A Mindful Writer: An Interview with Diana Gould
It’s not often that I interview someone on the mindfulness and psychotherapy blog who has put out a novel. However, Diana Gould has had a long career in film and television and in her practice with mindfulness. She currently teaches at InsightLA in Santa Monica, California and has recently released her first novel Coldwater. She has also put out a special Coldwater Challenge contest: Find the Mindfulness! Nestled within the pages of this noir thriller are little nuggets of mindfulness teachings. How many can you find? Make a list, give your reasons, and submit to firstname.lastname@example.org. The winner will receive your choice of a free basics class at InsightLA or a personal consultation with Diana about dharma practice & writing or both!
Today, Diana talks to us about what inspired her to write this novel, how mindfulness integrates into the novel, the themes of destruction and redemption are applicable in our lives, and some thoughts for the times we are suffering.
Elisha: What inspired you to write Coldwater?
Diana: I had been writing for film and TV for many years. Although literally hundreds of hours of television had been produced from scripts that I wrote, developed or produced, I rarely had the experience of seeing my true values and vision reflected on the screen. There were always layers of corporate or collaborative intervention which either shaped, changed or discarded what I’d written. Although I am very grateful to television for the income it provided and the skills it taught me, I longed to produce work that was creatively self-expressive in a way that TV never could be. Coldwater is that work.
I had two ideas about Coldwater before I began writing it. The first was to tell the story of someone filled with fear and self-loathing, who made the transformation to self-forgiveness, self-acceptance, and self-esteem – a transformation I had made myself. The other was to tell a story about someone who had always relied on drugs and alcohol to deal with fear and difficulty, who was confronted with bigger fears and worse difficulties, but had to face them clean and sober. As someone with many friends and family members affected by the disease of addiction, who has seen the challenges of recovery at close hand, I knew this was a story that had dramatic – and heroic – potential.
Elisha: How has your mindfulness practice been integrated into the book?
Diana: This is a great question. I feel that the years that I have spent doing mindfulness meditation helped me describe my characters at the level of body sensation, mental image, internal conversation, and to describe scenes and locations with specificity of sights, sounds, smells and touches. In other words, the things that I notice in my own mindfulness practice gave life and veracity to the scenes and characters I was writing about. But the writing process itself, I discovered, cannot really be done “mindfully.” It is necessary to see and hear people places and things that are not there. While writing, the mind goes off into imagination and story-telling – just what we bring ourselves back from doing in meditation! I cannot be “in the now” and be writing at the same time. However, learning to hang out and be comfortable in “don’t-know mind” is very helpful. A lot of writing time is spent staring into space and not knowing what comes next, and learning to be okay with that. (Actually, for me, that is the hardest challenge of writing.)
And sometimes, the answer to problems that seemed unsolvable while at the computer, will bubble up in meditation the next day.
Elisha: Your book speaks of destruction and redemption, can you tell us more how this might support the reader in their daily life?
Diana: Ethics and morality, non-harming of ourselves and others, plays a crucial part in one’s sense of well-being. The book explores the consequences of doing harm to self and others, and offers the possibility of redemption if we take ownership and responsibility for our actions.
Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from someone who was struggling physically or emotionally, what thoughts might you have for them?
Diana: I would very much want them to know that what seems endless is not. That there are very concrete and specific ways of being with painful emotions and experiences that can help transform them. That very often what we think is the worst thing that could happen to us turns out to be the best. That if we have the courage to open to the darkness and not run from it, it can contain the source of our relief. That as Rumi has said, “the wound is where the light enters.” That happiness is possible. Freedom is possible. That everything we could possibly want is contained within each present moment, if we just learn how to recognize it.
Elisha: Thank you Diana!
Please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
Photo of Diana Gould courtesy of the author
Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is author of
The Now Effect, co-author of
A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of
Mindful Solutions audio series, and the
Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations. Join
The Now Effect Community for free Daily Now Moments, Weekly Updates and tips and free access to a Live Monthly Online Event with Elisha Goldstein, PhD. He is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles.
Last reviewed: 3 May 2013
Goldstein, E. (2013). A Mindful Writer: An Interview with Diana Gould. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 7, 2013, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindfulness/2013/05/a-mindful-writer-an-interview-with-diana-gould/
The next Parami is Renunciation. The Paramis are qualities of heart and mind which we need to bring to the practice, but which are perfected, or cultivated, by doing the practice. For those of you in 12-step programs, you can almost think of them as “the promises” of the practice.
Renunciation doesn’t have much appeal to us, as a word. It connotes “there’s something I really want, but I know I shouldn’t have it, so with great effort and force of will, I will forswear it.” No. Renunciation can be thought of more like, a social event we are obligated to go to, that gets cancelled. Ahhhh. Release, and relief.
We all know what it’s like to be obsessed with something – a food, a behavior, an activity, an object, a person – and then to get it or do it or taste it or have it – and either it isn’t quite as wonderful as we thought it would be, or even if it is, it isn’t long before it’s replaced by the next craving. Renunciation is seeing this through ahead of time – and letting go.
It is something we learn in our sitting practice. Every time we realize we’ve been carried away on a train of thought, and return our attention to the breath, we are practicing renunciation. Every time we bring ourselves back from fantasies about the future, or ruminating about what we should have done differently in the past, and return to this moment, right now; this breath, this body sensation, this sound – we are practicing renunciation, the art of letting go, and planting a seed that bears its fruit in wisdom.
We’ve all practiced it without realizing it. If you can remember back to a favorite toy, doll, bike, gun or blanket – that gave you comfort or power or happiness as a child, and ask yourself, where is it now? If you had it now, would it give you the same happiness or comfort of power? No, because we’ve outgrown it. Renunciation is like that. We see through the chimera of this or that thing we MUST have NOW to be happy, and the wanting lessens.
We never stop growing. We never stop shedding friends, or jobs, or needs, or desires, habits and behaviors that are so important at one stage in our lives, which cease to be at others. Things that are desperately important when we are younger – what people think about us, or where our appearance falls on the scale of criteria set by others – become less important. Not with effort, because it’s the nobler, more spiritual thing to do, but naturally, as we grow older, and our priorities change.
So this is one way of practicing renunciation – just noticing what falls away naturally, and appreciating the benefits of letting go.
Another way of practicing renunciation is through physical discipline. Those of us who used to smoke, or drink or eat compulsively or take drugs, and who’ve learned to stop, know that there is a period of time where it is very difficult, but on the other side of the effort, there is freedom, release. It was worth the effort to be free of the addiction.
At one time I had an almost crippling addiction to a certain computer game. I would start to play, and look up to find it was hours later, and the time was gone. I would be faced with a difficult problem at work, and to ease my mind, I’d turn to this game – and then I’d be lost again. I was convinced that it did something to brainwaves similar to narcotics. I cannot tell you the number of times, over the number of years, when I would stop for a while, only to play one game one time, on someone else’s computer, only to be helpless in its grip again. Finally, one day I was able to stop by making a commitment to myself that if I played one game, I would have to contribute $250 to the re-election campaign of a politician I loathed. Every time I’d see his face on TV, I’d say, “He wants you to play [this computer game].” It worked. I was not about to contribute one dime, let alone $250 to this guy, and the deal I made with myself held. It was really, really tough, but I’m very very glad.
Then there is renunciation through mental discipline. Noticing, as we are about to tell ourselves the same story, for the fifty gazillionth time, with the same beginning and the same ending, to see it for what it is, and stop it!
Like this Bob Newhart sketch:
Giving up our negative and destructive mental habits can be as difficult as stopping smoking. To catch ourselves rehearsing a fantasy or regret, as we catch ourselves reaching for a cigarette or a cookie or a drink, and to stop it. To return to this moment. To this breath. This body sensation. This sound. We can find the same freedom we found by giving up cigarettes, when the distraction beckons, to see it for what it is, and to remember to come back to the moment.
Why do this? Because there are states of mind we can only experience when we let go of the stories and fantasies and daydreams. When we allow ourselves to explore the silence, the space of possibility from which the stories arise. It is only here that we can experience “the peace that passes all understanding,” a happiness not dependent upon the things we were trying to grab onto or shove away.
This is why we meditate. To find a place, beneath the chatter and the noise, where we can know our true nature, and the true nature of reality. To see clearly the three characteristics of all phenomena; to see it and know it in our bones and being. That all phenomena are constantly changing, arising and passing away; and that nothing is ultimately satisfying in and of itself, because it inevitably will change form; and nothing exists apart from a constantly changing kaleidoscope of causes and conditions, combining and de-combining, in an infinite do-se-do of life.
In this silence we connect with something much larger than the self that is made up of clinging, and relax and open to a rhythm of life which includes and surrounds us, of which we are made.
Dharma Alliance is having a holiday party at our next meeting, Dec. 8. If you have ever been to a Dharma Alliance meeting, or have ever considered coming, here’s your chance to see old friends, meet new ones, and see what we are about. We’ll be meditating, singing and dancing and eating, and generally sharing good cheer.
If everyone who comes brings a present (something inexpensive you would enjoy getting) everyone will get a present.
ALL TRADITIONS WELCOME!
I am not a tap dancer, as will become immediately apparent by clicking the link below. But at our recent street festival to celebrate InsightLA’s tenth anniversary, I donned the shoes to do my part. It was my way of acknowledging the gift that InsightLA is to our community, and to demonstrate that happiness is possible.
This month’s practice is “Sila,” translated as virtue, or morality. Goodness.
I don’t know about you, but virtue, or morality never had a great appeal to me. In our post-modern, hip, ironic world, where we seem to be surrounded by so much meanness, goodness sometimes seems kind of sissy or namely-pamby; “goody two-shoes” is not a compliment. It is only when one actually practices it that one sees its rewards.
What practice of sila promises is “the bliss of blamelessness.” To those of us haunted by feelings of shame or guilt, or some inner conviction of wrongness – often the byproduct of growing up gay or lesbian in a homophobic world – it is actually quite liberating to come to see and believe in one’s own goodness. And to act in a way that supports that view.
One way of practicing this perfection of “sila” is by following the precepts. The precepts are not commandments, nor rules about right and wrong. They are not imposed from without. They are undertaken, from within oneself, as “trainings.” To train the heart and mind to recognize the innate goodness that lies within each of us.
The precepts all begin with the phrase, “I undertake the training to …
- refrain from killing, taking life. (also, can be broadened to include causing harm.)
- refrain from taking that which is not offered.
- refrain from sexual misconduct
- refrain from false speech
- refrain from intoxicants that cloud the mind.
It is important to remember that these are guidelines, trainings. So that, for example, as one might be taking something that is not offered – a pen in a doctor’s office, an illegal parking space, calling something tax-deductible or a business expense which really isn’t; going on Facebook on employers time … not to mention more egregious examples … one simply holds it up for enquiry, and makes that pause, to determine, am I following this precept.
The first precept, too, to refrain from killing, or taking life. “Oh, that’s easy,” one might say. I’ve never killed anyone.” Ever tent your house for termites, or given your dog a flea bath? Again, these are not absolutes, they are trainings, areas of enquiry, so that we live consciously, and considerately of the needs of others.
Sexual misconduct is behavior which causes harm, to oneself or another. Interestingly, for us, sex with a member of one’s own gender is not considered misconduct. Only if it causes harm to oneself or another.
Guidelines about false speech can be discussed at length another time, but saying something that isn’t true, or which is slanderous or harmful … which could include self-denigrating comments about oneself, if they’re not true … is a good place to start.
All of these precepts can also be looked at in reverse, as aspirations of things to do, rather than things to avoid.
- To cultivate compassion and loving-kindness, and to protect the lives of people, animals and plants.
- To realize the sufficiency in what I have; to practice generosity.
- To cultivate responsibility in the use of my sexual energy; to respect my commitments and the commitments of others.
- To cultivate loving speech and deep listening. To speak truthfully, and not to spread news which I do not know to be true.
- To practice mindful eating and consuming in a way that protects clarity; recognizing that proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and the healing of the planet.
The Buddha is often compared to a physician, prescribing for the wounded heart and mind. The precepts are prescriptions for self-esteem, self-respect, self-care. Following them, using them as trainings, leads to confidence and lack of fear.
Sila is based on the logic of interconnectedness. If we are all part of the same web of interconnection, I cannot hurt you without also hurting myself. If I would not like something done to me, then how can I do it to another?
Sila follows generosity, and in a sense, is a continuation of generosity. By practicing sila, and following the precepts, we contribute safety and truthfulness. We are giving people the gift of knowing they are safe in our presence. When people know they can trust us, they feel comfortable around us; when we know we can trust ourselves, we gain a healthy sense of self-respect.
InsightLA is having a community festival this Sunday, Nov. 11, from 1-4. Upstairs, different teachers will be offering talks and practices in ten minute rotations, while downstairs, there will be food trucks, music, a trampoline and play area for kids, and various teachers offering, a la Lucy, “Dharma Advice $5” (I know, hers was 5 cents, but these teachings are priceless, and there’s been inflation.)
The parking lot will have a kids play area, while the cul-de-sac on 15th will be blocked off. There will be a stage, and live music.
And I have volunteered to tap dance.
Well, maybe not like that.
But (gulp) I am going to be tap dancing on 15th and Olympic on Sunday Nov. 11. I think I have the 1-1:30 slot. If you get there at 1:30, you’ll probably miss it.
Anything for InsightLA.
Hope to see you there.
Yes Ma’am, how can I help you?
Well, after much consideration, I’ve decided to install Love. Can you guide me through the process?
Yes I can help you. Are you ready to proceed?
Well, I’m not very technical, but I think I’m ready.
What do I do first?
The first step is to open your heart.
Have you located your heart, Ma’am?
Yes, but there are several other programs running now.
Is it okay to install Love while they are running?
What programs are running Ma’am?
Let’s see, I have past-hurt, low self-esteem, grudge, and resentment running right now.
No problem, Love will gradually erase past-hurt from your current operating system. It may remain in your permanent memory, but it will no longer disrupt other programs. Love will eventually override low self-esteem with a module of it’s own called high self-esteem. However, you have to completely turn off grudge and resentment. Those programs prevent Love from being properly installed. Can you turn those off Ma’am?
I don’t know how to turn them off.
Can you tell me how?
With pleasure. Go to your start menu and invoke forgiveness. Do this as many times as necessary until grudge and resentment have completely erased.
Okay done, Love has started installing itself. Is that normal?
Yes, but remember that you have only the base program. You need to begin connecting to other hearts in order to get the upgrades.
Oops! I have an error message already.
It says, “Error-program not run on external components.”
What should I do?
Don’t worry, Ma’am, It means the Love program is setup to run on internal hearts but has not yet been run on your heart. In nontechnical terms, it means you have to Love yourself before you can Love others.
So what should I do?
Can you pull down Self-acceptance;
then click on the following:
Realize your worth;
Acknowledge your limitations.
Now copy them to the “My Heart” directory. The system will overwrite any conflicting files and begin patching faulty programming. Also, you need to delete verbose self-criticism from all directories and empty your recycle bin to make sure it is completely gone and never comes back.
Got it. Hey!!! My Heart is filling up with new files. Smile is playing on my monitor and Peace and Contentment are copying themselves all over My Heart. Is this normal?
Sometimes. For others it takes a while, but eventually everything gets downloaded at the proper time.
So Love is installed and running. One more thing before we hang-up. Love is Freeware. Be sure to give it and its various modules to everyone you meet. They will in turn share it with others and return some cool modules back to you.
I promise to do just that.
[Source Unknown – from an email]
Wisdom and Compassion are considered two wings of the bird of awakening; inseparable, each an aspect of each other, each needing the other to be its truest self. Wisdom without compassion can be dry and indifferent; compassion without wisdom can be mushy, saccharine, maudlin.
We will continue alternating each time we meet, between a “wisdom” practice and a “compassion” practice – an artificial designation, for sure, because, as Frank Sinatra sang about love and marriage in my youth, “you can’t have one without the other.”
More accurately, we’ll be alternating between ways of seeing and being. One time we’ll do mindfulness practices, which focus on the four foundations of mindfulness. These practices have to do with seeing into the true nature of reality, exactly as it is, without interference.
Alternately, the “compassion” practices have to do with cultivating wholesome states. Actually generating states of mind which are more skillful, more apt to lead to happiness than suffering. Last year we focused on the “Brahma-Viharas” – the four divine abodes.This year, we’ll be talking about the Paramis – the ten perfections.
The Paramis, or ten perfections, are both precursors and byproducts of mindfulness. They are qualities which, when practiced, will improve your ability to be at ease in the present moment, just as it is; and also, when we do mindfulness meditation, these qualities are developed as a natural byproduct.
The Paramis are for the people who think they’re meditating, and nothing is happening. Practice for a while, and see if these qualities are not being developed, in the background, in spite of yourself.
But also, see how much easier it will be to practice, when you take the actions and steps which develop these mind states and attitudes.
We’ll be doing one each month. This month, the first, is Generosity. Stay tuned.