Ritual and Writing

I wrote the post below when I lived in Portland, Oregon. Re-reading it just now I realized several things: 1) I really miss living in a city with so much diversity, and 2) I have yet to put into place the daily rituals I need to show gratitude for my current writing places and spaces. I’m re-posting this to remind myself, and anyone else out there reading, that focusing daily on gratitude and showing appreciation for the opportunity to write opens the way for the work to flow. I’ve seen again and again in my life that I bring in exactly what I focus on, and that my attitude always shapes the quality of what comes.

So, a blast from my past:

Yesterday morning as I headed out for a pot of yerba mate chai at one of my favorite local tea houses, I passed by the Vietnamese restaurant where I’d dined the previous evening with my son Sean. The owner had just walked out the restaurant door. In his right hand, he held two incense sticks, smoke curling up from their tips. He faced east, made a few ritual gestures, said a quick prayer, bowed, then turned north. He repeated his gestures, his prayer, his bow, then turned west, and then south. Finally, he planted the still-smoldering sticks into the strip of grass bordering the sidewalk.

I don’t know what he said as he prayed or what his gestures meant, but I thought back to the way he had hovered over each table as I dined the night before, making sure that his customers were well cared for, satisfied. I remember that he commented on how much my son seemed to enjoy his meal and the sincerity in his voice when he thanked me for coming and invited us to return.

This man started his business in the middle of an economic plunge in an area where restaurants crash and burn daily, yet it appears to be thriving. I am not surprised. As I observed his morning ritual, a wave of joy and gratitude passed over me, as if I’d caught the feeling offered in his prayer. I knew without doubt that he was grateful to have this business. I saw joy in his posture and in his expression. How amazing that he cares enough about this restaurant to step onto a sidewalk in the glaring morning light of an urban American morning to offer thanks and call down blessings!

I continued my walk infused with thanks, more awake, more aware. Everything around me seemed to glow. I thought about what wonders we can create when we create consciously, as this man was creating.

Sometimes I find myself sinking into depression over the “impossibility” of being published in tough economic times. That Vietnamese restauranteur reminded me that when I give thanks for my writing time and allow myself to feel joy in it, I write more and I have a heck of a good time. Writing more–and enjoying the process–always leads to better writing. I think it’s time for a new pre-writing ritual. I will light incense and give thanks to the four directions for the time and space to write, the freedom to write, the pleasure of writing. And I will see how my writing prospers. Perhaps you’ll want to create a pre-writing ritual, too and share what happens as a result.

Portland Morning

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