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What is a Monk?

Images arise: sandals, tonsure, a rope for a belt; fat, jolly friars partial to frothy beer; gaunt, hooded ascetics with a fondness for self-flagellation; Saint Francis as a perch for birds, a lone figure silently standing in a garden; saffron robes mottled by a green forest; red robes chanting the sutras in ornate temples. Some images are true. Some are fiction. Always male. I guess women who follow The Way are referred to as nuns.

But as Saint Jerome once said, “Interpret the name monk, it is thine own. . .”

To be a monk is to follow an uncharted path. It is a journey of discovery, a quest to find the source of the river. Along the way, he or she may stop to test the water, to gauge its clarity and determine what direction to take.

A monk, however, doesn’t stop to build a church along its banks or form an organization to advance the expedition. The quest leaves little time or energy for worldly matters.

A monk will forsake a personal family but sees all people encountered on the journey as a brother or sister. Nevertheless, a monk often walks alone. A monk has few friends. Few companions are willing to also search for the source of the river.

A monk is celibate so to be blind to the world of duality, seeing neither male nor female, neither old nor young, neither beautiful nor ugly, seeing not the flesh, but the light of the soul.

A monk lives simply treating possessions as cumbersome burdens. Though grateful for all that is given, he or she remains detached.

A monk is imperfect. Only God is perfect and a monk seeks perfection through God.

A monk is a child who will stumble. Monks know they will trip over his or her mistakes. Chastity, simplicity and devotion are all practices and like someone learning a musical instrument, the wrong note will often disturb the harmony but the monk continues to practice.

The Way of the Monk is difficult. Obstacles get in the way. Sacrifice is painful. Confusion lurks at every new turn in the road. Nevertheless, the monk will continue to walk and stumble because the monk is homesick. Home for a monk is not a place but a state of being.

Some will see the monk as mad or foolish. Some see only the images found in picture books and movies. Look closely and see the scarred bare feet from thorns trampled underfoot. Feel the ache of loneliness when no one listens, the tear-filled eyes that have seen suffering in the world, the broken body that has struggled to free itself from the trap of trivialities.

Look closer, however, and you will also see a smile. For the monk who has found the source of the river is given “what no eye has seen, no ear has heard, what no hand has touched, and what has not arisen in the human heart.”

The Way of the Monk is difficult. Obstacles get in the way. Sacrifice is painful. Confusion lurks at every new turn in the road. Nevertheless, the monk will continue to walk and stumble because the monk is homesick. Home for a monk is not a place but a state of being.

Some will see the monk as mad or foolish. Some see only the images found in picture books and movies. Look closely and see the scarred bare feet from thorns trampled underfoot. Feel the ache of loneliness when no one listens, the tear-filled eyes that have seen suffering in the world, the broken body that has struggled to free itself from the trap of trivialities.

Look closer, however, and you will also see a smile. For the monk who has found the source of the river is given “what no eye has seen, no ear has heard, what no hand has touched, and what has not arisen in the human heart.”

It’s OK to be bored

I actually encourage all writers to cultivate a sense of boredom.

That way you’ll know when your writing is just not that interesting.

I recently read a novel (well, not all of it) in which the author gave a long detailed description of a man eating a peach–how the knife cut it into slices, the color and texture of the peach and the way it tasted. I read every word because I was sure it had something to do with the story.

It didn’t.

I suppose it might be interesting to someone who never saw or eaten a peach. If all she wrote was “the man sat down and ate a peach” my mind would have filled in the blanks, knowing full well what it is like to eat a peach.

OK now, before I start to get boring on the subject of peach eating, this post is really about the challenge of writing a historical novel based on the life and times of Saint Francis of Assisi.

I just threw out an entire chapter because it was boring. Being overly concerned with the historical facts stifled my creativity. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t writing a history text book or an unauthorized biography but using another person’s life as a symbol. The greater challenge is to write something that will present a fresh perspective rather than a rehash of everything that’s been previously written.

So, I have to trust my boredom instincts. If I’m bored by my own writing, so will the reader.

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Self Sabotage

The words flow. You’re in the zone. Then it happens. You know what you want to say but the sentence is all wrong. It’s not PERFECT. It’s really not an important sentence but it’s needed. If only I structure it another way. What if I replace this word with another? Nothing is working. You can’t get pass that one line.
Why? Because it’s not perfect. Someone, perhaps thousands will notice it and judge you for it. You’re writing career will be over. People will hate you, they’ll talk about you, mock you, dismiss you for being a hack. Just because it’s not perfect.

My solution is this. Before I sit down to write, I tell myself, “Well, nobody is going to read this anyway so I might as well have fun with it.

What is your solution for breaking the crippling chains of Perfectionism?
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About this blog

Challenges face every writer no matter what the subject and I invite all who create with pen, ink and keyboard to share their problems, solutions and questions.
I will be posting on the progress of this particular journey writing a novel about a saint  and the challenges of juggling creativity, historical accuracy and writing about a person most people assume to know.
By doing this I hope to conquer my biggest challenge – procrastination.

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