Peeling the Onion



Writing Potentiality

Aristotle expounded the theory that there were three different types of soul: the nutritive, the sensitive and the rational. He argued that all living things require nourishment, so that nutritive function belongs to plants, animals and men alike. He said that animals and men have both nutritive and sensitive functions but that men alone possess the rational function. The relation between body and soul is that between matter and form. Things become what they are because of potentialities. To say, for instance, that an acorn is potentially an oak means that, given the right setting an acorn could grow to an oak. What the acorn carries within itself is the 'form' of the oak. In the case of a human it is that soul that makes us what we are.

Things become what they are because of their potentialities. If an acorn, in the right setting, has the potential to become a mighty oak what is man's potential? Presumably, to grow into an oak, to reach its potential, the acorn needs nourishment. It follows therefore that to reach his potential man needs nourishment. In his diagrammatic hierarchy of needs Maslow points to nutritive needs when he refers to man's need to have basic physiological needs met. Maslow argues that man needs to satisfy hunger, thirst, sex drives, safety needs, belonging's, love and esteem before he can fulfill his potential. Once these are met anything would appear to be possible.

If we look at the ancient pyramids we cannot help but stand in awe of those who created them. The pyramids are a testimony to man's potential. If he aspires he can do almost anything. Given the right conditions a person's creativity can soar.

So how does this relate to with writing? A blank page is full of so much potential. But how does the writer reach that potential? When the epidural was not providing relief from pain after my husbands recent operation the nurse gave him an injection of another drug to potentiate, to enable the epidural drug to reach its potential. I liked her phrase and asked myself what it is we need to administer to potentiate our writing skills.

Personally, in order to facilitate and potentiate the writing process I like to focus on nourishing myself as a writer and I try to do things that affirm the artist within.

To assist this process with my students I like to tell stories which help them understand their potential. One of my favorite stories is one told by Eknath Easwaren, an Indian spiritualist. It goes like this."In ancient India lived a sculptor renowned for his life sized statues of elephants. With trunks curled high, tusks, thrust forward, thick legs trampling the earth, these carved beasts seemed to trumpet to the sky. One day a king came to see these magnificent works and to commission statuary for his palace. Struck with the wonder her asked the sculptor "What is the secret of your artistry?" The sculptor quietly took his measure of the monarch and replied. "Great King, when, with the aid of many men, I quarry a gigantic piece of granite from the banks of the river, I set it here in my courtyard. For a long time I do nothing but observe this block of stone and study it from every angle. I focus all my concentration on this task and won't allow anything to disturb me. At first I see nothing but a huge shapeless rock sitting there, meaningless, indifferent to my purposes, utterly out of place. It seems faintly resentful at having been dragged from its cool place by the rushing waters. Then slowly, very slowly, I begin to notice something in the substance of the rock. I feel a presentiment, an outline, scarcely discernible show itself to me, though I suspect others would perceive nothing. I watch with an open eye and a joyous, eager heart. The outline grows stronger. Oh yes, I can see it. An elephant is stirring there! Only then do I start to work. For days, flowing into weeks, I use my chisel and mallet, always clinging to my sense of that outline, which grows even stronger. How the big fellow strains!

How he yearns to be out! How he wants to live! It seems clear now, for I know the one thing I must do: with an utter single-mindedness of purpose I must chip away every last bit of stone that is not elephant. What then remains will be, must be, elephant."
Easwaren, Eknath 'Meditation' Nilgari Press, Second printing 1994

When you begin to write apply a similar technique to the great sculptor. Do not think too much, but permit yourself to drift into a kind of trance. I have found that when you write, more or less randomly, with no great expectation of anything in particular, you will be surprised by what appears on your page.

To achieve this I have often encouraged my students to do guided imageries, permitting them to waft into a peaceful inner world, far removed from the expectation and rules of classrooms. Before long they were into it and their pens glided freely over the page. Subtleties enchanted them and stimulated them further - enabling them to see the path they are to take with their writing.

In 'The Borderland' by Robert Lloyd, Lloyd writes about just such an experience. He describes the process of automatic writing. "One morning I tried again and spent half an hour looking gloomily at a virgin piece of paper and could not write anything on it. Then something happened which I did not particularly notice at the time, and cannot explain now. My mind seemed to go blank. I saw that I was performing the physical act of writing but I did not seem to be thinking about it or particularly noticing what words the pen was tracing on the paper. Time passed but I did not notice that. At last I saw that the letter was finished and my watch told me that I had been writing it for two and a half hours, and it seemed less than ten minutes"

Like the sculptor remember that when you write you are drawing ideas from deep within, making something from nothing and that you must be patient. You cannot force the kind of trance that Lloyd or the sculptor speak of but you can put yourself in an environment that is conducive to free association writing.

To potentiate make it a daily practice to come to the page and write about anything that wafts into your mind. Make yourself open to words, and be open to a visitation by the muse.

Heather Blakey.