Comments 12

The Zen of Writing (A Haibun)

I wake up to the sound of a voice in my head
and I know instantly that it is “writing” what could be
an introduction to a book. I listen intently
as the voice “writes.” When it is over,
I hear a familiar tune – a lone olive-backed sunbird
is singing in the backyard. I smile and say to myself,
“And then the sunbird sings…”
Darkness still covers everything outside and inside the house.
But within me, a veil is lifting.

the sparrows and fantails
are nowhere, their merry chatter a mere memory
now the sunbird sings

Our mornings are so different now. For almost
eight months during the year, the backyard
becomes a favorite meeting place for the Eurasian tree
sparrows. From November to June, they are there
tweeting, chirping. The birds converge
while it is still dark and begin to chatter. By seven, just as
we are preparing breakfast, they are gone.

The monsoon rains are here and the sparrows no longer come.
The sunbirds and the yellow-vented bulbuls have the backyard
all to themselves. A wall with three huge windows separate my
bedroom from the backyard. In the wee hours, they serenade me
with their lilting calls.

after the chatter
silence prevails and then
the sunbird calls

I heard the call to write a book a couple of summers ago.
I didn’t know how to go about it. I joined a two-pages-a-day
writing challenge and lost steam after a few weeks. Then I
tried a one-page-a-day book writing challenge and never found
the energy to begin. Not one to give up easily, I joined another.

in the frenzy of modern life
we feel pressured to produce instantly
creativity requires gestation

In zazen (sitting meditation), we begin with a word.
With eyes half-open, we rely on a single word, “mu,” to bring us
to center. “What is mu?” the teacher asks during
dokusan (private talk with a teacher)
in the zendo (meditation house).
“I don’t know teacher,” I answer.
“What is mu?” Roshi ( a Zen master) asks
during dokusan. We are in sesshin, a silent retreat
that lasts for several days. I silently shake my head in response.
That silent answer reverberates and I feel
it clearing cobwebs from my head.

each morning I sit
writing in my journals in the dim light
clearing the cobwebs

I sit and listen to the sunbird’s song. Darkness envelopes
the room. I see the outlines of the windows. And then it is
over. The sunbird is quiet. Everything is still.

Last week, in between errands, I heard a voice in my
head very clearly saying words that sounded like
the title of a book. A part of me wanted to rejoice.
“Ruminate on it,” Fr. Basil Pennington repeatedly
reminded us during his talks on Lectio Divina (a contemplative
practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer).
He assured us that ruminating on a phrase the whole day
would open up worlds within. I ruminated on the “title.”
A tagline formed in my head.

I write daily
silently allowing the words to flow
without surface clutter
we hear songs from within

Barry Manilow is singing loudly in my head as I walk out
of the meditation hall. “I write the songs the whole world sings…”
It is time for another dokusan. “What is mu?” Roshi asks.
I shake my head feebly in response. “What is happening?” Roshi asks.
Makyo, Roshi,” I answer. “You know what makyo is,”
he is making a statement, not asking a question. “Yes, Roshi, yes,”
I bow as I answer. Amidst endless hours of zazen for several
days, a few minutes with a master of silence is such
a welcome treat. Roshi’s eyes gaze downward and his head
effortlessly bends forward. Dokusan is over.

I go back to my zafu (meditation cushion) and zazen.
There is more singing in my head. It is so loud.
One singer and then another. Makyo. Delusions.
I hear footsteps. It is the jiki-jitsu (head of the meditation hall)
with his kaisaku (paddle). I put my hands together,
as if in prayer. When the jiki-jitsu sees my hands, he will know.
I hear the sound of wood against human flesh.
I wait for my turn. Soon he is behind me and slaps
one shoulder first, and then the other. The kaisaku
silences the singing in my head.
I hear a bird chirping outside and listen for a while.
Then I resume zazen and “mu…”

We are asked to line up along the two sides of the room.
We bow as Roshi walks through the middle aisle.
He sits on a zafu on the far end of the room.
Two female participants walk in. We bow.
They have found the answers to their koans (a zen riddle or paradox).
They have achieved enlightenment. After they bow to Roshi,
the ceremony is over. We we go back to zazen.
The enlightened ones sit with a new koan.

One never knows the time nor day. After doing zazen for
almost a year, it happened. I was sitting behind the wheel,
patiently waiting for the traffic light to change.
I turned my head to the right and saw a street vendor and a
young girl was buying street food from him. Then it felt like
heaven opened and lit up the scene before me. Instantly, I
knew the answer to my koan. The answer welled up from within me.
“______ mu!” “________ is mu!” “______!” “_____!”
Time stretched and I sat behind the wheel – awed, bewildered,
mesmerized. And then the light turned green.

“Master, what do I do before enlightenment?”
“Chop wood, carry water.”
“Master, what do I do after enlightenment?”
“Chop wood, carry water.”

After a long silence, I get up from bed. The sunbird
is somewhere else, or maybe has gone back to sleep.
Rain had stopped a few hours ago. We know the day would be
partially dry, as the tropical storm leaves the country.
But we also know that within a few hours, the downpour
would begin again, as another typhoon enters the Philippine
Area of Responsibility.

The month of June in the Philippines is like a tug-of-war
between the sun and the rain. Usually, the sun wins.
But in July, we know the winds would shift.
The northeast monsoon, which brings dry weather
would be pushed away by the southwest monsoon,
which ushers in rains and typhoons.

I wait for light to break through the darkness. I open
a journal and write; close it, open another one and
write some more. A couple of days ago, I wrote on the last
page of a big notebook. It is now in a cabinet that doubles as
a night table. One among dozens of notebooks filled with
jottings. Beside my desk, there is a hand-woven basket filled
with journals of all sizes, in different stages of
completion. A spiritual journal. A nature journal. A writing
journal. A haibun journal. An essay journal. A tiny haiku
journal. A poem journal. An “ideas” journal…and others.

In the holy hours of dawn
I sit with pen in hand and write.
Silence reigns in the backyard.
As I begin my day, I trust that the voices in my head
have been silenced. I know that whatever needed to be
written was written. And I am sure that what needs to be
written would be written when the right time comes
– a poem, an essay, a haibun, a book.
Just as surely as the monsoon rains come in July.

Linking to: The Daily Post Discover Challenge:Witness

Photo by Julia Ceasar via Unsplash


  1. I loved seeing how your poetry rose out of the dawn. All beautiful.
    Back in the 70’s one of my favorite books was “Chop Wood, Carry Water.” Somewhat dated now, but your post brought it back to mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Diana…it’s easier to hear one’s muse when it’s quiet. I have not come across the book Chop Wood Carry Water….but it’s a common teaching in Zen.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is so so beautiful Rosanna. I read and read and I didn’t want it to end. You took me on a journey and it was wonderful. Such giftedness. You will write that book and I will purchase it because I want more … Beautiful 🙂 Linda

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much Linda, for the kind words. I have come to realize that the things I love to write about are not what many would like to read. It’s always heartwarming to receive good comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on QP and Eye and commented:
    Poetry to me is rhyming and beat and repetition of that rhythm and sway but I read this piece by Rosanna of Writing on the Pages of Life I understand that poetry can be equally fabulous in another form.

    I was captured in the moment, the day, the journey and it was wonderful. I hope you enjoy Rosanna’s Haibun entitled The Zen of Writing as much as I did.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I admire your devotion to learning and writing and reaching. This was such a heartfelt lyrical walk with you and your thoughts.


    • Thank you Susanne. This was one of those pieces that I just had to type because the words were so loud in my mind. I’m not sure if that was the result of writing regularly at dawn. I’m glad you enjoyed this word-ly walk.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Wednesday Writing Craft: “It will wait for you.” | Writing Dragons

    • Thank you so much Jamie, for the reblog and the kind words that came along with it. I’m glad you liked the piece, and I hope that you’ll explore the wonderful genre called Haibun.


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