Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Value of Practice: In Yoga, In Writing, In Marriage

Last night I went to a yoga class for the first time in almost two years.  As always, I'm amazed at how flexible other people are.  I'm also amazed at some of the poses I can still do.  And I'm sad at how many poses I cannot do, how many body parts I can't twist around each other, how many times I can't touch my toes (but sometimes, I can!).

I'm most humbled at the fact that my body's fibers haven't shriveled up completely due to my inattention.  I'm grateful for the fact that no matter how much I neglect my daily/weekly practice, it's all still there waiting for me:  my body, the class, the teacher, the practice.

And yes, I know that one day, that may not be the case.  Yet, I've seen yoga participants make amazing progress, so at least it's not like having a ballerina practice.

In some ways, my approach to yoga has similarities to my writing practice.  I do best if I write every day.  I like to stay limber.  But even if I can't, my writing self doesn't abandon me.  She's there, waiting for me, storing up the ideas until I have a chance to return.

It's like a marriage of many decades.  Gone, for the most part, are the tumultuous ups and downs of the early years.  Some people might miss the thrill and the drama (and thus go out to manufacture some), but not me.  I write a poem, which gives me satisfaction, but rarely rapture.  And if I can't write a poem, my muse doesn't go off in a huff; likewise, in a marriage of many decades, there can be some times of benign neglect.  It's best not to let that go on for too long, but it's not the calamity it might be in the early years, before the partners really know each other.

People across many disciplines will extol the value of practice and habit.  One of the values that I rarely see discussed is that people who have a discipline and a habitual practice have an easier time returning when they've gone astray.  It's easier to adjust the trajectory to get to where we want to be, and because of our practice, we may not go as far off the path as we would if we didn't have a practice.

I have no scientific data to back up these ideas, just anecdotal evidence.  On this day when I've learned that fewer Americans believe in global warming today than they did 4 years ago (almost down to 60%), I'm wary of making large, sweeping claims.  I'm also aware of how easy it must be to dupe people.

Really?  Almost half the American population doesn't believe in global warming?  Please explain the disappearing ice caps, year after year of record setting temperatures, all the items which look like irrefutable evidence to me.

What's next?  Maybe we'll decide we don't believe in gravity?  Maybe we'll doubt that microbes can hurt us?

So, let us hold fast to the belief in the worth of regular practice, whether it be in our relationships with significant others, or in our writing, or in our practices to keep our bodies and minds supple.  Let us always be able to return to the habits which serve us well.  Let us shuck off the habits/beliefs/practices that don't.

And for those of you who have been out of practice, your muse awaits your return.  Here's a poem to comfort you (first published in the journal Emrys):

The Muse to Her Poet

You worry that I am some Ulysses,
headed off to distant lands the moment you turn
your back, easily seduced by goddesses,
and ever needful of new adventures.

You are the one who sets sail
for the distant island of your novel, sidetracked
from your true vocation by thoughts of the fruits
of fame, the warmth of characters
to put through their paces.
You are the one who often strands
herself on the dry, dusty shores
of academic writing, pursuing the metaphors
and symbols of other poets
while neglecting your own.

I am your muse, your Penelope, waiting
ever, always patient. I weave
even when you’re unaware, distracted
by those undeterred suitors of easier pleasures than mine.
I pluck out the threads that don’t match,
keep the tapestries safe,
keep my faith in your return.

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