A Modern Mystic

Musings on life, work and contemporary spirituality


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Resistance: Review of a Book Every Creative Should Read Now

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With his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield has done for us creative types, what the Buddha did for spiritual seekers 3000 years ago.

Upon awakening, the Buddha taught the first cycle of teachings, The First Noble Truth, long-misunderstood by legions of pundits to mean, “Life is suffering.” Actually the Buddha was identifying the problem, suffering, in order to set out the solution. Life is not suffering, suffering is not our nature, yet we must learn to identify suffering and its causes if we want to attain happiness. This reasoning is sound. Every successful military general knows that if he is to defeat the enemy, he must know as much as possible about it. Knowledge is power. Forewarned is forearmed.

Likewise, internationally successful author and screen writer Pressfield makes a brilliant study of what he calls Resistance, that particular quality of our thinking which keeps us grumpy, small, creatively frustrated and angry about it. He makes a masterful study, wonderfully pith and poetic, of the root negative thinking behind every type of procrastination known to sentient beings. Not just a manual for artists or writers, The War of Art is a must-read for anyone who has ever put off doing what they love or dilly-dallied their virtuous aspirations. I know I have done that. Have you?

With so many wonderful books, blogs, methods, systems, religions and TED Talks devoted to inspiring us to be our most creative and productive selves, why should we focus on the problem, rather than the solution? Because as the Buddha taught so long ago, and Pressfield proves, it is in knowing the problem that we understand the solution. By delving into the way thinking is hard-wired, we can short-circuit the habits that keep us from putting our butts in the seat and our feet on the path. Pressfield’s book is the place to start and for many years it has been my go-to manual whenever my own symptoms of resistance – sleeping in, skipping meditation practice, criticizing others, participating in family drama, etc. – kick-in and start to wreak havoc with my ambitions. I have read it countless times and I suspect I will read it countless more.

Read The War of Art. Locate your own favorite habit of resistance within its pages and then chop that repugnant enemy to bits. Or laugh it off and then go out and do what you have to do with a joyful heart. Today.

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Humility and six other virtues to grow a new career

Fall Heart by Carrie Ure

Fall Heart by Carrie Ure

It’s time to revise the old adage, “The teacher appears when the student is ready,” to include the concept of willingness. As a ready student I feel lucky to have attracted wonderful teachers and educational opportunities all my life. Yet it is when I am both ready and willing to make change that the clearest teachings arrive.

Never has this been more true than with my current mentor, teacher and coach, Writer Mama, Christina Katz. I found her in 2008 shortly after saying the words “I want to be a writer” out loud for the first time. Within weeks I heard through the writer’s grapevine about Christina’s books, classes and websites.

A year later, two Writer Mama courses under my belt, a few humble publications and a good start made at blogging, an unexpected exercise gives me pause to reflect on what it will take to make it in my chosen career.

On a lark I joined The Writer Mama Back-to-School Giveaway, an annual month long virtual coffee klatsch for professional and wannabe writer mamas and an occasional intrepid guy. Fighting my own demons of distractibility, boredom and lack of follow-through, I vowed to post every day throughout the month long contest. Only two-thirds of the way to my goal, I could never have predicted how much I would learn in the process.

The questions posed each day catalyze deep thoughts about what motivates me, inspires me and keeps me going against pretty high odds. Paired way down to the basics, my musings identify seven basic virtues that might apply to any new career. To make it as a freelance writer I believe I will need humility, self-love, diligence, trustworthiness, stamina, faith and compassion.

I’ll start with humility, because right out of the gate, there is no greater daily lesson for me. In the process of discovering which area of expertise qualifies me as one of those individuals getting paid for what they say and how they say it, I have had to delve deeply into the question of what I don’t know.  Like the sculptor removing large chunks of marble, I’ve had to let go of whole areas of human knowledge that I will never have the time or inclination to explore. I am left with a richly veined core of ideas just waiting for my unique mark.

Humility grounds me rather than debases me and keeps my feet on the floor, my butt in the chair. Humility requires me to make an honest living and wills me to do what I can and let the rest go. Humility trains my head to serve my heart. Humility lets me sleep at night and gives me permission to make mistakes.

I revel each day in learning something new, thanks to humility. With my new found focus, I wake up energized by concrete possibilities rather than defeated and overwhelmed by endless ethereal potentialities. By letting go of what I don’t know, I am free to delve into truly understanding my chosen subject matter.

Reinventing myself in mid-age has indeed been a humbling project. But so has parenting a teenager, going through divorce and dealing with gray hair and corrective lenses. The difference today, thanks to my writing, is a greater willingness to take each day as it comes and do the next actionable step. The student is willing and ready!


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Creative control is an oxymoron

I’ve always wanted to live a creative life, to be free to express myself and thereby brighten the world with beauty, love, truth. Although I have dabbled my whole life in the arts — drawing, painting, music, poetry, dance — my creativity flows best in the form of words and ideas. Words give voice to one’s thinking, and thought is, for good or ill, the most powerful form of energy on the planet.

I don’t know why this should be, but indecisiveness and worry seem to be the evil twins of creativity. I had a dream several months ago, just before a big letting go which brought many creative opportunities to me:

dream collage, carrie ure

dream collage, carrie ure

I’m standing in a huge dry river bed on the slope of a great mountain. There are large boulders everywhere and it’s clearly the scene of previous cataclysmic geological events. Suddenly someone yells to come inside. They’re about to “push the button.” I enter the building, a huge hall that parallels the length of the river, with gigantic viewing windows. Just as soon as I enter the building an enormous cascade of water comes shooting down the river. And then it’s full, calm. The water is lovely, blue and translucent. I wade into it and move my hands through its fresh clean opulence. I see something shimmering and I realize that the water is full of beautiful golden pearls. I lift my hand, scooping the perfect dazzling round gems.

I’m learning to be a conduit for creativity. To me, the urge to redecorate a room, paint a watercolor, make love, all come from a depth of tapping into the universal creative force we call life. My creativity comes from living. It can only be accomplished in the present moment and it’s an unmistakable feeling of being alive. It’s the ultimate form of letting go. And that’s where the fear comes in. Just as soon as we let go, we are no longer grasping. We grasp from fear and we feel the fear as we let go.

How many of us would prefer to live a life of control? Don’t we often get caught wanting to depend on something or someone? Wouldn’t we like to be prepared for the next unpredictable moment? Don’t we try, again and again, to nail the Jell-o to the wall? We want to live the creative life, the life of freedom and yet we demand a regular pay check at the end of the week.

I don’t have all the answers yet in my own life. I do try to remember that I am the channel for this divine creative force that wants to run through me. I can choose to dip in and out, pull out the gems that flow plentifully. I can never try to control the flow. It’s too vast. So I tune my vessel, keep it polished and try not to stop it up with unnecessary worry, fear, resentment. And when, on those days it’s just not flowing, I sit still and pray.


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The Truth of Memoir

Every once in a while I pick up a book that transports me directly to Truth. The book Take Me to Truth, by Nouk Sanchez and Tomas Viera, is just such a volume. I recently met Nouk and Tomas and found them to be ordinary people and extraordinarliy gifted teachers. They possess the ability to clearly articulate their own personal spiritual experiences in a way that exposes the underlying truth beneath. Appropriately, their work is about ego release and they bring a contemporary framework and sensilbility to the oldest of spiritual disciplines.

I also have a personal history with Truth. As far back as I can remember I have lain awake at night searching my thinking for answers. As a small child I trusted the universe that was accessible purely through my own contemplation. At the age of three I would wait for my younger sister to fall asleep at night so that I could luxuriate in my favorite inner dialogue which sounded like this:

“How big is the universe?”

“As big as the sky.”

“Then what is beyond the sky?”

“The sky is limitless.”

“What does this limitlessness look like? Is it square like a box, or round like a ball?”

“It can’t have a shape because then there would be something beyond it.”

In those days I always fell asleep before I came to the answer, or “final cause” as I later learned to call it when studying Aristotelian philosphy in graduate school.

Recently I have returned to thinking about what it takes to expose the Truth. As my interests have turned to writing I have begun reading while asking the questions, “What is my experience of Truth? What is my relationship with Truth? How do I recognize Truth? How is Truth different from belief? Is there such a thing as Objective Truth? Is there such a thing as shared Truth? What is the nature of Truth? How is Truth expressed? How is Truth held in the body?

Recently answers have begun to come in such an interesting way.

I am writing memoir as a spiritual discipline. Each Saturday I get together with a half dozen committed writers and we read our pages out loud. Acclaimed memoirist Jennifer Lauck moderates as we struggle through the telling of closely guarded secrets and family legends, all through a process called “on the body.”  The idea is this: get into a quiet state and see, hear, feel, taste, and smell your story. Transcribe. That’s it. And like meditation, it is surprisingly difficult.

As I have begun to get into the flow of the daily writing process, the daily process of being in my body in the present moment, I am noticing a funny thing. The most quiet places of my mind cradle the wise, innocent, inquisitive child that I am. Like time travel, my practice immediately  transports me right back to my bed as a preschooler, right back to the original project and my quest for Truth. And like that wise little child I once was, still am and have yet to become, I know that Truth is indeed found inside me, if only I have the courage to go after it.


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Writing a Life

I’ve known that I could write since the tenth grade when a wonderful english teacher’s simple assignment changed my life. Mr. Blank asked us to keep a journal for the school term. I followed his instructions to write every day. I wrote about my daily experiences, spilling the thoughts that crowded my mind, imagining myself as the heroine of my own story that unfolded day upon day in my middle class suburban existence. New to the neighborhood and the huge high school, I wrote about the way my life was, my insecurities and my triumphs and my uncertain place in the world. I wrote down my questions, my concerns and my musings. Perhaps because of the journaling, when the same teacher asked us to write a list of the things we intended to accomplish in our life, the only entry that I remember making is that I would write and publish a book some day.

Today I have boxes of bound journals. Like coffins, they contain the remains of every person I have been in the past 32 years. I can only bear to exhume the most recent ones and I often wonder what use it is to hang on to the stories of my life, an ordinary life in so many ways. Lately the bound essay books take longer to fill as I prefer to tap out my thoughts on my laptop. Yet I persist.

Recently I have begun to understand the wisdom of allowing all things to take their course. A little over a month ago a friend emailed to tell me of a writing teacher, offering a memoir writing class. I had confided a year ago to this friend, herself a memoirist, about my rising interest in writing for a wider audience, in literally briging my writing out of the closet. She thought Jennifer and I might be a good fit. I flagged the email for follow-up and forgot about it until a week later when a second friend emailed the same teacher’s contact information. This second connection was a real estate listing and had nothing to do with writing but I was astounded enough to put getting in touch with Jennifer on my TO DO list. The very next day a third friend told me of a different connection with the same woman. Right then and there I picked up the phone.

A month later I am sitting in Jennifer’s Venusian office space, all velvet, crystal, and artsy. The space befits the domain of the published memoirist, New York Times Bestselling author, fucking Oprah writer that she is! I have read all three of her published memoirs and I sat in this room with her once the week before for a pleasant chat about life, writing, Buddhism, Portland and a quick look-see at some journalistic pieces I’d written for an on-line class.

Our connection is unmistakable, and the work–my assignment to write 5 to 7 pages using Jennifer’s particular method–has been effortless and joyful.  And yet this is the moment when my tiny seedling idea must break through the soil. I adjust my glasses on my face, check in with my breath and clear my throat. I have no idea what my voice will sound like. I begin reading, controlled, tight and way too fast. Jennifer listens and jotting notes furiously and suddenly I have a feeling like galloping horses running off with my breath. She stops me and she says, “Slow down. Start again from the top of that last page and savor the words. They are beautiful words.” I take another deep breath and I begin again and suddenly I am my own audience, hearing my own truth. The tears are streaming down my face, a box of tissues appears out of nowhere and my mother-sister-author-girlfriend-nurse-teacher-self is witnessing the tiniest seedling breaking new ground as a writer.

I have been invited to join a writer’s group that will give me the accountability and structure to produce the manuscript that has been growing inside for 32 years. I have no idea what to expect but I relish the thought of losing myself in the story. I sat in tears today after reading my first 6 pages out loud to my new teacher. She believes in my talent and unlike the experience of the skinny, buck-toothed, teen-aged journal writer who listened to the same words of praise from a different teacher 32 years ago, this time I believe in myself.