Tag Archives: meditation

Starting Over

yogaEvery morning, right around 6 a.m., I spring awake. I could stay in bed longer if I wanted to, but I’m done with sleep. I step across the hall to my study where there is just enough open space on the floor for my Pilates exercises and a bit of yoga. 

That done and my body beginning to unfurl, I settle in to meditate.

Breathe. Breathe again.

I’m not a particularly experienced meditator.  I’ve explored mindfulness meditation several other times in my life, but only in the last couple of years have I begun to understand what I’m doing. Just begun. One of the things I’ve learned about it is that there is no way to fail. When you catch your mind chattering and swinging from tree to tree, you just start over. Return to your breath. Return to your breath again. And even if you have to do that a hundred times in a thirty-minute sit, you’ve had a good meditation, because you’ve paid attention.

As Mary Oliver says, “This is the first, wildest, and wisest thing I know, that the soul exists, and that it is built entirely out of attention.”

Life, I’ve come to know, is also built out of starting over.

I didn’t spend time in my younger days wondering what I would be like in my eighth decade. I remember when I was a child looking with astonishment at the year 2000 on a calendar and wondering whether it was possible that I would still be alive in such a remote time. But I never gave much thought—even as the years accumulated—to who I would be when I grew old. I must have assumed, though, that I would have it all together by now, whatever it was. I can tell I assumed that by the surprise I feel, almost daily, to find myself still struggling, still changing, still growing, still trying to figure out how to be this person I wake up inside of each morning.

I only know, as I’ve learned when I find myself caught in the midst of some loud clamor during my morning meditation, that it’s a privilege to start over … again. 

Last year at this time I was recovering from breast cancer surgery, waiting for the radiation treatments to begin. All that lies behind me now, but the possibilities it brought remain. Perhaps the most dramatic of those is that I have learned that I don’t have time to rush, that the only moment I have is now, that attention creates meaning.

I forget, of course. I suppose we all do. But then I start over.

Breathe. Now breathe again.

A new year is here.

What about the Other Characters?

peace symbolMost readers, I suspect, assume that a story’s perceiving character will come from the writer’s own psyche, at least to some degree. Not that authors must commit murder to write from the perspective of a murderer, but to do so we must be able to get in touch with the part of ourselves that might, given the right circumstances, be capable of such an act.

What about the side characters, though, the ones the writer doesn’t climb inside of? If characters are only observed, not inhabited on the page, it’s easier to assume that they are complete creations, having little to do with the writer’s reality.

It is interesting, though, after drawing a central character out of my own substance, how much of me there is left over to scatter among others in the story.

Buddy in Little Dog, Lost carries the same longing for connection I talked about last week in Angie, the central character in Blue-Eyed Wolf. So does the boy who has to give Buddy up. So does Mark, who needs a dog. So does Charles Larue, the old man living alone in a mansion at the center of the town of Erthly. Every one of them brings to life some longing of my own.

And there are other points of connection with side characters. In Blue-Eyed Wolf, Maia, Angie’s adult friend, is the wife of her Episcopal priest. Where does Maia come from? It just so happens that for twenty-eight years I was married to an Episcopal priest, and while Maia certainly isn’t me—she’s much more up front than I ever dared be, for one thing—creating her as a character allowed me to dip into a deep well of feelings about the role I lived for so long. It was one in which I had, of necessity, to remain mostly silent, so finding an opportunity to speak twenty-five years after leaving that life behind gives me great energy and thus gives the character energy, too.

Long after I had begun writing Blue-Eyed Wolf, I was unsure about where I was going with it. The story I carried in my mind, in fact, had no middle, no action for Angie to take. Still, I kept inching forward, trusting that I would find what I needed, and eventually I did. I decided that, while attending the anti-war rally at the Pentagon with Maia, Angie would meet a draft resister, and that she would become involved in helping him escape to Canada. Great solution!

The problem was that I had a character, but no substance. For a long time, the young man in question was a blank. And then one day I remembered Charlie, a fellow I once knew, who, when I knew him in the early 60’s, was struggling to get his draft board to accept his status as a conscientious objector. Just thinking about Charlie dropped my character into my lap. Charlie was a philosophy major, an early hippie, a sweet and gentle man. And while I can’t pretend to write about someone I knew slightly fifty years ago, Charlie became, as Ruby’s ears did, the springboard for my character.

So will this character come entirely from outside me? No. He will believe what I believe about the military and about war. Meditation will be important to him, something that is important in my life. And when he comes back with Angie to Minnesota, he will share some of my own fascination of and caution in the wilderness. Once more scraps of the writer will enliven a character, even a side character, one I won’t inhabit.

If human nature weren’t so complex, so varied, fiction would be dull. It’s because we are all endless resources for discovery that characters can be made to seem to live.