Back when I was embarking on the screenwriting career that never got off the ground - the year was '96 - I sat aboard a 747 airplane that did. I was going somewhere - England, specifically - where I was to rendezvous with a sweetheart of mine for a time. I had packed a number of books for my ten-day stay, which was also a celebration of my 23th birthday. One of the books I carried with me was a series of interviews with successful screenwriters, including Callie Khouri and Shane Black and I forget who else. One of the persons featured quoted a screenwriter from Hollywood's Golden Age who advised aspiring authors to "keep your personal life as grounded as possible, so that your inner life may spread its wings and fly." I could have just begun with that insight, but how did you like my build-up?
This writing advice applies just as well to anyone determined to make some spiritual headway. The more our external distractions pull at us from different sides, tax us with cares and occupy our mind with strategies, the less time and energy remain to turn our attention inward. Whoever has had a deep conversation or a moment of inspiration cut short by the reception of a text message knows exactly what I'm talking about.
Over the years I've learned the art of simplification. For starters, no more expensive trips to exotic locations. Instead I live in the home I was brought up in, where tucked away in a quiet and mountainous residential area a few miles from the nearest traffic light I can let my inner self soar. While I sometimes miss the regular companionship of another person, I know that a committed relationship would bring with it a host of concerns, like who gets which side of the bed. There was once a time when the woman of the house would superintend the daily affairs, overseeing the cooking and cleaning and shopping and dishes and gardening and laundry, if not performing these essential tasks herself. I do not require such a woman, because I am able to get my hands dirty, and wet. And it's just as well. Because nowadays if you want one woman, you wind up with two: a wife who won't have sex with you and a maid you cannot touch. Technically you can act like the Terminator if you wish to, but the one who gets terminated is you.
But bachelor life brings its own set of concerns. Though this is not to say I haven't been able to write while also earning a living and cleaning house. But not always. I couldn't write and work as a restaurant manager the same year as that England trip, so I quit. Later I took a job as a bartender and was able to scratch out a novel, and another while working as an English teacher, and two short novels as a med student, and a novel and a screenplay in the months before my medical residency began. I just don't know how good any of them were. I was so busy! And I didn't enjoy the writing so much. It always felt like I was racing against the clock. I don't like to feel rushed. Haste makes waste. And so I toned things down. My life is less hectic, in fact it's so humdrum that it seems I hardly do anything at all, at least externally. But keeping responsibilities to a minimum allows me to do as I did last night, when I put down the book I had been reading mid-paragraph, closed my eyes and just enjoyed the silence.
You can't avoid experiences, it's merely a matter of which you choose to have. And even now, with a paper-thin schedule, I still get overwhelmed. Sometimes I awaken and say, "Gosh, 50 laps in the cold pool, 7 miles barefoot, 15 sets of weights, two dog walks, finish reading that book and writing that essay, cook those greens, trim those hedges, HOW WILL I GET IT ALL DONE!" I am always running about, and I hardly leave the house.
The inner realm is a whole new world waiting to be explored. All that is required is for you to close your eyes. But it's hard to close your eyes to the world when external commitments are tugging at you from every direction, crying constantly for your time and attention. And impossible while operating heavy machinery, though many people still text and drive. Not everyone is willing or even able to devote a large portion of their time to contemplation, but you only need a pittance. If you can spare even 5 minutes a day to turning inward, watching your thoughts, observing yourself as you would a stranger, you will find the endeavor worth your while and the benefits you reap out of this world - literally, since the spiritual plane is exactly that. Who knows, a book may even come out of your experience. Send it to me, for it's one I'd surely like to read.
So where has my journey left me? Writing random personal essays which hardly anybody gives a fig for, and without a penny's profit, though I'd surely accept a prune. I may be none the richer, but I am far the wiser. Because I don't measure true wealth by a dollar amount. Each thing I write is a wild foray into the heart of my head, and from beginning to end I can stay tucked in bed. You can't put a price on satisfaction, and everybody knows that the best things in life are free. The essays grow like a flower from the soil of the day, as I shine the light of attention on whatever strikes my fancy. This one began with a thought which struck me on my walk, which I drew out in short form before my run, tinkered with while prancing through the rain and brought to a close over a meal of apples and sweet potatoes. And like a flower in the garden this humble creation exists for my own personal enjoyment, which is so much more personal, and so much more enjoyable, because I planted the seed and tended these metaphorical leaves. A rose of the soul. A child of the mind. Only this baby don't cry.