spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily

Ordinary Work


PictureConstriction at Green Gulch Farm / Jed Sullivan
I went to a writing workshop at Green Gulch Farm, a Buddhist practice center offering training in Zen meditation and what it terms “ordinary work.” It is on Shoreline Highway almost to Muir Beach. Sixteen participants hoping to “awaken and enlist the senses” chose on that overcast Saturday to do their work with Laura Deutsch whose Writing From the Senses had been recently published by Shambala Press.

For about two and a half hours of the morning I sat in the circle and suffered familiar self-aversion. I felt shut down. Dry. A fake. How can I call myself a writer? Writers have something to say. Laura tried to warm us up with prompts for seven-minute free-writes. When time was up, she tapped the singing bowl; we stopped writing and shared.

The first prompt dropped me deeper into depression: Your Sock Drawer! Believe it or not I scribbled an apology. I don’t have a sock drawer. Does everyone have a sock drawer? Is this one more failure on my part? I tell it like it is. I have no sock drawer and this reminds me of the socks I do have, where they are and what if I die and my sons have to rummage through the drawers, not necessarily looking for socks, but probably they will have to get rid of things. I did this with my sister when my mother died. But her drawers were preternaturally neat. At 96 Hannah didn’t wear socks, per se; she still had panty hose. The top drawer of my dresser with its scattering of socks and other things could be a challenge for my sons. I vow to go home from the workshop and immediately relocate a “not-sock item” I think might embarrass them if they lift a pile of black compression knee-highs and come upon it accidentally. Of course, doing a free-write, I can say exactly what that not-sock thing is and hope they will never decipher the free-write if I haven’t destroyed it by then. At the sound of the singing bowl, I don’t offer to read what I have written, mostly because I wrote in such a hurry, much of it is illegible.

  I set the lunch break as the time when I would decide whether or not to eat and run. But in the dining room, a woman I thought I recognized recognizes me as “the funny, and inspiring” (her words) facilitator of weight-watcher meetings she once attended. She was generous with her recollections of having learned from me, of admiring my “teaching.”  The warmth of her appreciation unfreezes my heart. Maybe I did have something to say and it was okay to sit among writers, not an imposter and free to appreciate this learning opportunity as if it were my “ordinary work” as well as theirs.

I tell myself to lighten up on my shortcomings. If today I am not a writer it will be because during our seven-minute free-writes, I have been scribbling with a pencil and don’t recognize many of the words on the page, most of the letters are the same height and the tees aren’t crossed. Moreover, I have come to this workshop badly organized. When I want to write on the backs of pages, I have to tear the white legal-sized sheets from the perforated top of the tablet. Often the paper rips, interrupting the top line of words. A three-hole punch would not be useful organizational tool because I have written into the margins. A number of these pages have tumbled from my lap and are scattered next to the chair in that circle of many very good and some published writers.

After lunch we circled up in groups of four to continue the workshop. By this time, I have decided that all the writers, including the teacher, are rooting for me. Even I believe in my Buddha Nature. I can and will do these free-writes…this ordinary work. When the workshop ended, I bought Laura’s book. She wrote in the flyleaf: “To Alison, Keep up your wonderful writing.”

Naturally, I questioned the “wonderful,” but keeping it up as if writing were my “ordinary work” made sense. And as for the not-just-socks drawer? I’ll do what any good mother would do.

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