I have spent the last few days listening to ‘The Long Quiet Road’ by Natalie Goldberg. I came across her book whilst searching for help with writing styles. Natalie Goldberg was a student of Katagiri Roshi, a Japanese Zen master who originally travelled from Japan to teach at the SFZC, and later establishing the Minnesota Zen Centre. The book is a moving tale about their relationship as Teacher and Student, which takes us beyond Katagiri Roshi’s death. In the book’s first few pages, she tells the story of ‘The Mountain Monks’ a sect of monks in Japan who run a thousand marathons up and down Mount Hehi over seven years to obtain Buddhahood. The monks complete each of the 22-mile circuits on pain of death, carrying a razor-sharp blade to take their life should they fail.
I have a simple task in comparison; at least that is how it looks on the outside. All I have to do is complete a book, something that has been sitting at the back of my mind for six years. But all is not as it seems, and in the last couple of months, the book writing process as I saw it had turned itself on its head, and I am writing this to make some sense of what’s occurring, within me. I recognise that the book I set out to write is no longer the book I am writing, having a will of its own, taking over my scribing, often bearing no resemblance to my intention. Urgency and motivation have also appeared from nowhere, something that previously was a struggle is now a stream. I find myself leaping from bed at 4 am or writing into the night to finish a passage. The book appears to have decided ‘IT NEEDS TO BE WRITTEN’.
I am in the arena standing on the field gun’s drag ropes, flanked by seventeen men their lives depending upon me and mine upon theirs. There is a buzz, twenty thousand onlookers exuding an electrical pulse, illuminating the gladiators in the pit as they elude death with the oneness of precision timing and drill. The bugle sounds, the fizz as the Battery Officer lights the thunder flash to start the run, my arms tense, and the drag ropes strain. BANG! I disappear gone, committed the fate of three years devotion, to my master and teacher, my fate condensed into three weeks of competition, the toughest team sport in the world, defeat is not an option.
The book is a vision so clear it scares me, the colossal effort and reverence putting fear into my belly. I know this journey is beyond all others, crossing the bottomless chasm no escape. Instead, free-falling into its dark depths, as I plummet towards the abyss, resisting anything and everything that will pull me from the agonising path. I must dedicate myself, the only way I know how, saturation, drowning in my writing, absorption so complete, form to formless and formless to form. No Flying Angel’s, no Marathon Monks, it’s 3.51 am, fingers tap the keyword words pour onto the screen, somewhere in the dark expanse no end in sight.