At the pre-writing stage, Debby and I contemplated whether to write a work of fiction novel or to write a contemplative non-fiction book. Our decision to select fiction is both fascinating and revealing of deeper motivations.
Either way we knew that our writing would delve into spiritual insights and mysteries, since that focus intrigues us. If we wrote in a non-fiction, contemplative style we felt that would hinder our creative muse. We would likely slip into essay style writing based on our numerous university papers written over the years but we wanted to write with creativity and imaginative play. This was the primary reason for our final decision to select a narrative style. Some early attempts to express our ideas in non-fiction were limiting to our creative expression on this subject. So we soon turned to the fiction narrative.
The only problem is that most books related to our genre of mind-body-spirit are written in non-fiction. Authors such as Deepak Chopra, Thomas Moore, Eckhart Tolle, Jack Kornfield, Shakti Gawain and others have written many non-fiction books, which is why we first thought of writing in this style. The combination of spiritual wisdom combined with a narrative voice is not too common, though some writers have been highly successful in it such as Dan Millman, James Redfield, Carlos Castañeda and Robin Sharma. Having read these authors, we realized narration and spiritual wisdom can work together to create an enjoyable story with insights for our readers.
The two styles also tend to give preference for either the head or the heart. A contemplative work requires a logical construction and proper reasoning in order for it to be effective. On the other hand, with fiction you can delve into emotions and the heart with your imagination having freedom. We soon also realized our message involved the human heart and it was more suitable within a narrative instead of a contemplative style. What was our message and how could it be best communicated in fiction than non-fiction?
Non-fiction is better suited for exploration of the meaning of life but it is not an experience of life. It can discuss what it means to be human, though it is more difficult to offer human experiences like those found through the journey of characters in a novel. The problem is that we can write to awake consciousness in another person, yet words can illuminate and they can also distract from direct experience. We can get caught up in the words instead of the reality expressed through them.
The story of Mahakasyapa and the Golden Lotus Flower illustrates direct experience versus mental filters. On Vulture Peak, monks had gathered to hear a sermon by the Buddha but he remained in silence, holding a Golden Lotus in his hand. All the monks sat with dour faces. The silence and intellectual seriousness was broken by Mahakasyapa who merely smiled at the beauty of the flower. In his smile, he expressed a direct realization, unfiltered by his mind attaching values or meanings to the flower before him.
Through the narrative format, we wanted the audience to be engaged through direct experience of each character’s journey, including their pain, struggle and even doubts. A novel has the great capacity to arouse empathy through our connection with its central figures. Since our writing dealt with pain, suffering and the connectedness at the core of our being, narration would best allow our readers to be placed in these experiences.
Our writing explores the central mystery of what connects all life. That mystery is beyond thoughts. We can try to point to it with metaphors, yet it is about the journey to the centre, to our own centre within. The journey can be presented convincingly in a narrative. We also wanted our readers to draw their own conclusions from experiences presented to them, instead of delineating those experiences through our own understanding.
The journey of the characters in our novel shows that life is at times sorrowful, full of pain, loss and even death. Yet the central problem is how to accept this sorrow instead of trying to resist it. For Logan Andrews, our protagonist, it’s even a more fundamental question: Can I accept my pain and hurt in life? This requires great courage since you then accept the world as it is, including the pain in your own life.
In Eastern thought, we have the ideals of Jivanmukt, a liberated person engaged in life, or the Bodhisattva, an enlightened person alleviating suffering in the world, which demonstrate that a transcendent experience can be lived out in real life. A jivanmukt and Bodhisattva have both experienced suffering and in many cases at the core of life.
Physical existence is temporal and that creates a kind of suffering, yet to recognize this condition can be an acceptance of life that goes beyond pessimism of earlier stages of our growth. Yet to get to this point is not easy and some like Logan may seek to escape from the suffering in different ways. For Logan that escape is through death, yet he also wants to renew his life, and find peace and love within his heart. That struggle can be magnified in a work of fiction, which would be difficult to capture in non-fiction writing.
The journey highlighted in our novel gives the reader an experiential understanding of wisdom expressed throughout our story. Lived experience can be discussed in non-fiction writing, yet it becomes most real through the story of each individual character in Nexus.