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Zen Thoughts, Author’s Thoughts – Lions Roar


Natalie Goldberg’s basic Writing Down the Bones launched writing as a religious observe. She discusses Zen and the author’s observe with creator and Buddhist instructor Steve Hagen, moderated by Scott Edelstein.

Photograph by Kinga Cichewicz.

Natalie Goldberg: About two hours in the past, my thoughts snapped to one thing that I wish to let you know about. My companion Michele’s grandmother was introduced up in France. When Michele’s grandmother was 26 years previous and her mom was a little bit woman of 5, the Nazis got here to Paris. They took Michele’s great-grandparents. The household was informed they have been going to work camps. Subsequent, the able-bodied males have been taken, so her husband and brother have been quickly gone, too. The ladies and youngsters have been subsequent. Ultimately, everyone was taken. Instantly she wakened and understood that no person was coming again. Instantly she contacted the underground, and she or he and her daughter went into hiding for 3 years. She was an abnormal housewife who beloved to bounce and play playing cards, and immediately she was within the underground defending her daughter, hiding out in small French cities, doing this and that to outlive.

In the present day she lives within the U.S. She has a brief perm and loves Las Vegas and motion motion pictures. However for those who go to her and keep it up–“Oh, Nana, I misplaced my job”–she’ll take heed to every part, and whenever you’re executed she’ll say very quietly, “Not so unhealthy.”

After spending a while together with her, I’ve come to understand that she had a deep awakening expertise when she realized nobody was getting back from the camps. She didn’t have anybody to inform her, “Oh, you’ve turn out to be awake.” However her thoughts modified. She noticed issues in an actual means.

It was the mixture of Zen and writing that woke me up.

If you’re together with her, she’s so abnormal you may’t consider it. On the identical time there’s one thing completely different about her. You’re feeling this entire acceptance from her. However you need to listen, as a result of she’s additionally like every other 85-year-old Nana. I like being round her.

I feel the mixture of writing and Zen did one thing like that for me. In my first e-book, Hen and in Love, a e-book of poetry, I wrote about abnormal issues, issues that you’d assume a Jewish American lady from New York would write about. I wrote concerning the Holocaust, about marrying a non-Jew, about occasions I used to be sad. However I discovered my true voice when a Japanese Zen instructor and zazen crossed this Jewish lady’s life. The mix broke my voice open, and that’s once I wrote Writing Down The Bones, which is completely primarily based within the dharma. I feel if I had simply continued writing Natalie’s stuff and being Jewish and from Brooklyn, it could have been good, but it surely wouldn’t have damaged open my voice. It was the mixture of Zen and writing that woke me up.

I used to be fortunate. I didn’t need to be within the Holocaust to get up. I didn’t have my lover dying of AIDS, or, like Zen grasp Dogen, have my mom die once I was very younger. A number of Zen masters had very robust early childhoods, dropping one or each dad and mom at an early age.

Steve and I are right here tonight to speak about being writers and being Buddhists and the way these two realms work collectively. I’ll begin by saying that writing with out Buddhism means nothing to me. Zen with out writing is okay, but it surely’s not as beautiful or as alive for me with out the writing. For me, the mixture is my true expression.

Steve Hagen: Whereas Natalie was speaking, I used to be occupied with the 1992 vice-presidential debates. Do you keep in mind Admiral Stockwell, Ross Perot’s operating mate? When it was his flip to talk, the very first thing he mentioned was, “Who am I and why am I right here?” I really feel like I’m in that scenario proper now. You see, we’re billed as two Buddhist writers and I suppose I’m one–I used to be ordained a Zen priest over twenty years in the past and I’ve revealed some books. However I don’t go round with any sense of being both a Buddhist or a author. In truth, a lot of the time I attempt to overlook what I’m altogether and simply be right here within the second.

Nonetheless, I’ve to confess that whilst a baby I used to be excited about Buddhism, and I used to be additionally excited about writing. This observe of writing and your life, seeing who you’re, may be very a lot a Buddhist observe as effectively. It’s an exquisite observe for stepping out of ourselves, for stepping again and releasing ourselves from inflexible buildings that say, “You could do it this manner.”

I feel it’s for every one in all us to search out our personal means, to search out our personal expression, to search out how we are able to greatest specific ourselves. You don’t need to comply with in anyone’s footsteps or imitate anybody else. Simply notice your individual voice, your individual thoughts, and specific that.

At first I felt that I couldn’t consider myself as a author till I had revealed a e-book. However once I revealed my first e-book, How the World Can Be the Method It Is, I nonetheless didn’t really feel like a author, though I didn’t know what a author was imagined to really feel like. I assumed, “Nicely, most likely I’ve to publish a second e-book, as a result of to essentially be a author you could have to have the ability to do it once more.” Then I revealed a second e-book, and I nonetheless didn’t really feel like a author. So I’ve given up on that. I’d simply say, no matter you’re, simply be that and specific that completely and freely. It isn’t for us to find out it forward of time, or to attempt to drive ourselves into some specific thought we’d have.

Scott Edelstein (moderator): So then a man-made self-discipline superimposed from the surface can get in the way in which of real creativity and accomplishment. With that in thoughts, can every of you say a little bit bit concerning the correct position of self-discipline in your observe as writers and as Buddhists?

Goldberg: Nicely, I trick myself by utilizing the phrases “pleasure” and “love” as a substitute. I say to myself, “Observe what you’re keen on and it’ll take you the place it’s worthwhile to go.” Definitely you need to present up, however self-discipline is such a heavy phrase in our society. “You’ve acquired to do that.” “However I don’t wish to do it.” “Do it!” “No!” So I find yourself in a battle with myself. In the meantime, there’s one other particular person inside me who simply shuts up and goes over to the pocket book, or simply shuts up and will get up for meditation at 5 within the morning. It’s virtually as if I’ve no purpose. I simply do it whereas the opposite elements of me are combating.

I keep away from the phrase self-discipline, largely as a result of I’m a instructor and I do know that there’s such a barbed message in our society relating to self-discipline. As a substitute, I’m a terrific seducer; I seduce myself and different individuals into writing and into zazen.

Hagen: I feel that’s actually it. We now have the notion that self-discipline is sort of drab and dreary, however actually it’s simply to go over to the pocket book or rise up for morning zazen. Simply go forward and do it-for no purpose, as Natalie mentioned. There’s pleasure in that, actual contentment-deep, heartfelt contentment and peace.

I keep in mind a few years in the past, strolling by a area and seeing a canine behaving very surprisingly. He would arise, take a number of steps, crouch, then transfer once more, all in a really deliberate means. I quickly realized this canine wasn’t simply appearing on his personal; he was following somebody’s instructions. So I seemed and off within the distance, on the far finish of the sector, I noticed a person holding his fingers in entrance of him, giving the canine refined instructions along with his fingers and fingers. The canine was completely centered on that man. The exceptional factor about it was that I might inform that this canine was completely stuffed with pleasure and happiness. This canine knew what he was about, what he was doing.

I feel that is what self-discipline can provide. If we consider self-discipline as some sort of drudgery, one thing that’s imposed from the surface, we haven’t discovered what self-discipline can provide us. We now have to search out one thing inside ourselves that will get us to the pocket book, will get us to the observe.

A writer lately requested me if I’d do a e-book of day by day meditations on writing. I informed them that was probably the most ridiculous factor I’d ever heard. You don’t meditate about writing, you write.

No matter it’s that you just wish to take up in life, simply try this and do it utterly, wholeheartedly. Even on these days whenever you don’t really feel like doing it, simply go forward and do it anyway. In the end what we domesticate is a really profound pleasure, peace and contentment, and a way that we even have some management in our lives, as a substitute of issues controlling us.

Goldberg: I just like the phrase pleasure even higher than pleasure. Pleasure has a lingering high quality, whereas pleasure is instantaneous.

Edelstein: You each talked about how now we have some actual misconceptions about self-discipline. What different misconceptions would you say that folks have about both writing or Buddhism?

Goldberg: A writer lately requested me if I’d do a e-book of day by day meditations on writing. I informed them that was probably the most ridiculous factor I’d ever heard. You don’t meditate about writing, you write. There’s this concept that meditation is like cogitation. However for those who’re going to meditate, don’t do it to consider writing.

Hagen: When individuals take up the observe of Buddhism, and even the observe of writing, they’re usually trying outdoors, on the lookout for one thing on the market that’s going to land on them and enhance them in a roundabout way. I feel we are able to simply overlook about all of that. Simply look inside and discover one thing inside your self to specific.

I used to be a author earlier than I used to be revealed. Now and again I’d assume, “Boy, it could be good to be revealed,” however typically I spotted I needed to overlook about that and switch my consideration to what I used to be writing. I had one thing to say and I needed to say it as clearly as I might, in one of the simplest ways I might. There was nice pleasure in doing that. To the extent that we search for one thing on the market to satisfy us, we lose it. We now have to search out it inside ourselves and let or not it’s.

Goldberg: You additionally need to be affected person and never seize too rapidly for one thing. I completed my final e-book a few 12 months in the past. I’d been writing books for the earlier twelve years continuous, so I used to be very nervous. Now I haven’t been engaged on a e-book for nearly a 12 months, and I preserve saying to myself, “Nat, preserve giving it area, give it area.” At first I used to be frantic, after which the area was very nice. I’m comfortable. I’ve gotten to essentially take pleasure in doing nothing. Nonetheless, little shoots are arising. Even once I don’t need them.

I wish to remind you of that: be affected person. Make some area so one thing you actually wish to say has the area to come back up.

Edelstein: Do you wish to discuss these shoots which can be arising?

Goldberg: I did begin one factor. Meditation retreats are very damaging for me. I’m speaking a few seven-day retreat, the place you sit in meditation from 5 a.m. till 9 or ten at evening. You alternate between sitting and strolling and it’s very formal and it kills you. There’s nothing natural about it. You actually come up in opposition to the wall. Sooner or later throughout these retreats I get very artistic. I don’t wish to, however great artistic vitality is launched, and immediately out of nowhere issues come up that I do know I ought to write. I’m not on the lookout for them; I don’t wish to write them.

I used to be doing a retreat this previous March, and the start of one thing got here up, and it wouldn’t go away me alone. I lastly mentioned, “Pay attention, for those who go away me alone now, I promise that when the retreat is over, I’ll attempt writing it.” About two weeks after the retreat ended, I mentioned to myself, “Nicely, I promised; I higher do it. In any other case it should plague me on the subsequent retreat.” So I went to a café, and I sat and wrote for about an hour. I assumed, “Oh, this was sort of enjoyable,” so I went again the following day and wrote, after which I simply saved going. I saved including on with no goal, letting it occur. I’d solely write once I felt like it-about two or thrice per week. I used to be very candy to myself. There was no demand about it, nothing.

Two or three months later I used to be sitting in the identical café and writing, and immediately I used to be sobbing, simply sobbing and sobbing as I used to be writing, and I assumed, “Nat, the place did you assume this might lead? What did you think-you have been simply going to write down fortunately ever after? You didn’t assume it was going to go deep and generally get painful?” So it was virtually a trick. Typically that’s how I write. I really feel like I odor one thing far off and I begin over right here, however I do know I’m going over there.

Query from the viewers: Natalie, in your early books you discuss concerning the act of simply writing, with out worrying about what you’ll do with what comes out. However in Thunder and Lightning you say, “Don’t simply write; do one thing with it.” This turns up the warmth and depth. Ought to I’ve some type of aim?

Goldberg: I’ve informed my college students that they need to simply do writing observe for no less than two years. I’d like to inform them to do it for fifteen, however People gained’t take heed to me. So I begin out with two years of simply writing and discovering your individual thoughts and never worrying about it. However I felt I had a accountability to assist individuals take the following step-not simply go away everyone with writing observe. What do you do after you’ve let loose all of your wild horses, after you’ve actually met your individual thoughts? What do you do with all of the notebooks you fill? Individuals saved asking me, so I needed to reply.

Questioner: Do you assume writing naturally tends to get to that place the place you do one thing with it?

Goldberg: No, not everyone has to. However I needed to say in print, “If you wish to, that is the following step.” You don’t simply do it whenever you really feel prefer it and have enjoyable. I needed to take individuals additional, and I additionally needed to determine writing as a real Zen path. I feel I misplaced my reputation with that e-book. I imply, it’s been effectively obtained, however with Writing Down the Bones, everyone simply needed to write down their asses off. Now I’ve given a little bit weight to the observe of writing. The e-book begins out with a warning that claims most of my writing mates are sad. I additionally say that if you wish to see your individual face, if you wish to drop off the previous yellow coat of your self, decide up the pen. I hope I’m attractive individuals, too, but it surely’s a deep attractive.

Questioner: Earlier tonight you mentioned one thing that intrigued me: that first you have been writing as a Jewish woman from Brooklyn, however then your writing observe modified. Am I appropriate in that?

Goldberg: Sure, I used to be writing out of my life. I nonetheless write about my life, but it surely’s turned inside out.

Questioner: I’ve learn numerous memoirs about writers’ lives, however as a reader, I’m on the lookout for one thing extra. I’m on the lookout for the author to get outdoors of her life, to get into a bigger area. Is that what you meant whenever you mentioned you began writing together with your life, however you don’t try this a lot anymore?

Goldberg: Sure, in a roundabout way. However memoir can open out into a bigger area if the author actually connects with their life in a big means. I’m considering again to what I mentioned in Thunder and Lightning. You ask your self, “What do I like deeply? What has introduced me to my knees? What has completely damaged me?” The mix of those solutions may give you a voice.

Zen observe broke me. It broke my thought of the way in which the world was.

Zen observe broke me. It broke my thought of the way in which the world was. It broke my complete Jewish, New York, American, feminine means of seeing issues; it cracked me open. So for me it was a mixture of actually loving my life, after which being damaged and actually loving writing-but, having been damaged, I noticed it differently.

Questioner: Some individuals write from their very own ache. However I’m not speaking about that.

Goldberg: I’m speaking about one thing completely different, too. I wasn’t speaking about my very own ache. What broke me open enabled me to see the world in a much bigger means–like Nana. One thing extraordinary occurred to her and it broke her, woke her up. I’m not advocating the Holocaust as your wake-up medication, after all.

Questioner: Is discovering your thoughts in writing completely different from discovering your individual thoughts in meditation?

Hagen: Nicely, what number of minds do you assume you could have? Is a writing thoughts completely different out of your thoughts, or from another thoughts that you just use for one thing else?

Questioner: How did I get into this spot? I feel not; I feel they’re the identical.

Hagen: Proper.

Goldberg: I got here again to the Twin Cities as a result of I suffered from the concept that my writing thoughts was completely different from the thoughts of the individuals who had obtained dharma transmission, an official endorsement to show Zen, from my Zen instructor Katagiri Roshi. Or that the writing thoughts was completely different from the minds of Zen college students who had turn out to be monks. However I dropped all of it; I really feel freed from that now.

Hagen: We don’t actually have any thoughts in any respect. We predict now we have a thoughts; we expect now we have this factor known as “my thoughts,” that it’s a selected thoughts. Then we lock ourselves into this construction of our personal creation. It’s a little bit jail we put ourselves in. However really, we aren’t something particularly in any respect. As soon as we notice this, then now we have full freedom-whether we’re exploring the thoughts via writing, or via simply sitting there quietly, observing the ideas as they arrive up. It’s all the identical; it’s the identical free-flowing thoughts that’s going down. It may be discovered and expressed in any exercise.

Questioner: As an actor, I do know that you need to develop a voice. In writing it’s the identical. However how do you go about doing that?

Goldberg: Neglect about it. I solely realized twenty years later, in a category I used to be instructing, that Zen is what gave me a voice. I lastly was actually speaking one thing and actually had one thing to share. However for twenty years I’d by no means considered it. I’d simply shut up and write, simply tackle my life with out occupied with it.

Questioner: If you take all the issues that you just’re speaking about-finding your voice, discovering your area, and getting comfy with structure-how do you keep all of it within the face of deadlines?

Goldberg: It’s fabulous, as a result of a deadline places you up in opposition to the wall. That’s how I do all my writing. If I don’t have a deadline from another person, I make a deadline. I’ll inform a good friend, “I’m going to have ten pages for you.” “Nicely, Nat, I don’t need ten pages.” “I don’t care, I’m bringing you ten pages.” In any other case I might sit ceaselessly and daydream about what I’m going to write down. The one factor that made me a author was the bodily act of writing. Once I completed Writing Down the Bones, I used to be so frightened of not being a author that I wrote one other e-book, after which one other one. So deadlines are good.

Typically I really feel like I’m writing with my coronary heart. It’s aching as I write, however I’m simply in there. I belief that greater than if I’m writing from my head. You retain writing it doesn’t matter what; you simply settle for it and you retain going.

Hagen: I discover them dreadful. I fold with deadlines, so I attempt to keep away from setting them.

Goldberg: Yeah, however you present up for morning meditation. What time is zazen right here, 5:30? For me, that’s the identical as a deadline. To be utterly trustworthy, I’ve no hassle with deadlines in writing, however in Zen I battle the early morning meditation occasions like loopy. I don’t wish to rise up, I don’t wish to rise up…

Hagen: I’ve no hassle with that anymore.

Questioner: Natalie, earlier you talked about discovering your self sobbing over your work. What do you do whenever you get to that coronary heart place in your writing? Do you stick with it or do you let it dissipate? How do you go ahead from there?

Goldberg: Typically I really feel like I’m writing with my coronary heart. It’s aching as I write, however I’m simply in there. I belief that greater than if I’m writing from my head. You retain writing it doesn’t matter what; you simply settle for it and you retain going.

Hagen: And there isn’t something it’s worthwhile to do with it or about it. Simply go forward and specific your self; overlook about what you’re going to get out of it, or what anyone else goes to get out of it. Don’t attempt to intentionally make use of it. In case you try this, it should drift up into the pinnacle and out of the center.

Questioner: However whenever you’re not writing in any particular order, merely doing writing as observe, at what level do you could have a course of or a set off mechanism that pulls every part collectively? At what level do all of the items appear to come back collectively so that you just say, “That is what I actually wish to say”? Do you actually have a course of, or does it simply occur?

Hagen: My expertise is that it simply occurs.

Goldberg: It occurs for those who’re awake to it. What I do-what I used to do; I don’t do it anymore-is once I’d end a pocket book, I’d sit down and I’d learn the entire pocket book. I’d go someplace the place I don’t normally hang around and I’d learn it and underline issues I appreciated. I studied my very own thoughts: What are my obsessions? What do I preserve citing? Who am I, anyway? Typically I’d discover a complete poem and simply sort it up. Typically I’d discover one good line. Once I first lived right here in Minnesota, it was a tough time for me. I used to be going via a divorce, however this line appeared: “I got here to like my life.” I saved making an attempt to write down a poem from it. I by no means acquired one, however I beloved that line, and as I saved making an attempt to create that poem, I acquired numerous writing executed. Issues sort of evolve, however they evolve once I digest what I’m doing. What’s it I used to say? “Composting it.”


Apart from Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg is the creator of Thunder and Lightning, Banana Rose and Residing Shade: A Author Paints Her World. She is assistant instructor at Clouds in Water Zen Middle in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Steve Hagen is the creator of Buddhism Plain and Easy and How the World Can Be Be the Method It Is. He’s the dharma inheritor of Dainin Katagiri Roshi and head instructor at Dharma Discipline Zen Middle in Minneapolis, the place this symposium was held.

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