Bearing witness

As in my Zen practice, two of the greatest obstacles I have to overcome in writing are the need for a goal and the need to be perfect. A perennial list maker and professional editor for many years, I live with the urges to mark things off a to-do list, to change the four words I’ve just written, to make the exact right gesture and have done – in short, to control things. But if writing is truly woven into the strands of my DNA, those strands will awaken, stretch, and begin to move all on their own – all I have to do is sit and observe them. They will move much freer if I don’t throw a harness on them and jerk them this way and that.

“Writing” is too active a word for what happens, when it really happens. Writing is a silent witness to to something sounding from within. Sitting and listening without laboring for something specific, obeying that often unhelpful instinct to do something, anything, is the hardest part of writing for me.

Once at the start of a sesshin, one of my Zen teachers said, “My one hope for all of you during this sesshin is that you can sit without waiting.” Writing without waiting, without some fantasy of a perfectly composed outcome. Really hearing the rain ticking outside like countless tiny clocks, seeing the small bounce of the leaves in the trees as the drops hit and slide away. Recording it just as it is. Yielding my need for composed perfection and profundity to the chaotic echo chamber of existence. Writing as an act of surrender, words forming themselves in the beginningless whirling of it all …

sitting in my house

  rain outside

  as I listen

  the rain comes in

This is not exactly what I set out to write today, and it has not been perfect or profound, but it’s what happened, and I feel a little more myself for having let the words come.

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