An Ancient Bovine Guide to Writing
You are your writing, your writing is you. You only feel separate until you journey through the process.
The Ten Bulls or Ox-herding Pictures date back to about the 11th century in China, representing progress toward enlightenment, at a time when Buddhism was traveling from India, taking root in other parts of Asia. The childlike drawings serve as an allegory for moods, emotions, and shades of resistance that many writers experience.
1. Searching for the Ox — Sitting down on a Chair/Ox to find the Story. You & Story are separate. “Everything is shifting and unsteady.” Frisson of excitement and/or agitation.
2. Seeing the Traces — Aha! Moments. You spill some ink, symbols on a blank page. Flashes of insight. Startling! Scent of your own genius arises. Wow! It’s been there all along right under your nose.
3. Seeing the Ox — Deepening insight guides you and you are overwhelmed; so unanticipated the Story/Ox is in your face. Licks you.
4. Catching the Ox — Uh-oh! Chaos suddenly. The Ox/Story starts bucking; you can’t hold on; you try grabbing it by the horn or tail, only to swing and cling in fear. Nowhere to stand. No solid ground.
5. Herding the Ox — You stop clinging — to everything, to the Story, to your fear, to anticipation, to ideas of its outcome. You disappear as if hidden behind a big old tree, observing. Observing. A certain equanimity reigns.
6. The Ox/Story Forgotten — And wild fantasies or dreams about what the Story/Ox would be, the ease of it. Gone, Gone, Away, Away. The honeymoon is over. But something real lingers in its place. Equanimity becomes safety, contentment. You sleep deep dreamless sleep.
7. The Story & You are Both Gone — It gets even better. You see sunlight and moonlight as the true Light and the remaining shreds of fear, of clinging & aversion, dissolve. Natural Light floods everything with an unimaginable clarity. The universe looks the same in all directions. No matter where you stand. No matter where your Story goes. Centered. You are your breath.
8. Returning to the Origin — You’ve come through the Story/Ox, as if through a wormhole. But instead of a new universe, you are Home. The process of writing the Story restores the world as you know and love it. So familiar, ever new.
9. Coming Home on the Ox’s (Story’s) Back — Strong & steady at home with Self & Story & Ox. What’s found was never lost.
10. Entering the Market with Bliss-Bearing Hands — “Life goes on moment by moment.” Nothing has been wasted, not time, not the waiting. Waiting is the only virtue in Writing and in Life.