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Writing from the Deeper Self

"Bringing Your Treasures into the World . . ."

Book Development

with Naomi Rose

"Writing from the Deeper Self" Newsletter

Taking out the mystery

about what it takes to write a book

and making room for the Mystery

that's at the heart of the process.

 

November 2007 issue:

1. Introduction: "Opening to the Encouragement of Light"

2. Article:  "Revising Your Writing ~ and Your Life"

3. Feature: Something Good to Read: "Unleashing a Peace," by Ralph Dranow

 

 

Introduction: Opening to the Encouragement of Light

“How did the rose ever open its heart
and give to this world all of
its beauty?

It felt the
encouragement
of light against its
being, otherwise
we all remain
too frightened.”
—Hafiz


Beauty, opening, and fear of opening ~ surely, all of us have experienced these things in our lives as we seek to become more truly who we are. Even waking in the morning and taking a conscious breath can be an opportunity to encourage ourselves into opening, or to submit to old fears and constrict away from our true being. Sometimes seeing something beautiful ~ an actual rose, held in a cup of lustrous petals, opening from the center as if it were the most natural thing in the world ~ can help remind us of what it is like to feel the encouragement of light against our being. And sometimes reading something written from that kind of place will travel into our deepest heart, and have the same effect.


I first came up with the writing approach called “Writing from the Deeper Self” around 20 years ago because, having grown up in a family of writers ~ where beautiful language was available as readily as a box of cornflakes, but the joy of writing was nowhere evident ~ I found that words alone, writing craft alone, techniques alone were not enough to shine the light of encouragement on my being. I had things to say in writing ~ writing was the most deep and private form of expression I then knew ~ but something had blocked that encouragement to open, and it took the form of an 8-year writer’s block.


It is hard to describe the pain of this thing that’s been given the name, “writer’s block.” It sounds on the surface as if it’s just a bump in the road, something to get out of the car for and figure out how to navigate around. But for me, back then, it was a most excruciating experience. Because I knew there was something beautiful, rose-like, within me; and I couldn’t reach it enough to touch it, much less put it down in words. Serious writer’s block is a calcification of the soul, like a gallstone or kidney stone is a calcification in the body. And just like those physical counterparts, it hurts … and can be dangerous. Something needs to pass through.


That “something,” for me, had nothing to do with writing techniques. No “try this,” “try that.” What ultimately opened the door was the study of healing modalities, most of them utterly nonverbal. Working with breath, with body sensations, with the buried longings of my heart, with singing (which helped me rediscover that I loved to, and could really, sing), with imagery, with gentle body movement, I found that what was in me was coming alive, awake, full of messages and stories, inherently capable of weaving the disparate, forgotten, discarded or never kindled aspects of my being together into one glorious, harmonious, connected song. And slowly, from this inner place, I began to reach for those words that would best evoke my inner experience in writing. And so Writing from the Deeper Self was born.


It’s been said (and I believe it) that the function of the intellect is to analyze ~ to divide, categorize, reduce, make rational sense of things. And while this is a very necessary aspect of being human, it also has the unfortunate consequence of separating us from one another, and from our own deeper nature. The deeper Self, especially as revealed through such inner means as described above, goes in the opposite direction. Flying under the radar screen of the intellect’s need to judge, compare, analyze, control, and self-protect, the deeper Self knows that what is true within one person is also true within all others; that when you get deep enough, you are speaking from what is universal to the universally true in everyone. This is why when you write from the deeper Self, you give your readers not only the gift of yourself but also the gift of themselves.


I work as a Book Developer, using the approach I describe here, to help people bring beautiful books into the world and thereby help to heal the world. And since the writing process is also a deep one, I support, in all the ways I can, the human being who is doing the writing. I shine the encouragement of light on their being, until they so connect to the book they are writing ~ which is also writing them ~ that the writing itself performs that act of deep encouragement.


I hope you will consider writing the book that is in your heart. It’s been said that 85% of the population believes there is a book in them. You may really be one of them. I am located in Oakland, California. While in-person sessions are vastly preferable, I also work with people out of state and out of country by email and, occasionally, phone. I hope you will go to my website to read more, www.essentialwriting.com, and make the commitment to your own opening and flowering to write that book this year.


I also am in the process of designing a line of products to help deep writing become more easy and more possible. The first offering, a book called Starting Your Book: A Guide to Navigating the Blank Page by Attending to What’s Inside You, is a great way to get the lay of the land before you even begin, and quite affordable ($17 print version, $12 e-book). (Details later in this newsletter.)


The point is to “not postpone your joy.” Writing a book is work, but holy work, transformative work, beautiful work. When you get all you can from your writing, you will emerge cleansed and free; and what’s left behind for your readers will be, as an old Sufi tale has it, “the food of the Gods.”


Have a wonderful month. I hope you enjoy reading this newsletter. It has some very nourishing things in it. (Previous newsletters are archived on www.essentialwriting.com/webnbrochures.html.) Take your time. Come back to it, if need be. Life is not all about “sound bytes.” As Kate Wolf’s song says, “Sometime let a back road take you home.”

 

2. Revising Your Writing ~ and Your Life

As a writer, I have come to love revising my writing. In fact, I depend upon it to tune my writing to its rightful pitch ~ and to tune my life as well.

But it wasn’t always this way. Revising (which I was taught to do in ordinary high-school and college composition classes) always seemed to be the “groan-worthy” part ~ the part where you went back into what you had somehow (with blood, sweat, and tears) managed to put on the page; and then, as if that weren’t enough of a stretch, went over and over and over again, looking for errors, faulty construction, and, essentially, all signs that a human being had once lived there.

The glossy end result often pleased the teacher’s standards, sometimes netted me a high grade, and usually gave me the sense of being competent as a writer. Almost never, though, did it give me a sense of being wholly real, raised to a forgotten level of holiness, reclaimed and redeemed within my own being.

So it took some years as an adult ~ years of trying to write to please an external standard and eventually letting that go in favor of writing to be as true to what was within as possible ~ for me to understand the great, great gift that revision makes possible. And I find this especially so in writing a book, which has a narrative journey, and chapters that move the themes along, and the sense of being drawn towards some destination that will have actually brought both writer and reader somewhere.

What It Means to Revise
In its literal sense, to “revise” means to look again, to see with new eyes. When you first put down a draft of your book, whether in whole or in part, all you can know is what you know at that time. You have a sense that you might write about something, and you make some attempts to do so, perhaps awkward attempts, perhaps unclear attempts. You are ~ if you are patient with the first-draft process—seeking to find out what it is that wants to be said, and how one thing relates to another. You may not know this until that first draft is down on paper. Then, reading it back, you can begin to know what has been arising inside you: “Oh, I see, I’m writing about _______.”

It does take patience and self-tolerance to write a first draft, and hang in with it, knowing that it’s “not quite it,” knowing that your language, your ideas, your images ~ whatever elements you are using in the attempt to bring what is not yet visible into visibility ~ are imperfect, rough, perhaps even irrelevant. Still, you have to stay with that inner aspiration enough to put something down that “isn’t quite it,” so that what is “it” has a chance to show itself. You could call this process “divine discontent.” And, as in spiritual life, it has its value: since where you are isn’t fully satisfying, it gets you seeking in a more fruitful direction.

Once you recognize the joy of the process of writing a book ~ that, like your life, it’s a work in progress, and that revision will take place down the line ~ then you can allow yourself to make all sorts of “foolish mistakes” in your early drafts, in the interest of seeking what is true, because you know that you will perfect these drafts later on. When you know that “I can always revise,” you don’t get so hung up on the perfect image, the perfect word. You are willing to muck around a bit until you come up with a dirt-encrusted, not-yet-faceted gem. So revising gives you permission to play with the writing. And playing ~ discovering ~ looking ~ enjoying the process ~ is really what creating anything is all about.

The Gift of Revising Your Life
You might not think that revising your book is also a way of revising your life ~ how you view the story of what happened to you and who you are. But we all come to the writing with a certain interpretation of our lives, and of life itself.

And when we can look more deeply into the underbrush ~ to “revise” our very seeing ~ then something from within arises to illuminate the path, make us far more compassionate than we were able to be at the time of experiencing the events we wrote about, and bring us to an intimate, insider’s understanding of our deepest nature, and thereby the nature of all human beings.

For the very nature of a book emulates the trajectory of a life. There is a narrative arc; there are chapters that both connect to one another and that change direction; there are repetitions and themes; and, if we are fortunate, there is a conclusion that makes deep, transformative sense of things. Our lives can also be like this. Surely, we are not exactly the same as adults as when we were quite young; and yet seeded into our youth were themes that got discarded, encrusted, intercepted, short-circuited, themes that seek revision and expression as we grow older.

Revising your writing, especially in a book, is truly an opportunity to revise your life. It’s a chance to look back from a different vantage point and find the beauty that was overlooked, to find compassion for who you were at certain times when self-compassion was hard to come by, to find meaning and connection through your re-vising that was previously just not there.

Revision also allow you to become a more beautiful creator, to sand smooth the rough edges of your efforts so they are seamless and fluid as a skater (who has practiced since the age of five) sailing effortlessly across the ice. It gives you room to see things as they most deeply are. It connects the dots in subtle and meaningful ways. Most wonderfully, it gives you back to yourself ~ the self that never made it to the surface, the self that’s been in hiding, the self no one else knew how to see. Revision allows you to be the one to see it, and cherish it, and share it vulnerably with other human beings who, like you, can benefit from that depth and exquisiteness of seeing. To revise your book, willingly and devotedly, is to revise your life and your readers’ lives, and to make room for the divine to have a hand in your life and the life of your book in the world.



3. Feature: Something Good to Read:

"Unleashing a Peace," by Ralph Dranow

Revising your life through writing is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in the efforts we humans make to revise our relationships with our parents, and thereby with ourselves. In the following personal essay, journalist, poet, and editor (and also, Naomi's husband) Ralph Dranow shares his experience of coming to forgive his aging mother and in the process write another chapter for his life.

“Unleashing a Peace”

Ralph Dranow
(Reprinted from the San Francisco Chronicle, November 17, 1996)


We might as well be the Protestants and Catholics wearing each other down in Ireland. Her monologues fill the house like poison gas; wounding words escape from my lips and hers. Here I am, a grown man in my 50s, still at war with my mother. The fact that she's a frail 84-year-old who can hardly see or walk doesn't seem to make much difference. I still see her as a giant pulling the strings of my life.


Rachel, my mother, is a diabetic who's allergic to doctors, a leftist who thinks paying a cleaning woman $8 an hour is extravagant. No one lasts long in my mother's employment, so most of the responsibility of caring for her falls on me or my sister, who lives near her in Santa Cruz. I live in Oakland and visit once a month.


Recently, after another frustrating visit, I grope for an alternative to bickering with her. She won't be around much longer, and I don't want to be left with an empty ache after she's gone. I recall seeing a book titled Making Peace With Your Parents. I search for it in the bookstore where I work, pleased to discover a copy. It turns out to be a wonderful book that talks about letting go of old resentments toward your parents and having compassion for them.


I'm tired of blaming her for the difficulties I have in navigating my life. I know that underneath all the nagging and controlling, she does love me. She was robbed of her childhood, growing up in a cold-water flat in East Harlem and having to serve as ambassador to the outside world for her overwhelmed Russian-Jewish immigrant mother. My mother has experienced much emotional pain, which frequently causes her to lash out at others.


And now there's the physical pain as well, stomach problems and near-blindness, the diabetes she refuses to deal with. She loves fruit and eats a lot of it, although her blood sugar is already much too high. Also, my mother senses that her mind is slipping. She puts things down and a moment later forgets where they are. Sometimes she accuses my sister and me of plotting to put her in a nursing home so we won't have to be bothered with her.


Soon after reading the book, I visit my mother's house. I'm greeted by the usual clutter on the coffee table in the living room, books, papers, yellowing articles cut out of newspapers. Using a cane, my mother moves like a wounded crab, folded in upon herself, feet scraping the floor. It's still a shock seeing her in this condition because up until about a year ago, she got around fairly well. Her pale face looks as if it's forgotten how to smile. But her hair is clean and shiny, and her green pants and yellow wool shirt look fresh. My sister mentions that my other has a new woman working for her, a spiritual person who gives her massages and cooks her big pots of vegetable soup.


“I hope she sticks around for a while,” my sister whispers to me.


I smile, thinking that if a near stranger can love my mother like this, so can I.

That evening I say to my mother, “I appreciate your bringing me into the world, and I appreciate all that you've done for me.” It feels stilted, like a foreign language I'm learning, but this is my only hope of reaching her. She stares at me, then looks away. Her eyes are dark buttons gazing into space. She launches into a monologue about her brother-in-law, my 84-year-old uncle Jerry, who has bladder and lung cancer.


I'm really concerned about Jerry,” she says, sighing. “I'm glad he's finally stopped drinking. He has to have his booze. And his girlfriends, of course. He was busy jetsetting to the Bahamas and this place and that with those young girlfriends of his.”
Her face is a mask, giving no indication she's registered what I said. I've heard this story numerous times before, like an old 78 whose grooves have worn thin. A wave of sadness washes over me. How naïve of me to expect miracles, that a few words could cross an ocean built up over more than 30 years.


It all started when I was 23, a graduate student in sociology at Columbia University. I wanted to drop out, to have adventures and write books drenched in life, like my idols Thomas Wolfe and Sherwood Anderson. I wanted to shed my sheltered existence like a noxious skin. Having put herself through college and teachers' school during the Great Depression, my mother thought dropping out was criminally self-indulgent. She urged me not to abandon my master's thesis on the political activity of New York metropolitan lawyers, which I had grown to loathe. She pleaded with me not to throw my life away. As a last resort, she persuaded me to see her friend, Dr. Bridger, a Pavlovian therapist. A shy man with a pasty complexion, he puffed on his pipe and constructed careful chains of logic to persuade me that I needed to pursue a career rather than a mirage in the desert. Dutifully I went back to my thesis; it felt like eating stale bread. I dropped out of graduate school. I was left, though, with a bitter aftertaste, with the lingering anxiety that perhaps I'd chosen the path of failure. My long childhood was over.


And so I made the belated discovery that my mother had flaws. I saw the manipulativeness, the hysteria, the political dogmatism, the inclination to find fault with others. My mother made disparaging remarks about my ex-wife as well as the other women I've been involved with. A fervent vegetarian, my mother disapproved of my diet, of my not being more political, of my love of cats. Her critical tendencies have grown worse over the past few years with the narrowing of her life.


Now, three decades after leaving graduate school, I see that she just wanted me to become someone she could feel proud of, someone who'd traveled further than my parents, the real estate title searcher and the elementary school teacher. I've disappointed her, but not completely. Ironically, writing is probably the main link between us. There is something almost heroic about her persistence in sending her awkwardly written novels and stories year after year to publishers in America, Europe and Asia. Year after year, her manuscripts returned, rejected.


Her pet project as a novel about political journalist Agnes Smedley; it took more than 10 years to write, enduring countless revisions, like a patient who never quite gets well. Like me, my mother is a dreamer, harboring the perpetual hope that the next revision or project will be the one to unlock the gates of literary recognition. I recall her taking my book of stories around to libraries and bookstores in Southern California during the mid-‘80s, persuading numerous librarians and booksellers to take some copies. In turn, I've edited some of her writing.


In the morning after breakfast, I repeat what I said the day before and ask if she recalls my words. To my surprise, she says quietly, “Yes, I did. Thank you.” A warm glow fills my body. I feel a little embarrassed, almost as if I'm playing a part in a movie.


And then, over the next couple, of days, my overture unleashes her own latent talent for gratitude. She thanks me for working in the garden, hacking away at the jungle of weeds; and for cleaning the bathroom, tossing out all the wadded-up tissues, ancient tubes of toothpaste, and loops of spider webs. She is absurdly grateful when I cook her oat bran pancakes, chomping them down and requesting seconds. “You're a very talent pancake-cook. Than you so much for making me pancakes,” she says. She repeats this several times during my visit.


When I give her a hug, her body feels light, like the wind, in my arms. We manage not to quarrel at all for the whole three days. I'm assertive but keep my voice calm. I feel like a new person, as if I've traded in my short pants and T-shirt for the more substantial costume of an adult.


She wants to reminisce about her youth, saying we could make it into a book, so I take down her words in a notebook. She describes the actor John Garfield in his belted yellow overcoat and fedora tilted over his eye coming back to his old school in East Harlem where she has her first teaching job. She speaks of how excited all the kids are to see Garfield. Her eyes are shiny as she climbs back into the past.


While she talks, I become nostalgic too. I think of photos of her when she was young, of the light burning in her eyes. As a teenager, she spoke on street corners in Harlem, urging the residents to oppose their wretched living conditions. And I recall the warmth of her voice and the smile that made her face sing when I was a child. I also think of photos of my parents when they first got married, looking radiant in each other's presence. And later, when I was a teenager, how they seemed like two warriors who'd made a truce.


I think of my own troubled life, a broken marriage and much anger and confusion. Only in the past few years have I begun to approach a semblance of inner peace. To heal the broken places inside me, to feel more connection to the world and myself, I have tried a men's group, therapy, meditation and tai chi. Right now, I am content to be sitting with my mother at her dining room table, talking into the night about John Garfield.


The next morning her body leans into mine as I hug her goodbye. “Thank you so much for visiting me. Thank you, my son,” she says.


I step into the glistening Santa Cruz morning, feeling light.

_____________________________________

Copyright © 1996 by Ralph Dranow. All rights reserved.
 

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