Message from Oriah Mountain Dreamer
In the spring of 1994. I went to a party-an ordinary party-and I made an effort, a real effort, to be sociable. I asked and answered the usual questions: What do you do for a living? How do you know the host? Where did you study? Where do you live? And I came home with the familiar hollow feeling of having gone through the motions. So, I sat down and did what I often do to sort out what is going on--I wrote. Using the format of a writing exercise that had been given to me by poet David Whyte I wrote about the party conversations--what really did not interest me and what I really did want to know about others, about myself. I went to the center of the ache for something more between myself and the world and the prose-poem, "The Invitation", poured onto the page.
A week later I included the piece in a newsletter I was sending to eight hundred students who had, over the previous ten years, come to workshops I had facilitated on spirituality, sexuality and creativity. I sent it exactly as it had been written that night. I didn't think much about it. I'd shared many pieces of writing with folks on my mailing list over the years, often hearing back from those who felt a particular piece spoke to them. But this time, something different happened. People started copying and sharing "The Invitation" and I began hearing from hundreds of people I didn't know. A woman wrote from New Zealand where the piece had been read at a large spiritual gathering. A man in the States wrote of reading the piece at the funeral of a dear friend who had died of AIDS. Individuals as far away as Romania, Iceland, Greenland and South Africa wrote that someone had sent them "The Invitation" on e-mail, handed it out at a wedding or read it aloud at a workshop or conference. The piece seemed to have a life of its own.
It was Joe Durepos, a literary agent in Chicago who had contacted me to ask permission for the piece to be used in Jean Houston's book, "A Passion for the Possible", who suggested that I consider writing a book based on "The Invitation." I started writing and Joe sold the first few chapters to Harper San Francisco. The prose-poem had touched others with a voice that cut through to what really matters. I didn't want the book to be a watered-down version of the original piece or a heady analysis of its heart-felt sense of urgency. I wanted the book to be as raw and as real as the prose-poem, to offer the receptive reader a chance to actually go to the places mapped out by "The Invitation." To fulfill this promise I had to go to those places myself.
I went to a cabin owned by some friends and started writing, using each segment of the original piece as a doorway into deeper places-the longing, the joy, the sorrow, the fear- reflecting with ruthless honesty on the meaning and struggles of a human life. I wrote what I need to remember, what I need to hear again and again: that life is full of beauty and pain; that the world will break your heart and heal it, over and over, if you let it, and that letting it do both is the only way to live fully; that we are not alone but deeply connected to that which create, and sustains all life.
Aided by Harper San Francisco editor Karen Levine I distilled the stories down to their essence and offered meditations at the conclusion of each chapter, meditations that had helped me walk through the doorways "The Invitation" had opened.
Life is hard. And life is wonderful. "The Invitation" is about finding what we need-the inspiration, the intimacy, the courage and the commitment to live fully, every day.
Oriah Mountain Dreamer