Learning to See the World

Through words, I am learning to see.

Rainer Maria Rilke, who offered forth some of the greatest lyric poetry of the twentieth century, wrote humbly, “I am learning to see. I don’t know why it is, but everything penetrates more deeply into me and does not stop at the place where until now it always used to finish. I have an inner self of which I was ignorant. Everything goes thither now. What happens there I do not know.

Those words ring true and inspiring to me. Despite his oeuvre of great verses and profoundly soulful work, in the end, he was simply a man, still struggling and learning. I can only imagine that he had his benefactors and critics both, and I share a certain empathy in that.

You cannot please everyone. Thankfully, I’m no longer trying. I am, however, still learning to see, from the quiet moments of greeting the dawn through the tangled and colorful hours of the long day, descending deeper into my own bones and breath. The Soul Artist Journal is a part of that apprenticeship and ongoing discovery.

After several years living abroad in Europe, my partner and I returned to Hawaii in 2011. Living in the alternately misty and scenic realms of cool ‘upcountry’ Maui amid the fragrant eucalyptus trees, I waded through the process of editing my large manuscript. As I knocked repeatedly on the seemingly locked doors of the publishing world, repeatedly I encountered the same admonition: if you want to be published, you need an author’s platform.

teacup2So it was that in 2012 I launched a podcast and a blog, and ventured oh-so-reluctantly into the virtual and vacuous worlds of social media. Initially, I had little heartfelt interest in any of these ventures, they were simply means to an end: building a platform with a following to help me attract a publisher, or if I eventually decided to go the self-publishing route, a way to promote the book. If you build it, they will come. Or so I thought.

The publishing doors eventually opened, though not because of my nascent platform or minuscule social media presence, but simply on the manuscript’s merit. My publisher, in light of ‘intellectual property’, asked me not to share very much of the book’s content in either my podcast or blog until publication, and for a while I stumbled through a passage of trying to figure out exactly what, if not the book’s content, I should be sharing.

It was sort of an identity crisis for both podcast and blog-turned-journal, and ultimately I narrowed on the way of the Soul Artist—which loosely covered territory that I explore in The Bones and Breath (and its follow up, the second half of the original manuscript), while also embracing a wide latitude of diverse topics, ones that always touched upon nourishing the soul. My relationship with what I was offering in these posts began to subtly realign, and as if mirroring my own breath the content began to shift and deepen.

Alongside the book’s publishing voyage, the Soul Artist Journal has been an interesting journey itself. I have had friends and family unsubscribe. Everyone has an opinion, and I’ve been told by various people that the journal is “smug,” “pedantic,” “too long” (yes, often it is), and “self-indulgent.” What, not didactic? Sometimes these comments are sandwiched with a compliment, but it doesn’t necessarily make them easier to stomach. I always find it ironic when criticisms are delivered by those who don’t offer their own work to the world. Still, I hold the sentiments close for inspection, regardless, and look for any valuable truths clinging to the root of them.

At the same time, I have received lovely notes from people who deeply appreciate what I’ve offered, individuals who look forward to it each week. Ones who savor it. “Gorgeous!” exclaimed a fellow author recently. Bless you all.

It’s easy to be a critic. I’ve been one myself. We live in a society where criticism is not just acceptable but applauded, whether that be tearing down young contestants on television shows or the widespread sharing of Internet “reviews” on everything from music albums to restaurants. It flows from people who cannot play an instrument, have never sung in public, are too self conscious to cook a meal for others, have never written a book, or whatever it is that they are criticizing. For better or worse, I suppose this is all merely training for what lies ahead when The Bones and Breath is released in a few weeks and a much wider audience chooses to weigh in.

What began as merely a means to an end has steadily molted and morphed. Not long after launching both the podcast and journal, I realized that through sharing my words, I was no longer invisible—how I had felt for the past several years of being abroad, working on a lengthy book, far removed from friends, soul tribe and men’s groups, while no longer having much (or at times, any) of a client base. Even back in America, settled in a quiet, rustic ‘treehouse’ at the end of the road high on the slopes of Haleakalā, as I struggled to bring something of beauty and value to the light of day, I was largely unseen… except by my mate, the trees, and spirits of the place. And my dear honeybees.

All thoughts of platform aside, I valued both podcast and journal simply because I was finally beginning to become visible once again, in a new way. As the poet David Whyte writes: “To be human / is to become visible / while carrying / what is hidden / as a gift to others.”

Carrying what is hidden—or perhaps simply not paid attention to—as a gift to others. That’s how I view this journey.

The Riverspeak podcast has largely fallen by the wayside but the SAJ has become something of a soul practice for me. Week after week, I show up and write about something I have observed or experienced—learning to see the world—and then offer it forward. There’s always a typo or glitch somewhere; a sentence, paragraph or transition that stumbles. I do try to keep my ego detached from the outcome, and I’ve chosen not to spend endless hours editing the posts in hopes of being ‘perfect’ or creating sparkling literary gems. Some are decidedly better and more inspired than others; some flow easily, others do not. Readership goes up, goes back down. My family has had their feathers ruffled. Friends who I wish would receive the Journal or read it do not. Posts that I think are lovely go largely unread, while ones that I think are just so-so get opened by nearly everyone. Ah, the irony.

For years I had a little handwritten sign above my desk that reminded me: Show up at the page.

I am doing just that. I send the Journal out and go on. Do it again next week. It’s a cadence and a soul practice now.

Few readers or even my friends could guess that this regular practice has actually been a stepping stone and huge growth process for me, or that it runs counter to nearly all of my well-worn, psychological character strategies, and sits very close to the core wound—but that is always where the gift waits. The heart of every soul practice is opening past our old familiar habits that keep us small and contained, opening instead to our larger potential… painful as that expansion may be.

I’ve become visible again, but sometimes I think the journal gives a skewed vision of my life. I seldom share much about the long hours of editing my current manuscript, or my part-time, non-writing work. Or my blue days. Some readers probably think that I simply spend all my time walking around barefoot and talking to the trees, or sipping tea and musing on beauty (though I won’t deny that there are days when this has happened). I am the luckiest man alive to have such a supportive partner, who has largely carried us financially these past couple of years so that I could focus primarily on the book (and this weekly post). But we have made choices and sacrifices for this life that we share––each of us on a soul journey, even when it means being apart for long stretches––and we live simply in order to make it work. Very little of that is shared here.

I do realize that my life is quite different from most others. In some ways, that can make the Soul Artist Journal seem a little out of touch with what most people consider ‘reality’. Reality is relative and subjective, however. I have chosen to build my life so that it looks this way, and the different perspective that I offer is one of things that many readers who are wrapped up—or trapped—in their very busy lives appreciate most about these weekly posts.

At the heart of the Soul Artist Journal rests my own journey to be a conscious, sensual celebrant of this journey. To see things with an artist’s gaze, expansive senses, and open heart. As I have written previously:

I have a profound need to be fully present in my own life, to explore the contours of each passage with outstretched hands… It’s a hand-shaped life, one where I can draw near to what beckons me and offer it the gift of my attention. As an artist, my role is to notice with keen attention. Listen. Appreciate. Wonder. Expand. Create. Share.”

At a certain point of the journey, when we have expanded to a larger circle of identity and personal authenticity, our soul work becomes not simply something that we do (such as writing, or facilitating workshops, or volunteering) but simply who we are.

In another of his offerings, Rilke wrote, “Have I said it before? I am learning to see. Yes, I am beginning. It still goes badly. But I intend to make the most of my time.”

Inspired by Rilke’s example, I go on—learning to see, and offering what I discover in that process though these posts. There are good days and not-so-good ones. I am not enlightened. Or holier than thou. Perhaps the Journal is pedantic but I am a teacher, sharing something that I know to be true from my own journey, from the perspective of a Soul Artist who moves through the ‘more-than-human’ world with senses wide open. One who endeavors to wake up and pay attention.

Don’t go back to sleep.

And like Rilke, I intend to make the most of my time here. It could all end tomorrow, my friend, and thus I carry these lines from Mary Oliver in my heart:

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement

I was the bridegroom taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

Soul Artists know that we each have a gift to bring. Finding that talent or hidden treasure is a key part of life’s journey, and learning to deliver it often makes up the remainder of our days. What is ours to share may not always be welcomed in the form or manner in which we have fashioned it, but we continue to show up and give it forth. Soul Artists honor the vulnerability of creating and sharing, and they support and celebrate others in that process. They are always learning to see, to savor, and appreciate.

Gentle reader, here’s hoping that you continue to learn to see the world anew. Yes, some days it will go badly, but as you question and search for what is uniquely yours to bring, as you struggle to make the most of “your one wild and precious life,” may you find ways to give yourself away in generosity… in ways that are uniquely you.