Writing from the Deeper Self

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Writing from the Deeper Self

Writing a Book as a Quest

Going deeper beyond simply being an expert in your field.

By Naomi Rose | Updated November 12, 2018

When people think about writing a book ~ if they allow themselves to ~ most often, they think in terms of writing about what they know. Being an expert is really big in the book field, these days. You don't even have to be a writer to be an author who is an expert in something. You just have to put forth your expertise. And conventionally, this means some kind of formula, some kind of "10 steps to health," or "The seven keys to wealth," or some such thing. There's nothing wrong with this; it has its place; and certainly, we are all experts in something. We could all, if we needed to, write some kind of book in this way.

But there is another way of writing, almost the opposite way, that provides both less certainty, to start with, and more deep fulfillment ~ and even, at the end, more expertise. It is the way of writing a book as a quest.

Once you hear the word "quest," you know you are in a different realm than the recitation of facts, or the laying out of already-known answers. You are not even in the realm, necessarily, of ordinary consciousness. You are in the realm of spirit and soul.

This means that your conscious mind will not have the answers, to start with. Indeed, your conscious mind may be relegated to the role of witness, as that which seeks within you takes the lead.

This is both a humbling position, and a vastly empowering one. To start out on a quest with only a seeking, a question (and even that question may not, in the very beginning, be fully formed), and be concentrated enough, be dedicated enough, to be present with what you find, to weather detours and wrong turns, and to develop a "sixth sense" about your nearness to what it is you seek ~ kind of sniffing its presence, making your way through the forest in search of its traces, recognizing its recent footprints quickly fading on the path ~ is to devote yourself to a larger truth: a truth that you hope will, once encountered, illuminate your life, the path you have taken to find it, and all that you went through leading up to the decision (if it was a conscious decision) to go on the quest in the first place. A quest is not an assignment, not a "career move" (though it can have that effect after the fact), not an opportunity to be an expert. A quest is a journey demanded by your soul.

I'm sure that many books have been written in this way, whether the author thought of the process as a quest or not. Some that come to mind include Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (I'm pretty sure he didn't write it to become a best-seller, although it did); Jacob Needleman's Money and the Meaning of Life; Ann Patchett's Truth & Beauty: A Friendship; and many other books that started with a need to set out and find something precious, often the writers initially knowing not what.

There is a special joy to writing a quest, in that you don't know what is around the bend until you get there; you don't know which direction your inner compass will take you until you find your foot on that soil; you don't know what it is that you will discover, nor do you know ~ until you discover it ~ what its larger significance is, what patterns it reveals, what light it casts on your deeper being and journey to that point, and beyond. I say, "a special joy"; but clearly, a sometimes quite uncomfortable joy, not to know for that length of time, not to be sure that you are on the right path, or even exactly what you seek. And yet joy it is, because to be even in sensing distance, even far-flung sniffing distance, of whatever is to you, in the time frame of your writing, your holy grail, is to give such meaning to your efforts, such wings under your feet, that you would go longer and further and round more and more bends if it got you any closer to what it is that you are seeking.

As we all know somewhere in our hearts ~ at least from watching reruns of "The Wizard of Oz," if from nowhere else ~ what we are seeking has been in us all along. We need to travel way outside the familiar pathways, the conditioning that makes us believe we are only a product of our circumstances, environment, family, and so on, in order to approach the holy of holies, the most intimate sanctuary of our own heart. Once we are there, we find that we are everywhere; there is no place closed to us, no one we cannot understand, no one or place or thing outside us. We contain the universe. And we had to leave the known in order to learn what was always here, always true.

This is a universal quest. We read of it in myth and religious lore, and perhaps think it belongs to other people, times, and ages. But it is perennial, and it is in us, as well. So to allow ourselves an awareness of our longing, even if we don't have a particular form or name to give to it, is to awaken the willingness to make the journey.

And I personally know of few better ways ~ other than through relationship, through deep self-examination and healing, and of course actual external travel ~ than to write a book.

Although some of my books were written from the relative standpoint of expertise ~ wisdom gained through experience, which I was happy to share (as in my book, Starting Your Book: A Guide to Navigating the Blank Page by Attending to What's Inside You), those that gave me the most transforming experience through the writing, the most internal change of horizon, were those that began as a quest.

My first book that was consciously a quest was The Blessings Ledger: A Quest to Find the Union of Money and Compassion. When I began it, over ten years ago, there was no title, there wasn't even a clear internal landscape to traverse. There was only the quest ~ and I would say, a desperate quest, at that point ~ to find something that did not seem to exist, either in the world as I knew it or in ordinary consciousness: how to bring together the world of money and the world of the most intimate, vulnerable, inner heart. That I eventually found what I was seeking, through the very act of writing, is the great news that I get to report, ten years later.

What did not feel so great, starting out, however, was the incredible loneliness, self-doubt, shame, and despair that accompanied me through the early phases of the journey. I was setting out to find something that did not seem to exist, that other people did not talk about, and that I knew, from the place I then was, I had to find in order to go on. A tall order, at a time when I felt quite small, actually. I was newly divorced, in debt, without funds for the future, and too occupied grieving the loss of the dream of true marriage to galvanize myself, bright and cheery, into the workforce.

Looking back, I can see the great value of feeling called to make this quest by writing a book. Being a writer ~ and feeling that writing is one of the most deep and intimate recourses I have for knowing myself, for invoking understanding, for giving a kind of gracious, lingering attention to parts of my life that have been neglected (whether due to shame, indifference at the time, or neglect by others) ~ writing a book to find what I was seeking turned out to be just the way to weave cast-out and disparate parts of myself together, to learn to trust the depth of feeling encased in specific memories and hopes, and to find the courage to trust that what I found within myself had value for the world, not only for me.

I came to know that, very gradually, because as a result of my quest to find the union of money and compassion, I did. I did find ways in which the human heart, softening in the face of another person's need, changed how money was viewed and used. I did find ways of becoming compassionate to myself about money, ceasing to berate myself for my supposed failures to have reached a certain financial level and expertise by a certain age, and through the heart-connections that this writing quest opened up, actually learn to have money, to get out of debt, to manage my finances, and so on. In short, I was able to do almost all the things that the "expert" books talk about in purely financial terms, not through the door of financial acumen, but through the door of compassion. I got there anyway; only, in a way that was doable for me, and ultimately meaningful to me. And, it being a book, not a tape recording or a journal or something else too private to share, it would then become available to the world.

This book, actually, is still in progress. Others have come onto center stage in the meanwhile, temporarily putting it on hold. But it was the Great Mother of my quests, and the books that followed really followed in its footsteps. MotherWealth: The Feminine Path to Money. The Portable Blessings Ledger: A Way to Keep Track of Your Finances and Bring Meaning and Heart into Your Dealings with Money. A recent article called "The Almighty and the Dollar: How Paying Attention to Our Inner Lives and Bringing Compassion to Our Dealings with Money Can Bring Us Closer to God." See, there is a series now: a series of books about "Money and the Inner Life." I never set out to write a series. I set out to find something that my soul required in order to go on. The process of finding it was writing that first book. And, having found what I was seeking, the whole story, all its traces, all the not knowing and the finding, were there in the book for others to read, footprints in the forest, as I myself had been seeking.

So perhaps there is something that you seek. It probably is already in you: but sometimes we have to make a far journey ~ far in depth and range, if not in actual geographical travel ~ in order to gain perspective about what was in us all along.

If this rings a bell for you, if some longing to find something that may not yet have a name is whispering to you from inside your chest as you read my words, then maybe you have a quest to make, yourself. And if you make it in the form of writing a book, you will get not only to find your way, but also to leave your traces and treasures behind for others who will want to make that same journey.

©2008 Naomi Rose. All rights reserved.

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