Monthly Archives: October 2013

Emptiness and the Dome of Heaven

Each dome of heaven arises from emptiness and embodies emptiness in it beginnings. In a very early post I discussed the work of Anselm Kiefer and specifically referred to his work titled “Everyone Stands Under his own Dome of Heaven”. If you are not familiar with this particular painting by Kiefer then just Google the title and you can appreciate it for yourself. In the painting, the dome of heaven is depicted as a transparent hemisphere, so you will have to visualize your own dome of heaven (DOH) with you standing just beneath its highest point. Now consider that everyone around you sits at the center point of his or her own DOH. This may be difficult at first, but becomes easier with practice.

Before a child is born, that is while they are in utero, it resides beneath the expectant mother’s DOH. Recollections of pregnancy and birthing, no matter how uncomfortable and painful aspects of the whole experience was, will remain beneath her DOH. Her child will remain there as well, no matter how old they are. There is your first hint re: the raison d’etre of one’s DOH. It exists to contain everything that is important to you and everything you have created in life. Thus at birth, a newborn’s DOH is essentially empty and therefore in the Taoist sense, useful in its emptiness. The first contents under the infant’s DOH are warmth, security, food, suckling,  being kept comfortable and a sense of mother. Although these things take on different forms as we age, the want of them remain beneath our DOH. An infant’s DOH is initially very small.

Even though the infant’s DOH is small, as it does not have much to contain, it is very important. It is foundational. Maslow (hierarchy of need) considers these first elements that an infant includes beneath a newly formed DOH as basic needs. If those needs go unsatisfied then there is little hope for social development. Indeed, if some of those basic needs are not satisfied, the infant’s existence is in jeopardy. As an infant matures, it gathers more and more beneath its DOH. The sound of voices belonging to those close to the infant are added first, followed by facial expressions when eyes begin to focus. Other sensation, sounds, odors and sights gather under the evolving dome, as long the sensations are pleasant. Unpleasant sensations and experiences try to intrude on the infant’s DOH but never achieve permanent resident status. And so, the infant’s DOH increases in the diversity of contents as their experience with the world around them grows.

The Taoist’s concepts of emptiness of action, thought and mind all apply to the newborn, save and accept the movements of the fetus in utero. These are movements in the context of the emptiness of thought and mind, better thought of as the emptiness of intention. Most movements of a newborn fall into the same category for a while. Some movements, like the startle reflex can never be intentional by their very nature. Even though an infant moves about, for the first while, those movements can be considered examples of emptiness of action because they are empty of intent. Emptiness of thought and mind are also characteristic of the infant. The emptiness of mind is not an absolute because the brain is continually recording information re: the sensations that are experienced. The emptiness of thought diminishes very slowly. Even though these sorts of mental functions are in play, the storage of information is essentially sensory in nature. Associations between events and sensations build slowly. Most relational aspects of sensation develop slowly, except for a sense of comfort and warmth which is rapidly associated with its mother. The initial emptiness of action, thought and mind at birth moves toward increasing fullness as the infant experiences the world, and so with that experience the infant’s DOH grows.

The idea of each of us having our own DOH is an incredibly useful concept. The most interesting aspect of this idea is the role we play in constructing our personal DOH. I intent to explore that idea in my next post. Until then . . .

L

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The Beginning of a Look at Emptiness

I’ve been thinking about the idea of Yin/Yang relationships in the context of my writing, and reading some Taoist literature to guide my thinking. As I read, I was struck by the idea that emptiness and fullness are an important and useful Yin/Yang inter-relationships and began to think how  this idea might be applied.  The phrase “looking at something as half empty or half full” suggests that the concept is part the psyche already, so I considered the relationship of emptiness and fullness in the context of this blog. How did the emptiness/fullness concept relate to idea expressed in the title of Anselm Kiefer’s work “Everyone Stands Under his own Dome of Heaven”.

A brief discussion of the Taoist idea of emptiness is in order. The basic idea is that something that is empty like a cup, becomes useful in its ability to contain something, or the emptiness of a blank piece of paper becomes useful to the writer who has something to write. This notion is contrary to ordinary experience,  since we usually look at something that is full, being full of a material that can be utilized. The motor oil inside a bottle is useful for lubricating an engine, or the olive oil inside a bottle is useful in the preparation of food; but the use of each content is inherently different. The common factor for each of these materials is that they required an empty vessel to contain them.

The skeptic might look at this argument and insist that it is the product that is useful, not the container, but they miss the point. Consider what happens when an engine runs low on lubricating oil, in other words as the emptiness/fullness balance shifts toward emptiness. The workings of the engine are at risk in that case. By pouring some of the oil from the full container into the engine, lubrication is restored and the engine becomes useful again as it is no longer at risk. The balance between emptiness and fullness is critical, since low oil can result in friction that will destroy the engine, and too much will cause the  substance to overflow contaminating the environment. The balance between emptiness and fullness of the lubricating system is critical in the same way that any Yin/Yang balance is critical.

Consider the case of the container of olive oil; the contents are seen as useful, not the initial emptiness of the container. In fact, the contents of the bottle of olive oil is useful, unless  a salad dressing preparation requires it. The balance between two much olive oil and too little is critical in the preparation of the salad dressing since the balance between the oil and the other components of the salad dressing makes all the difference to the taste. A small bottle of olive oil even becomes more useful as it empties, since it can be refilled with more oil from a larger bottle.

Taoism is all about the essence of the Tao the right  path to follow. The Tao (way) of the container is determined by the choice of the artisan or manufacturer. There are many ways to alter the container’s shape or the materials used to make its designated use, but the Tao of a container is to hold something. One can pour hot tea into a glass, a cup, a mug, or a thermos. Each of these different containers can hold the tea, and each of these containers can be used to drink the tea, but each will have a characteristic that makes it more or less useful for the purpose. The common nature of these containers is that they are capable of holding hot tea. The common nature of their emptiness is that they can hold many different things. They can hold sand, sugar, flour, salt or cold liquids equally well. They can hold safe substances or dangerous substances equally. The Tao of these containers is the ability to contain a substance, not the substance they contain.

I hope the emptiness of this blog post when I clicked “new post” has been filled with useful word and ideas. Until then . .

L

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The Intensity of Work

I have been writing with an intensity that I had yet to experience. Since my last post five days ago, every spare minute has been spent working away on my rewrite. My focus has been on clarity, clarity , clarity. The sections of my book that have occupied my time these days are those that set the stage, so to speak. These are very important sections to say the least. You may recall that my book is a work of non-fiction, but I have not said much about it.  The book is comprised of  three main sections that fit within a developmental sequence. While each section is distinctive in character, and could stand on its own as an extended essay, they lead nicely one to the next, from start to finish.

The first section sets the conceptual base and philosophy for the second. The second section is an extended analysis of important elements looked at through the philosophical lens of the first, and is somewhat confession like.  The final section is a synthesis of ideas provoked by the first two sections of the book, which is essentially revelatory. This all sounds a bit heavy, but I am striving for the feel of a series of extended chats between acquaintances that get to know each other better over time. I cannot help but think of a Dickens’ title as I write all this, “Great Expectations” indeed.

The philosophy that initially directed my writing has matured over the last eighteen months in ways I could never have anticipated. I certainly believed in my message from the beginning of my project, but as I became more and more committed to producing the best book I can, my initial philosophical motif grew into a surge of thought that revealed a greater theme than the original.  That original philosophy has developed into the modus operandi for confronting each day and each task. The act of writing has become transformative. At the age of sixty-seven, that was a bit of a surprise. Old dogs do learn new tricks after all.

My writing project was originally just another challenge to be faced in a lifetime of taking on challenge. If you have been following my blog, you may recall that am a mild to moderate dyslexic who has a serious spell check and “Grammarly” addiction ( Grammarly is a commercial grammar checking service available at www.gramarly.com.) The project has evolved and become much more, now driven by an intense desire to communicate my ideas to others. Writing has also become a therapy for the literarily  challenged (me). If I were still a practicing special educator, I would have my students write, write and write some more. Of course they would need support to write correctly, but I am certain that the exercise would cause a few writing and language based neurons to make some new connections.

I took a break from writing to write this blog, but forty-five minutes is all I can spare. I was on a role today, and I want to get back to what I was doing before I lose the thread. I have been thinking a bit more about Yin/Yang relationships so I wouldn’t be surprised if those thoughts show up in my next entry. Until then . . .

L

PS. I am a proud Canadian today. Alice Munro, the great short story master, has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. A great day for Canada. A great day for women. A great day for the art form that is the short story. A great day for literature.

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Conference Day – October 4, 2013

Today was conference day. When you work with an e-publishing house, a number of individuals contact you from time to time. I finally had a contact from the editorial office rather than anyone in a sales capacity. I enjoyed this conference more than any in the past months, because I received affirmation that I was on track re: following up on the suggestions and critique of the developmental edit. Since beginning the rewrite process, every attempt has been made to take the editors comments to heart and follow the guidance they offered.

Since I am a novice writer (author wannabe), my first draft suffered from a number of rooky errors, all of which emerged in the DE (developmental edit). My writing style was dry, dry, dry.  My first draft was full of redundancies, superfluities, and content sequence problems. The thread of my theme disappeared from time to time, only to reappear later out of context. Although sections of the text were well and intelligently written, the impact of my words was lost in convolutions, contortions and cognitive machinations. I even ranted from time to time offering opinions on material that did not contribute to the essence of the book in any way. From my title to my terminal section, the silk purse containing gems of ideas I had hoped to create was still a sows ear attached to a pigs breakfast of a manuscript. Instead of getting angry, I decided to get even with myself by working smarter, not harder. It turns out that smarter was also harder.

Since I was rewarded with encouragement from someone who is actually in the editorial office at the publisher, I think it appropriate to share how I handled the DE comments and what I did to get myself back on track. Here are a few basic preliminaries re: the mindset required to take full advantage of the DE.

1. Chuck your ego out the door, shut the door, and keep away from it with deliberation. A good healthy dose of old fashion Buddhist selflessness is in order here. An ego just gets in the way of the reality of the task ahead.

2. Keep this thought firmly in mind; the developmental editor is just doing their job and the DE is not a kick in the pants, it is an honest and thoughtful critique. Think of the DE as a push from behind to help you write better than ever and reach new heights of written expression.

Now that you have the correct mindset, you can begin the task of preparing to rewrite. Yes, I said preparing. Like setting up to do any task, be it writing or painting a wall, good preparation is half the job.

3. The next step is to read your DE carefully and critically, not as a critic, but as an empty vessel awaiting to be filled with precious elixir. That’s a bit of Taoist philosophy for you in case you missed it. Taoists believe, and I have come to believe,  that the usefulness of anything is marked by its emptiness, so that it can be filled appropriately when needed.

4. As you read the DE, keep a record of the number and types of comments made. Such a record will give a clear picture of weaknesses in writing style and inconsistencies in logic within the content.

5. Make a careful list of all the major flaws in your writing and make a sacred vow to yourself never to write another sentence, paragraph, section or chapter that contains any of them.

6. Never write too much prose without checking to make sure that what you wrote: (a) is consistent with your main purpose, (b) follows from what you wrote just before those words, (c) leads from where your have been to where you are going, (d) contributes to, and does not detract from your writing, (e) holds your reader and not turn them off, (f) makes your point without being offensive (of course you cannot please everyone), (g) is not a rant, (h) expresses an opinion without being opinionated, (I) uses plan words written in as grammatically correct prose as possible, (j) is an exercise in clarity not confusion  , (k) supresses negative aspects of ego, (l) and finally avoids all the issues identified in your DE.

I do not profess to have the magic formula for rewriting a first draft, only that this is what works for me. I hope it will be helpful to my readers and followers.

PS – An open note to my editorial contact re: today’s conference.

Thank you for being so generous with your time today. It was our first contact and it was important for me to let you know what I was doing re: my rewrite. I have been working in less of a vacuum since the DE, but I still had a sense of uncertainty about the direction I had taken with my writing. You listened patiently, reassured me that I had taken the developmental editors comments to heart and revised my work accordingly, and most importantly gave me a sense of being listened to. You also gave me some supportive responses directly and indirectly, for which I am very thankful. It was a great conference.

My intent is to share the process of working with an e-publishing house as well as sharing my reactions and feeling about the process in general. I will reveal which organization I am working with only after my book is officially released. Until then, I can only wish that others have an equally good experience working with an e- publisher.

Until my next post . . .

L

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Yin and Yang Cycle – A useful tool

It has been nearly one week since I posted thanks to a mire of major and minor technical problems. The Yin of Windows 8 is excellent. The Yang of it sometimes causes problems. It is 4:15 AM and I have finally re-established contact with the Internet.

This post is about how to apply a Yin/Yang cycle to enhance the writing process. Essentially the idea is to let the Yang (expansive, creative, and sometimes less than substantial) dominate the process for a while, then let the Yin (focused, well edited, and substantial) take over before the essence of an idea is lost or gets off track.

I have been applying this practice to my own writing and it works well with one caveat. Just before the creative burst gets out of hand and the editing process begins, make a brief note of where the thought was going. I found that sometimes it was difficult to restart a line of thought without some form of prompt. The editing process is cold and unfeeling, requiring the objective application of the rules of grammar and a critical focus on word choice, can have a dampening effect on the heat of the creative process.

Generating a prompt to assist to support generative process requires one to ask two critical questions; the first relates to the material to be edited and the second relates to the relevance of the next generative burst. The principal idea that dominates this process is relevance, which demands what has been generated remains relevant to theme of the overall piece and at the same time is relevant to the target audience. Given that the test of relevance has been passed, the written lines must pass the test of completeness of thought. When the Yang of the process is complete another Yin phase can begin. This cyclic, iterative process continues to role along like a rolling Yin/Yang symbol. process
So far, this approach to writing has been keeping the end product tightly written and strongly creative.

Until next time . . .

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