Sometimes it's easy to get stuck on all the little stuff we "need" to do our jobs well. Candles, music, and fancy yoga pants for yoga practice. A spiffy PowerPoint presentation, brilliant group work activities, and lots of good jokes for a successful lecture. You get the gist.
There's a way in which all the insisting we do about the stuff we need doesn't give the backbone of our practice enough credit.
Today I did pretty low-tech versions of yoga teaching and university teaching. I was prepared for both to go poorly. As I planned my lecture on The Declaration of Independence, I kept feeling bad about the fact that I didn't have any good visuals or videos to illustrate my key points; similarly, I had been worrying about the fact that my yoga class for the librarians on campus was going to be without music or props. In short, I was concerned that both classes would be a little flat.
The Declaration of Independence doesn't need film clips, and yoga doesn't need a playlist. They are both fundamentally terrific as they are. Some students were perhaps a little bored that they didn't have too much to look at in my large lecture, but many responded to the powerful and interesting language of the document. Maybe it was a bit quiet in the yoga class, but the students reported feeling better afterward.
Trusting the practices, trusting the basics. These are acts of faith and humility. Realizing that you don't need to add a whole lot to what is already great. It doesn't need you. On the one hand, this could make a person feel small. But on the other, what security in knowing that our practice and our materials support us without asking much in return.
The beginning of the school year is always a bit of a beast. Every committee wants to meet, every student needs a check in, every class needs prepping. Everything has a feeling of immediacy and import.
At the end of a week or two, you come up for fresh air and, if you're like me, you realize that daily practice has gotten a little out of whack--whoops, where did my morning writing go? whoops, I haven't been on my mat all week? whoops, I was writing lecture and mainlining coffee during meditation time!
Part of the craziness at the beginning of the semester is about figuring out what the new routine will be--where does writing take its place in relation to a slightly altered teaching schedule and new service commitments?
But I also think that there's something more basic going on, which is that the objects in our visual field shift. Suddenly, student papers and books for class are everywhere present. Suddenly, emails about search committees are in the inbox. Quite simply, there are new things competing for our attention alongside our writing materials.
I have a yoga teacher who is fond of saying, "where the attention goes, the energy flows." Anyone who has suddenly shifted attention to the feet during chair pose knows what she means.
Applying this to our writing lives, we might simply make the adjustment of keeping our writing projects visible-- a notebook with brainstorms open on the office desk. The manuscript on which we're doing final edits pulled up on the computer screen.
In some ways, this is the old gym bag/yoga mat by the front door trick. But more than just making it easy to get the writing done, making this important work part of the visible field helps writing to make its claims on our attention. Where the attention goes, the energy flows.
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