“Every day the sun rises/ out of low word-clouds/ into burning silence.”–Rumi, “Secret Places”
Writers, like the lovers in Rumi’s poem Secret Places, also often dwell in secret, silent places. As writers, we have an intimate relationship with language. Yet it’s what is beyond the words that matters; it’s the evocation of emotion in the reader that gives art meaning. As Ursula K. Le Guin puts it, “The artist deals with what cannot be said in words. The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words.”
I’m thinking about this because last night, after a long hiatus, I came back to my yoga practice. My hamstrings were tight, and there were a couple surprise moments where I realized how much tension I’d been carrying around with me. It’s the letting go, the paying attention to the silent tension in our bodies and releasing it into relaxation, that makes yoga so wonderful for mind, body, and spirit. We’re all carrying things we didn’t realize we were carrying. In yoga, we feel the weight of each thing, each tight muscle, each pocket of unacknowledged stress, and we work toward letting it go. At the end of my practice, I felt calmer, lighter, and grateful. Yoga practices, composed of studied poses, bring us to awareness and to stillness. Through movement, we make our way to stillness and repose.
I see yoga practice as a form of composition; if not its own art form, yoga is at least linked to my artist craft. Writing is about finding stillness and silence, and listening. It seems strange that a 95,000-word novel, with all of the energy and the flurry of activity that goes into its creation, is made up of so much listening, of so many moments of quietude.
The words are there. We’re just listening for them. We are scribes in the truest sense of the word. Someone else is talking; we’re just jotting down what they say. I don’t “create” my characters. I’m not even sure I find them. I believe they find me.
There’s so much talking in the world. A student of rhetoric, I’m fascinated by the way we make meaning, by the way we reason and debate, and by the way we communicate our ideas and beliefs to each other. It’s everywhere, in newspapers and shopping malls, in conversations in our homes and Starbucks and around the water cooler. We are creatures of meaning, and I could spend the rest of my life trying to understand how we make meaning—or how we find it.
But I don’t believe writers get to make meaning. I think we share stories. It’s up to communities of readers and individual readers to find the meaning in a story or a poem. The writer’s idea of what something means carries as much weight as each reader’s; it’s the writer’s interpretation of his or her own work as read through the writer’s eyes (the writer-reader). I’m so eager to send stories out into the world because it’s there they find their voice. Art is meant to be shared.
But it’s always the silence that I come back to, searching for the words that, if I cup an ear and stay still, will find their way to me. The notes are already there, humming in the air around me. I find a place of stillness and repose, and I listen. And then I write the songs of my characters. It’s their words, their melodies I’m writing. They are the singers. I’m just the scribe.
Here’s to a little Svasana to help us find our way back to our center and ourselves. Namaste.