… in the silences between words

Michelle Aldredge at Gwarlingo has just published a very fine post on Christian McEwan. You can read the post here! 

Christian McEwen was born in Britain, and now lives in Northampton, MA. Over the past two decades, she has taught poetry and creative writing at the New School in New York City; Williams College and Smith College in Massachusetts, and Lesley University. Her most recent book is World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down.

McEwen is new to me, but the excerpt below made me want to get to know her writing – straightaway:

Tranquility belongs to a long list of shadowy essentials to which our culture pays lip-service, but to which we are mostly oblivious, among them, rest, sleep, silence, stillness and solitude. What I am describing is a certain vibrant emptiness, what the Japanese call ma. Ma is found in the silences between words, in the white space on a page, in the tacit understanding between two close friends. The Japanese school of Sumi painting says: “If you depict a bird, give it space to fly.” That ease, that spaciousness, is ma.

The western world is filled with things, crammed to bursting point with noise and movement and color and excitement, which to us mean wealth and vigor. From childhood on, we learn to distrust all the varieties of ma, and to replace them, as far as possible, with their opposites. We value action over stillness, light over shadow, sounds over silence. But in Asian cultures, such quiet resonance has value in and of itself. It is seen as generative, sustaining, something one can trust.

World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down

I have spent quite some time this year in company with fairly similar ideas; especially  those advocated by Susan Cain in QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and in the writing of Jon Kabat-Zinn. Kabat-Zinn is strongly influenced by buddhist thinking, and also McEwen is pointing at Asian culture, emphasizing its focus on silence and solitude as an advantage. But my impression is that the eastern world is becoming just as cramped as the western, this is not meant as an argument against McEwen’s point – on the contrary: due to our hectic way of living, learning to slow down and pay attention is more important than ever before.

China as seen by Ed Burtynsky

Mindfulness is about paying attention; attention to oneself, to others, and to the natural world. For me mindfulness has also initiated a new curiosity for nature writing. Having had the opportunity to discover new terrain and a new way of writing in the middle of life is such a great thing! It’s like everything is beginning anew, like being on an expedition into the still unknown, it feels …

Monte Toraggio, Gola dell Incisa, Italy

… thrilling!

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