Some years ago when I had a gig as a visiting writer at a university in a distant state, too far away from my home, I found myself waking up each morning at 5 into an empty, nondescript dawn in someone else's life and home. There was a television in the bedroom, a novelty for me, and after two weeks of springing up for no reason, I finally gave in and surfed the channels. Five in the morning is either the best or the worst time to watch television; there is some horrifying local content, depending on where you live—I remember a holy roller ventriloquist, complete with dummy and smiling-through-the experience wife, that was equal parts fascinating and terrifying—
|Very much like these folks|
I didn't set the alarm. But it became a kind of agreement in my head: if I am going to keep springing awake at 5 in the morning, I may as well do yoga. I just turned on the television, stood in the hallway and tried it each day. It became a custom. I won't blah on and on about how yoga releases toxins or opens up channels or sends endorphins— I'll leave the preachifying to the ventriloquist—but I will say it helped me get through a difficult semester. Now I have what it commonly called a "home practice." There isn't any studio nearby that offers a class, and even if there were, I'm not sure I'd go. I've moved from that first television show to books and dvds, always seeking something to challenge me further, for example, the terrific core yoga of Sadie Nardini, though I am still trying to rock the crazy insanity of her matrix pose. A home practice sounds misleading: practice does mean "customary action" or "habitual performance," but that suggests a stagnancy rather than the kind of incremental growth that is a part of any attentive iteration. And of course I'm not only speaking of yoga.
|Her Scorpion Pose is equally off the chain|
Writing is a home practice. What's writing but entering, repeatedly, into an often unfamiliar stillness, an unrecognizable, potentially unfriendly dark, without much of anything but an agreement to try again? it's an unsteady beginning every time, moving from one position to another, trying something, wobbling over, and then seeking again, resolving. And not knowing what, if anything, will come of this attempt, or this move, but still leaning into an idea, or shifting your weight to this possibility, until you are excited, finding something new, exploring, taken up by what you are doing: opening. "Repetition is magic," the yogis say. Just by attending—just by showing up—by repeatedly trying, you can get somewhere amazing. To simply move into the first pose—putting on the favorite t-shirt/collecting those current research books/going over your notes/looking out the window/and bending down to the page—is to begin your home practice. Let me quote from that famous yogi, Flannery O'Connor: "I don't know if the muse is going to show up or not on any given day, but by golly, I'm going to be at my desk from 8 to 12 every morning in case she does." By golly is Sanskrit for hell yeah.
It's surprising how difficult it can be to take yourself seriously, to sit down to write, to simply begin. I don't spring brightly to drafting each day. Just as with my yoga practice, "a grudging decision to try again" is more how I'd define it. Grudging is an interesting word for that state of mind; its definitions include both "reluctance" and "a secret wish or desire."
Lotus Flower Ready to Bloom courtesy Flickr Creative Commons