by Susan McCaslin
Writing is a mysterious process. Nothing you have to say is final, as there are always new nuances to explore. The next rush of words may just coalesce in surprising, unanticipated configurations.
Being present to this kind of process is kind of unsettling and even dangerous, because as a writer you might find yourself in unknown territory or going off in an unanticipated direction. For me, nothing is more thrilling.
What I have been up to in these blogs is revisiting what I have written. I just finished rereading Chapter Seven of Arousing the Spirit, “The Place of Presence,” where I recounted a dream experience that occurred when I was travelling in Turkey.
The premise is that fear blocks our capacity to be present to our deepest selves, each other, and whatever the universe might wish to manifest through us. Lately, I have been wondering also if being present (being in the now, being in inner stillness) is enough?
What is the relationship between interior silence and activism? Where does resistance to things like social and political injustice come in? On the pivot between silence and action, what moves us, and how is that tipping point into activism different for each person?
When the conversation in the media about the building of the Enbridge pipeline from the Alberta oil sands through B.C. suddenly shifts from whether we should allow the pipeline to be constructed at all, to how big a slice of the pie B.C. should demand, I get alarmed. (So much for inner peace, presence, and calm.) But hey, maybe it’s okay to get agitated.
Maybe a bit of agitation will provoke me to get involved. I can’t assume that being poised at the pivot of the now guarantees I will respond appropriately to the continued assaults on the earth or the power of corporations to manipulate the media to get what they want.
What I think we need is a non-dual perspective. As the contemplative monk Thomas Merton demonstrated in his writings and life, contemplation and action are polarities of an indivisible whole. When sitting in the stillness during my morning meditation, it becomes apparent that the interior realms and the so-called exterior planes are really one continuous reality.
So escaping into a world of inner peace isn’t enough because the inner and the outer are different modalities of a unified field.One doesn’t exist without the other.
Being present to ourselves, others, and the universe means we can’t ignore what is happening around us. Finding ourselves at the centre of silence inevitably leads us back into the fray. We are essentially both/and rather than either/or beings. When we tune into the injustices around us, our own awareness makes us responsible to do our small part, each from her/his station and according to her/his capacity.
To become less abstract, I have to say that for me this means anything from writing a poem or a letter, to marching, standing on a roadway, or even getting arrested. The latter hasn’t happened yet, but who knows? I’m not certain where spirit will lead. Being a writer may forge me into an instrument, so that what flows through can speak its piece (peace).
I’d love to hear what spirit is saying to you about living in the world at this time. The Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad, and Ghandi didn’t lead peaceful lives, though they had a deep measure of peace in the midst of chaos. So how do we follow their example, cultivate inner peace, and convey it into the world?
Susan McCaslin is a prize-winning poet and author of eleven volumes of poetry. Susan is Faculty Emeritus of Douglas College where she taught English and Creative Writing for twenty-three years. Her most recent volume of poetry, Demeter Goes Skydiving (University of Alberta Press, 2011), has recently been named a finalist for the BC Book Prize (Dorothy Livesay Award). She lives in Victoria, British Columbia. Visit her website at www.susanmccaslin.ca.