Saturday, July 23, 2011

Learning to Practice

I have been blessed with multiple interests. This makes it so that I am never bored. In fact there are days I feel so overwhelmed I would give anything to bored. But, alas I am not wired that way. I find most things interesting and even in the rarest or most mundane situations I find myself pleasantly satisfied and engaged in ruminating about some aspect of the task at hand so my interest never feels strained or forced.

The downside to this way of being is that I am constantly torn between my many interests and there simply aren't enough hours in the day for me to do everything I want-- and if there are enough hours in the day, I am plagued with a lack of energy. You simply can't do it all. Hrrumph. But I want to!

Part of my thinking on this issue of practice and time on task was prompted by my recent visits to a number of museums and archeological sites here in Mexico where I am visiting. Looking at hand stitched coats from the New Spain era, or the incredible pyramids of the Mayans. These objects of achievement took time and perseverance. Artists and craftsmen dedicated years of their lives to a box made of intricately inlayed pieces of wood, shell, bone or gems. I too want to look back and be able to say "I stuck to it" and made a something great because I persevered. So that is why I have revisited the importance of practice. It teaches us the diligence and focus required to be our best in way that is not just fleeting, but established and durable.

Regular practice is undisputedly a requisite for the arts or any endeavor, really. It takes time, energy and mental focus to complete large projects, a painting, a dance, a certificate, a school program, you get the idea. But, how can I accommodate all of my interests into my daily life so I feel connect to them all and yet feel productive? The fact is I am a notorious jack of all trades. Wonderfully aware and interested in most things while remaining horribly and painfully amateur (or average) at most of them.

Let's look at a couple of my practices to get a better idea of how this works in my real, mundane, 24-hour day, 7 day week and 52 week year:

Yoga: I love to practice yoga, sometimes I desire recuperative restorative poses, other times I want the catharsis, the sweat and the charge of discovering my strengths. But, despite my love of yoga, I do not have a weekly yoga routine. There are not classes I always take every week. I do not practice regularly at home. I am intermittent at best. I incorporate yoga poses into my dance warm up, but it is not a complete spiritual practice in the way I believe yoga is meant to be practiced.

When I do get on the mat on my own, I wonder what took me so long to get there. I most often surprise myself by starting with a recuperative, gentle intention and ending with sequences of dancing warrior, one legged balances or challenging sun salutations, sweat dripping in a glorious and wonderfully unexpected way. Where did this energy come from? But even while I am here in Mexico with little to no real schedule and certainly enough time to throw down my mat in a corner somewhere. I have practiced a total of 2 days in the 8 days I have been here. On the one hand: at least I am practicing, on the other hand: since I took space in my suitcase to bring my mat (although it is a thinner travel mat) why the heck am I not practicing at least 30 min everyday?

Hmmm. Next practice. . .

Writing: In the last year and half I have taken up a more conscious practice of writing. I have always written, mostly journaling, but I found that journal writing often left me feeling worse than when I started, perpetuating any downward spiral I might be in. When I felt good, I didn't really feel like writing at all. So my journals consisted of pages and pages and pages (and I have perhaps 15 journals from the years) of self-deprecating, frustrated, painful entries, often tear marked. Whew.

In the last few years I tried to write only positive things, affirmations and such. But that quickly faded away into not writing at all. About two years ago, I saw a flier for a poetry group where I work and voila! I became a poet. So I have been trying to write and it have been wonderful in many many ways. I have no pressure to be good so I just write whatever poems I want and enjoy the process and being silly. No goal no competition (if only the rest of the world were like this. Haha!) But, the group met on Wednesdays and I had to teach so. . . guess where my writing went? Uh. Nowhere. That's "wright"! (sorry couldn't help myself). It wasn't until I took on the 30 day poetry challenge with the group that I wrote poetry with enough regularity that now if I go too long without it, I can't help but pull out a piece of paper or start up my computer. But it took 30 painstaking days of writing poems, often when I was tired and didn't want to do anything. But, the 30 day practice taught me the rewards of writing with frequency, and it ultimately lead me to writing this blog.

I purposefully took Natalie Goldberg's "Writing Down the Bones" on this Mexico trip and bought a special journal here 4 days ago. As inspired as I am I have just two entries since I bought the book. I had grandiose hopes of writing throughout the days. I imagines and planned for wonderful gems of reflection and observation. But, I wrote two nights ago and I wrote tonight. Not quite the fervor I had intended.

On to. . .

Meditation: I started going to the Zen center two weeks before I left for Mexico. I went a total of 6 or 7 times in two weeks including an all day 8-5 Sesshin. I have meditated for a total of 5 minutes since being here in Mexico. Granted I miss my zafu (the solid pillow for sitting in meditation) but really. Can't I just sit in the chair? Not the best record.

Finally. . .

Dance: Ahhhhh. Dance. My water and my arsenic. How I love thee and how I question thee? Are you good or evil? You bring such joy and such pain in turn. While I have been enjoying the past week of touring and visiting ruins, cathedrals and museums, I am actually here in Mexico to work.

I was brought over by a dear friend Karina to teach and set choreography on her small company. Rehearsals start Monday. So, this past week has been a treat, but I am really here to practice doing my job and in so doing practice my art. A true blessing for an artist to share what they have to offer to the world. In this case internationally. But, how much have a practiced dance since my arrival? Zip. Zero. Zilch. That's right, I have not practiced at all no plié no tendú (just what happens to be coincidentally present in my yoga practice). BUT, the mind is going. Ideas have been surging and there is something to that. For that time in thought is in fact time on task and time well spent when the time comes to actually do what it is you do.

So, I have an idea for myself. I am not sure when I will implement it but I would like to perform my own 30 day challenge. This time for choreography. Get the juices flowing and not letting the pressure of creating inhibit my actual dance making. I plan on making some really bad choreography. Stupid, silly, odd, ugly. But, I hope it will allow me to release the tension and pressure I have come to feel as a dance teacher, who is constantly faced with the task of creating dance on a timeline and to serve the learning process of the student.

30 days. I am not sure when to start. Probably in August. But I promise to post it all, even the crappy ones for your enjoyment. Who knows, perhaps you will get a good laugh out of it at least.

As for practice. Twyla Tharp's book, "The Creative Habit" is all about routine. And, I guess it time for me to figure out mine.

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