Today, Becca asks us to think about the place we go when the writing gets good – or at least the flow is good. She says:
How about you? Whatâ€™s your writing state of mind these days? How do you access that â€œmysterious facultyâ€ where insight and imagination are nurtured? How do your instincts about your writing ability help you? Whatâ€™s your experience of being in â€œthe writing zoneâ€?
Today, in fact, I’m feeling a bit rushed because I spent an hour or so right in this zone . . . working things out, playing with words, disappearing onto the page. But I do think this question is so important because it seems to me that there’s a different place we go in ourselves – in our mind and our bodies and in another part of ourselves that we don’t label well – the soul? the spirit? the true self? – when we are writing. We tap something that we don’t tap normally. . . that’s the place I’m always seeking. That’s my fix.
A few years ago I tried to describe this, and here’s what I came up with:
For the monk, silence does not mean simply the lack of sound or noise. Instead, itâ€™s the kind of quiet that falls when a baby goes to sleep and a mother listens to his breath. Itâ€™s the crunch of autumn leaves under hiking boots. In her book Fifty Days of Solitude, Doris Grumbach describes it: â€œSilence, unlike the harsh, unacceptable sounds that bounce off my ears like stones, could bring tears to my eyes and break my heart.â€ Silence, then, is not the lack of sound; itâ€™s the absence of the sounds that assault the mind.
We may not be able to locate total silence, if such a thing exists beyond the confines of a sensory deprivation tank; instead, we need to seek my places and time where we can feel the quiet around and in us. We may find such silence almost impossible to experience where we live, so we may have to seek it out on the one piece of sidewalk where the roar of the ocean overwhelms all other sound or leave the city and go to places â€“ camping in the High Sierra, for example â€“ where the absence of sound is a quiet buzz in our ears.
Some people, it seems, can find this silence no matter where they are. In her books, Natalie Goldberg describes being able to drop into the deep quiet of meditation by willing herself to do. Others find their deepest quiet and peace in physical activity. My friend Karrie loves to run for this reason, and my father can sit and build wood furniture for hours, lost in the pattern of the grain. Silence does not come to everyone in the same way.
Solitude, taken from the Latin word solus, which literally means â€œalone,â€ often precedes this silence because time away makes available quiet, calm moments without distraction or duty. While Merton argues that the only true solitude is interior solitude, he also says:
Although it is true that this solitude is everywhere, there is a mechanism for finding it that has some reference to actual space, to geography, to physical isolation from the towns and cities of men. There should be at least a room, or some corner where no one will find you and disturb you or notice you. You should be able to untether yourself from the world and set yourself free, loosing all the fine strings and strands of tension that bind you, by sight, by sound, by thought, to the presence of other men.
Only in this â€œuntetheredâ€ space can we experience quiet and grow in self-awareness even as we try to focus our inner eyes to see the world around us clearly.
For monks, solitude emerges in the regulated routine in the monastery. The patterns of life in a monastic community often require hours of time alone for prayer, reading, and work. The community gathers at certain moments in the day to worship or dine together, but in many monasteries, the monks spend the bulk of the day alone. This pattern of solitude is similar to many peoplesâ€™ routines of prayer or meditation or even a small childâ€™s practice of piano â€“ same time, same place, every day. Routine and ritual help to create a space in a personâ€™s consciousness that is always open and ready for entrance into that solitary place.
This place of solus is my “zone.” I’m getting better at going there even in the midst of the frenzy. A meditation practice helps with that, but I don’t get there every day. But when I do, I feel more alive than I do any other time.
When I am in that focused place, I feel like I’m standing in a quiet wood with the ground covered in ferns . . . dew drops off leaves, birds skitter, a breeze shuffles branches . . . I breathe deep. I sigh long . . . and I am with myself.