Friday, April 12, 2013

Brother Elbow and Getting Back To It

Once upon a time, I was introduced to a book by Dr. Peter Elbow called Writing Without Teachers (the professor who assigned this book affectionately referred to the author as “Brother Elbow,” and the name stuck with me).  I revisited this book a couple of years ago when I had the opportunity to write my own book.  You see, I discovered that I did not have an adult writing process.  The model I used in college—start drinking in the afternoon, sleep for a couple hours, get up, write paper, stumble to class and hand in—did not seem like a viable option at this stage of my career.

Dr. Elbow encourages the use of freewriting, writing for a set amount of time everyday.  The final product does not matter, doing the practice is the importance. So I started this blog as a practice.

As you may have notice, I fell off writing. The project was done, so I stopped practicing.

Now I come back to the practice of writing once again.

This idea of practice—do it every day—is no different of an exercise than our asana practice.  The quality does not matter, per se, the repetition does.  But we are not off the hook yet.  Doing the practice alone is not the end.  We need to reflect, reassess, revise, redraft periodically.  Dr. Elbow calls this process “growing” and “cooking.”  A perfect model for a washed up cook like me. “Growing” is the repetition, the doing it, the putting pen to paper (hopefully some continue to use pen and paper); “cooking” is the transformative process of taking the raw materials and turning them in to something someone may like to read.

I began cooking my yoga practice a few weeks back.  I had grown a bit bored with my asana practice and was pushing really hard to grow my meditative practice.  Then I hit an experience I had read about. The state of sattva (lightness, clarity, calmness) that one experiences as they progress in meditation is very close to the state of tamas (inertia).  The opposites are actually very, very close.  I had crossed (I’ll give myself the benefit of the doubt that I made it to the sattvic state) from calmness right over to inertia, experiencing lethargy, apathy, and ennui rather than evenness and I’m-ok-you’re-ok’edness. 

The solution?A healthy dose of rajas (activity).  So I delved into a new style of practice creating more of a balance between activity and stillness. It seems to be going well so far.

How do I know?  Well an opportunity came to my attention that gave me a reason to pick back up with my writing practice. 

What happens on the mat does not (and should not) stay on the mat.  The results of practice are not always increased physical flexibility and strength, but the ability to be flexible in other areas and to build strength of purpose.

While I’m on the writing/yoga crossover trip, I’ll share another tidbit that helped me back into writing as a practice.  Once again, this comes from a book that was gathering dust for many years.  Gail Sher wrote One Continuous Mistake  (Penguine / Arkana 1999) applying her Buddhist practice to her writing (wouldn’t you know she also founded a bakery).  She developed “The Four Noble Truths for Writers”:
1.       Writers write
2.       Writing is a process
3.       You don’t know what your writing will be until the end of the process
4.       If writing is a practice, the only way to fail is not to write

With all things, success comes from following the simple rule oft quoted by PattabhiJois “Do your practice, and all is coming.”

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