Like many others, I admire the wisdom of our spiritual leaders: the Dalai Lama, Pema Chodron, Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, Thich Nhat Hanh. Each of these luminaries stress the importance of living in the now. When we mull over the past or envisage the future, we rob ourselves of the present moment. Another key teaching is the relinquishment of ego. Clinging to our opinions and desires creates suffering, and we will lead happier lives if we can manage to stop personalizing our existence. Judging and labeling are also serious afflictions, which must be avoided if we are to find peace.
Much as I agree with these teachings, as a writer I find them difficult, if not impossible, to implement. At the computer, living inside my stories, I am light years away from the present moment. And then there is all that time I spend mulling over scenes and characters while taking a shower, folding laundry, doing dishes or simply staring out a window.
A critical faculty is essential to writing. The author starts with a blank page and begins the harrowing process of elimination, discarding one option after another in an effort to pin down the right voice, the right setting, the right time, the right subject, all of which are entirely subjective. If we are to get anything done at all, we must rely on our judgments, ruling this better than that, and ruthlessly proceed.
Labels are words, the tools of our trade. We use them to identify thoughts, to assign meaning, to make sense of the world. We will spend hour after hour chasing down the words that best convey our ideas, and then we will endlessly arrange these words into sentences that are pleasing and precise. Words are prey. We must master them.
And how do we abandon our egos? Of all the art forms, writing is the most revealing, the most personal. We want to connect with others, and to that end we let the world in on our secrets and anxiously wait for a reaction. Maybe there are writers out there who don’t care about feedback, who are happy just to please themselves, but I haven’t met any.
And how do we take the ego out of marketing? How do we promote our work without promoting ourselves? Facebook, Twitter, blogs—social media is how we distinguish ourselves, how we gain attention. How we sell books, or hope to.
Funny thing is, Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle are both prolific authors. Presumably they have found a way to reconcile their literary calling with their spiritual growth. I wonder how they do that.