What I wanted
was the walking, not the walking-to but
the not-getting-there, the every moment
starting out, the every moment
being lifted in an arc against the moment of arrival: the anticipation
is terrific, yet always nothing
happens when I’m there
From Cashion Bridge by Jan Zwicky
Last week I set myself a task—to write six “columns” over six weeks, each prompted by a line or lines from a poem I picked at random from a book of poems I picked at random from our bookshelves . . . .
It sounded so fun and inspirational at the time.
All week I struggled with you might call writer’s block, though the term seems inaccurate. It was more like writer’s doubt. I doubted everything I wrote and thought. First, I worried I might misrepresent the lines from Zwicky’s brilliant poem, even though I told myself the line I chose (“What I wanted/was the walking, not the walking-to but/ the not-getting-there”) was merely a diving board into other waters, my own waters. Then I worried about the substance of what I was writing—it seemed superficial. An old question that regularly haunts me returned, “why does it even matter?”
I also had second thoughts about the idea of a column. What is a “column” anyway? How could I differentiate my regular personal essay blogposts from a series of columns? It turns out I couldn’t really find a distinction, so I wondered at my original purpose. Perhaps I just wanted the discipline of writing a post a week for six weeks, and the poem prompts were a fun and beautiful way to provide a way to get going. Well that just started to freak me out: How could I sustain this weekly posting? I am used to posting every once in a while, when the spirit moves me.
Michael’s meditation teacher has told him over and over again, “Don’t make a project out of it.” It can be anything—watching a TV series, taking up a cause, daily meditation, making art. Don’t make a project out of it. And I was making a project out of the columns. I even called it “The Six Column Project.” When I make a project out something, it becomes difficult. It’s not fun anymore because it’s loaded with expectations and hidden pressures. Ultimately undoable. As soon as I release the idea of a “project” and the timeline (why produce a post weekly when I am not actually a weekly columnist?), I am released into to the creative ether. I grow wings. So I will continue to write blogposts, probably not weekly, but when the spirit moves me. And I like the idea of using those lines from random poems as prompts—I may continue with that for awhile.
In the meantime, I squeezed out a couple of paragraphs this week inspired by Zwicky’s “not-getting-there.”
Walking meditation is all about not-getting-there. There is nowhere to get to. When I was first taught this practice, our teacher told us to imagine the snow lion padding joyfully through the highland meadows. He used his hand to show us the wavy motion of a soft heel/paw strike followed by the rest of the foot coming down on earth as if caressing the ground. We attend to our feet making contact with the floor as we circle the big bright shrine room, light tumbling through the tall windows. My foot slowly arches, each deliberate step on the wooden floors sending a flood of warm energy up my legs. Measured paces around and around, like the snow lion treading lightly in the high mountain meadow, surrounded by wildflowers.
The snow lion image puts me in mind of our two cats, who wander aimlessly around our house. Sometimes they have purpose—food bowl or litter box—but mostly it’s a long ramble through the rooms, not getting anywhere in particular, stopping here, sleeping there. Joy, the smaller one, will occasionally stop and extend one of her front legs in an arabesque. She is a feline ballerina.
* * *
It occurs to me that I did quite well at writing a column about not getting there because this post has been all about how I didn’t get there (“there” being the column project). So in failure I have succeeded.