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  • Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have
    not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split
    open. We are important and our lives are important,
    magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be
    recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how
    we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we
    are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known,
    the earth passed before us. Our details are important.
    Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it
    doesn't matter. . . Recording the details of our lives is
    a stance against bombs with their mass ability to kill,
    against too much speed and efficiency. A writer must
    say yes to life, to all of life.

    Natalie Goldberg

    Natalie Goldberg’s classic, WRITING DOWN THE BONES, has been an ongoing inspiration to me, and I often recommend it to fellow writers.

    When I was leading my own creative writing workshops, this was recommended reading, along with several of her other books, all of which are infused with, and informed by her practice of Zen.

    When I had an opportunity to attend one of her writing workshops, at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, New Mexico one April, I jumped at the chance.

    What surprised and delighted me was the discovery that Natalie ran her workshops pretty much the way I ran mine, using writing as a meditation and spiritual practice. ..a pathway to enter the sacred space of the deep self.

    In an atmosphere of a lot of silence, support, and focus, we wrote and read, wrote and read.

    Whenever Natalie would give us an exercise to do, she would then say “GO!” and away we would go, scribble, scribble, scribble.

    No computers allowed. So we had the added benefit of the tactile bliss of writing by hand, in our notebooks.

    The Mabel Dodge Luhan House is legendary as the meeting place decades ago of international luminaries in literature, theater and the arts. One can only imagine the tantalizing conversations that must have taken place within these walls.

    After all, Georgia O’Keeffe stayed here. So did D.H. Lawrence, Ansel Adams, Martha Graham and Carl Jung, among many other notables.

    So we all felt we were walking on sacred ground in many ways, not just in the house, but in the Taos Pueblo with all of its rich Native American history.

    Day after day, in a workshop that was a great deal like a Zen retreat, we “wrote down the bones,” shared, had personal epiphanies, awakenings, and connected with our aspiring Inner Writers.

    At night, we gathered in informal groups and continued writing and sharing, weeping and laughing, and feeling like this was the best camp we had ever attended.

    Thomas Mann has a story about a puppet show, in which an audience of children are having a delightful time watching the antics of Punch and Judy, or the German equivalent.

    Then, suddenly, an ugly mud covered military boot thrusts out from under the backdrop of the show, and the children scream in shock, their happy illusion of the jolly show having been shattered by the intrusion of an unknown and frightening reality.

    Mann was drawing a powerful metaphor for the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich.

    Suddenly, like Mann's muddy military boot disrupting the merry puppet show, our gentle Zen idyll blew to smithereens.

    The day was April 20th, 1999.

    We had all laughed and joked our way over to the classroom from the usual delicious breakfast buffet, and settled in for the first session of the workshop.

    Natalie was a few minutes late, so we became silent.

    When she came in, we knew something was wrong. She was quiet for a few moments, and then announced that there was a massacre of students taking place at the Columbine High School in Colorado.

    Several woman, who had driven down from Columbine, and who had kids in the school, burst into tears and ran out of the room to pack and leave immediately for home.

    The news was nearly non existent, except for the first accounts of the horrors while the shooting continued.

    The rest of us sat, trying not to cry, as though shell shocked.

    Natalie asked us to walk outside and do an hour of silent meditation, and then come back in and write.

    I walked out and sat in a quiet clearing by a fountain, stunned to the core by the news of what was taking place at Columbine.

    I could hardly think. I inhaled the smoky Taos smells of burning wood, sage and dust.

    I watched snow blow off the top of the Sangre de Cristo –Blood of Christ – mountains to the north, and just tried to be present with prayers for the slaughtered children and shattered families.

    At the end of the hour, Natalie rang a gong and we filed silently back into the classroom.

    And we each, in a space of profound meditation and sorrow, “wrote down the bones.”

    (Photograph of the Mabel Dodge Luhan Conference Center in Taos, New Mexico )
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