Sunday, September 5, 2010

Empty Mind

September 5:

Last week I finished my book proposal, which required me to write not only an outline but a sample of a particular chapter, and now I am just empty. I have no thoughts, no ideas, not a whisper of insight or anything else. I must be resting. Maybe this is what the Zen people mean when they talk about having an empty mind. I've been reading back issues of TLS, London Review of Books, New York Review of Books--I have scores of them, neglected during times when I was full of thoughts and writing and working, too exhausted then to read book reviews--and that's been pleasant, but they often connect in some way to what I've been working on, and that hasn't been the case this time. Maybe it's the holiday. Labor Day weekend. The chaos threatened by Hurricane Earl, which passed us by. I've taken to watching golf, something I never did before, but I think I relate to the inwardness of this sport now, the way you play mostly against yourself and the turmoil in your mind, monkey mind, flitting from tree to tree in your patch of forest, always on the move, and never ever satisfied. Zen and the Art of Golf. There have been books along this line, Golf in the Kingdom comes to mind. Maybe that's not the title. But it must be extremely intimidating, standing on the tee, your ball before you, the hole as much as 500 yards away, and you have only five shots to get your ball in the hole and stay at par. Five hundred yards, and that hole is so small. That they can do it at all is extraordinary. They do it, furthermore, with cameras staring at them, hundreds of people nearby, muttering or holding their collective breath, all eyes on them. I finally get golf. Next lifetime, maybe I'll take it up. It may be the best test of focus there is.

Empty mind. An astrologer told me once that one of my tasks in this life was to achieve just that, higher consciousness, the empty mind, the ultimate openness. Thanks, Leor. That was his name. Any other little jobs for me? This isn't it, this current emptiness. This is more like exhausted brain. I was going for broke before I finished the proposal, cramming information in, plunking down little details here, there, that illuminated and fit and helped make sense of what was happening. In a way, and oddly, when you're in the zone as a writer you actually achieve a kind of emptiness; you yourself are not writing, something else is writing. What you are, if you stop to think about it, is in fact at those moments an open question. Lots of people have testified to this. Time passes without your being aware of it. You forget to get hungry, you forget to get thirsty. Something is playing you like a violin. You're not sure that you should be taking credit for this work. Maybe this is what Rilke meant when he advised his young poet not to rush into writing but to live, to let life get into the blood; and only then write. And Alexander Pope's advice to people who wanted to show him their work: put it away for a year, in a desk drawer, lock the drawer, don't look at it, don't think about it. When the year is up, rewrite it.

I don't have a year; I have about a week. That's when I'll go back and fix what needs to be fixed, and submit this thing, and then wait for an answer. While I'm waiting I'll be empty some more. Maybe I'll do some yard work, or go to New York and visit a museum, have lunch with my daughter, try reading a novel. Let it all go for a while. Pretend my mind is empty. Maybe then answers will come.