This Saturday, my husband D and I drove into Austin early to visit the Austin Zen Center for their beginner’s program and service. We had a lovely time during temple work: we were assigned to the task of picking up twigs on the gravel meditation path. This alone taught me more about Zen than all the bells, chants and dharma talk I’d heard that morning. Questions ran through my mind, such as How many twigs are we expected to pick up? What size twigs do they have in mind? Exactly how twig-free does this path need to be? And then, it hit me: the purpose of picking up twigs is to be picking up twigs. There is no end goal. It’s the perfect Zen task. So I just settled into it, enjoying the proximity of my beloved as he also picked up twigs, the softness of the morning air and the lush scent of mountain laurels wafting from a nearby bush. Coming back into the temple, placing my shoes on a rack by the kitchen, I noticed a pile of free magazines. On top of the pile was an issue of Shambhala Sun from 1998 with Julia Cameron on the cover, and also containing articles on Natalie Goldberg and by Pema Chodron. It was there for me. I slipped the magazine under my shoes and went to find a place to sit in the zendo.

In 1995 I visited New York City with a group from college. My friend and I were hanging out at this bar where a live band was playing. I found myself in conversation with the bassist’s girlfriend, and when she heard I wanted to be a writer she suggested I buy this book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The next day I picked up a copy at the Border’s near our hotel (this was the World Trade Center location). In this book, Cameron outlines principles and tools for aspiring artists to follow. The basic tool is the Morning Pages: three pages of longhand writing done first thing in the morning. No stopping, no crossing out, no re-reading, no censorship. No purpose, either: the Morning Pages are another perfect Zen task–the point of doing Morning Pages is to do them. Period. I remember I picked up the practice at the time, and was faithful to it for a long time, writing in purple and green ink in series of Clairefontaine notebooks.

For years, I primarily identified myself as a writer. I had no doubt that this was what I was put on earth to do. I studied English and Creative Writing in university. I filled dozens and dozens of notebooks. Later on, I published a chapbook of poetry, wrote on a blog. But then, my writer’s identity got quiet. D and I got married, and there wasn’t as much solitude to explore my own mind or tortured thoughts to hash out on the page. I was happy. I wrote less. I wasn’t particularly worried about this. People asked me where my poems where, where the blog posts were. I didn’t know. I didn’t care so much.  I figured that this was a fallow period, and that writing would find its way back to me somehow, at some time, if it needed to. Then I discovered yoga, started practicing and studying in earnest, and this became the thing I did, the main thing that defined my purpose and pursuits in this life. I still wrote in my journal consistently, but even this took a bit of a backseat. It began to take longer to fill a Moleskine notebook (now the vehicle of choice), from 2-3 months to about 6 months.

Enter the present. Having to stop work for some months, I decide I want to explore writing again. I start this blog–I stick with it–I like it. One Saturday morning at the Zen Center in Austin I find a connection to what it meant to me to be a writer all those years ago, and rediscover this practice of Morning Pages. Writing as a practice totally makes sense to me now.  All this time studying and practicing yoga allows me to return to writing with more clarity and focus.  It fits. I’ve been writing Morning Pages for a couple of days now, unable to limit myself to just three pages. It just flows. It’s the best way I can think of to start the day with clarity of intention. In the gray light of dawn, the windows open, songs of chickadees drifting in, clear as bells, I make a practice of writing. The purpose of writing it to write. It makes me very happy.