“Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.”
I’ve wanted to write about writing for some time now. Writing this blog and my daily Morning Pages have enhanced my life of mindful retirement in ways that are so significant that I just can’t put off sharing my experience with you any longer. When I retired, I looked forward to a lot of things but writing wasn’t on my list. Academic writing was a necessary but unenjoyable part of being a university faculty member. I wrote many articles and a couple of books that contributed toward my quest for the holy grail of academia – tenure. When I was awarded tenure and retired a week later (crazy, huh?) I knew that I’d never write an academic article again. What a relief!
A Mindful Encounter with a Shark
Mindful writing, however, is a different ballgame. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the small details that surround us. Likewise, mindful writing is helping me to get into the habit of using all my senses to notice and appreciate the world around me. Let me share an example. Yesterday, I was drinking my morning coffee in front of our big window overlooking the ocean channel behind our house. It was a beautiful, sunny morning – a rare event during this stormy, cold month of March. Suddenly, I noticed a large, silver fish flip-flopping around near the marsh grasses. It looked as if it was trying to beach itself up into the grasses. It was larger than anything I’d ever seen in our channel before. I watched this beautiful fish for a few minutes before it seemed to sink into the deeper waters. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed another creature also swimming close to the grasses about 20 yards away. Could it be…a small shark? I yelled for Jim to hurry over to see this amazing phenomenon. Yes, we both agreed it was a small shark – maybe a baby. It was approximately two feet long and was clearly looking for something – perhaps the anxious silver fish? We watched as the shark prowled the waters, turned and headed back down the channel, out of sight. My compassion for the large silver fish led me to wonder if it had been injured by the shark or was merely frightened by it.
Ever since this chance opportunity to witness one of Nature’s ever-changing dramas, I’ve been thinking about it. My thoughts include my gratitude for observing these two creatures engaging in their natural behaviors, my compassion for the silver fish and indeed, for the shark also, and asking what a baby shark and its prey can teach me about my mindful journey.
In addition to my blogging practice, I also complete my daily Morning Pages, an integral part of my current class, The Artist’s Way. This assignment, a form of meditative journaling, is designed to give us practice in stream of consciousness writing. My morning pages provide me a time and space to embrace and explore my daily experiences, reflections, and feelings. It has also enabled me to unpack some limiting beliefs about my writing, including:
- I don’t have anything interesting to talk about.
- My daily activities are too trivial.
- I don’t write well enough for blogging successfully.
- I’m not intelligent enough to have deep thoughts about my life.
Documenting my daily activities, which sometimes seem trivial and commonplace, and reflecting on their meaning to me, is helping me to think about new ideas for writing, as well as developing my mindfulness muscles. Writing is helping my mindfulness and mindfulness is helping my writing. In my old life of teaching and consulting, I would call this a “virtuous cycle.”
So, as I continue to think about the little shark and his prey, the big, silver fish, I’m forming some new ideas about my life that I’d like to write about:
- How aggressiveness is part of natural life. Does it have a place in mine?
- How hard the shark worked to get this far up the channel from the ocean. Success takes effort and doesn’t always pay off.
- Every sentient being deserves compassion, even a shark! How can I expand my compassion in my life?
I hope you enjoy the following poem, from the wonderful writer, May Oliver.
from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.