Spiritual Life & Creative Work

“Writing is like putting together Ikea furniture.
There’s a right way to do it, but nobody knows what it is.”

Paulette Perhach, author of Welcome To The Writier’s Life
qtd in How to Finally Write Your Nonfiction Book

Most every morning I take a few minutes to meditate and read from Daily Doses Of Wisdom. It helps me calm and see a bigger picture. I'm trying to learn to accept and let go. Good thing I'm working at it most every day. I have a lot to learn.

Today's dose from Mary Jo Meadow's and Kevin Culligan's book Christian Insight Meditation intrigued me:

Let us look at spiritual life as many spiritual giants have portrayed it. At the beginning, the work is mostly ours. We must do our part or nothing else will happen. In the middle, increasing purity is both God's and our work together. In the end, God will do it all. Twentieth-century Vedantic mystic Sri Aurobindo added that, in the very, very end, we realize it was God all along.

I like that movement even if I'm not a religious person. It begins with my choice, becomes the work and me, and maybe at the very, very end I'll realize that it was the work all along and I was a willing instrument of it.

Writing is like that. It first requires the choosing. People say I could write a book about that but don't pick up the pen. Even with pen in hand and paper at the ready, we must choose not just to want to write but to actually do the work. Deciding to do something isn't worth much until I get deep into it, preferably weeks and months in. Only then do I know I've really decided instead of just wishing it were so. Writing begins with the choosing.

After we've chosen writing, there's a long period of tension that can be difficult. We pull and push against the work which pulls and pushes back. The work goes well or disastrously without our understanding of how to engineer things so the good outweighs the bad. It feels difficult if not impossible. Many times it feels as if instead of God working together with us some demon keeps us from good writing.

This is when persistence and perhaps faith come into play. We come back to the page again and again. We keep going. And we hold onto faith both in the writing and in ourselves.

I'm still in this middle land, feeling those tensions, but I've had flashes, brief moments of the feeling that may become a realization at the very, very end. There are those moments when the work takes over and I dissolve before it. The words come to the page not out of thin air but through me, a nearly frictionless conduit. It's as if I'm pulled along by the words. Call it writer's high or God working through me. Whatever its name, I think of it as the work, my personal savior.

Letting go and accepting apply to writing as much to meditating. Creation is an act requiring more than just diligence and sweat. There must be a willingness to let something work through us and an acceptance that the most creative act may be deciding to get out of the way of something that just might be a miracle.

Letter Of Recommendation: Scooping Cat Litter

My daughter has been too busy to some household duties. She's a good kid so I pick up the slack largely without complaint. After all, I was doing these things before she was born and for most of the time she was an infant. (I made her change the motor oil at fourteen months). It's no big deal to take these things on and so each morningI have been scooping the litter box. It has turned out to be at least as good for me as it is for the cats.

Maybe you think scooping cat litter isn't your cup of tea. It's kind of gross to think about. The smell isn't great. Is the litter radioactive or carcinogenic? I still recommend going to the litter box early each morning, sitting on a stool, and scooping the litter with a small smile. Scooping the litter turns may not be the way to joy, but it is surely one way toward contentment.

I scoop litter after morning meditation. That has helped make it a practice rather than a task. It really does seem like raking a Zen garden. I sit on the stool, sift for treasures, drop them into a bag, add clean litter, and drop the bag in the garbage can. I'm in no hurry. There's no reward. Aside from this essay, no one would ever know I'm doing this. (Well, the cats might notice, especially the black and white one who likes to watch.)

Scooping litter is performing maintenance which makes the world go round. Doing the practice every morning means the box rarely smells that bad. The practice is quiet, clear, and done in solitude. I'm not exactly mindful but it is the kind of meditative act in which I'm not thinking to conclusions or to get anywhere. I am simply there, on the stool, scooping the litter, being at peace.

I've had similar experiences doing dishes and laundry but there is something special about the litter box. I think it's that the litter falls like sand through the sieve of the scoop like sand passing through an hourglass. It feels timeless.

This morning, after I had finished scooping but before I stood up from the stool, I closed my eyes and felt myself bow to the clean litter box, to the bag of dirty litter, to the scoop hung back on the wall, and to this daily practice of maintenance in solitude. I hadn't intended that bow, but it felt right and good.

The black and white cat was watching. She stood still, her entire being the very definition of composure. When I moved to the garbage can to drop the bag of dirty litter, she remained still and her eyes did not follow me. It wasn't until I went up and rang a scoop of dry food into the cats' metal bowls that she ran pell-mell upstairs as if I was a monk striking a bell signaling the end of meditation and the beginning of a new day.