Natalie Goldberg on the Loneliness of Writing

Sometimes I wonder why I continue to write, especially when it seems to take me away from other people. The more I dig into myself, the wider the chasm between us. Do words make any difference? Can they bridge the gap? Is that even possible?

Here’s a reminder from Natalie Goldberg that loneliness isn’t necessarily a bad thing…

“My great teacher, Katagiri Roshi, is sick now and I am very sad. I think about the six years I was with him in Minnesota. I want him to be well again for himself. I realise he has already given me everything. I do not need to be greedy and think I can get more from him. My job is to penetrate what I already know so that I live it day by day. So I am not separate from it.

When I finished Writing Down the Bones in Santa Fe in 1984, I went to visit Roshi in Minneapolis. I showed him the book. I said, ‘Roshi, I need a teacher again. The people in Santa Fe are crazy. They drift from one thing to another.’

He shook his head. ‘Don’t be so greedy. Writing is taking you very deep. Continue to write.’

‘But, Roshi,’ I said to him, ‘it is too lonely.’

He lifted his eyebrows. ‘Is there anything wrong with loneliness?’ he asked.

‘No, I guess not,’ I said.

Then we talked of other things. Suddenly, I interrupted him. ‘But, Roshi, you have sentenced me to such loneliness. Writing is very lonely,’ I stressed again.

Anything you do deeply is very lonely. There are many Zen students here, but the ones that are going deep are very lonely.’

‘Are you lonely?’ I asked him.

‘Of course,’ he answered. ‘But I do not let it toss me away. It is just loneliness.’

So there you have it. There are days I think, how did I get into this writing? But here I am. And the truth is I wanted it.”

– from Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg

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