Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Buddhist who helps me write

I’m a slow reader.  I’ve said it before.

And some books, I read more slowly than others.

Like Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.  I’ve been working my way through this book for over 3 years.  I’m not kidding.  I read some.  I put it down for a while.  I complete some of the writing assignments she gives to me.  And I continue on.

Sometimes I start feeling guilty that it takes me such a long time to finish things.

But I do like to read.  And I do like this book.  And sometimes, it just takes me a half a decade or so to absorb it all.  And when Natalie Goldberg speaks, I want to absorb every single detail.  She’s that good.

She’s a Buddhist, by the way.  I feel like I should tell you that, so if you’re put off by such things, you won’t download her words onto your device.  But if you write, or need to write, or want to write, she’s the best person I’ve ever heard on the subject.

With that said, here are a few nuggets from Nat G.  It was difficult for me to narrow the list down to 5, but I did:

·         Allow yourself to be awkward.

·         … freedom … means knowing who you are, what you are supposed to be doing on this earth, and then simply doing it.

·         We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded.

·         Stop!  Really stop when someone is complimenting you.  Even if it’s painful and you are not used to it, just keep breathing, listen, and let yourself take it in.  Feel how good it is.  Build up a tolerance for positive, honest support.

·         And let us always be kind in this world.

She’s says good things.

Watch out for page 133, though.  Natalie throws down the gauntlet when she challenges us to write 10 short poems. 


I’m not a big poem writer.  I do a prosy sort of thing every now and then, but poetry is really my wife’s specialty.  But since Natalie told me to do it, I did it.  I wrote 10 poems over the course of several days.  And nine of the them were mostly junk.  (Seriously, ask Cheryl … she’s the nicest person I know, and she really hated some of them.)  But one of them turned out okay.  It seemed to express a little something that I feel sometimes … or more than sometimes.  So I’ll share it with you, if you don’t mind:

waits patiently in the distance
like a friend on a street corner
nodding and smiling
until I arrive
and then fleeing to the next block

Can I get an amen?

And now I’m back to Writing Down the Bones.  I’ve got 67 pages left to go.  Wish me luck.


Since you’ve made it this far into the blog post, how about a little homework assignment?  Take 5 minutes and write something.  Something that means something to you.  Don’t outline it.  Don’t edit it.  Just write it.  From your mind through your fingers and onto the paper.


  1. Hey, I'm the first commenter so do I still win the Starbuck's gift card? Awesome, thanks.

    That book sounds interesting, especially since I'm a recently restored Christian after being a Zen Buddhist (and ardent atheist) for the past eight years.

    There are several teachings or concepts that these two religions share. One being that "surrendering" our lives is an important part of being "happy" and spiritually fulfilled. The difference is a big one and that is, in Christianity we willingly fall backwards having faith that we'll be caught and protected by a loving father. In Buddhism, in my understanding, you're simply trying on your own power to numb yourself from fear as we all eventually approach the dark and unknown void of death.

    1. Hey, Bryan ... next time I see you, coffee is on me! You know I'd like to hear more about your 8-year journey. My sense of reading Natalie Goldberg is that she moved from cultural Judaism on to Buddhism and found some comfort there.

  2. I love how Natalie writes as well. I read this book last fall and fell in love with her writing.

    One of my favorite sections:
    "Writing, too, is ninety percent listening. You listen so deeply to the space around you that it fills you, and when you write, it pours out of you. If you can capture that reality around you, your writing needs nothing else."

    I also liked her book Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life, but it sounds like you don't need the extra distraction of another book while reading this one. But here's a good line from that one to fit with your challenge to us to write for 5 minutes (I'll take you up on it):

    "A helpful technique: right in the middle of saying nothing, right in the middle of a sentence, put a dash and write, “What I really want to say is …” and go on writing."

    1. "What I really want to say is ..." -- that's a good one. Thanks, Lisa!