Writing in a group setting is different, much more like praying together. Or sitting together in meditation. Being present to each other in-process, witness to the very act of discovery and composition, soul-deep in the chaotic waters of creativity. This is writing as a spiritual practice — a kind of sacred deep listening, what Karen Hering calls in her book Writing to Wake the Soul, "contemplative correspondence."
As we enter the colder winter months, the days grow darker and time seems to slow down, thickening like sleepy sap in the bare-limbed trees. Yet for many of us watching the protests of the #OccupyWallStreet movement unfold over the last two months, the country seems poised on the brink of something revolutionary. A tension hangs in the air — the trembling stillness of hope and excitement, but also trepidation and anxiety. This pervasive mood has me thinking a lot recently about the Eastern spiritual philosophy of Taoism, and the lessons of stillness, receptivity and harmony with nature taught by its founders, Laozi and Zhuangzi. How might the insights of Taoism help us to understand the potency and influence of the #Occupy movement? And what can it tell us about where the movement might be heading in the future?
What struck me was the absence, how it stretched out in all directions. Indistinguishable. The trees were stunted and small, scraggly things, as flimsy as old paper dried up and twisted and left to the dust of the endless desert landscape. From the ridge, they spotted the ravine's slope here and there all the way down to where it met the empty, mud-cracked stream bed. Out here, they called that a river. They had the nerve to mark it on a map. When I looked down into the ravine from the top of the ridge where I was standing, a sense of vertigo swept through me. The unfamiliar shrunken size of the trees tricked the eye, so that even shrubs which I knew were only a few feet down seemed to stretch the landscape into an odd but persistent sensation of distance. A gradual slope dropped away in an optical illusion of dizzying depth. I blinked. I thought, this was what the Discworld Witches called "gnarly ground."
What is the sacred grove? The nemeton, sanctuary of spirit. A place set apart, a respite from wildness. Amongst the trunks of sacred trees — thick, tall pillars of rough bark etched in rivulets and knots that watch like eyes as light and shadow dance across the land — there is a space, within which all wildness, noise and dancing gives way to stillness. The grove is the eye of the world, as the storm has its eye that watches calmly from the very center the turning, roiling winds that utterly surround it. But this is no hard-edged circle, a gate that slams shut against the sacred mess and buzz of the world. The grove is made of wildness, too, an edge sculpted by wind and rain and sunlight, an eddy in the currents of energy. It is an in-drawn breath, a going-in amidst the goings-on, that opens up a center deep in the very heart and flux of things. And in the sacred grove, there is the altar where we do our work. A center of gravity, a pole that runs the length of the universe and patiently turns the worlds around itself.