Book Bits

Natalie Goldberg: Be Submissive to Everything

Long Quiet Highway is writer Natalie Goldberg’s account of her life’s spiritual journey under the guidance of various teachers including Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Allen Ginsberg, and most significantly, Dainin Katagiri Roshi. Throughout the book, Goldberg draws numerous parallels between Zen and writing practice, and emphasizes the importance of a good teacher.

In his list of essential rules for writers, Jack Kerouac wrote: “Be submissive to everything, open, listening.” I could easily have missed who Katagiri was if I hadn’t put myself in a position to go back over and over again. I understood that I was not “submissive to everything,” and that I often missed something good because of my ignorance, so I would persist at something for a long while until I tasted it. It was hard for me to see something outside myself, but I had a glimpse of my basic ignorant sleepiness and if I sensed some essential rightness I would continue even though I didn’t get it right away. I knew, like steel striking a flint over and over again, eventually something in me would be ignited, and I had a flash understanding of something real.

This was my attitude toward literature, too. If a play, poem, novel was centuries old, and I was bored reading it, I did not trust my boredom and think, this writing is no good. I figured that if it had managed to last this long, it had something worth lasting. I’d wait until either I connected with it, or a teacher helped shine some light on it. A teacher can hold up a seeming piece of coal and point out the diamond.

Natalie Goldberg
From: Long Quiet Highway: Waking up in America

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