexuality, all the while just trying to find the freedom to learn. If you haven’t seen it, it’s pretty much as fabulous as it sounds. All she wants is to devote her life to the pursuit of wisdom, to asking the biggest, deepest, most essential questions of life, and to be surrounded by others who want to ask them too.

I know the feeling. Continue reading “Day 4: Daring to Question”

Day 3: When I’m Old and Grey

My mum said today she thinks she’s getting grouchier as she’s getting older. It was a joke of course, but it got me thinking. Thinking about how warm and hopeful I am when I see an elderly person with a kind and sunny disposition. And how disheartened it makes me feel to encounter an senior who’s bitter and cold. I thought about a documentary I saw that said until the age of forty our appearance is determined mainly by genetics. After that, environmental factors, how much you smile, frown, or grimace, and your stress level affect your appearance much more. If you’re lucky enough to live that long, who you are starts to show on your face.

Continue reading “Day 3: When I’m Old and Grey”

Day 2: Am I Worthy?

Who am I to write poems? I’m not interesting. I haven’t overcome much. My ego tells me I have no stories to tell, that it would be extremely arrogant for me to take up any space. I would be stealing the spot of someone who actually deserves it. It would rather I stay in the shadows and never do or create anything at all, and mistake that for humility. But humility doesn’t mean believing yourself unworthy; it means acknowledging that everyone else is of equal worth.

Continue reading “Day 2: Am I Worthy?”

Day 1: Committing to Myself

Now, I’ve never been married, but I imagine the cocktail of excitement, passion, doubt and fear I woke up with this morning could be similar to that of the first day of a honeymoon, after the frantic bustle of a wedding has faded and the ageing relatives have been gently nudged back into their hotel rooms.

Wow, we really did this.

This is going to be so amazing!

Can I do this?

Shit this is gonna be hard sometimes.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore poetry, there’s nothing else I would have made this kind of a commitment to. And it’s going to be so great. It really is. A year from now I will have 365 poems which do not exist now. I’m going to be a better writer, and changed in ways I can’t imagine.

But still. This is a big commitment. One hour, maybe two, every day for a year. My casual, on-again off-again relationship with poetry just got real serious. It’s too overwhelming to look at the year as a whole. So for today, what do I need to do? Continue reading “Day 1: Committing to Myself”

Why A Poetry Challenge?

When I thought two days ago of a year-long poetry challenge for myself, there was not a moment of pause. It felt like opening the door of a cage on a side of myself that doesn’t get a lot of attention. It felt like a deep tender part of myself was finally being given space to breathe. In that moment it was beautifully, completely clear that I needed to do this for the health of my soul. But a week, a month from now, I may be struggling for motivation so I want to take this moment to put down exactly why I’m choosing to go on this journey.

Making time for my passion – I adore writing, especially poetry, but because it takes effort and it’s often attached to feelings of inadequacy or doubt, I don’t spend as much time with it as I’d like. A daily goal is the perfect way for me to make sure I spend time every day with a dear love of my life.

Work on my skills – Along with the sheer pleasure of writing poetry, my hope is I can also develop as a writer, and as it will no doubt affect my spiritual and emotional health I also aim to become a better poet over the course of a year. I look forward to having a year’s worth of poems to look at as a whole and see how I’ve grown over that time.

 

Look at the world differently – With the impetus of knowing I’m expecting myself to churn out a poem every day, I’m sure the way I look at the world will change. Daily activities will suddenly have the undercurrent, “Can I make a poem out of this?” I’m so intrigued to see how I view the world with this new lyrical lens. Let’s face it, for many of us 2016 wasn’t a stellar year. Setting the intention to go into 2017 deliberately looking out for beauty and spirit may not be such a bad idea. Maybe it’ll add a mystical dimension to washing the dishes. If not perhaps it will distract me from my more mundane tasks.

Discover more poetry – Having poems on the brain every day, I will be more inclined to go in search of new poems and new writers, and expose myself to new thinkers and ideas and parts of the world. I’m already itching to order a heap of anthologies from the library.

Embrace being a poet – So often I see people who are reluctant to identify themselves as anything unless they do it eight hours a day and bring home a paycheque from it. But it is important to own what we do, to think ourselves worthy of it. My hair is light so I call myself blonde. I live in Canada so I call myself Canadian. I write poems so I call myself a poet. Over the course of a year I would love all three of these sentences to feel accurately descriptive of me.

 

Some of the most tenderly, simply beautiful moments of my life have been spinning letters into words and words into free-wheeling many-hued ideas I’ve never made before, and filling pages with thoughts I wouldn’t otherwise have a record of. Knowing I’ll be taking time each day to try and touch that joy makes me look forward to the coming year with a sweet, rose-coloured yearning, like I’m about to be reunited with a true love.

Gathering Supplies and Making Space

I’ve set myself a challenge for the coming year: 365 poems in as many days, most of which I aim to post here with a little commentary about how it’s going.

If I’m really doing this I need to make sure all is in readiness before the sun sets on the 31st. I don’t want any obstacles to stand between me and this goal. So what do I need for this?

Supplies

  • Pens and paper
  • Inspiration
  • Time
  • Squad

Pens and Paper – my first thought when I came up with this challenge  was “Yikes, I need to go notebook shopping.” I thought I needed a book with pages tipped in gold, a ribbon bookmark, an embossed jewel-toned cover – ooh! Maybe one of those mock-pewter clasps as well. Then I took a quick recce of my room and found an almost empty school exercise book, two packs of lined paper still in the plastic, a sketchbook I’ve barely touched, and a tiny notebook I’d deemed too small to be of much use. I had to ask myself – are the fancy notebooks I always insist on necessary? Do they influence the work I produce? Or is it just to satisfy an aesthetic urge? Worse, is it another way to put off facing that empty page, where I potentially won’t have any ideas, or I’ll write something unworthy of reading?

Now there is an irreplaceable joy in purchasing a truly gorgeous notebook, bringing it home, running my fingers over the cover and then bending it open with that delicate crackling sound to the sight of that first blank page. But when I’m considering potential obstacles to my achieving this year-long challenge, I have to make sure I’m not going to be a poetry diva here. I have to confront this desire for flawless presentation for what it is: at least in part, a way of postponing creativity out of fear. I have a thousand poems in my head aching to be written, am I going to keep them at bay with a slew of lame excuses? Keep them waiting till I can make everything impossibly perfect? If what I’ve got is a piece of charcoal from the fireplace and someone else’s receipt from The Love Boutique, then that’s perfect. Just write. Get it out.

Inspiration – How am I going to make sure I don’t spend two hours a day tapping my pen against the page and slowly pulling out my hair? There have been times when I’ve had an idea for a poem come to me, felt my whole body quiver with it and had it pour out of me with very little need for editing. But let’s face it, it’s rare.

So once again, I have to sacrifice my inner diva, who is really just a coward. I can’t just lay on my chaise lounge and wait for inspiration to come a-calling. I have to put my work boots on and go find it.

Don’t know what to write? It’s snowing, write about that. My sweater’s itchy, write about that. Something distressing on the news? Write about that. I don’t get to decide when brilliance strikes. I just have to start working. And like the Sufi poets, I have to learn to see the Beloved in everything.

Time – I’m good at wasting hours. Or perhaps wasting is a harsh word. Let’s say: spending in unproductive ways. Of course it can be completely lovely sometimes to drift into carefree oblivion in front of Friends reruns or to suck on chocolates and biscuits from Christmas while contemplating what I’ll eat for lunch (when I’ve just eaten breakfast), but I also want to make something. To have something to show of my own for the day. And I get to make what I make time for. That’s why I like the goal of one poem a day. A concrete, tangible amount of work and a clear deadline. Easy to keep myself accountable.

Squad – Because I know how easily I can slip into doubt, self-criticism, and other fear-based modes of thinking, I need to make sure I have a wide and solid support system to remind me why I’m doing this. Mine includes:

  • Rumi
  • Hafiz
  • Billy Collins
  • Don McKay
  • Wendy Rose
  • rupi kaur
  • Ashley LaFramboise
  • Sarah Kay

These guys are fabulous resources for me when I start having thoughts like:

“Nobody likes poetry.”

“I don’t feel motivated.”

“What’s the point?”

They remind me of the beauty that can arise from putting your heart and soul into your creative work. They get me moving again.

Distractions

  • Fear
  • Reading
  • Fishing
  • Clutter

Fear – Call it out. Push it into the light of day. If it’s holding me back, it’s fear and it can’t survive being looked in the eye.

Reading – I’ve always been a voracious reader and it’s one of the things I love to do most. If I’m not careful I can lose days to it. It’s enjoying words and thoughts without the pressure of producing something “right.” But for a while reading has to take the back seat to writing. With fear out of the shadows, writing can be just as enjoyable as reading.

Fishing – Alright, not really fishing but you never know when family might stumble onto this. When I was at an ashram a couple of months ago, it was said that perhaps one of the reasons everyone there was so creative was because we weren’t allowed to…go fishing. This might be a little out there for some, but it was said that all that energy stayed potential inside us until we found an outlet for it, resulting in a community of writers, artists and performers. Of course, fishing is healthy and enjoyable, as well as good exercise. But at least at the outset of this challenge maybe I can’t afford to lose any creative energy. And while I don’t have a partner to go fishing with, the temptation is always there to whip out a rod and go alone which not only borrows energy but also time from my poetry. So maybe at the beginning I should stay away from fishing altogether, perhaps even for January, so I can focus my efforts more fully on other forms of self-expression. Fishing stands as a symbol here for a number of pursuits that require creative energy. Now that I’ve made a commitment to poetry for 2017, I need to take note of where that energy goes, so I can pull it away and redirect it towards poems when I feel my resolve weakening.

Clutter – I’m also planning to start an Etsy store, which will hopefully be my “main job” for the next few months, making jewelry and donating money to charity. I’ll have charge of my own schedule so I need to get very clear with goals for the day, pare down non-essentials, make my work and my creativity a priority. I’m incredibly grateful for the acres of freedom  in my days right now, and I want to put a great deal of them to delightful, creative use.

 

There. I think I’ve gathered my tools and confronted the most likely setbacks and obstacles to achieving my goal here. Fear comes in many clever disguises and it’s reassuring to prepare for its arrival. My writing has become too important to me not to take out some insurance against the thieves of fear and doubt, who threaten to come into my mind in the dead of night and steal my confidence and joy in poetry. Even the act of writing down my fears takes the steam out of them, stops them being amorphous stormy ideas and turns them into small manageable words. And writing down my supplies reminds me how much I have on my side. Tomorrow I’ve remind myself all the reasons I should take on this challenge in the first place.