PRACTICE AND NOT PERFECT

I was writing my morning pages today. And I got stuck.

I did what I tell my students to do when they get stuck. Just write something, no matter how silly or tedious. For me, it’s often, “blah blah blah” or “I can’t think of anything to write. I can’t think of anything to write.” I kid you not.

Today I was writing, “Keep going. Keep going.” Actually it read like this:

keep going keep going keep going

Because when you’re doing morning pages/free journaling, the trick is to not even stop for correct spelling or punctuation. No editing, no anything. Just write.

And the miracle happened. As it always does.

Sometimes this silly repetition keeps my inner critic/left brain busy, just for a few seconds–long enough for my inner wizard/right brain to grab the steering wheel and hit the gas pedal. Many of my insights, over-the-hump strategies and yes, gentle readers, even blog posts, come from this wild ride in the kidnapped taxi cab that was going nowhere slowly.

Today’s insight was the writing itself. Though I rarely focus on good penmanship when I doing this exercise, suddenly the repetition took me back five decades, to third grade. (Yep. I’m old.)

I wasn’t a bad kid in grade school, but I would get in trouble for talking (surprise!). Or for drawing pictures when I was supposed to be paying attention. And then I’d be assigned that infamous penance: Writing 100 sentences that began with “I will not….”

“I will not talk during geography class.” “I will not doodle while the teacher is talking.” “I will not wait until the very last minute to ask permission to go to the bathroom.” (That was an awful day!)

I didn’t mind it, though. I loved to write, even the same stupid thing over and over and over.

It became a little game to me. How perfectly could I form each letter, each word? And could I actually write the entire sentence perfectly, beautifully?

I never could, of course. At the last second, my pencil would skitter, or my lead would break. Oh well. Plenty more sentences to try!

And suddenly, I realized the beauty of that 8-year-old’s spirit. Perfection may be only a few pencil strokes away. I never got there.

But simply trying was…..fun.

Somehow I knew, and accepted, that it wasn’t about being perfect, or doing perfect. It was the practice that brought the joy. There was plenty of paper, and a pencil sharpener right near the door. I had all the time I needed. (I wasn’t in a hurry to get back to geography, after all.) I liked being indoors and didn’t mind missing recess.

With another stroke of insight, I realized this powerful attitude drives all my practice. All my interests and processes.

Except, of course, when I’m not messing myself up by falling into the adult’s version of private hell….PERFECTION.

Lose the striving for perfection, and I’m in heaven.

It’s why I can write about the same topics in my life, over and over, and never feel like I’ve written the definitive take yet. It’s why I love to ride horses, though I’ll never be a great rider, and was certainly never a natural rider. It’s what kept me going through tae kwon do, kick boxing, and back to tae kwon do. That’s why I can do kata all through tae kwon do class, and never feel like I’ve quite mastered Basic 1.

I may never get back down to fighting weight. I may never get my black belt. In fact, as I struggle back from yet more injuries and another upcoming surgery, I may never even regain the level I was at six months ago.

None of that matters. Just the practice.

It’s about the joy, plain and simple, we can find in our practice, if we let go of the outcome, the “finished product”. Because we are human beings, and there is no “finished product.”

I read a review about this book Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer. (It’s being billed as the not-so-exotic-and-more-domestic version of Eat, Pray, Love.) Some people love it, some people hate it. But what I loved in the review was the comment that the practice of yoga isn’t about getting to perfection in yoga. It’s about practicing yoga imperfectly and doing it anyway. I like that.

So yesterday I went to yoga, for the first time in six months. I’ve lost strength, and flexibility. I have to watch the twists, and I had trouble bending.

But it felt…wonderful.

YOGA FOR THE REST OF US

If you’re near an issue yesterday’s The New York Times, check out this article, The Enlightened Path, With a Rubber Duck by Abby Ellin, or read it here online.

It’s a great article about how yoga can be part of your real everyday life, which is a good thing.

Yes, that’s me, quoted near the bottom of the first page!

Actually, I’m not sure I’m actually in the print version, but we’re going to go looking for it soon.

I know it’s not really about my art–it’s about how I feel about yoga. Which translate to what I feel about life in general we’re supposed to be–being serious, being focused, being spiritual–are important.

But it’s also “just us” out there, trying to do the best we can. “Serious” for serious’s sake doesn’t really cut it for me anymore. (Did I really say ‘serious for serious’s sake?? OMG!) Let me rephrase: “Serious” doesn’t have to be “somber”.

And it does say “artist” right behind my name.

And maybe someday it will be about my art.

What a great way to start the new year!

ON SACRED GROUND

Today’s article is odd because I’m not sure why I’m writing it. I just know I must.

I’m reading a book on yoga called Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope. Not sure why… Just saw it at a friend’s house, picked it up and it looked interesting. Got my own copy and started meandering through it.

I found a section early on that just grabbed me. The author talks about sacred places, and quotes the famed anthropologist Margaret Mead: “There are certain places on the face of the earth where, for no apparent reason, very special things happen, over and over again.”

Now, I don’t know if Margaret Mead really said that. I did a quick Google search but couldn’t easily find it. (She said a lot of other great things, though!) It did get me thinking about the notion of “sacred places.”

I always think of the cave of Lascaux as a sacred place. Over the years, I’ve met many people who visited the actual cave before it was closed and sealed. All speak of a feeling of profound power and mystery. All felt changed by the experience.

My original body of artwork is inspired by this sacred place.

And yet I have never been there.

Two weeks after 9/11, my family and I visited Lascaux II, a detailed recreation of the main section of the original cave. When we emerged from the darkness, my husband, knowing how important this cave has been to my life as an artist, asked me gently, “Was it okay?” And I answered, “It was….enough.

And it was.

Because my sacred place is not the actual cave. It’s the stories in my heart the cave has inspired.

Every time I feel despair, or feel lost, or feel overwhelmed by the evil in the world, I think about that cave. And I can always seem to find a way back by finding yet another story that tells me a different truth.

I’m sharing this with you today because it occurred to me that “sacred places” can be more than a mere physical location.

It could be a person who always believes in you and your abilities, no matter what.

It can be a small group of people–perhaps a support group of other artists, like those described in Julie Cameron’s bookThe Artist’s Way–who always hold up to you the mirror you can see your artist self in.

It could be an activity–yoga, mediation, prayer, even singing a lullaby–that always brings you back to yourself. Your true self.

It could even be your art.

When we recognize and honor these special places–whether actual places, in our hearts, or in the hearts of others–then no matter how lost or confused we become, we can always find our way back home again.