A few days ago, a writer friend and I were chatting about writing and publishing, as we writing folk tend to do. She said something that stuck with me because it is what I’ve often wondered about: why do we not remember how small and insignificant we are, that we began as dust and will turn into dust one day? That way, most squabbles would seem petty, no one would care if a writer was published or not, or how many copies a writer sold or who gave a story a good or bad review.
You’d be so grateful and happy to be alive and able to write, that the rest of it would fade into insignificance. Achievements would bring joys but no higher than the delight of being alive in that moment. Failures would still cause sorrow but that would be as nothing when you remember you are alive and healthy and writing and what a perfect, every day miracle that is.
Having spoken to my writer friend from the other end of the world (who went to bed as I began my day), I took off for a seaside walk.
I thought about our conversation by the sea, stood near the waves, imagined the millennia of back and forth that had ground rocks and sea creatures into sand; breathed in the air carried in from who knew which country. Gazed at the Singapore port in the distance and the ships quiescent on the pale waters, marking the horizon between the sky and sea which hung the same shade of gray on that cloudy morning.
All of it so random, no two waves the same.
The swish and crash of water, determinedly heading for land, and equally swift in retreat, the rhythm almost an indistinguishable background noise at the seaside park where people walked their dogs and chattered about their plans and programs. Women in hijab breathed through jumping jacks. An entire Malay family, from grandparents to gand-daughters, fished at the pier, tossing their hand-sized, flopping catches into colorful plastic boxes. Hip, corporate middle-aged men with their bluetooth speakers hollered instructions to their office hives. A few children dug in the sand under the watchful eyes of nannies. A man licked on ice-cream, sweat soaking through his t-shirt that covered the jiggling rolls of his belly. Young, muscular men and women casually chatted with each other and laughed as they jogged at a vigorous pace, side by side, as though old age and ill health were a myth invented by malicious villains. Two elderly Chinese women in colorful costumes went through the slow-dance-like movements of tai-chi, their faces serene, their postures erect, their swords pointed high, their fans not fluttering, stiff. A couple sat on a flat rock by the sea, facing away from each other, their relaxed faces upturned in the air, eyes closed.
The writer in me on auto-pilot, storing away sense impressions, ever alert to the possibility of a story, creating narratives on the fly while wondering at the importance of writing stories down when they unfolded everywhere all the time, in their complex, random yet purposeful, self-emergent glory. Thinking that though stories tell us how to experience the world, or at least the experience of characters real or imaginary– thus helping us navigate our truths– in some ways, they are just as transient, impermanent, as we are.
Today, when I’m at home in self-imposed isolation due to the recent covid surge in Singapore, I find myself straying in my mind to that seaside, the clouded, pleasant interlude and realizing that even though I was grateful that day for my stroll in the open, maybe I had still taken it for granted in some ways. I’d thought I’d be there again this week, but I’m not. I’d said ‘If this isn’t good, I don’t know what is,’ but I’d expected it to happen again, soon, without obstacles.
It is tricky to remember the lesson of being in the present, fully, and then letting it go without regret or judgment, in order to embrace another moment, always the oncoming one.
Today, when the news is filled with memories of 9/11, which hit the USA but echoed around the world, transience takes on an even greater significance.
Be it in writing, publishing or in life, the useful but elusive method to keep going and find peace is to remove ourselves from the auto-pilot in which our body-mind puts us. To actually try and see each moment for what it is, accept it and surf its waves, to not interpret it when possible.
Granted, it could become impractical to remove judgment from a situation, because our very survival could depend on making that call. If I’m standing on the road and a car speeds towards me, I must react.
That same instinct for reaction makes me want to respond to situations where my body perceives a threat, but in fact, there is none. It could be a rude comment on social media, an adverse situation far away from me that I’m powerless to address. Or it could be a stinging review. Engaging the auto-pilot reaction leads to strife. Strife is occasionally useful, to speak up against injustice, for instance, but most times, like my wise friend pointed out, we need to remember we are stardust, and that all things will pass.
We are fragile, as are the moments in which we live, both incredibly precious and unspeakably mundane, depending on our perspective.
As an author, the writing and publishing activities seem big and important, but seen in context, they are just one aspect of human life. Trapped at my desk, a seaside walk seems so much more glorious today.
Like I said, perspective.
How has life been for you this past week? If you’re a writer, have you ever wondered about the future or importance of your writing? Whether you’re a writer or a reader, what do stories mean to you? What is your recipe for staying in a space of mental peace and freedom?
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I don’t really look at the importance or legacy of my writing anymore. But I do see it as my personal window to my higher self (woo-woo, I know). It’s my way of creating, and we each have our own ways of accessing this. Anyway, thanks for this post, and I recognise you from the occasional posts you put up in the Malaysia Writers’ FB group!
Hello Damyanti! Finally got here! What a thought provoking post. So true. Writing. Publishing. A Seaside Walk. All favorites of mine. It’s wise never to forget how insignificant we are in the scheme of things, yet each of us is at the same time unique.
Thanks for stopping by. And so true: how insignificant we are in the scheme of things, yet each of us is at the same time unique.
Oh, I really enjoyed reading this one Damyanti! In pure synchronicity, a lovely FB friend posted Rose’s ‘Dust If You Must’ poem yesterday just after I’d finished cleaning my house in preparation to sit down and write a new poem. I’m like a dog who circles their basket until I find a sweet spot and lies down before I start writing! A habit of sorts that I suspect a few writers may share, like some kind of weird ritual. Anyway, here’s the weird thing as soon as I post my partner walks in and says tonight we’re gonna watch ‘When the Dust Settles’ a Danish TV drama. And then this morning I come here and there’s even more magickal dust. Thank you. Love and light, and a sprinkle of more dust! Deborah.
I’m like a dog who circles their basket until I find a sweet spot and lies down before I start writing!
This is true of me, too. Thanks for reading, Deborah, and I believe in serendipity, and as is clear from my post, magical dust. Sending you love and light as well, and look forward to seeing you around!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and lovely picture!!… a wonderful perspective about life.. I think far too often one can get into that so called “rut” or “routine” that rarely changes until something happens in ones life and suddenly one realize what one has missed…. I try to avoid it if I can… perhaps with change in the winds along with technology, more and more folks will change how they live life to some degree… the words by Rose Milligan come to mind;
Dust if you must, but wouldn’t it be better
to paint a picture, or write a letter,
bake a cake, or plant a seed.
Ponder the difference between want and need.
Dust if you must, but there is not much time,
with rivers to swim and mountains to climb!
Music to hear, and books to read,
friends to cherish and life to lead.
Dust if you must, but the world’s out there
with the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair,
a flutter of snow, a shower of rain,
this day will not come round again.
Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go, and go you must,
you, yourself, will make more dust!
Until we meet again..
May your spirit only know peace
May your heart only know love
May all your dreams come true
May your life’s journey be filled with happiness
And life is all that you wish for it to be….
(Larry “Dutch” Woller)
“wouldn’t it be better
to paint a picture, or write a letter,
bake a cake, or plant a seed.
Ponder the difference between want and need.”
Such fabulous words, Larry. Thanks for sharing them, and for your kind, generous presence on my site.
Thanks for sharing Damyanti. The thoughts keep plaguing from time to time and always in the look out for a productive channel in venting out be it medium of writing itself or art, like many say. Writer thoughts, I absolutely enjoy doing it, for you have tapped my inner thoughts. This line spoke directly to me: To actually try and see each moment for what it is, accept it and surf its waves, to not interpret it when possible.
So glad my words resonated, Vishal, and thanks so much for stopping by to comment.
I followed you on Amazon. Do you also know about Goodreads? It is a good place to garner readers. Here is my site FYI: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7039858.Cinda_Crabbe_MacKinnon
Thanks for the Amazon follow. I think I already follow you on goodreads!
We are but a blip on the timeline of the world.
We need to remember that every moment is precious.
True. Impermanence and the precious fragility of our existence. Puts things in such perspective.
What a wonderful, wise read Damyanti! Being mindful of our smallness in this expansive Universe helps us see things from the right perspective. After all, we are dust, and to dust, we shall return. Living in an urban concrete city in India, our options are limited. For me, spending time with loved ones like the family, better still children, talking to friends, meditating, prayer, exercise, and simply reading for pleasure helps. I’ve learned to choose my battles too, and most of them are not worth spending your time and energy on.
Tina, so true that we need to choose our battles, and wisely, too. Thanks for always being here to support and encourage.
I spend my days stacking to-do’s to get the most efficiency out of every minute and although I start off my day with a meditation, that blissful feeling rarely stays with me throughout the day to the point that I sometimes wonder whether such zen in (in)action is even possible in the modern day world, but still I try every day, a breath here, a moment of gratitude there, and always the appreciation of nature brings me back to the present, so there’s that. Have a wonderful present-minded day, Damyanti. xo
Thanks, Pam, and you’re so right. We’re all so swamped by out to-do lists. I do find though that those little zen escapes build up over time and turns into better resilience to stress, and more love, forgiveness and compassion for ourselves, and others.
Hi Damyanti – such a true thoughtful take on writing at the moment … that little cove is a delight to see … reminding me of my Cornish life. Your words “We are fragile, as are the moments in which we live, both incredibly precious and unspeakably mundane, depending on our perspective.” Thank you … the world needs peace and thoughtfulness – lovely to see you back – Hilary
Thanks for stopping by, Hilary. Never been to the Cornish coast, but I hope to visit some day,
Such a thought provoking piece ! Staying in the present moment is a challenge and so true, we take a lot of things for granted. Thank you for sharing this moving post and a reminder to just be !
Thanks for the kind words, Chinmayee. I need these daily reminders to self.
What a beautiful conversation and walk. Deftly captured in your words. We too are in lockdown in Canberra. But can exercise for up to two hours per day, within five kilometres from home. I hope you can find walks.
Thanks for the kind words, Simon. I haven’t been out for about 2 weeks–just being careful as cases surge in Singapore to an unprecedented high.
Moving towards zen Damyanti. We know all of this, don’t we but when we try and put it to practice it becomes elusive.
Yes, so easy to preach and hard to practice, Sonia. I’m an eternal work-in-progress.
I enjoyed those thoughts Damyanti.
Thanks for reading, Ian.
That perspective is so important. Beautiful observations, Damyanti.
Thanks, Jacqui, The only way to look at the writing life (or any life) and stay sane, imo.
I always imagine the rush towards and away from the shore by the eternal waves as the earth herself breathing. Having recently survived three major hurricanes, I have seen first hand the awesome, terrible majesty of Nature unleashed. Kneeling beside a sobbing mother cradling her baby having died because no ambulance could reach us on that ravaged New Orleans street right after Katrina, I learned how precious is the gift of life and how fleeting. Whether I become a widely read author or not does not matter. What does matter is how I treat all the fragile, precious lives around me. A seed seems small and insignificant but truly it is bursting with life-giving possibilities … as are each of us, small as dust particles though we might seem. Thank you for such a moving, thought provoking post. Now, I must get in my rusty, trusty chariot and ferry life saving blood to hospitals and the patients within them. Thank you for being my friend, Roland
So trues, this: What does matter is how I treat all the fragile, precious lives around me. A seed seems small and insignificant but truly it is bursting with life-giving possibilities … as are each of us, small as dust particles though we might seem.
Thanks for stopping by, and your lovely comment, Roland.