The Stone Mind

Hogen, a Chinese Zen teacher, lived alone in a small temple in the country. One day, four traveling monks appeared and asked if they might make a fire in his yard to warm themselves.

While they were building the fire, Hogen heard them arguing about subjectivity and objectivity. He joined them and said: “There is a big stone. Do you consider it to be inside or outside your mind?”

One of the monks replied: “From the Buddhist viewpoint everything is an objectification of mind, so I would say that the stone is inside my mind.”

“Your head must feel very heavy,” observed Hogen, “if you are carrying around a stone like that in your mind.”

I love this zen story because it succinctly, and always with that clever simplicity, overrides the rational mind, the ego, the voice inside explaining why or justifying the emotional reaction. I’ve read this many times and this time I am struck by the monks answer, relying on the Buddhist viewpoint instead of his own “teacher within” as us yogis like to say.  It’s almost as if he doesn’t know what’s inside his mind, as though he has lost that awareness.

I haven’t written a blog in a while…in fact, I haven’t written anything in a while.  I guess you could say I’ve been carrying a heavy stone inside my mind, objectifying this process of finding an agent, as the reason to write or not write.

But sometimes a stone is just a stone…

What I didn’t know

What I didn’t know when I started writing Inside the River:

That once silence is broken open into words, there is no longer silence.

-That once hours turns into years and years gets marked by the amount of drafts redone, what once was a dream becomes an ambitious endeavor.

-That my confidence as a writer didn’t grow because of what I wrote, but what I was willing to rewrite and delete.

-That now, when I read books, I find myself cheering a little inside when the rules and structure of story are exquisitely bent.

-That expectations are the hurdles I chose to place on my path, and my legs are way too short to start learning how to jump at this point in my life.

-That writing the words “The End” would be the ultimate beginning.

-That dipping my modern pen into the social media ink would make my fears begin to lessen into irrelevance.

-That a kind comment from a stranger, matters…a lot.

-That my gratitude for Ana didn’t stop after I stopped writing her story.

-That I have more stories to tell.

xoxo

Oprah, do you know Ang Lee?

I went out to lunch with my parents, feeling a touch discouraged by the progression of my book (still waiting to hear back from two interested agents).  My mother, always a cheerleader, suddenly said, “Oprah, do you know Ang Lee?”

We all laughed, even as we wondered who out there, with our six degrees of separation, knows Ang Lee.  So, if you read this, and somehow your cousin once made a tall, skim, extra hot, no water Oprah Chai Latte for Ang Lee’s cousin…well, perhaps you could put in a good word?!?

Here’s my pitch:

“Inside the River,” is a story about carrying the shame of someone else’s wrongdoing and then letting it go.  It’s a story about reclaiming that which is divine and magical within all of us.  My book is an affirmation and a prayer of sorts, in whatever way you believe that to be: Ana grabbed a fist full of dirt with one hand and let the shadows out; Emma burned a bouquet of scents representing Antonio’s life of yearning and misread intentions; Carmen, the large and looming white-haired tambourine playing gypsy declared herself the leader of her tribe; and Eloisa carried the green bag with the magical book inside, believing it her destiny to search for the blue haired girl who made the fish forget their pact of silence and sing for freedom.

Ultimately, it is a story which asks the question: Is our life predetermined, already sketched in a magical book, or can we change what is on the page?

Thank you for reading, sharing, and maybe becoming some degree of separation…

xoxo

All living things contain a measure of madness–Life Of Pi

“All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.”-Yann Martel, “Life of Pi”

As read on jeffjlin.com, Ang Lee, from the age of 30-36, with two kids and his wife supporting them, tries to get a script going.  Each new script was sent in and rejected.  For six years he kept his focus and although I assume he was dismayed and contemplating other forms of work, kept going.  I wonder how often he looks back on those years of uncertainty? I wonder how grateful he is for his own tenacity of will and craft? (I know I am)  Or maybe it’s a form of madness, this passion of purpose, unwavering and persistent?

In “Life of Pi”, the madness was with Richard Parker, the tiger, which allowed Pi his story of survival.  In my novel, “Inside the River,” Ana hears singing fish.  Magical Realism is such an appealing tool to show the elements of our imagination needed to adapt, thrive, and survive.  It opens up space for a new tunnel of experience, bordered by its own set of rules, its own reality.

Unlike fantasy, where a whole new world is created, magical realism inserts bits of magic into the world we live in, helping us to survive its madness.  I am attracted to this form of story, this off-centered truth, this raw and penetrating attempt to light up the dark spots of our minds.

 

 

The Empty Boat

There’s a wonderful Zen story about a man who is out on the lake in his boat.  I have read many translations of this story but basically while enjoying his time on the water, he looks over to see another boat on the lake.  He thinks to himself how the other person on the boat must be enjoying the lake like himself.  Then he notices how the boat is heading straight for his boat.  He screams out, “watch out,” but the boat is still moving fast.  He stands up and waves his hands and screams even louder, but the other boat is coming right towards him. Inevitably, the boat slams into his boat.  With rage, he looks inside the boat, wanting to unleash his anger all over the person who did not heed his warnings before crashing into him, but the boat is empty.

He couldn’t unleash his anger on an empty that just happened to be on course to hit his boat. It was then he realized the empty boat was his teacher.

When people, situations, boats full of doubt and sadness and anger head straight for us, there is something soothing about saying the mantra, “empty boat.”  Perhaps those people are in boats out of their control, without any rudders, and although they are heading towards us, perhaps their own wounds are steering them instead of their higher selves? The empty boat is our whole life really and we get to choose how we react to all that is not in our control.  Even when people are unkind to us, they are showing their pain, as if saying, “I am an empty boat.”

In a way, that is what my book, “Inside the River” is about…the way in which Emma and Ana learn to let go of that empty boat crashing into them (with the help of some magic and the singing fish).

xoxo

 

 

 

 

 

Sneak peak at “Inside the River”

As I continue to put the final touches on the restructuring of my book, I thought I would share the new beginning…to tease you all with the story.  I would love to hear your thoughts, but as always, I am grateful just for your readership.

xoxo

Inside the River

©2014

How could drops of water know themselves to be a river? Yet the river flows on.

– Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Part 1: Emma

Chapter 1:

“Miss, can you help me across the street?”  The old man was neatly dressed in clothes tailored to his tall, thin body.  He wore a chocolate brown blazer, tan slacks and a matching tan scarf around his neck.  The brightness of his blue eyes were startling.      

“Sure,” I replied.  I had just dropped, my daughter, Sabrina, off at her pre-school on the Upper East Side and was standing on the corner, waiting for the light to change on a cool Autumn Manhattan morning.       

“Ana.”

“No, my name is Emma,” I said as the light changed. 

He placed my arm above his and walked me across the street. It was a kind gesture, a throw back from a time before mine. “No, I mean you remind me of Ana,” he explained as we crossed the intersection.  “I am Antonio.”  He placed his free hand on his chest. 

“It’s nice to meet you.  Who is Ana?” We were at the other side, but for some reason I didn’t want to unhook myself from this nice, old man. 

“She is the story my father recited to me over the years.  I grew up hearing about Ana and I’d always imagined what she would look like in person.  I have never met anyone who resembled her until today.  Well, that is a slight misstep of the truth, but I cannot give you what I have already returned and you have not yet received.”

“I don’t understand,” I replied.

  “Would you like to hear about Ana?” 

Perhaps I should’ve said good-bye and walked away.  It would’ve been easy to make an excuse, simply claim I’d somewhere to go, to extricate myself from this stranger and his piercing blue eyes, but then I blurted out, “I’d love to hear the story.”  What was I doing? 

“Let’s sit inside and have something hot to drink,” he suggested as we were now standing in front of a cafe. 

Once inside, I got us two coffees and went to sit down beside him.  He stood up and then we sat down together.  I was still uncertain what I was doing with this stranger, but I had hours before it would be time to get Sabrina from her pre-school and was in no rush to return to my empty apartment.  Also, the old man seemed to offer a safe diversion from my dismal thoughts of my husband, Alex.    

“I feel like I wear all the years of my life as layers of skin.”  He began speaking softly.  “I am eighty, but I’ve been carrying my youth for many more years than my aged ones and so I am sometimes shocked when I look in the mirror.  How can I be so old and yet still smell my father’s kiss as he leaned toward me to say goodnight when I was young and crying about my eyes?”

“Your eyes?” I asked.  His piercing blue eyes, like the brightness of a blue sky on a clear day, made me forget that the rest of his face was deeply lined.  His cheeks drooped in surrender to his years, but his eyes were alert and bright.  It was as if they were lit from somewhere else. 

“Yes, the blue scared people.  They called me a demon.” 

I gasped and covered my mouth with my hand. 

“Are you ok?”

“Yes, I haven’t heard that word in quite a while,” I whispered.  My mother’s words echoed loudly in my head.

Going with the flow

A Taoist story tells of an old man who accidentally fell into the river rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. Onlookers feared for his life. Miraculously, he came out alive and unharmed downstream at the bottom of the falls. People asked him how he managed to survive. “I accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived.”

I love this story as I’ve been working on “surrendering” while trying to find an agent for my book, “Inside the River.”  The discipline and courage needed to write this book felt like a turbulent rapid at times.  But this part of the process is even more out of my control, and so asks for more of my surrender to the flow.

There are daily situations where our first reaction to an unappealing situation is to fight it as a way of controlling our environment.  The old man fell into the water, and the water was choppy and brutal.  How often do our days feel like those rapids? What happens when we fight this flow and try to make sure our current is noticed/heard/validated? What would happen, if like the old man, we plunged into the swirl (the chaos) and went with that flow, until we came out of it, amazingly unharmed?  I think our ego, the part of us who always wants to win and be noticed, would scowl at the old man and ask him why he didn’t try to get out of the water somehow, even if the effort caused him bodily harm.  Our ego wants us to flair about and show our strength and power over everything.  But if we want ease in the discomfort, peace beyond the chaos, and calm inside the storm, then the old man taught us well–inside the swirl, be the swirl, and come out with it.