No Shortcuts or Detours for Writing the Truth

Photo: Gus Moretta

You might have read my post about taking five deep breaths, inspired by the practices in a small but mighty book called “The Art of Stopping Time: Practical Mindfulness for Busy People” by Pedram Shojai. Many mornings, my wife reads me that day’s practice.

A passage from today’s really struck me, so I thought I’d come here to write a bit about it. Shojai writes:

“Your true self doesn’t exist in time; your true self sits on a perch of infinity and is in all the places at all times. This is the great secret of the mystics. Hearing it isn’t enough, though. So many people are infected by spiritual consumerism and go off thinking, ‘Okay, okay. I’ve heard that. Give me something new.’ That’s the mark of the beast. Having a slight intellectual grasp of a concept and thinking you’ve got it is a fatal spiritual flaw, one that’s infected the New Age movement and led to egotism and attitudes of spiritual superiority.”

He goes on:

“The experience of this timelessness is the most transformative moment of one’s life. Getting there takes lots of practice, and most New Age jargon is designed to sell you tricks that help cut corners. There are no corners to cut. The whole thing is round.”

We live in a culture of shortcuts and detours.

Consider these two lines I’ve always loved, from the Irish poet Paul Muldoon:

Where are you taking us? 
A detour on the shortcut.

The image of the soul sitting on a perch of infinity strikes me as quite beautiful. It’s also intuitive to the point of impossible if you’re trying to grasp it intellectually. And that is perhaps Shojai’s whole point here. Spirituality is not an intellectual exercise. And neither, I would argue, is the kind of writing that gets words on the page.

Writing that gets words on the page, you ask? Doesn’t ALL writing do that?

OK, yes, You got me.

I’m talking here about generative writing.

What is generative writing? Writing that gets things moving, helps you begin, and isn’t concerned with outcome — yet. Writing that pours forth possibilities you can later revisit and refine or expand upon. Writing that is not necessarily a thruway to a powerful conclusion but rather a roundabout with no corners to cut, no shortcuts to take, and no detours that will get you to the ever-elusive “there” any sooner.

To get really intellectual about this, writing and spirituality are the same thing. Or maybe a better way of saying this is that writing is a vehicle for spirituality, a practice that — like perching — can offer us a glimpse into infinity. A place that’s not a place at all, but an experience of presence, from which we can access something true and not informed by a gaping vortex of self-help myopia.

“Give me something new” is something that infects the creative process, just as it can be the engine that drives a person towards every program that promises inner peace under the sun. Our attention spans are so truncated and our desire for novelty so overfed that the commitment of a regular writing practice can feel lackluster, at best. After all, we want to write something brilliant! Something that will turn heads and evoke tears or spur a movement.

The thing is, this might happen. But it will  be a lot less likely if you rarely or never write. And the odds are quite high that much of what you do write will feel pointless at best and at worst, like complete and utter dreck.

Next time you sit down to write, imagine that sitting down on that perch of infinity.

There’s nowhere to go but now, here. Whether you’re writing a journal entry, a blog post, an essay, or a chapter for your new book, this practice will allow you to arrive more fully into the present moment.

Not very sexy, I know. And hardly a feast for the ego.

That is precisely the point. The ego has done enough damage, has it not? Sometimes, you take a class or join a group for the strokes; after all, who doesn’t crave approval and oohs and aahs at how amazing and talented we are. But to meet yourself on the page, to not go outside of yourself in search of the thing that will finally launch your dream of being a real writer — this is the place without corners or detours. And it can be pretty damn unflashy.

This is the place here you get to listen hard and go deeper and take risks bigger than anything you’ll ever pay money for. Don’t get me wrong — I make my living leading writing groups and coaching people towards greater ease in their creative process. Working with guides and mentors, joining groups and programs — these can all be deeply worthwhile and even transformative.

It’s not about how many “likes” or shares your words get.

Not the acceptance and rejection notices. Not even that anyone else gets what you’re up to (though I bet someone will — and reaching a single reader is worth the world).

At the end of day, how you meet yourself in the writing is what matters. How willing you are, to write towards what’s true. The only way to do it is do it. And doing it takes time, practice, and a deep well of compassion for yourself in the process. This last bit may be the hardest part of all.

3 thoughts on “No Shortcuts or Detours for Writing the Truth

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