Q&A with Anthony Guilbert, author of Notes From The Drift

Notes From the DriftWhat is Notes from The Drift about, and why did you write it?

 As a creative work, there are a few ways a reader can consider my book: as a collection of spiritual anecdotes, and allegories written from the perspective of a Daoist/Zen inspired wanderer; as a collection of spiritually inspired prose poems; or as my notes from a lifetime finding and following the flow of our world.  All would be true.

The major trope at work in these writings is the notion of “the drift”.  As I have written of it, the drift is an anonymous urge upon which reality moves, acting as both “a realization, and an experience.”  Some could, and a few actually have, associated this with the Chinese concept of ‘the Dao’.  And, though they wouldn’t be wrong, my intention was to leave behind any ideas foreign to my landscape.  For a good portion of my adult life, I have held the belief that if spiritual truths were universal, and not cultural, then they should be represented independently and uniquely in all cultures.  Exploring that notion has been the major work of my life.  Excavated from my journals and other writings, Notes From The Drift is a record of the lessons, & insights I have experienced exploring these truths.

Your book would like the reader to believe that they can learn everything from the universe; how? How do we proceed without a teacher?

It’s not a large leap if you think about. Everything, the writer, the reader, my book, its all universe; its all being, experience, knowledge, emotion… When we sit with a teacher, we do, in actually, sit with another element of the universe.  So inferring that the reader can learn from the universe at large is just a matter of asking them to change what they view as authority ––in essence, it’s an urging to go back to the source.

All teachers, their traditions, their knowledge, it is based upon the experiences and insights of those who came before them. Traditions are large scaffolded constructions of knowledge that rest their legitimacy on their system possessing a “truth”.  After some thirty years, wandering, seeking out spiritual teachers, and teachings, I believe “truth” is ineffable and highly personal.  It stains each of us differently.

Often, when people visit an spiritual teacher, they are given a path, a way, actually a program to follow that will help them become like the teacher.  The problem here is they shouldn’t be like their teachers.  Their goals should be direct knowledge and original wisdom. They should be themselves, in the likeness of truth.

This is not to say that teachers don’t have a place. Their are many many great techniques, and practices, that can assist our search for spiritual truth; as there are many great teachers with tremendous insights that we should hear.  What I’m suggesting is that these practices and insights should lead us to our own understanding of truth, our own embodiment of wisdom.

How do we you proceed?”  Carefully, honestly, you take what you believe and let it guide your life. Don’t look for lessons or teachers, ––be the best of yourself, and they will find you.  Writing this, I’m reminded of the opening stanza of Theodore Roethke’s poem ‘The Waking’: “I feel my fate in what I cannot fear. / I learn by going where I have to go.” Roethke clearly understood the essence of the drift.

The images in Notes From The Drift are rich, earthy, and dark.  Yet there is a hopefulness to this book.  Was it your intent to inspire readers more than teach them?

Inspire, definitely inspire.  Building on what I said previously, I’m a big proponent of folks cultivating an authentic connection with the world.  And yet, that I don’t give instructions was one of the early criticisms of this book.  In the past month I’ve been considering that criticism more seriously.  Though, when you’re discussing something as elusive as the drift or as personal as one’s spiritual path, I’m not sure you can teach people how to follow it.  It feels counterintuitive.  Being an inspiration maybe the best I can do, and that is still a very beautiful thing!

Simplicity plays a significant role in this book.  From the quality of your writing, to the ideas it carries, simplicity stains this entire book. Would you elaborate on the value of simplicity in a world where that has become a luxury for the well off?

I understand what you mean.  “Simplicity,” like that tiny house movement, and the neo-minimalists, is very much one of those preoccupations you hear discussed over a latte.  And despite its place in coffeehouse rhetoric, we shouldn’t dismiss its value.

Let’s consider what “simplicity” actually means. To be “simple,” a thing requires nothing extraneous to be complete.  And you’re correct, it is this understanding that drives both my life, and the aesthetic underlying my writing.  I’ve strived to occupy a place where nothing extraneous is required.  Though this may be a luxury for some, it can be easily practiced by everyone.

Striving to simplify our lives frees us from the extraneous, the irrelevant, & immaterial.  I liken this to the hull of ship passing through water.  The extraneous slows us down, holds us back; it detains, hinders, and obstructs, our way.  Cultivating simplicity frees us to enjoy the natural flow of our lives. If you don’t think of it as loosing or giving up, you’ll find there is a natural elegance to simplicity that enhances our lives in unexpected ways.

I could go on for days about simplicity. For those considering ways to simplify their lives, I like ‘nosidebar.com’ and its sister quarterly ‘simplifymagazine.com’.   Brain Gardner has done a wonderful job with both of those resources.

Diversity isn’t often an issue engaged in spiritual writings or teaching.  Yet it is appears throughout your book. What role does diversity play in the “Drift”?  What role should it play in spiritual life?

Its rather disappointing that many spiritual texts and traditions don’t discuss diversity.  But I don’t see this as a short coming.  I think diversity is a realization of the modern world.  If you think about critically, during the life of Siddhartha, the Buddha, there were less people on the Earth than currently live in Mexico, rough less than a third of the US population.  The social reality of the time didn’t create the opportunity for the realization.  Through observation, spiritual people probably realized the diversity of life around them, yet the political and social elements would not be considered for another 2500 years.

Though now that we have this realization, the deeper experience of our reality is that all life on the Earth is wildly diverse. Diversity truly is all there is. This isn’t just a spiritual concept it is a empirical truth.

When it comes to our spirituality, diversity informs our inner path, and is the field of action for our outer path.  The internal path contemplates; when we experience diversity we should allow it to confront our beliefs.  As a truth, it implies value for the unique, authentic, the original,  that can relieve our fears of the other, the different.  Outwardly, “diversity” frees our love to embrace the entire world, broadening the scope and depth of our service.  Personally, these considerations have lead me to a world that is larger, more authentic, and radically beautiful.

I’m bearly scratching the surface here.  So I’ll leave with this, contemplating the diversity of our world, and acting accordingly allows us to develop a greater sense of spiritual maturity.

Your book paints a picture of a very physical spirituality.  In sections, 15, 16, and 32, among others, you note that the way is hard, it tears at our flesh.  And you ask, “How can we expect to thrive without such challenges?”  Isn’t this counter to the general spiritual attitude that we should transcend the physical world?

Generally, yes, it is.  Many traditions teach that we should move beyond the physical world and live in the realm of the spirit.  That thinking is rooted in a notion that mind and body are a duality ––some how separate from each other.  When you throw spirit into that mix, you get people walking around placing more value on one of the three than the others, when the true human experience is a spectrum of all three.

One of the elements of many mindfulness practice is that we learn to embody our consciousness in our movements, and ultimately in our entire being.  Such practices allow for not only a greater awareness of ourselves, but of the entire world.  So yes, my spirituality, and the general tone of my book, is rooted here on the ground ––less transcendent more integrated and present.

After walking this path, I find there is a lot to be learned from making our spirituality more of a life style than a practice.  Taking it out of the temples and zendos, and putting in my boots has taught me many surprising lessons.  And, yes, some of them hurt.  But isn’t that life, messy, unexpected, and often uncomfortable?


You can find more information about the book and the author at http://www.anthonyguilbert.net/notes-from-the-drift/