Sunday, October 23, 2016

It's The Practice That Sustains Us

The other day I wrote a blog post on my website, "Writing A Life," about the 30th anniversary of Natalie Goldberg's book on writing, Writing Down The Bones. She introduced the world to writing practice and all these years later, in her 60's, she says that she still grabs her spiral notebook, and a fast moving pen, and sits down to do her practice.

Another book on writing also celebrated an anniversary recently. Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, the book that gave millions of us permission to discover and birth the artist within us, turned 25. Not long ago, I found this quote on Cameron's Facebook page and it touched me on more than one level: "When the passion goes away, it is the practice that sustains us."  I wondered if she was only talking about writing? Perhaps she was also talking about living.

Life is a practice, from the day we are born until the day we make our transition. Everything we have learned to do in our lives has come out of constant practice until we mastered the task. Whether it was walking, talking, reading, tying our own shoes or coloring inside the lines, it took practice to master each and every aspect of our outer lives. However, we are never given lessons to practice on how to master our inner lives. So we have to come up with them ourselves.

No one comes into this world with all the answers encoded in our DNA. We have to learn about things like love, compassion, anger, jealousy, hatred and all the other emotions through experience. We have to learn to be in relationship with ourselves before we can be in relationship with others and with the world. Where is the practice for that? I would suggest that there are two things we can do as a practice that can help us learn to be in right relationship with ourselves. The first is meditation. The second is writing.

Meditation brings us directly in touch with our authentic selves. We are able to touch our core and listen to it. We learn that this moment, exactly as it is, is perfect, and pure, and whole ... and so are we. From this place comes our power to understand and embrace all of our emotions and learn how to live with them all without letting them run our lives.

Writing practice gives us a safe place to get it all out. We can do it through journaling our fears, hopes and dreams. We can do it through dialogue between two entities or characters acting out our feelings and finding a common ground. We can do it through memoir as a cathartic road to wholeness. When we're done we can put it away, or tear it up, or burn it and let it go. Writing teaches us that we have choices.

I recently watched a YouTube video of Natalie Goldberg giving a talk about 30 years of Bones at the same time that a new book, The Great Spring was also being published. She said that the first book taught everyone "how to do it." This last one showed everyone how she has "done it" for 45 years and what that has meant in her life. Goldberg is also a long time Zen practitioner. She said that her meditation practice and her writing practice went hand in hand. One would not exist without the other.

Practice may not always make perfect, but it sure makes it a whole lot better.

And so it is.