Disclaimer: I could write a whole book (and am) about practice, so to imply I’m going to be able to say everything there is to say, or even only the very most important things there are to share about practice in a single blog post is just silly. And yet, this is the life rehab resource that wants to be shared today.
I started thinking about it when I was writing my morning pages. This is a practice I first learned by way of Julia Cameron, who describes it this way,
Morning pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages* – they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind – and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.
She even made a video about the practice.
As I was writing my morning pages today, I was thinking about how they are a life rehab resource I’ve been able to maintain no matter what else is going on in my life. There are lots of other things on my to-do and to-be lists right now that I’d love to be doing but had to give up, temporarily. For example there are stacks of books I want to read, a list of movies I’d like to watch, Nia and yoga classes I’d like to attend, letters I want to send, courses I’d like to design, two books and various essays I want to write, but for now there just isn’t time. But morning pages, those get done every day no matter what. For me, they are like warming up before exercising. It’s the thing I need to do to be ready to write the stuff I plan to share.
Just as Julia describes it, much of what I write as part of my morning pages is garbage — whining and complaining, rants, confessions, anxiety, speculation, disillusion and confusion, lists, “and then he said” nonsense. A record of confusion. It gets it all out of the way, clears a path, makes space for the truth, what needs to be said, wants to be shared — the lotus that pushes its way out of the muck.
In writing out all the crap I can see how silly it is, how ridiculous I am. It’s the same when you watch your thoughts and emotions arise in meditation, where the instruction is to observe them arise and let them go without getting attached. I realize through sitting practice how much of my life is spent in reaction to my thoughts and emotions, getting triggered and hooked. Someone says something, judgement kicks in, and off I go. A thought arises and I run after it, trying to catch and hold it, turn it into something solid.
A fundamental quality of all practice is the cultivation of observation without attachment. Practice helps me to see the ways I habitually react, sometimes allowing me to interrupt myself and rest in the gap between thoughts/emotions and action. Through practice I contemplate how my habitual patterns and discursive thinking are no longer serving me. In this way, practice helps me to ease suffering. Over time I start to realize how blindly driven I’ve been by my thoughts and emotions, see how empty they actually are, and start to relax, consider other options, access a deeper wisdom and compassion, and employ more skillful means.
For example, on the yoga mat, I observe how in a pose I might criticize myself for not doing it “right.” Maybe I compare myself to the person on the mat next to me who seems to be doing it “better,” or I judge myself against a “perfect expression” of the pose. The thought arises that I’m doing it wrong and I begin to criticize myself. Shame quickly follows and soon I am smashing myself to bits, not really practicing yoga at all. In a final act of aggression, I force my body further into the pose, causing discomfort or pain, possibly even injuring myself.
The longer I practice, the more I am able to interrupt this pattern. I notice the thought or emotion arise. I pause and am curious about it instead of immediately acting on it. I consider what might be triggering it, notice how it feels in my body, all while trying my best to not start telling myself a story about it. Staying with this, I might understand that my body is unique (in the case of the yoga pose “gone wrong”), and at this particular time this is what is. Maybe my quads are especially tender after lifting weights or doing a lot of walking earlier in the week, or maybe I didn’t get enough sleep the night before and I have less energy. I recognize that the compassionate thing to do in this moment is a slight modification of the pose to maintain alignment and accommodate my body’s current state. My self talk shifts to love for my body, appreciation that I showed up to practice, gratitude that I’m paying attention and working with my body in this way, listening and trusting, being gentle.
Suddenly there is space, ease where before there was struggle. As in yoga, it’s best when writing morning pages — with all practice, actually — to not force or attempt to control, but rather show up with an open heart, be curious about what is, and in this way sink into and allow the truth of the moment.