Tag Archives: lonely

Golden Goldberg

Natalie Goldberg, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is an extraordinary woman who paints, writes and guides others in their writing practice.  When I was twenty, I discovered her book “Writing Down the Bones” and devoured it.  The experience was delectable.  Her pages were full of wisdom, ideas and permission. While enticing me to write down the bones, she crawled under my skin.  Natalie has written many wonderful books since then, but it was that book that remained with me for years, until I was lucky enough to participate in one of her workshops in Taos, New Mexico in 2010.

The workshop consisted of yoga sessions, writing sessions and enforced silences.  I say ‘enforced’ because while I crave it often, silence does not always come easily to me.  I fill up my space with sound. I love my music. I talk to Lilly (my dog). I bore my husband with daily minutia. I like to chit chat on the phone. I ask my kids too many questions when I pick them up from school. I even talk to myself. All that commotion before anyone else has managed to join the bonanza.

We’ve all heard the saying ‘Silence is Golden’, meaning precious. Sought after. Seductive. Valuable. I’m not sure I fully understood quite how golden silence can be until Natalie Goldberg forced it upon me. Gently. With understanding. She encouraged us to ‘sit’ in silence for luxurious lengths of time.  She instructed us to eat in silence, even if we were feasting next to our best friend (which I was). Instead of filling up the air with words, my tastes buds had a conversation with my food. It was a delightful exchange. She suggested that we walk slowly around the world in silence, and pay close attention to  everything we encountered along the way. And I did.

But silence, like most things shiny, has a darker side. It can be lonely. Frightening. Silence can leave you feeling disconnected. Caught on a broken treadmill endlessly running over unproductive thoughts.  That sort of silence is ‘noisy’.  Tarnished.  The golden glow long since forgotten.

Our task, as writers, as human beings, as learners, is to pay attention to both states. Pay attention to when life gets too fast, too loud. Pay attention to the times we could benefit from pressing mute in order to listen to our breath and not our voices.  Equally, pay attention to when we become locked. Stifled. In need of our volume being turned up.  In need of being heard. Too many of us operate on extremes, missing opportunities to create a more harmonious balance.

I have plenty of lasting memories from that week in Taos, but there is one that stands out from the rest. I was walking back to my bedroom on the first deliciously dark night. Somewhere over Taos mountain there was an electrical storm.  The entire landscape was alive with light — frenetic, neon bolts cracking into the atmosphere, scratching silver zig zags through the blackness. Natalie was walking next to me. Silent. I assumed she would remain wrapped in the meditative moment.  It seemed possible to me that she was the kind of women who could slow walk calmly through Mardi Gras. But then she surprised me, like the best writers do.  She glanced up and caught sight of the spectacular sideshow, and in her broad New York accent, she sliced through the silence with a gloriously, life affirming query.

“What the FUCK is that?” 

I remember smiling. It was that line that leaps out at you from the page of a book when you’re quietly reading at midnight.  It catapults off the page and cartwheels around your brain, reminding you why you love to read. Reminding you why the author is so brilliant.

Golden Goldberg.

And now to you! What is your relationship to silence? Do you want more of it or less? Do you need silence to work or are you more productive with noise around you? Do you have ‘loud’ memories from your childhood or ‘quiet’ ones? Or both?
I won’t talk for a little while… I’ll sit and wait for your words to arrive. I’m ready to listen…

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Mingle in the Mud

Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

I am relatively new to the world of blogging.  One of the reasons I circumvented it for so long and wrote only for myself to see (and my dog to listen to) was because I wasn’t especially enamoured with the word ‘blog’.

It’s not a pretty word. Remove the ‘L’ and you are wading in a swampy marsh, waste up in mud and slime.

Despite my dislike, I squelched ahead.  I pulled on the wellie boots I haven’t worn since leaving England, and I entered the mire. Surprise, surprise. Suddenly writing didn’t feel so lonely.  I was surrounded by ‘Bloggers’!  All of us making our own journeys through sludge in the hopes of delivering something special.  Something sparkly.  A shiny gem that can be rubbed so clean that it will become lucid in the hands of the reader.

There are a lot of us – millions in fact.  Some days I am so overwhelmed by how very overcrowded this bog of blogs is that I contemplate giving up in order to step back on the sidelines and watch instead. I haven’t been at it for long. Surely no one would notice me slink away? Life would feel safer – less chance of getting roughly elbowed in the ribs by an overenthusiastic daily poster with a rugged thirst for adjectives.

But I am choosing to mingle in the mud.

There are times for spectating and times for doing and this is my time for doing.  So instead of being intimidated by my fellow explorers, instead of feeling threatened by their band of followers, I feel encouraged by their tenacity instead.  I feel enlivened by the connection and the surprising sense of community I have never before associated with the quiet hum of my computer screen. And I feel deeply moved by the courageous recollections of my readers, learning how to Risk It, offering up their stories filled with spectrums of colour, inspiring me by example.  And I am reminded why I began this in the first place. Write To Be You.

Not even the most experienced writers nor the most seasoned bloggers will produce gems week after week. If it weren’t for the muddy, knobbly rocks, we would never a truly appreciate the crystals when they appear. Glinting in our palms. Urging us to get our hands mucky and keep sifting for more.

Your turn now! Think of a time when you opted out because you felt crowded out? Have you ever stopped yourself before starting, for fear of being inadequate or not being able to compare? Perhaps you set a goal after reading Round and Round We Go but you’ve yet to mobilise?

OR do you recall something you began but gave up too soon? Do you want to return to it?  Take a moment to suspend judgment and simply reflect on why you gave up.

Find your notebook.  Choose your pen and start writing.  Write for ten minutes. I invite you to share. Anything. The earthy pebbles and the shiny shells – both valuable in their own ways.  I’m here, mingling in the mud, waiting patiently to collect them all…
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