Natalie Goldberg is a writer and writing teacher living in Taos, New Mexico. Her books include the best-sellingWriting Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within (Shambhala Publications) and its sequel, Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life (Bantam). Her most recent book, Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America (Bantam), is an autobiographical work featuring reminiscences of her experiences with Dainin Katagiri Roshi (abbot of Minnesota Zen Center), her first Zen teacher. Katagiri Roshi came to the United States from Japan to help Shunryu Suzuki Roshi at San Francisco Zen Center and later went on to found his center in Minneapolis. A collection of his dharma talks, Returning to Silence, is available from Shambhala Publications.
Last fall, one year into Goldberg’s two-year leave from the writing workshops she leads, Tricycle asked her about being a writer, Zen student, and writing teacher. Her responses are interspersed with excerpts from Long Quiet Highway.
I think there’s nothing better than being a teacher and a student. It is an education. But Katagiri Roshi taught me what it was to go beyond the teacher, to be a great living, breathing, human being who gave a hundred percent to life—forget about the dharma—to life, to what it means to be alive and to love not just another person but to love every moment. He used to say, “Our goal is to have kind consideration for all sentient beings every moment forever.” So that was very large. He gave me a big vision of not only what a teacher could be but what a human being could be.
Once I went to Roshi . . . and told him, “When I’m at Zen Center, I feel like a writer. When I’m with writers, I feel like a Zen student.”
“Someday you will have to choose,” said Roshi. “You’re not ready yet but someday you will be. Writing and Zen are parallel paths, but not the same.”
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