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Painting by Carole Bressan

Buddha’s Last Instruction

“Make of yourself a light,”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal — a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire —
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

Mary Oliver


DESIRE is not enough; in fact ignorant desire frustrates itself or burns itself away. For desire to be consummated, for the opus to come to fruition — in art, in love, in practice of any sort — learn all you can about its fire: its radiance, its flickering instability, its warmth, and its rage. Fire as element below and above the range of human reason requires a ‘psychoanalysis of fire’ — the very title of Bachelard’s exemplary study. The art of fire and the key to alchemy means learning how to warm, excite, enthuse, ignite, inspire the material at hand, which is also the state of one’s nature so as to activate it further into a different state.
James Hillman

I’ve been writing on Medium for a little over a year, never going a day without publishing at least one piece. I sit in front of the computer at about the same time every day and start writing without a clear idea of what I’m going to say or why I need to say it. Usually before the end of the piece I discover the answer to those questions, but it never fails that I have a sense of doubt in the beginning as to where I’m going with a piece. A successful piece is when I learn something. I make a connection more clear to myself, and I hope to the reader as well.

I don’t claim to write in a trance, but sometimes I feel as if another identity is actually putting the words on the screen. Ten minutes after I finish I have trouble remembering what it was about. I don’t have a great sense of ownership of my writing. I do however hope whoever reads it gets something out of it. I know I do. If I weren’t learning something, I don’t think I would do it.

As I progress through a piece, I sometimes come to a sticking point. I stop writing and wait. The sentences and phrasing that present themselves in my mind are not actually written until something feels right and I can continue. That’s usually when a vision appears of the implications of my argument. That’s also often when I learn something, when a connection becomes apparent I hadn’t quite put together before.

I don’t feel as intelligent as my writing might suggest. My writing subpersonality seems smarter than I am, but it’s a light leading the way, or it feels like that to me. I do it partly to be a better person, partly to learn and clarify my path in life.

I’m not really concerned with getting a huge audience. I’m more concerned with writing well, learning the craft and giving life to important ideas about living. Managing an aging computer and wonky wifi is just part of the payment for being able to create something every day.

An expressive project of any kind is a search for the fire of inspired vision and communication. There are formulas and rules for those elements, but I prefer to develop those in practice by seeing what communicates and what doesn’t. That search is what my daily practice of writing is built on.

It’s a search for and development of a way to talk to people that might offer them something close to what it offers me.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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