Saturday, August 16, 2014

August 16 2014. The ritual that is writing

“This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don't have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn't have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

More and more, when I am writing these days, I feel rather as if I am a samurai practicing sword-fighting. The whole process is ritualistic in a way—and very intense—and I have a profound sense of purpose. Yet I feel that each piece, rather than being an end in itself (although each is written to be complete unto itself) is more a building block of a higher purpose.

No, I’m not talking religion here.

What is that higher purpose? I don’t know exactly. I think it is a breakthrough in understanding. I seem to be mastering an approach to writing which has eluded me up to now.

I don’t mean I literally feel like a samurai—or want to be one. I don’t harbor such illusions. Instead, it is the image—mental shorthand—which comes to mind when trying to explain the energy which courses though me when trying to do, what I do, as well as I can. I put huge effort into everything I write these days.

Total effort.

True, I have always tried to do the best I can where writing is involved, but the difference now is that I seem to be becoming more skilled at tapping into my creativity—my inner chi. (for want of a better phrase).

Interesting that I have invoked the word ‘ritual.’ On the face of it, I wouldn’t have thought of writing as a ritual—but that is increasingly how I seem to be approaching it—with a view of achieving the impossible—perfection. Of course I won’t—because impossible is just that—but I may push the envelope a little further.

Ritual is defined as: “a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence."

Good grief! My writing is a ritual and my approach to it is becoming increasingly formalized.

Strange that I didn’t think of this before—but I didn’t. Next I’ll be saying that writing is spiritual.

It is.

It has taken me a long time to wake up to that self-evident fact—and it helps to explain the quite astonishing hold that writing has on its practitioners. Most of us certainly don’t do it for the financial reward—yet we seem to be driven to write, nonetheless.

We do it because it satisfies a deep spiritual need? Again, I’m not talking religion here.

What is writing about? It’s about communication, permanence (if so required), clarity, and understanding. The first two points are self evident. Clarity is part of the process. It has to be because one’s thoughts have a tendency to be muddled (certainly, mine do).

Paradoxically, that can be a good thing from a creative point of view because a degree of mental chaos encourages unexpected connections to be made. Thoughts that would not appear to link if one thought entirely logically, bump into each other and team up if one’s mind is something of a chaotic jumble.

Writing, somehow—and I don’t pretend to know how, except that it is something of a miracle—can make sense of all this. Or it will if the writer has enough hard-won experience.

That being so, the sequence would seem to be:

  • Think
  • Clarify
  • Write
  • Communicate

The underlying point there would seem to be that writing—in itself—promotes understanding. Actually, it does even if what is written is a tissue of lies. It acts as a magnifying glass in that thoughts—when expressed in written form—are much easier to examine critically.

Writers really are the bearers of light—the illuminators of the human condition.

Scarcely a trivial mission. Certainly an honorable one.


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