Tag Archives: writers

Spiritual writing

There is a long tradition of people writing about their spiritual experiences. My first serious contact was at college, where I read some of the writing of Puritans. They had quite a formula for writing about religious experience, and it always started with explaining what terrible sinners they had been before they found the light. It’s sweet, and rather touching to read people for whom spitting in the street and taking the Lord’s name in vain constitutes terrible sin.

However, there’s an important aspect to this approach, as relevant today as it was then: Vulnerability. It’s the flawed sinner who draws the reader in, the Puritans knew. I’ve read a lot of spiritual texts, from various people of all kinds of tradition. I can divide them into two camps: Those who express confidence, and those who do not. The confident writers have a very clear sense that it all works, their beliefs are well founded, substantial, dependable. They have systems that explain reality and their place in it. Those systems vary a lot, so the person who reads widely finds no one clear solution. Some authors can come across as having it all figured out, which, if you don’t, is off-putting. How do we respond to these great, wise gurus who have unlocked the secrets of the universe? Many will share things we can be doing, but I’ve never been able to go from one of those books to the same place of certainty about how the world works.

Which is largely why I fall into the second camp. I’ve not learned much from the people who claim to have it all figured out. I’m not always sure I believe them, even. The writers who move me, present far more humble, human faces to the world. They aren’t perfect, they don’t know it all. They make mistakes. They get lost and confused, they go through crises of belief and disbelief, they change their minds about key things and the path is not smooth for them.

I empathise with this. I don’t find the spiritual life easy. I don’t find any spiritual ‘truths’ to be simple or self-evident. Things happen to me that I struggle to make sense of. Reading other spiritual travellers whose feet of clay have fallen off the path now and then, helps me. I feel less alone, and less stupid. I feel inspired by their struggles, by the triumph of determination over uncertainty, by the way in which they keep coming back to try again. Recent reads that really worked for me in this way include Tiziana Stupia’s ‘Meeting Shiva’ and Mark Townsend’s ‘Diary of a Heretic’.

I am a ‘warts and all’ author because this is what I’ve got. I’m a very long way from being enlightened. There is a lot that confuses me. I get depressed and frightened. I don’t reliably believe that the universe is full of love. I don’t reliably believe that Gods exist, much less that they give a shit. What makes sense today may not help me at all tomorrow. I seek spiritual experience and philosophical insight with very little idea what I’m doing and no idea if I’m getting it right. I see from other authors that I’m not the only messy, chaotic meanderer in the realm of spiritual questing. That comforts me.

For me, what matters most is the journey itself, the questing, pondering and reaching. I fall over. I get up again. I break my heart. I have another go. This is what life means to me. Those people who have found their certainty, are most welcome to it. I would not begrudge anyone the clarity of deep insight or the apparent wonder of knowing how it all works. I don’t know how it all works, and because I am flawed and messy, I’ve yet to find someone who had it all sussed in whom I could trust. I am too sceptical, too cynical, I wonder if the certain folk are really, in their hearts, as confident as they claim to be, or if they are in the business of selling Truth. Truth, after all, is a more attractive commodity than doubt. Maybe these are people who have not been tested beyond breaking point and are therefore not full of cracks and holes. Maybe they are genuinely enlightened. I can’t tell. All I know is that I respond best to the authors who share their pain and confusion, and that I have no certainty to offer.

Money for old Druids, rope, books…

What, exactly, are we willing to pay for? Money is the primary energy used to move things round in our culture, but the ways in which we deploy it are… curious. We’ll pay more for a cup of coffee than we feel comfortable about handing over for ebooks, for example. We’ll pay well over the odds for food at railway stations, then quibble over a milk price that has farmers working at a loss. I think there’s also an interesting question around what we’re willing to charge for.

It would, for example, be totally self defeating to charge for this blog. Authors are two a penny. We’re like a rampant disease spread over the whole internet, and we all want your cash in exchange for our scribbles. I was, quite literally, falling over authors last weekend. It felt like every third person who came by the table was an author, or wanted to be an author. I understand this urge, but it’s also a bit frustrating. I’d like to be an author too. Some 250,000 books now get published a year. It used to be more like 40,000. The number of books sold hasn’t changed. You do the maths. I’m in favour of more democratic and accessible systems, but I also have aspirations about being able to pay the bills. Me, and everyone else.

I have no doubt that Druidry will go the same way. Right now, Druid celebrants are not numerous, and people will pay for handfastings and whatnot. The more Druids there are, the more people will be looking to live by their Druidry and the harder this will consequently become. The more popular a thing gets, the less we are willing to pay for it. Take a look at book prices in the supermarket next time you go by. This isn’t going anywhere dramatic, I don’t have a grand plan on this issue, I just find it interesting.

My bloke is an artist. We were not falling over artists at the weekend, although there were plenty of folk who confessed to dabbling, but were quick to acknowledge they aren’t in his league. It’s easier to tell at a quick glance how good an artist is. We sold a lot of art. There are days when I wish I did anything other than write. There are so many other creative fields that are not being choked to death by the sheer number of people wanting to have a go. Part of the trouble with writing is that we all learn to write at school, and there is a widely held myth that anyone can do it. This is, in fact, bullshit. Good writing is as difficult as any other art form. We don’t all imagine we have an opera in us, or a sculpture. I’m all in favour of people having a go, exploring their creativity, I just wish it was a bit better distributed.

It also bugs the hell out of me that it tends to be hype, and not quality, that sells books. When an author is great, then seeing them top the best seller lists is a happy thing. But when we’re talking Twilight, Dan Brown, Fifty Shades and other such work that becomes famous for being famous it’s not good. I also get very grumpy about people who get famous for being famous, all the two dimensional celebrities. There are a lot of deserving, talented, innovative people out there who don’t media whore and who merit the attention. I’d rather hear about sports heroes than yet another drunken idiot in designer clothing.

But we pay, and every time we pay, we choose what kind of market we have, who will thrive, who will fall. And if we choose to spend a lot of money on mass produced plastic and nothing on originality, we will end up without originality. If we won’t pay for Druids, ultimately we won’t have any professional Druids. Some may argue this is a good thing. There’s an interesting discussion to have there. We also charge, and in choosing what we charge for, and what we do not, we also shape our material world. We pay others to clean our homes, but we do not value it when it’s done for free by an unpaid wife.  Child care the same. I don’t charge to blog. We can end up devaluing what we don’t pay for. I’m doing this for free because I hope to interest you in my writing, so that you buy my books, book me for events, come to my table, etc.  Funny sort of business, this.