"You're in hell already, mate," John Barstow told me one April evening in 1998.
It was in Victoria Station, London. We'd met for a quick drink before boarding Friday evening trains for the weekend.
"Let’s say that heaven and hell do not exist," I mumbled. "Except as – metaphors."
"Crap," he said wisely.
This was some years ago – and I had been a full-time writer of plays since university; then something happened. My emotional life exploded, while my creative urge imploded. I wanted to have nothing to do with feelings and with the writing of such.
Barstow said, "You've just committed suicide. And that's a mortal sin, mate."
I just been through three years of emotional hell – this won't be any worse; in fact, it might pull me back to life. I told him, inwardly – I feel divorced.
"You can change your mind," he said.
However, to write or not to write was no longer my question.
Meanings of hell
When I was a boy in London, one of my philosophy teachers, old Mr Khambatta did try and teach me some practical sense. Khambatta said, "Hell is created on many levels but is energised by fear. Fear and its opposite — love — are at the bottom of our actions; and reactions. Fear feeds competition."
His approach and language was calculated to keep the attention of a boy in his teens.
"Don't give me the crap about competition building strong vibrant souls," Khambatta continued. "Systems of competition in school breed psychosis, build empires based on slavery and exaggerate a misguided sense of separation."
As I insisted on learning lessons the hard way, it was much, much later that I realised these things:
Truth is: there is no one special on this planet, save the one spirit behind it all.
Anyone being "special" or doing anything "special" is channeling the one spirit behind it all. This is why enlightened souls have such humility: they just know the truth; they did not do anything except realise they were vessels. The one life is infinitely creative, limited only by the clarity of each vessel through which it has to come.
Specialness is a form of mental sickness, stemming again from fear.
The power of love — and I'm not necessarily talking about romantic codswallap, though even part of that relationship has its apparently pleasant phases — is quite simply built on the reality of oneness: there is one life illuminating every thing, whether animate or apparently inanimate.
And where do such thoughts come from? Fear stops writing. Love powers it. Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones is a must read for those writers who have lost their way and slipped into sterility.
Resurrection in writing
It was a hot day in November, 1999, some years later, when hell started to disintegrate.
On a beach in Langkawi, an island off Malaysia, a whole series of scenes suddenly leapt into my inner vision. It had been so many years since I experienced this part of the mind working that I thought I had gone temporarily insane. On that humid beach, sitting under palm trees with the high-pitched whine of insects, something had returned to life.
Writing unfortunately does not stop wars suddenly. I disagree. Harnessing the right stream of thoughts at the right time in the right place brings miracles.
"Writing is survival," said Ray Bradbury, in his insightful preface to Zen in the Art of Writing, a must read for whatever kind of writer you want to be. If you are here to write, and you don't, you will die a kind of death. But once you resume writing, well: resurrection abounds.
Put another way: you must stay drunk on writing so that everyday life does not destroy you.
– Letter from Malaysia, 21 August, writing in Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaPowered by Sidelines