I have spent at least fifteen years trying to figure out writer’s block. Mine, in particular. I’ve taken workshops, read books, even decided that maybe I’m trying to force a thing which isn’t for me (then tried to quit and discovered I’m even more unhappy) I’ve tried to leave writing behind countless times only to find myself right back here, trying to find the door.
The door. It is this place where, once you walk through, you are in deep flow and it all just comes to you. It is like singing a song in perfect pitch, like hitting that spot in running where you can go for miles and miles and miles without end, the dance where every step creates visual poetry.
Up until this morning, I understood a few things about my writing when it is going well and my writing when it feels like every word is an unmoveable block I have to try and pick up, but what I didn’t understand was a very large, very deep ocean. I knew a few things that helped and knew how I came to be in this place, trying to be a writer. I even knew why it was so important to me to get it back – do we ever forget being in a place where every single thing about ourselves falls into place and works as a single machine?
I’d like to tell you I could have come to this understanding faster, but I’m me and being super, uber stubborn is a part of how I relate to the world. This can be helpful and it can also get in my way. Fifteen years worth of in my way, it would seem.
I’ve spent the last fifteen years trying to do things the way the books say. I’ve tried writing poetry, tried stream of consciousness, tried plotting, tried meditating, tried finding inspiration in the works of others, tried all these things, focusing all this time on the world around me because isn’t that where the stories are? “Inspiration, most certainly, is out there, damn it,” I would tell myself. I was determined to chase it down and drag it home, even if I had to beat it over the head with a stick.
This is where I tell you the secret of the universe and maybe you’ll understand it, maybe you won’t yet. Until you actually see what I’m talking about, you can’t understand it on the conscious level.
Everything you need is inside of you. I know you’ve heard that or seen that around lately. I’m here to tell you it isn’t just a meme.
I’ve spent so long looking outside myself for answers. To the point of exhaustion. I was so determined to find it. Have you ever lost something and become convinced that someone else, no matter how ridiculous it might seem, has taken it? I’ve spent a lifetime trying to find an answer for these feelings of loss. I was a writer. I wrote damn near constantly. Then, one day, it was just gone. And there have been times when I have likened it to dancing or running or driving while telling you that being ‘in the zone’ is always the same, no matter what you are doing.
Here is the first clue to the mystery. In the zone, it doesn’t matter what you are doing. You are doing it with perfect timing, flowing so naturally that it feels like this is what you were born to do and you could go on forever. When you aren’t doing it, you are still living that flow, if you are lucky (or smart) enough to be able to sustain that perfect center and you are still lusting after your current project.
The second clue: It can be consciously sustained, but not by grasping at it. Anyone trying to hold onto something, all tight fisted and tense, is already outside of the zone and trying to kick in a door that only opens outward. Your hands are full of sand and the harder you grip it, the more of it slips away. Funny thing about, sand, though. Holding on to it is as easy as loosing your grip and letting it sit in a cupped palm.
I used to write to music. For me, this is the actual key. A clue to end all clues, should I choose to look at it properly. This is where I came to understand very suddenly and very deeply that what I’ve been looking for was in me the whole time and it was because I was looking for the wrong thing that I didn’t see it.
I was looking for words. For stories. For inspiration. And those things are important, of course they are. But, before them comes something else. Think of it as the baseline in a song. The beat. The rhythm. It can change its pace, but it is always there, under the flow of your life. Yes. Yours. And mine. It is the heartbeat of existence. And it is always there. If you are living, it is in you. Connecting with it is the first and only way to get into that fabled zone.
I’ve been listening to shamanic drumming on youtube, lately. These videos can go for up to ten hours or more. I don’t watch them, I just turn on the drums because it gives me a sense of rhythm. It gives me a flow. And, this morning, while listening to them, I started thinking about how I connect to that part of me. I used to sing. I used to dance. So I understand more about music than most. I was in band and could read both tempo and notes on a page. I know that the tone of a song can change based on that tempo. And here is the AHA moment that I’ve been waiting fifteen years to find.
When I first began writing, my best friend would turn the music on. She always chose it and this was something I insisted on. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust my own choices, it was that she had a knack for picking the things that would set me off. Back then, I’d have told you it was the lyrics that did it.
Oh naive and lovely child that I was. Sometimes I’d like to go back in time and pat her on the head. With a stick.
It was not the lyrics. Those were just words I could grab on to and ride. It was the beat that was actually setting me off. I was learning to dance with the pen. I have many, many times said that phrase. Writing is like dancing with words. Like dancing with the muse. Like dancing with yourself. It was something I did with ease. Like the figure skater leaping into the air and coming down on the ice like a butterfly floating, I could grab onto words and just start spinning and twirling and leaping without any effort at all. And I was doing it long before I started really writing; I used to sing to my infant nieces and nephews. I used to make up songs to fit the beat in my head while out walking my Scottish Terrier, Shannon. I used to rap inside my head simply for the fun of it.
Dancing requires a certain amount of relaxation. You cannot do it if you aren’t listening to the music with your whole body. It reaches out and dancing is a form of letting the music flow through you in visual expression. And every single thing you do, from making the coffee in the morning to going to bed is an expression of the beating drum of of your life.
Too poetic for you? Let me make it a little more clear. You breathe. You have a heartbeat. You live in rhythm with those things, even if you don’t realize it. Most of us are zombie walking along, never recognizing that our life is a sort of song. Connect with the beat and really feel it, then everything becomes a visual representation of that beat. Or vibration, if you will.
I have run around for years looking for stories to tell, feeling like I couldn’t connect with anything and wondering who would want to read it anyway. Because, at some point, I lost the connection to myself. The thing I was looking for all this time was not stories, even if I thought it was. It was the deep connection between myself and those shadowed lands we call the subconscious. What I really wanted was the electric shock of being fully plugged into my own beat. Everything else is just semantics. Writing is my chosen form of expression. But, in that place of being plugged in, I could choose to do anything at all. Dance. Write poetry. Sing. Drive. Because it isn’t and never has been the writing I was searching for. It was the beat. And nobody can take that away from you. It is you. Being in step with it is Nirvana.
The moment I fully connected with this thought was the moment I realized the answer I’d spent fifteen years trying to find had been right here all along. I am not ashamed it took me this long; part of what I feel like I want to do is help others. Not just other writers, but others in general. There are so many unhappy people out there, trying to find happiness in their bank accounts. Too many. But helping requires knowing and knowing requires experiencing.
More and more I think we feel disconnected from our true selves. Call it technology or just that this world has become so externally driven, but I think more and more of us are feeling like life is unfulfilling. When you are seeking happiness in the external, the world become a bleak and lonely place; none of those things you thought you needed brought you lasting peace. No matter what the ad promised you, that thing did not serve to offer up a whole new life. And I’m here to tell you that finding the thing that will is truly as simple as falling back into your own beat, discovering its nuances and learning to embrace them. That will open the door to happiness for you.
This is not about a passing, fleeting happiness. This is not something you need to attain or buy. You already own it. You were born with it. And no matter who or what tries to take it away so they can promise to sell it back to you – because unhappy people will buy anything if it promises to make them feel whole again – it is always yours. It is your birthright and you can have it any time you choose to. All you have to do is look inward. Listen. Find the beat of your heart and the rhythm of your breath. Learn to dance with it in all things. Let all the things you do be an expression of your inner song.
There is a movie called Happy Feet. The penguins are forever in search of their ‘Heart Song’. But one penguin can’t sing. His feet, however, are always dancing. Step beyond the fact that this is a child’s movie and pay attention to the message. If you can’t sing, dance. If you can’t dance, drive. Paint. Write. Find the beat. Then find the thing you can use to express that rhythm. That is where you will find your happiness. And I know. It is human nature to want to argue. It cannot, after all, be that simple. Right? And yet it is. When you are happy, you are in sync. You are dancing. When you are unhappy, you are out of sync and you are falling.
I am sitting here, on my couch. There is a dog beside me, a dog at my feet, and one asleep under the kitchen table because he is just too cool to be with us. It is a late, lazy Sunday afternoon. There is a light song in the background as the end credits roll on the movie I was half watching as I wrote this.
I have been in love so deep that the loss of it was a bitter and terrible poison. I have heard songs so beautiful they made me cry. I have walked beneath trees that were growing before anyone had even discovered this stretch of land we call America. I have been disappointed and stepped on, lifted up and loved. And all of this is neatly strung upon the twined threads of my heartbeat and breath. I see that the whole of my life rides upon the song that is me. So long as I hold to that, there is nothing I cannot do.