Showing up

yoga matI have a favorite website, called Brainpickings, whose curator, Maria Popova, assembles interesting, thought-provoking and inspiring things from all walks of art and literature. I can’t count the times I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of the site and emerged, hours later, thoughts spinning in new directions. You should definitely check it out.

She often posts about writers’ daily routines, and what inspires them. There are so many things that can get in the way of creativity.  All these artists seem to agree on one thing, though. You can’t create if you don’t sit down and just do something.  I think photorealist Chuck Close said it best:

Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

You’ve probably heard of the “10,000 hours” rule, coined by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, that says you can master anything if you spend 10,000 hours doing it. Makes sense. It’s ridiculous to think that you can get really good at something just by thinking about it a lot. At some point, you have to pull a Captain Picard and engage. And any way you cut it, 10,000 hours is a lot of time.

So the other day I was beating myself up about this. Why am I not writing as much as I think I should?  Why am I not putting up blog posts? Why am I not making progress with The Novel? In the time that I wrote one lousy chapter, my friend finished the entire first draft of a novel (go, Matt!). Why do I spend my time diving into Internet holes like Brainpickings instead of writing brilliant blog posts or finishing my book?  Why am I failing at this?

And then I realized I was showing up. Just not for writing.

Believe it or not, I’ve been going to yoga classes almost every day since I started The Yoga Project. I know, I know, you’re flabbergasted. I have become a regular yoga person, despite all my efforts to label myself as hopelessly inflexible. I’ve also been writing in my journal, translating, running. So I am showing up. Why am I being so hard on myself just because in this particular moment it’s not for writing The Novel?

In his book The Mirror of Yoga, Boulder-based yogi Richard Freeman has an interesting metaphor for people who have problems finding their path — it’s like you’re digging for a well, and you dig for like 6 feet and don’t hit water, you’re like “this is no fun, I’m not getting anywhere,” so you abandon that hole and go dig another one, same thing happens, and so on etcetera. Kind of an inverse whack-a-mole.

I read that and asked myself whether I am just running around in circles like some attention-deficit dog, digging hole after hole and giving up before I hit water. And here I thought I’d left digging behind when we got a place without a garden!

I believe that my own particular hole involves writing, and it has for a long time. I’m convinced all that press-release-writing and translating I did (and do) was the early stages of digging that hole. I don’t feel like I’ve abandoned writing for a new hole that’s yoga.

Most likely I am digging in the same hole, but I’ve just switched techniques to one that involves getting my mind-body continuum into a place in which I can do even better, more meaningful writing. I do know that when I started the yoga classes I had no idea what my novel was about. People would ask, and I didn’t really know. Now I do. It’s about becoming who you are, after you’ve forgotten, and about forgiveness.

There is something pulling me into yoga, and it’s not because I just love the classes. More often than not I’m trying to lean back into camel or some other contortion, my spine feels like it’s made out of stainless steel, my hamstrings are screaming, and I’m just trying to get from one breath to the next. There are times when I’ll be in the middle of something at home, I see what time it is and I just get up and go to a class, without even stopping to think about whether I want to or not.

Something is happening there — I’m not entirely sure what yet, but I’m sure time will tell. In the meantime, I’ll just  cut myself some slack and just keep showing up – for yoga, journals, work, life. The journals hold my ideas, just in case I want to see them again. That is, if I can read my own handwriting.

Like Liz Gilbert said in that amazing TED talk:

Don’t be daunted. Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be.”

I like that “whatever that might be” part. When it’s time for the writing to come, it will come.

Whoa! Look!

It just did. 🙂

What do you show up for? What do you do when it’s hard to show up?

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