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Land of Little Rain

The word aridity is one I use as a synonym for what others call writer’s block. Aridity can mean “having insufficient rainfall to support agriculture” or “lacking in interest and life.” Perhaps I use the word because I grew up on the Colorado Desert of California, a place that truly seems “godforsaken.”

Given a cloudburst or the network of canals carrying water from the Colorado River, however, this barren landscape bursts forth with flowers, vegetables, and fruit. But wherever the water is lacking, the vista totally lacks interest and life, or so it seems. Underneath its jejune appearance, however, the desert actually teems with life that is well adapted to aridity. It offers much of interest to the mentally curious as well as to spiritual seekers. As a landscape, the desert challenges us with its space, demanding that we recognize our own smallness. It is a place to be still, to greet silence, and to embrace solitude. We must have courageous hearts to meet the desert’s demands. It does not tolerate precipitous action. Inattention can be not only be dangerous but deadly.

Aridity in our writing is a creative desert. We feel like what we have planted and nurtured successfully for a while—the story, essay, or book—is no longer growing. Consider three women writers: Abigail wonders why she is suddenly writing fiction instead of working on her (easily publishable) nonfiction book. Belinda asks why she is fixing up her art studio when her completed book needs only a final revision. Constance complains that she has written her memoir with ease and speed until coming suddenly to a standstill. She wonders if it is because the next part of the story is the most emotionally charged.

In the narrow view, the creative desert is indeed a barren place in which we lose our sense of direction. We chide ourselves for being unable to plow our way through to the end. We label our “fault” as procrastination. “Procrastinate” literally means to put forward until tomorrow. But we all know that “sleeping on it” is often a good idea. I tend to agree with indigenous groups who believe that each thing happens in its own time. Granted some things must be done in a timely manner if we don’t want disturbing consequences—taking out the garbage, meeting a college application deadline, making the mortgage payment.

Why in writing, other than on deadline, is procrastination a dirty word? Looking at the dilemmas of the three women mentioned, we might consider that Abigail is using fiction to explore the themes underlying her nonfiction. She is incubating ideas that will make her nonfiction richer. By working on her art studio, Belinda is rejuvenating her creativity and allowing her book to rest, a recommendation of every esteemed author and writing teacher. When Belinda returns to the book, she will approach the final revision with fresh eyes. Constance’s psyche may well be reluctant to revisit an unhappy part of her past, but she could accept this as a desert cave that needs exploration. By looking with fierce compassion at what she does not want to see (perhaps with the aid of a therapist), she will come to a new level of healing.

All three women, each of whom is approaching the finish line, may also be experiencing the truth of the adage, “The closer we are to the goal the stronger the pull away from it.” When this mechanism is activated, we have to ask what we fear will happen when we finish: Post-partum separation? Rejection? Success? Failure? Death? Emptiness? Loneliness?

Also possible is that we would rather blame ourselves in some way than accept that creative aridity is part of the process of experiencing creative fertility. Somewhere in most of writers and other artists exists a resistance to accepting our own strength and talent. We can spend a lot of time on energy validating our own self-doubt rather than moving forward. In reading David Whyte’s The Three Marriages after completing this article, I found he wrote on this very subject. He tells the story of poet Rainier Maria Rilke who suffered mightily from creative aridity. Whyte suggests that what Rilke discovered was that sometimes we need the absence of that which we love (in this case, writing) to show us the depth of our love for it. That realization then removes the barriers to our writing.

Each of us is alone in figuring out our relationship with our art. Still it helps to recognize that creative aridity is as natural and fruitful as the desert itself. The more we resist its appearance and see it as verification of something intrinsically “wrong with us,” the more stubbornly it will entrench itself. So relax. Turn inward with the clear accepting eyes of your inner Observer who can show you what you do without judgment. This is all part of writing practice, not something “other.”

COYOTE HOWLS

Our job as writers is to be intimate with the world and to share our experience in it. We can only do this if we are willing to expose ourselves by searching our souls

“Ordinary understanding is seeing with the eye and hearing with the ear. Intimacy is seeing with the ear and hearing with the eye.” — John Daido Loori

In the desert of my being, coyote howls. Tells his story of life and longing, calling out his yearning, breaking the silence of loss and grief, breaking the grip of fear and loneliness.

mountains_distanceIn the distance, the hills echo his call until they fill with tears. How many eons does it take, or just a lifetime that is over in a flash?

Only after seven decades do I see a glimmer of what the great seers teach: this world is an illusion. The charade of trees and clouds, of wars and shouting, of flowers and birds and forest fires and floating garbage on the seas—all this suffering is an illusion inviting  us to see our true nature. We are so enticed by what we believe will bring us joy that it obscures what we already and always have had.

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I see it! Adam and Eve leaving the garden, not because they sinned and were expelled, but because this world is so beautiful and rich they cannot resist tasting its fruit. And so they/we entered the world of opposites and suffer through lifetimes trying to find our way back.

 

No wonder coyote howls with longing, no wonder he sings to the moon, calling her to him. I hear him like I did as a child sleeping under the desert sky. I would hear him or sometimes a whole chorale calling with yips and yowls: Come home! Come home! over and over.

coyote-howlsAnd in my dreams I went, gliding over the rocks and past the cholla and prickly pear with their spiny arms, over the heads of the wild burros and the kangaroo rats, past the rattlers and king snakes to the hill where coyote dwells. Coyote, the trickster to the indigenous tribes. The wise one masquerading as a clown, the one who knows how vain is our search for what we already know but don’t want to hear and are afraid to see.

If we acknowledge that we already have what we seek, what excuse will we have for not living it?

 

 

14th Annual | Fearless Writing on the Blue Ridge | Lake Logan Retreat for Women

VERY LIMITED SPACE AVAILABLE!

Thursday, November 3 to Monday, November 7, 2016

Engage with other women writers using Centered Writing Practice in a safe supportive circle. Open to new and returning participants at any level of writing, this 5-day, 4-night retreat provides ample time to sink into your writing. Here is the answer to all those times you’ve said, “If I only had the time!” 

Held at Lake Logan Center outside Canton, NC forty miles west of Asheville, NC. Although the Center is operated by the Episcopal  Church, ClarityWorks is not affiliated with that or any other religious organization. Limited to 11 women.

$1170 Early Bird until July 31; $1220 thereafter.  ALL INCLUSIVE. 
Continue reading “14th Annual | Fearless Writing on the Blue Ridge | Lake Logan Retreat for Women”

The Hidden Word: Writing With Kuan Yin 2016 | November 11-13, 2016

Join Peggy at Great Tree Zen Temple in beautiful Alexander, NC for a day of discovering Kuan Yin and uncovering our inner grace and healing. You do not need to identify as Buddhist, a writer, or  a meditator to attend. Only an open mind and heart are required.

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Zen Mind, Writer’s Mind | August 5-7, 2016

A Zen Writing Retreat for Women

5d92e9ee-f3f2-4381-a06f-e28e3a211c7aGreat Tree Zen Temple
679 Lower Flat Creek Road
Alexander, NC 28701

Begins: Friday,  4:00
Ends: Sunday, 12:00 noon.

$255 plus donation to instructor  Fees includes lodging and food
Registration begins March 1, 2015.
Continue reading “Zen Mind, Writer’s Mind | August 5-7, 2016”

Writing in Circles: A Celebration of Women’s Writing

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NOW! IN TIME FOR MOTHER’S DAY:
ORDER WRITING IN CIRCLES & GET A SIMILAR BOOK FREE AS A GIFT FROM PEGGY!

ISBN: 978-0990689102
$14.95
Buy Now.

Writing in Circles: A Celebration of Women’s Writing is a companion anthology to Peggy Tabor Millin’s Women, Writing, and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine. Written entirely by Peggy’s students using Centered Writing Practice, Writing in Circles is the inspiring product of the process.

Continue reading “Writing in Circles: A Celebration of Women’s Writing”

Women, Writing, and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine

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by Peggy Tabor Millin
$14.95 Cover Price
ISBN : 978-0-9823711-0-7
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Women, Writing, and Soul-Making is an invitation for you to explore the feminine  as the way to claim your creative power, your writing, and ultimately your life. You will be shown a process for your writing practice and told why such a practice is helpful and necessary. You will find support and encouragement for your creative journey, which ultimately is the journey to revealing your center, your true self, your soul. Continue reading “Women, Writing, and Soul-Making: Creativity and the Sacred Feminine”

THE GIFT OF THE COUGAR

Dreams often bring us totems and the totems bear gifts. These gifts can come in the form of initiations. They provide inspiration for our writing and our souls as we endeavor to apply the teachings to our daily lives.

Totems

Totem: (in some societies, especially among North American Indians) an object, species of animal or plant, or natural phenomenon symbolizing a clan, family, etc, often having ritual associations

Over a period of years, animal totems frequented my dreams, cougar, bear, and eagle being prevalent. I look at my dreams symbolically and metaphorically. (see: what is the difference?) The symbol system is my own, derived from years of working with my dreams while also checking reference books such as Animal Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small by Ted Andrews and The Books of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images edited by Ami Ronnberg and Kathleen Martin.

When I studied English literature in college, I always assumed an author’s symbols were contrived and was surprised to discover that symbols occurred in my writing without conscious manipulation. Humans think in metaphor and the metaphors we choose, even unconsciously, structure our perceptions and understanding. Here’s an example from theliterarylink.com/metaphors.htm. “Thinking of marriage as a “contract agreement,” for example, leads to one set of expectations, while thinking of it as “team play,” “a negotiated settlement,” “Russian roulette,” “an indissoluble merger,” or “a religious sacrament” will carry different sets of expectations.” When we attribute thoughts to characters in fiction or family members in a memoir, using metaphors they themselves would use deepens the reader’s understanding of their motivations and world view.

Ever since I began studying dreams in the late sixties, I’ve been most interested in what they tell me about the issues in my current life and about the spiritual guidance they carry for me.  In writing, I find that when I drop into the voice of a character, or a relative, the metaphors surface naturally and serve both the writing and my own understanding. There is no need to struggle with “trying,” I can let it emerge.

collage, writing, art
“Go” Collage with Fish & Dragonflies, 1999 by PTM

I’m moving (a wonderful metaphor I won’t explore here!), and moving involves sorting through each piece of paper, each book, each bottle and photo to decide what to keep and what to release. In clearing off a  bulletin board I have near my desk, I discovered a poem written March 18, 1999, on the back of a collage. The poem emerged from contemplating the “message” in the visual imagery. The cougar had appeared in several dreams. The poem still speaks to me as does the image. When I removed the collage from the board, I intended to throw it away, but upon reading the poem, I knew I could not. It had served me for fifteen years; I realized it wasn’t done with me yet. It had more to give.

The Cougar’s Gift

The cougar roars into then night.Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 1.13.22 PM
I wait, knowing she’ll come,
seeing me in dreams,
stalking me as prey,
prowling, sniffing,
clawing at my door
until I claim her golden pelt and
go.

The cave is dark and I. with
no cat’s eyes, cannot see
or smell or sense what
is there, next, under my foot.
Power is a moment-to-moment thing,

the energy produced by trust.
Go. (not come and be protected)
Go. Alone. Free. Powerful.
The pelt is torn and scarred.
And it is now mine.
I accept.

The cougar emerged as lions in paintings I did on cabinet doors in a bathroom. Inspired by the art of Henri Rousseau, lion and lioness seek their prey through a thick jungle. Rousseau never visited a jungle and had seen wild animals only in tableaux of taxidermy. We know that lions do not live in jungles, but on savannahs, and that lionesses do most of the hunting. However, dreams and imagination are not faithful reproductions of reality; after all, in a dream we can fly or visit with the dead.

In looking again at the collage, poem, paintings, I hear the final words of William Blake’s poem “The Tyger“:

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Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

and hear its question, “How can a benevolent creator create both the ferocity of the tiger and the gentleness of the lamb?” as it applied to myself. How can I hold both anger and love in this one vessel, within this torn and scarred pelt? The truth is that I don’t know, although I know both exist within me. And I also know that from this paradox springs tremendous power, the power that motivates me to hunt through the darkness of the night for what I burns bright within me.

Power is a moment-to-moment thing, the energy produced by trust.

What totems do you carry? What metaphors and symbols appear in your dreams and/or your writing? What gifts of insight have they revealed?