I was reading a blog about minimalism as a lifestyle the other day and I stumbled across a very interesting article, one that is very relevant to creative writers. It’s called Wash Your Bowl, and it’s about a Zen koan or religious parable designed to be a lesson about maintaining a Buddhist mentality and way of life. Visit the site to see what the story is all about. If you’d like the Cliffs Notes version, I’ll tell you that a monk seeking enlightenment asks a wise master how to achieve it, and is told to wash his bowl because he has been eating rice out of it. While the parable can seem baffling at first, there’s a good point to be made here about leading a conscious (and creative) life.
Concentrate on What You Are Doing!
In the parable, the monk makes the mistake of trying to wonder about distant theological questions while there is still work to be done right in front of him. His head is so far in the clouds that he can’t see his own two feet. We often make this mistake in our daily lives, and in our fiction as well. We’re so worried about the climax that we don’t give the scene we’re currently working on enough attention, or we know the big abstract things about our characters, like their religion and their greatest fear, but not how they take their tea or what songs they sing in the shower. These immediate things are what give readers a more genuine experience of your characters’ inner lives.
Keep It Simple.
The other thing this parable teaches is that things are often simpler than they seem. Want to be enlightened? That doesn’t mean learning the secrets of the universe — it means living a fully conscious life, in which you are aware and appreciate of everything around you. Creative writers would do well to remember this lesson too: fiction suffers when it gets airy and overwrought, but is most memorable to us when it becomes a little more minimalistic.
After the jump: the most important lesson to be learned from “wash your bowl.”
Work with Care and Joy.
The author of the post at the Minimalist beautifully summed up what I find inspiring about this parable. The young monk wants everything that he doesn’t have. He probably wants a bit of the fame or glory that can come with high spiritual attainment. What he isn’t looking at is the beauty and joy in the small things around him. Working with awareness, and working with joy, is the best way to make a piece of creative writing come to life.
So what aspect of your life or your writing needs more care and joy? What are you being lazy about, or what needs more passion and engagement from you? Look back at your writing and make sure your pleasure in writing is evident in the pages.