Finding Your Hidden Treasure
You may recall that in Article 4, I was telling you about using the feedback of the outside world to show you what pleases you. The sight of a tree casting shade on the sidewalk—a cerulean blue jacket in your size—a meal you prepared yourself, being present all the way—these and other such outside-in experiences can bring home to you what it is within you that responds…is pleased. Then, you not only get to be pleased, but you also come to know through felt experience that real place inside that is there to be evoked.
Now, finally, in this last article of the series, I deliver what I’ve been promising: connect this to your writing. We all deserve to have a genuinely pleasing experience of writing—and of ourselves in the process of writing.
So let’s say that you tried out the outside-in experiment, and that the last time you went grocery shopping you thought in terms of what would please you; or that right now (if you didn’t already try this out), as you are sitting here reading this and breathing, you were to notice that you’re breathing, and see what pleases you about that. (“Oh, I don’t have to work at it—it just comes…and goes…but comes again.” “Oh, the sheer fact of noticing that has somehow evened out my breath; it feels smoother, more nurturing.” And so on.) So now you have some sense of what paying attention to what pleases you in an outer experience can give you.
With enough such experiences from outside in, you can begin to evoke and trust pleasing responses completely from inside you. This is what it’s like to face the “blank page” with a trust that something in you will come forth to fill in that page—not with just strings of words and paragraphs, but with something that has intrinsic meaning to you; something that, in the very act of writing it, gives you pleasure. And some time afterwards, reading it back to yourself, you can take pleasure in what is given. That you were the one who gave it to yourself—perhaps in a different state of consciousness, or contemplation, or absorption—makes the experience all the sweeter. Who knew you had it in you? Well, on some level, you did. You just didn’t know how to call it in yet, perhaps.
Sometimes, simply dropping the fears and giving yourself space to find out what wants to come forth is enough to get you racing for the computer or pad of paper (or, in my case, typewriter) because you can’t hold back the flow of creating that’s welling up inside you. Ah, we live for those times!
But when they don’t happen of themselves, we can prime the pump—not by trying out some clever phrase, but by inquiring into ourselves, starting with, “What would I like to write?”
Or if that’s too general a question to bring something forth, you could ask, “What in this book would I like to write right now (even if it’s out of order and I don’t know what comes before or after)?” “What kind of way of getting into it would please me?” “What rhythm pleases me?” “What image pleases me?” “What kind of experience of writing would please me?” There could be any number of questions, but the best question is the one that silences your mind and brings forth something that has immediacy, aliveness, and compelling interest for you.
It can be just a little wisp of a sense of something, a breeze behind your head, a memory from deep within that offers you a thread that you can pull on and reel in more. You will know you are about to truly please yourself when something comes and you cannot wait to start writing. You don’t care if it’s “good,” but it’s here, it’s telling itself to you at least by a thread, and you want to go in and follow it, pull it out, make it visible to yourself.
Putting It into Practice
Because I wanted to conclude this series with something that would really be of value to you—and because I wanted to open myself to the reality behind what I’d been writing about pleasing yourself—I realized that I had to actually apply all this to my own writing. Otherwise, it was “just words.”
Fortunately, I had the perfect project to try out pleasing myself on: a book I’ve been working on for quite a while, writing in fits and starts, planning out narrative arcs and so on but never really feeling connected to the heartbeat of it; never feeling, “This book can hold what I want to explore in a living way.” I’d been frustrated with my own lack of full commitment to the book. I’d thought, “Maybe it doesn’t matter if I write it or not”; but then, the need for me to give voice to the subject would return.
So one morning in the time period between writing the last article and this one, I lay in bed after waking, my attention still diffuse. Horizontal, I didn’t impose upon myself the kinds of mental standards that I might once up and into my day. Instead, I was aware of my breathing, my body weight on the mattress, the light coming through the half-opened blinds. And it occurred to me to ask myself: “What could I write that would please me instead of scaring me?”
I never had asked myself such a thing before, and in that question was a kindness absent from earlier times. Just to acknowledge the fear, and offer myself an alternative—“Just enter through what pleases you, and for now let go of the rest”—was enough to bring something to mind. (I think it’s telling that I was lying down, and not yet into “productive” mode.) As it came to mind, I could feel something aligning inside me, as if I’d been scattered here and there, and this “something” was gathering the parts of me together into a cohesive intelligence, a compassionate wisdom.
I reached for the notebook and pen by my bed, and scribbled what came to me, a directive to myself; an opening into this memoir of my life with music. This is what I wrote:
Recollections and commentary—my adult take on what happened. E.g., the piano teacher shoving me over on the piano bench; the effect on a child’s soul—confidence—even musicality.
And with that permission to bring in my adult perceiving/concluding self (some of what I apparently meant by “commentary”), my pen took off by itself. Permission to please unlocked the door, and I went through without self-consciousness or -criticism. I began to write my adult impressions of what had happened when I was eight with my piano teacher, and my mother—clearly, it had been in me all along, but my earlier efforts to please someone other than myself had not let it out.
When I had jotted down these raw notes, I got out of bed and brought the paper I had just written on into the living room, where my typewriter (my first love) stood. I put a clean sheet of white paper in the platen, with every intention to simply copy what I had handwritten. But instead, a story poured out.
When I was around eight, my family moved from our small sunlit apartment in Queens a block from the world-famous Forest Hills tennis courts to a house in Long Island. It was a marker of my father’s financial success that he could do this (as many people were trying to do), and so we took the furniture we had (we would add more) to a brand-new housing development on the idea of the (in)famous Levittown, where each house looked identical to its neighbor’s, save some telling detail, like a brick façade halfway up the front of the house, that marked it as more opulent than the others.
As we settled into the new place, its charms for a child became quickly apparent: a cul-de-sac street that allowed endless bicycle riding in safety (and the chance to learn to ride a bike), and a new-seeded lawn for the first time ever (in the life of both the land and our family). I got to watch a tank-like machine that my father had hired flatten the rust-colored dirt into compliance, and the seeding machine that followed, making spiky holes in the dirt and depositing the grass seeds. Then came the setup of a protective enclosure, four wooden posts at each corner of the yard, with a flimsy string strung between each post.
I was enraptured. This was a memoir about my life with music, and the long journey of becoming myself. I was on my way to writing about an experience with my piano teacher—and yet the invitation to please myself took me in through this route: our move to a new and relatively more opulent state, in which there could be a piano, a piano teacher, and piano lessons. I had not consciously intended to write about all this; but once there, I found myself so delighted to linger on certain impressions that had stuck with me since that actual time:
Looking out at the slowly-appearing shoots of grass poking through the red dirt like a surprise bottom-up shower, something in me that couldn’t speak itself marveled at the amazement of it all. I had lived in the city all my life so far, except for a few cherished summers in the country; but this was to be our home, now, not a respite from our home; and something that could not be bought or built or willed into existence was starting to grow and surround our brick-façade-less house. I gazed at it often, noting the carpet quality of the green as it tufted itself underneath the soil and linked with neighboring grasses, and filled itself in above the surface. The initial fragility of the newborn grasses, needing that fortress of string, soon grew stronger and sturdier; and in time, the posts and the string were taken down, and the grass was left to survive on its own….
And the permission to allow my older, wiser adult self to comment turned out not only to let me bring more of me into the writing, but also to see things—to slow them down long enough to name them, and thus realize them—that I had never seen before when replaying the scene in question in my mind. So I could lead-in to the more dramatic event that happened later by first, for the first time, honoring who I was, inside, when I sat down to play.
There were melodies in my mind—in storage, so to say—that leapt up like fish seeking the hook and enraptured me, and I did my best to play them. One finger on a key at a time, plunking along, dot-dot-dot, C-D-E; and then, as the awkwardness of that made its way to my ears, using several fingers on the keys instead, trying it out: my thumb on middle C, my middle finger on E, and so on. It was still awkward—my fingers fell over each other like adolescents at a dance—but this extension gave me more range, and there was something about my fingers touching and feeling the keys that inspired them to keep going. The sound was initially halting and, yes, awkward; but there was, in the pursuit of the music—in what was possible; in whether I could bring music forth from this neutral piano that offered itself up for playing to whoever sat down at it (it was only me but what if our piano had stood in Carnegie Hall and given itself up to, say, Artur Rubenstein?)—a deep purity of intent. I had child-innocence, then; there was not, as yet, a second-guessing element in my mind, a resident inner critic that would pass judgment on every wrong note (at the piano and in general). I was just trying things out, seeing what was possible, what sounded from my efforts; whiling away the time in tune.
I won’t give away the rest; if you’d like you can read the entire chapter; I’ll give you the link at the end. But my point is that by asking myself “What would please instead of scare me?” and listening attentively but diffusely for what would come in response, I then had my own permission to include commentary in the writing—to bring in my “older, wiser self” to help me explore and puzzle out what I hadn’t understood when young. And this clicked open a door, a river; and the writing flowed out of it—and I was fully there, discovering in the very act of writing.
How can I convey this joy? It was the being seen I had always longed for when I was young. “I was a hidden treasure, and I longed to be known.” That I would be the one to know this—to find the treasure hidden right inside myself—blew me away. When I had come to the end of the chapter (for so it was), after 2-1/2 hours of timeless absorption and 11 pages of “output,” I was so filled with energy—so large, so surprised and bursting with contentment—that I had to go outside and experience my larger self in motion. I had written myself into a new chapter of my current life!
The Growth-Gift of Pleasing Yourself in Your Writing
Writing can be set up as a test of your worth, a marker of your talent (yes or no; 0 or 100%; if not now, never)—or it can be a way to enter into your experience and bring in a willing heart, a curious mind, perspectives gained over time that can be brought to bear to understand and even heal something that was out of alignment with your true being at the time. Writing to please yourself can be the gift you give yourself—because you will be present while you write, even if wholly absorbed; you will be fine-tuning your understanding, finding the subtler truths about the situation, and in the process recognizing the great gifts in you of seeing, and being, and creating.
To please yourself in this way—even if you are writing non-fiction, it still holds true—is to truly rewrite your life; not as a fantasy, but as a transformed perspective that frees you from being bound by what had confined you. You emerge larger than when you went in.
One Last Outside-In/Inside-Out Suggestion: The Beauty Spot
We are such incredible, multi-dimensional creatures, and so rarely do we get to know the beauty of who we are and what we are capable of. Most of us are conditioned to believe a whole slew of limiting things about ourselves—which, over time and repetition, we do—and much of this affects our experience of writing, especially writing a book (so daunting at the outset). But “conditioning” is like an ill-fitting coat we’ve gotten used to and subtly contorted ourselves to make fit. And if the conditioning loosens up enough to be recognized as that, it can be taken off so that we can see what our true nature, our “hidden treasure,” really is and how it can support and guide us.
So I want to tell you a final story. It has to do with making a small corner of your room beautiful. Years ago, I heard somewhere that no matter how messy or chaotic or unattractive your home felt to you, if you could make just one little corner of it beautiful—a dresser-top, say—after a while that little beautiful corner would become contagious, and bit by bit the areas around it would also call out to be made beautiful, until finally, your entire environment would be one of beauty. And this, of course, would have an effect on your inner environment, as well.
One year, long ago, when I was living inside a chaotic inner environment that was perfectly reflected in a chaotic outer environment—piles of things, most of them unloved, vying for attention, making a sense of spaciousness impossible—I decided to try the “one beautiful corner” experiment. I was not (to say the least) an optimist, in those days. I didn’t really think anything would appreciably help. But I cleared off the top of my dresser, and I found a piece of cloth in a nice color and put it on top. And on that cloth, I placed a perfume bottle I once had bought second-hand, with soldered metal roses at the top. That was all I did. The rest of the room (and house) looked as before.
But I had promised myself to let the beauty corner stay, not to mess it up. And over time (well, a lot of time), the table next to the bed then had “asked” to be cleared off, and for a new second-hand lamp to be placed there; and then, a nice cloth below the lamp that looked well with the cloth on the dresser top. This went on—think slow-motion, dragged-out-time, lasting years—and now, fast-forward to my current life: almost every spot is a “beauty spot.” It didn’t involve a lot of money—and I’m a great fan of fabrics—but for the most part every spot has received my pleased attention, and when I look around, I tend to be pleased. I also feel like something of who I truly am is reflected when I look around. It helps me remember who I am, inside.
You can begin your book with a single “beauty spot.” Just something that pleases you, even though all around (whether written or still unwritten) seem to be messes, chaos, things unloved. When you create beauty from within the hidden treasure of yourself, it becomes both reflective and contagious. You see yourself in it, and it generously wants to “infect” its neighbors—other images, chapters, words. Yes, it will take some doing; yes, it will sometimes require remodeling (aka, revision). But the joy is that the real thing has room, now, to show itself to you. The beauty of yourself that you hid away and perhaps forgot about—or longed for and didn’t know how to get back to—has a way to come forth. And whether you are the subject of your book (as in a memoir), or are writing nonfiction where the word “I” never gets written, the self that comes forth when you invite yourself to be pleased will lead you home to yourself.
May it be so.
Note: If you would like to read the chapter I quoted from, above, go to the Behind the Scenes page on my Naomi Rose.net site.
I hope you have gained value from these five articles on “Please Yourself ~ in Writing a Book and Creating a Life.” It pleased me to write it and share it with you.
So by now, you know my offerings: a free excerpt from Starting Your Book for joining my email list; a chance to read the whole book by going to this page; a complimentary half-hour phone consultation to explore with me the book of your heart. (Contact details below.)
But did you know—I also help people clarify and create things other than writing a book? Perhaps you have a desire to start a business, but need to find your inner footing. Or you want to do something as an artist, but haven’t really found your way. Or…? I offer Creativity Listening—similar to with writing a book, but the subject can be whatever your heart calls you to. (Click here to learn more.) As a thank-you for coming all the way with me in these articles, I am offering complimentary half-hour consultations for this, as well. Let me know if you want to set up something.
And of course, you are welcome to linger at this website, just a little while. Look around and see what speaks to you.
I look forward to hearing from you and receiving/helping you with your creative gifts.
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