Friday, October 1, 2010

Guest Post: Practice, Non-Perfection, and Discipline

Today's guest post is from a real-life (i.e., I met her face-to-face as opposed to blog-to-blog) friend, Steph of Strong and Tender Like the Ocean. We met back in the day when I had first moved to Montana, united as one of the crazy few local participants in National Novel Writing Month. She continues to inspire me with her practice and dedication in writing, art, and living. Thanks, Steph!

I really like being good at things. In fact, I have stopped doing things because I didn't think I was good at it. Forget practicing; that wasn't why I wanted to learn to play guitar, to draw, to do yoga.... Sometimes, that's why I don't stick with things for very long. I get shy and angry and frustrated about not being very good (read: perfect), and so I stop. But, recently, my practices (specifically writing and meditation) have started to shift focus from "practice makes perfect" to "practice makes practice". That the practice is about simply showing up and doing them.

Strangely, I have tried to put away thoughts about "being good" at something, and what has started to matter more to me is that these practices are getting into my bloodstream in a way that (even writing) has not before. I have always known that I need writing in my life, and there are times that I love it more than others, but recently, it's been a feeling more of actually being WITH it rather than simply DOING it. That sometimes, I'm leaning into the writing practice and at those times, I'm learning a bit more about gentleness with myself. I can keep practicing (keep my hand moving) and I don't have to get it right the first time I do it. This is something I've written about before but recently, my practices sometimes feel more like poetry, like they flow in a way that doesn't feel forced. They don't feel like trying to fit square pegs into round holes. I'm not doing it because I have to.

I'm doing it (mostly) because I choose to be there. Even the times that it feels like I'm doing it because I "have to" has a different texture, like those ceilings that look like itty bitty stalactites. I have to tread a little more carefully (I don't want to poke myself), but it's interesting to try and pay more attention to what's going on, to stay with it. If I drag myself to the page (or to the workout, or to the cushion) and force myself to do it anyway (which is my traditional understanding of discipline), I am much more likely to approach the situation with non-gentleness and make excuses or drag myself, kicking and screaming. Then, once I get to the cushion or page, there's a very good chance I will spend the time cranky with myself for not wanting to be there in the first place and how I'm not a good meditation student or writer, that I'm being lazy, etc., etc., etc. This is how practice has often gone with me.

Recently, I've tried to instead still take myself to the page or cushion, but not berate, force, or bribe myself into doing it. Instead, I think I've started giving myself a *gasp* choice. For example, I've set a goal of doing four or five sitting practices (of at least ten minutes) per week. Last night, I was sitting on the couch reading, just before bed, and realized I hadn't sat for the day. I thought about it and decided to keep reading. Why? Because yes, the desire and thought was there, but for the moment, I wanted to read. It was a conscious choice to *not* sit, but I also (for one of the first times in a long long time) did not beat myself up for making that decision. I made my choice and it was okay. And it was okay because I had practiced the days leading up to the choice. That I knew wasn't me running away from it, but that I simply didn't want to. Instead, I sat on the couch and continued to read until bedtime. And I didn't feel I had to defend myself to anyone ... least of all myself.

And so, what have I learned? That sometimes, just sometimes, I can actually be kind to myself, but that the kindness is also starting to be more rooted in discipline as a practice. The show up, do it, don't judge myself or my work, but simply do it. That there is a fine line between discipline and kindness - that kindness understood that a night off would not kill me, but that I had to remain committed to my practice and to myself. Which I understand. Which is why, when I'm done writing this entry, I am going to go sit for fifteen minutes, because I want to and, even after a night off, I remain committed to my practice.

What practices are you committed to maintaining, gently and kindly, in your life?


  1. Insightful post, Steph - thanks for stepping in while Beth's at Hoopcamp.Hoopdance is one of the practices I'm learning to commit to, both for the exercise and the sheer joy of playing with a bright plastic hoop I made out of dull plumbing tubing. In addition to prayer, Bible study, writing, photography and jewelry making, hoopdance is one of the ways I find balance in my life.

  2. Stephanie (dancingwaOctober 2, 2010 at 10:56 AM

    Yay for those! And I love the image of a "dull plumbing tube" with the bright plastic hoop being used for joyful endeavours!One of the questions I kick around a lot ... what does balance look like, to you? Or, what is it?Thank you for commenting!- Steph

  3. Good question, Steph. Balance for me is God first, family, church, job and everything else after that. If any one of those things starts to stress me out, then I know I've gotten out of balance in that area and need to step back, take a deep breath (or several) see what's causing the stress, pray and get God's perspective on the situation, and go from there. Of course, all the hormonal joy of being a woman in my 40s has to be taken into account as well, along with the self-induced insanity of trying to edit one novel, write a second one, make them both polished enough to attract an agent and publisher, and - well, you get the idea. After all, NaNoWriMo is only a month away, which means my overactive imagination is already concocting scenes for a third novel... ;)That's why I subscribe to your attitude of "if I don't want to do so-and-so occasionally, that's okay." Otherwise I'd be stressed out all the time, and most of it would be self-inflicted.

  4. Peace Love and LeeneOctober 2, 2010 at 3:12 PM

    I am the same way with hooping and even reading. I have to remember to make time for those things. I am constantly chasing after a 2 year old while trying to promote my photography business and maintain the household. I put off hooping at times because I am "too tired" but I know in actuality it would be better for me to do it. Give me more energy for the next day and beyond. Reading is like a practice to me, for my brain. I put it off as well because I feel I can be doing more "productive" things. Great post, thank you for sharing!

  5. Stephanie (dancingwaOctober 5, 2010 at 5:51 AM

    Traci: I appreciate the idea that if one of the things that mean the most to me (which is how I read your list, that these are the things that matter and are irrevocably a part of your life), if one of those things starts to stress me out, that's a good indicator. And yes, NaNo can induce that sort of insanity (who are you over on NaNo?) The hardest thing to learn is that, for me, most of the stress *is* self-inflicted and it's hard to admit that, on some level.Peace Love and Leener: One of the things I struggle with in my meditation practice, in particular, is the idea of I can be doing something "more productive," when in reality, I can be MORE productive (as an employee, partner, human bean) if I give myself the fifteen minutes to to actually be in that peace you so beautifully have described on your user page. I think the idea of productivity is so ingrained to so much of what we do...

  6. Thanks for asking, Steph. I'm TraciB at NaNo; feel free to add me to your buddy list if you're participating this year.

  7. Hi Steph,What a subtle, lovely post on something so pressing to me right now! I'm really struggling with this idea of how rigid to be in my practices. I'm noticing two things about it that I don't find easy to resolve. First, when I make something an absolute and consistent rule or structure it is much easier for me to stick with. Second, absolute and consistent rules make my heart yearn for more fluidity. For the moment, I'm simply living with both of my realities. I trust that I will eventually find more of my way--as you so clearly have! Thank you for sharingLove Adena


"I am glad you are here with me."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King