Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Dreaming The World in Colour

Why does it seem so much easier to write vividly about pain and despair than it does to write about happiness and contentment? This morning, sitting in a sun-warmed arm-chair with my journal on my lap watching the blue jays and the cardinals quarrel over the sunflower seeds, I do not feel I have to write. At times I’m driven to write in order to alleviate pain, calm agitation, deal with uneasiness or probe a disturbing dilemma. Today, I am content to be with the world.

So I sit and ponder. Slowly, without any sense of needing to find “an answer,” I bring the practice of open inquiry that I often use for dealing with uncomfortable states to the moment, wondering: What is this thing I call contentment? Still taking in the hush of the wind through the pines and the light of the sun shining through the clear cold water to the muddy bottom of the pond- I start to write. But what comes are mostly descriptions of what this inner place of ease is not: not wanting to be anywhere else; not making lists; not worrying about what comes next or happened yesterday; not trying to unravel the mysteries of life.

Does it matter whether or not I can describe this thing I call joy or happiness or contentment? There is no suffering in need of easing in this morning happiness. Sometimes, I write to share and illuminate our struggles in the hope that others might find solace and strength in the sharing. But moments of contentment, whether alone or shared, do not need anything to be complete. If I am alone, the sun shines. If you are beside me, the sun shines. We could call it “just being” or “being present,” but something in me reaches for words- for an image or a sensually described movement- that reflect the profound peace in my arms and legs, my chest and abdomen.

Driving home last week I listened to Wade Davis giving one of the current Massey Lectures entitled The Wayfinders, on CBC radio. Davis eloquently described the sophisticated spiritual ideas and practices of the Australian aborigines. For hundreds of years these people have had faith that their nomadic wandering, the following of the “songlines” of their ancestors across an often harsh landscape, has enabled them to “dream” the world into being, preserving an essential aspect of creation. I cannot do justice here to the way they literally and metaphorically use the terms “dream” and “songlines,” but it occurs to me that my desire to write- any desire to access and manifest our creativity- is another way of dreaming the world into being. I want my writing, my “dreaming” and the songline I create and/or follow to include images and metaphors and descriptions that reflect both the struggles and the joy of life.

Good writing – like good music, painting, or any other art- evokes the universal by touching the particular that sparks our sensory memory and our heart’s imagination. I once described my depletion after meeting many people on a too-long book tour by saying I felt as if I’d had a cheese grater taken to my skin. I needed to go home, to be wrapped in the protective gauze of being still and alone in the forest. Whether or not you are a fellow introvert, these words give you some sense of what I felt.

I want to find images and metaphors that are equally strong in evoking the experience of joy and contentment. And I want the words to be vivid and real, to contribute to dreaming a world that is vivid and real. I want to avoid spiritual platitudes that reassure me that being is enough but do not reflect the full taste or vibrancy of being. I cannot claim to know how this dreaming (that of my creative work or of the Australian aboriginals’ songline) works, but it is not a simplistic matter of magical thinking. It is something that happens on a deeper level when we engage the moment completely and let our creative life flow outward in images, songs, stories and movements that hold colour, texture, sound, shape, scent, and taste. There are hundreds of way to dream the world into being with all of the fire and the beauty of that first moment of creation.

The contentment I feel in this moment is not marred by my desire to share it with words. And as I write this one of the season’s first butterflies appears- wings of brown velvet rimmed with red and gold. Trailing threads of sunlight, it dips and dives on windwaves, a flicker of movement so tenuous and tenacious it takes my breath away. And I think of a quote by Trina Paulus- guidance for all of us who want to take the risk of participating in dreaming the world into being:

“How does one become a butterfly?” she asked pensively.
“You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.” – Trina Paulus


  1. Aaah Oriah, you Mountain Dreamer!

    Here I am in a dull, drizzly London afternoon - there you are, in some other place and time zone. I read what you have written, and I suddenly remember beauty. Beauty of the spring that is coming, though late and slowly. The beauty of creativity. Even my own beauty.

    I see that that is not exactly what you were writing about, but that's what's landed with me.

    Many thanks and blessings to you, and may you have many more such moments.

  2. Oriah...thank you.

    I am going to apply the following: "Slowly, without any sense of needing to find “an answer,” I bring the practice of open inquiry that I often use for dealing with uncomfortable states to the moment, wondering:...."

    Last week the splinter that is in my stratosphere is: Why do some feel the need (compulsion almost?) to share as compared to those who don't? By share I mean--anything, from "ooo oriah, here is a link I found that you may like..." to "hey, i figured out an easier way to do this, let me offer." Why does the buck stop for some at 2 people and others 4 and others 40?

    Since google search wasn't enough on this point, I inquired family and they have all taken offense to this query so I am left to my own devices to figure it out. If the answer is there is no answer, at least I found some new questions along the way. :)



  3. Sigh. I had written about contentment, and then the blog ate the comment and it's completely gone. Now we shall see if it's easier to write from despair.

    Contentment is hard to write about because it is contentment. I've always believed that for most writing the driving force is tension: tension between where one is and where one wants to be, tension between people, tension between wanting to hold on to a glorious moment and the inevitable erosion of time. A Buddhist would call this suffering, and say it's caused by desire. But even Buddha said that the state of not-suffering cannot be put into words.

    I suppose the ultimate tension is the one we fell into as we left Eden, the knowledge of the difference between good and evil. Perhaps it is our cultural sorrow at leaving that Garden of Creation behind us that makes us so admire those for whom creation is continual and ongoing, such as the Aboriginals, or the Polynesians, my favourite of the Wayfinders series.

    But even if words and writing can't bring us to that place of contentment (words imply a space between us and our experience), I share your hope that writing can at least serve as signposts pointing us in the direction we take as we walk on the path towards contentment. Chuang Tzu told of having dreamt he was a butterfly,and added " I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man." Our words can at least be those dreams.

  4. I like to think I too am dreaming the world into being, through my strong intentions to become fully engaged moment-to-moment, but also to relax into the now in inclusive acceptance, and to experience the joy of conscious awareness of our connectedness and the ability to make choices that serve us all in feeling more whole and content. Pure presence in contentment is a the gift we give ourselves by practicing being quiet, accepting and then loving ourselves and all of life. I like to think I join you in spirit in your contentment. Laurel

  5. The first few lines of your post reminded me instantly of a moment that happened over 30 years ago.

    I have been writing since I was old enough to hold a pencil. In my teenaged years, sorrow brought me to the page much more often than joy. I asked my father why I could not write about happy things. (My father, a poet himself, understood the artist within me.)

    My father's reply was in the form of a poem:

    This is suppose to be
    a Happy Poem

    I saw my grandson
    take his first steps today

    Ha Ha Ha
    I am glad
    I am alive

  6. T.Dorsey- thank you for this- and thank you to your father- a wise man.

  7. Your posts always coincide perfectly with my life. Perhaps it's the times I decide to check your blog: when I'm searching for something. Somehow you always manage to fulfill that.
    Thank you Oriah.

  8. Oriah, your words on contentment made perfect sense to me.... So simple and yet so true.
    Thank you, for Your words have nourished my soul!