Rising to the Surface

I am writing letters to my students about their long papers -- their personal stories. In every letter, I write some version of this advice: Here is what seems to be the underlying meaning of your story; your job is to bring this meaning to the surface so that your readers can see it.

What I've learned from paying close attention to my students' stories is that abstract and generalized language and obscure sentence structures keep their meaning hidden. Not that it has no meaning, but it's as though I have to intuit it, to guess at it, when I should be able to understand it clearly, simply. What brings meaning to the surface of the story? Details and dialogue and sentencing that aim the reader's attention like a telescope at what matters most.

Life conspires to focus my own attention on this lesson. This morning, writing and reading in my green chair while the rest of my family slept, I came across this quote, highlighted from a previous reading of Jon Kabat-Zinn's Wherever You Go, There You Are: 

"Nisargadatta: By being with yourself . . . by watching yourself in your daily life with alert interest, with the intention to understand rather than to judge, in full acceptance of whatever may emerge, because it is there, you encourage the deep to come to the surface and enrich your life and consciousness with its captive energies." (10)