It’s Greek to Me

Zorba the Buddha“By believing passionately in something which still does not exist, we create it.”

You know, I just can’t quite get my head around that kind of mumbo-jumbo. 

“The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.”

Who am I to refute such optimism?  Neither am I able to promote it.

That said, just last week I began a talk by telling a personal story that seemed to prove the truth of that aphorism.  I was speaking to an audience of writers and readers at our local library:

“Years ago, while I was living in an alternative community in Oregon, my girlfriend dumped me.  Heartbroken, I begged off work, parked my sorry ass at a café and picked up a periodical that featured a commentary on a Buddhist sutra about “Loving Yourself”.

“‘Love Yourself: this can become the foundation of a radical transformation…’

“Under the circumstances, I was willing to consider the thesis.  Love yourself.  Hmm… I read on:

“‘Don’t be afraid of loving yourself.  Love totally and you will be surprised: the day you can get rid of all self-condemnation, self-disrespect…will be a day of great blessing.’

“The more I read, the more I liked it.  It seemed so do-able.  Just, ‘love yourself’.  I read it again and again.  The day went by quickly with this dictum reverberating in my cranium like a mantra.  ‘Love yourself, love yourself, love…’  My spirits lifted.    

“By evening this sutra is circulating in my blood stream.  Love yourself, of course!  When I love myself to overflowing, there’s some for others.  I am finally able to love others. 

“Who can love others, who hates himself? 

“Love yourself, love yourself, love yourself, love…

“I’m walking home in the dark feeling fine, as you can imagine.  On any other night I would have detoured into the disco for an hour, but on this night I just looked in the window, careful not to disturb these insights about ‘loving yourself’.  A woman appeared at my side and took my hand.  I didn’t know her from Eve.

“‘What’s your name?’ she asked.  I told her.  ‘What’s yours?’ I said.  She replied with one of those Sanskrit names everybody seemed to have back then. 

“‘What’s it mean?” I asked.

“She said, ‘It means Love Yourself.’”

End of story.

I won’t speculate upon how I conjured Ms. LoveYourself out of thin air.  Perhaps Nikos Kazantzakis is right when he says it’s a function of desire.  Here’s the rest of what the author of Zorba the Greek had to say about manifesting what you want:

 “The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired—whatever we have not irrigated with our blood to such a degree that it becomes strong enough to stride across the somber threshold of nonexistence.”


Desire “irrigated with our blood”, I hadn’t thought of that.  Desire figures strongly in my story theory.  Only the strongest desire takes the protagonist all the way.  All the way to her own undoing.  Which is her awakening.

By building a protagonist with such a fatal desire, that’s how a writer loves his hero.  That’s the writer’s obligation.

That’s what I wanted to talk to the audience about.

I almost forgot.

(The Buddhist commentary was by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.)

It's Greek to me

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  1. says

    Beautiful story, P.J. Just re-watched “The Shawshank Redemption” last night. Fascinating to see how the writer loved his character (Tim Robbins) to the point of death, reduced to a quivering fetal position on the floor of a solitary confinement cell, shocked by the light that pours in through the door when the warden tries to break him for good by condemning him to an additional month of solitary. Instead of breaking, he emerges with a steely will that he condenses into a single utterance, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” Watching him soar after that doth make for one truly gratifying movie experience. Kudos to P.J. and his “Story Structure to Die For” for mapping out key elements of what moves and transforms us.

  2. says

    Thank you, C.Y…. Your Shawshank example — the Tim Robbins character having his satori in the jail cell — reminds me of yet another Kazantzakis observation: “Apparently there is a power outside and inside man which has one aim and only one — to rise. Where? Up towards what? No one knows.” Which reminds me… I better arise from this bed and get the day going. My 99 year old mother wants me to take her to the shoe store. She wants running shoes!

  3. says

    Hey, PJ! I’ve already taken that Kazantzakis quote and added it to my Great Quotes file. But I don’t understand why, when I posted it on Facebook, it was met with silence (cue crickets and tumbleweeds), I mean not a single comment or like? That’s good stuff, people! Anyway, never mind, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

    I enjoyed your story. :-)

    You ‘said’ to me once, ‘Good things happen when our “B.S.” outlives its usefulness. Belief Systems are strategies, structures, rules, biases, attitudes, fears, all the necessary limits by which we negotiate this gloriously superficial life on planet Earth.’ (You see, I’m an equal-opportunities quoter!) I think of this when I’m writing.
    And yes, I mine you for all you’ve got, I read your advice, and book on Story Structure to Die For as I go along, and currently, I’m reading Roxy too, which helps me a lot, to deal with the sometimes heavy load of the writer’s obligation. Lately, I’ve been ignoring emails and blog posts (though I have naturally stopped by at yours and Patricks), because I’ve been working on the new book. That obligation had been knocking at the door with all sorts of new insights lately, too, I’ve found. The little inner writer’s voice has nearly shut up altogether, and I’m feeling more confident that I have nudged my character to his precipice.
    Btw: I’m really enjoying Roxy!

  4. says

    Yvette… I’m impressed that you can turn off the e-distractions, which, for the most part cause our energy to leak out. It sounds like your desire to get your book done is indeed strong enough to “stride across the somber threshold of nonexistence”. Good for you! When you’re done… think of writing a guest post for me about your experience. But all in good time. I don’t want this blog to be the cause of anyone’s energy leak. Now… back to work!

  5. says

    Ha, ha, well if that was your intention (that I not leak any more energy to social media whiz) then you shouldn’t have suggested a guest post! Thank you, by the way…hmm, maybe I should have said that first. It would be my first blog post ever. The thought of trying to encapsulate this experience & the insights gained along the way have set the old cogs turning :-) What a crazy idea. I like it, but must needs ignore it for now, or I’ll never turn my sails back to the winds that drive this book to completion.
    Yes, thank you, PJ, for saying that about my desire being enough. I have worked for thirty years, yet always with the feeling that an impenetrable wall existed between me and print, however for some reason, this year it’s different. I feel–to continue the analogy–as if my boat has gained the right ballast and that a decent amount of wind is coiled up behind me and that I shall sail over that threshold into existence this year.
    I think that I should like, very much, to muster the courage to write about it for you, and your readers, when that day comes. And it would be a privilege.

    I finished Roxy last night, and I didn’t want it to end. It’s truly wonderful. I loved the setting, and the tight use of words (made me think half of my book is redundant!). I wonder if it’s your background in film that makes you write so concisely? Anyway, I reviewed it too. How could I not? It was a real pleasure to read. :-)

  6. says

    Yvette… “when that day comes”… absolutely. We’re here for the long haul. Whenever you’re ready. In the meantime, I enjoy your comments on this blog and others. Stay well.

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