December 9, 2005

Being in the moment

This month's prompt is to write of an occasion when you were "in the moment" completely. We often hear of this from musicians, artists, athletes - but it occurs often enough for all of us, if only for that moment, in our everyday lives.

In his always interesting "American Life in Poetry" column, Ted Kooser talks about our model poem, "The Woodpecker Keeps Returning" by Jane Hirshfield (After - Harper Collins, 2006).

His words: "the speaker discovers that through paying attention to an event she has become part of it, has indeed become inseparable from the event and its implications. This is more than an act of empathy. It speaks, in my reading of it, to the perception of an order into which all creatures and events are fitted, and are essential."

Hirshfield gives workshops in this - "Poetry as the Practice of Attention" If you want to read a bit more about Jane, try http://blogs.csmonitor.com/the_poetic_life/2005/05/ or to read a few other poems by her, go to http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/563


There is a term "zanshin" which means “the remaining mind” and also “the mind with no remainder.” I think this is related to our prompt too. This is the mind of complete action - the moment in Zen archery after you release the arrow, in painting after the brush stroke when hand and brush lift, that moment after you release the ball... it's complete follow through.

There's a book by Brenda Ueland, If you Want to Write, that talks about being "in the moment" (but not being lost in it) to maximize creativity - to be fully present in an intuitive activity, not an intellectual one. Ueland compares this kind of creativity and connection to playing a musical instrument - sometimes you play at it and sometimes you play in it. Great musicians play in it (even if not always technically perfect). Perfection of technique may not be obtainable, but a kind of "perfect" connection can exist between the reader and poet.
It's interesting it was originally published in 1938 because it sounds contemporary.
A few bits:
"Everyone is talented, original, and has something important to say."
"The imagination needs moodling--long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering."
"Think of telling a story, not of writing it."
"When you revise, do not try to think of better words, more gripping words. The problem is that it is not yet deeply enough imagined."
There's one chapter called "Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect It for Their Writing."

Of course, Zen is often used very loosely (or incorrectly) as a way of describing other practices - like being in the zone in golf, tennis or yoga.

Better to stay with the literary - read "On Poetry and the Reallocation of Concentration: Learning to Forget" by Beth Ann Fennelly who asks " What exactly is happening in our brains when we cease to become conscious of time? "





Jane Hirshfield was born in New York City in 1953. She graduated from Princeton University in 1973. Hirshfield has been a lecturer in creative writing at the University of San Francisco, and a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley. She serves as a member of the faculties of numerous writers conferences and in-school programs, including California Poets in the Schools, 1979-85, and the Port Townsend and Napa Valley Writers Conferences.
Her books of poetry includes The October Palace , Of Gravity & Angels and The Lives of the Heart. Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry is her excellent book of essays on reading poetry, writing and her approach to life.

9 comments:

  1. One of your links - the article - talks about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who uses the term "flow" to describe that time when you are so into an experience (she says making love, creating art, playing chess, having a profound conversation with a friend) that time no longer seems to exist.

    I also think that her comment that this could be thought of as the rapture of mystics is a path that might be of value & interest to your readers.

    You can find out some more about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at
    http://www.brainchannels.com/thinker/mihaly.html

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  2. This idea you are presenting is better known to Zen followers as "mindfulness"

    Some people who encounter this term think it means that if you are mindful you shouldn't think about the past or the future.
    Better to think of it as being mindfully aware of what is going on right here and now, including thinking about the past or future.

    Being in the moment does not mean that we are stuck there. Daydreaming can be creative and a good way to let the creative unconscious mind the opportunity to express itself - but it is very useful to have a part of our conscious mind observing.

    You mention Billy Collins on this page and his poem "Shoveling Snow with the Buddha" is a lighthearted but accurate look at how we can be in the moment even in the act of work and be free and yet controlled.

    That poem is at http://www.americanpoems.com/poets/Billy-Collins/813

    Good luck with your poems!

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  3. I find this a very tough prompt to write from. First of all, I need to get rid of all the Zen stuff which means nothing to me. And sports metaphors don't work for me either.

    So now, it's just being totally involved in something. OK, that happens when I read, watch a film or play...

    The poets says: "I ask this, who am myself the ruined siding, the handsome red-capped bird, the missing mate."

    So in that play I'm watching - I am one of the characters - no I'm the set - no, the other actor - all the actors, all of the set & props?

    I'm being silly but - where is this poem going? Am I the only one who doesn't get this?

    Something feels false in that poem. Maybe that's it - the prompt works - the sample poem doesn't.

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  4. I agree with Lauren - I'm no authority on the poetry world or Jane H., but that's the kind of poem that reinforces the idea that poetry is supposed to be confusing and "deep". (not because it's so complex - in fact, it's too simple, to the point of having no meaning at all) It's the kind of poem that makes my husband say, "I don't see what you see in poetry."

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  5. Lauren, your question is a good one. Writing to a prompt is something we do here because we like the challenge and the discipline imposed upon us. Each of us who has done this has found some prompts easy to work with and others have proved to be much harder than we thought. The challenge of this prompt is that we are being asked to think of a time in which we are completely lost in the moment. It seems so easy, but it’s not.

    As I read your comments, I noticed that you indicated that you were “totally involved” when you read, watched a film or play. Those are all wonderful activities, but all of those involve a text/words from another writer, and thus the experience isn’t totally your own but one imposed upon you by the writer of the book or play or movie.

    What you probably need to look for is a more personal, authentic moment in your own experience. As a poet, you are an observer, a thinker and a person who reflects closely on many things. Think back to someplace or doing something where you were so absorbed that the world seemed to stop for a moment. As in any writing, you have to let yourself go and feel as well as think. This prompt is a very deep (albeit simple) one.

    The excellent prompts on Poetsonline frequently push us out of our comfort zone and into places we might not otherwise explore. Both this poem and this prompt are challenging, but isn’t that why we read poetry and write it?

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  6. for Lauren,

    Your own poetry (and that of many who publish in poetsonline) brim with sharp original observations of the natural world and of people. I don't think a poet can write like this without a special concentration; that is, unless you as the "seer" join the "seen object" in an original way. Maybe this creative act puts the writer temporarily into a reality where boundaries cease to matter so much.
    The poet forgets to ask "who is listening and who is singing?" Not every attempt at writing a poem succeeds in accomplishing this of course.

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  7. for Lauren,

    Your own poetry (and that of many who publish in poetsonline) brim with sharp original observations of the natural world and of people. I don't think a poet can write like this without a special concentration; that is, unless you as the "seer" join the "seen object" in an original way. Maybe this creative act puts the writer temporarily into a reality where boundaries cease to matter so much.
    The poet forgets to ask "who is listening and who is singing?" Not every attempt at writing a poem succeeds in accomplishing this of course.

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  8. so many good thoughts here! this is what this type of discussion SHOULD be!

    I agree that when a prompt forces you OUT of your comfort zone, it is then that you are just entering where you need to be in writing.

    perhaps it is THAT moment when I am most in the moment, when the poem & myself seem to be one. I don't mean anything as simple as autobiographical writing, but it may be close to automatic writing.

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  9. The key to mindfulness is to be a
    nonjudgmental and dispassionate observer of life rather than maintaining a running commentary of the goodness or badness of life's events.

    Observe without judging, without editing or censoring it, without
    intellectualizing it or getting lost in your own incessant thinking.

    Poet - if you observe life rather than measure and evaluate it, you begin to see things as they are actually happening. What is there is there.

    This state of perception has to be learned. It takes regular practice.

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