Last week, I actively chose to do something I haven’t done in at least a year: I stopped writing. Before I stopped writing, I went into my notebook and scribbled out what was bubbling over, sloshing around inside me. It was a frenzied entry, acknowledging some painful situations that I needed to face internally (acknowledging also that I needed to receive this pause from myself like I would a gift, to make room for necessary, inward listening). I had to trust myself to remember the details of feelings—to work through and process and sit with—without writing it all down.
So often, the creative practice is inseparably tied up in a practice of being. As creatives, we draw out our material from our surroundings—externally, of course, but also from our internal landscapes. This is where the writer meets the strange realm of the notebook, where the artist retreats to the sacred space of the studio, and where the thinker/feeler/being really lives, inside. It’s no wonder that artists of all walks are abundantly thought of as hermits—we are, we must be, because part of the creating process is innately solitary.
The Hermit speaks to us about the awareness and the inspiration that can be harnessed from spiraling into ourselves. Even when we are not manically bursting with artistic output, there is deep power in the mind, and it is critically important to continually explore it. I retreat into my notebook because it is my process of writing, yes, but also of being. And hey, I write things like “I must be insane for doing this” ALL THE TIME (and maybe I am).
But I trust this process absolutely. My progress through my notebooks is the way I move through my own inertia, insecurity, doubt, desire, fear that I have nothing valuable to say, ferocity to say something anyway, and always coming out on the other side, glad that I have done it.
The processes of excavating our inner landscapes look wildly different from person to person, and what a good thing that is. Maybe yours is writing, too, maybe it’s cooking, puttering in your home, maybe it’s composing a song, maybe it’s a massive painting, or a tiny collage. Maybe it’s a walk. Maybe it’s a mind map.
The Hermit reminds us to stay in touch with this weird but totally crucial, strange and sometimes ridiculous practice of contemplating our inner lives. Wherever we retreat to in pursuit of ourselves, it is a place we can wallop into wildly, incoherently, illogically. We don’t have to hide from ourselves; we can come into our insides, exactly as we are.
After burying into myself and away from my writing for a week, I read a passage that signaled to me it was time to come back to my notebook.
I’ll leave you with this expert from Natalie Goldberg’s personal notebook entry written July 27, 1984, which she shares in her book on the creative practice entitled Writing Down the Bones. Replace the word writer with artist, replace the word artist with person. It’s all the same.
“I know this working with my tired, resistant brain is the deepest I’ll get on the earth. Not the joy or ecstasy I feel sometimes or the momentary flashes of enlightenment, but this touching of the nitty gritty of my everyday life and standing in it and continuing to write is what breaks my heart open so deeply to a tenderness and softness toward myself and from that, a glowing compassion for all that is around me. Not just for the table and Coke in front of me, the paper straw, air conditioner, men crossing the street on this July day in Norfolk, Nebraska, bank digital clock blinking 4:03, my friend writing opposite of me, but for the swirling memories and deep longings of our minds and the suffering we work through daily. And it comes from me naturally as I move my pen across the page and break down the hand, solid crusts of thought in my own mind and the way I limit myself.
"So it is very deep to be a writer. It is the deepest thing I know. And I think, if not this, nothing—it will be my way in the world for the rest of my life. I have to remember this again and again.”
Emily Mundy is the co-author of the Dark Days Tarot Guidebook, which comes with every Dark Days Tarot Deck.