A Bit of Wolf Philosophy
What is writing for?
The role of writing in this scheme is simply to give us access to the domain of imagination, to give us a means to explore our inner world, and even to transform and purify it under the influence of a transcending vision
What is the use of poetry? Will it help me to be happier, or more confident, or more in tune with how things are? Will it help me face the day and the vagaries of other people’s states of mind? And what is its connection with Buddhism and meditation? If these are some of the questions that occupy your mind from time to time, then please read on.
Wolf at the Door Creative Writing Workshops were inspired by two very remarkable people: the first, Urgyen Sangharakshita, is a Buddhist teacher who returned to England in the 60s and established the Western Buddhist Order (since renamed Triratna). The second is an American poet called William Stafford, from Kansas in the mid west United States, who came to the notice of David Keefe (Buddhist name Manjusvara) in the eighties, who realized he had a unique mind and a unique approach to the writing of poetry. Stafford has ever since been one of the mentors and chief inspirations behind Wolf at the Door.
The link between these two great figures is the faculty of Imagination. Imagination is an innate mental faculty that is essential for leading a fully human life, whether we regard ourselves as artists or not. Without imagination we remain dull creatures capable of surviving and little more. The unique contribution of Sangharakshita was to see that Man, being a spiritual creature, needed imagination in order to live a fully human life, and to build a cooperative society based on mutual help and sympathy. Without imagination life is reduced to a mechanical process of survival, with no regard to the welfare of others. The role of writing in this scheme is simply to give us access to the domain of imagination, to give us a means to explore our inner world, and even to transform and purify it under the influence of a transcending vision.
In his college teaching Stafford had two guiding lights that marked his approach as unique. He was strongly against the pedagogical model of teaching, preferring to take the role of an interested bystander, asking apparently innocent questions of his students in order to make them aware of a new way of looking at the world. “If you can’t write, lower your standards” was one of his oft repeated tenets. In Wolf at the Door, you might say we have taken this precept to new depths of levelism. So often what we call ‘standards’ are, for the beginner, merely obstructions to the activation of the imagination, and need to be ignored. (But please note, this is a methodology, not an unvarying rule!). And of course, standards are important – it’s just a question of when and how to apply them.
Coleridge & Imagination
Stafford’s other guiding light was the idea of the world, or the universe, as an active, cohesive force participating in our inner journery. In this he mirrored Coleridge’s view of the creative Imagination as an active synthesising agent in our lives; that is, it brings together widely disparate elements of experience to create meaning and order, which in turn may transform the chaotic and destructive elements in our minds into forces for harmony and kindness.
So for both of these men writing is far more than mere writing, more than a way of creating pleasing forms and images. It is an openness to the shaping power of the universe, a state of listening to the world, and a responsiveness to its impulses. It is a night-journey through the mountains and forests of the mind, a journey which has no map apart from faith in the process. Through this openness we’re able to change in accordance with the unifying whole that Coleridge called the ‘Great I AM’, and which Buddhists might call the Will to Enlightenment. This is the essential premise on which Wolf at The Door is founded, and from which it takes its sustenance.