To practice is to establish a habitual action. It refers to ‘repeated exercise in an art’ with the view to ‘improve skill’. In ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ Robert Pirsig says ‘On this machine I have done the tuning so many times it has become a ritual. I don’t have to think much about how to do it anymore.” Pirsig’s words appeal to me. I am able to conjure an image of someone who is one with a machine. His ear tunes in to the unusual noise – he senses when all is not well. He is the sort of mechanic I search for to work on my car. I know I can trust him implicitly because he has turned maintenance into an art form.
I write with such regularity that writing has become a ritual for me. I do not think about it any more. I churn out at least a thousand words a day and these words help me to maintain balance in my life. My notebooks are my constant companion, visible every day, a talisman of my quest. They go everywhere with me. I have a small notebook in my handbag which I use if I am waiting for an appointment or if I get the urge to let my pen glide over the paper in the coffee shop. When I am at home my notebook is constantly by my side.
My students used to be curious and a little paranoid about my writing. Now they accept that I am ‘zenning it’ with them for twenty minutes and are amazed, when I read a little of my writing to them, that my thoughts are not so different to theirs.
Modern society has become very impersonalised and there is little ritual or practice that we can turn to. We rise at the same time each day, catch the same bus or drive the same route to work. We complain about how little good viewing there is on television and the lower standards of the daily’s. We have fleeting conversations about the weather, grumble about what the children are doing and about how our lives are turning out. It is not surprising that in this environment there is a renaissance in personal writing. We are searching for a way to palliate the pain of our vulnerability and disappointment. Personal writing helps us to figure things out and find a new direction.
As Brenda Ueland says, “when we commit ourselves to writing for some part of each day we are happier, more enlightened, alive, light hearted and generous to everyone else. Even our health improves.” To experience the joy of this practice there are some hints that will guide you on your pathway. If you want to get the “full benefit of the richness of the unconscious you must learn to write smoothly when the unconscious is in the ascendant” advises Dorothea Brande. She adds that “The best way to do this is to rise half an hour, or full hour, earlier than you customarily rise. Just as soon as you can – without talking, without reading the morning’s paper, without picking up the book you laid aside the night before – begin to write. Write anything that comes into your head: last night’s dream, if you are able to remember it; activities of the day before; a conversation, real or imaginary; an examination of conscience. Write any sort of early morning reverie, rapidly and uncritically. The excellence or ultimate worth of what you write is of no importance yet…The next morning begin without re-reading what you have already done. Remember: you are to write before you have read at all.”
Once you have mastered this practice you will find that you can write easily and comfortably and without great effort. You will be surprised by your thinking patterns and by the way in which this time becomes a rehearsal for events later in the day. Within a very short amount of time you will be addicted. More importantly, it will become such a habit that you will find that you can pick up a pen at any time and write from your unconscious. Source: Soul Food Cafe
The Soul Food Cafe Vaults of Creative Stimuli
Built between 1999 and 2010 the Soul Food Cafe remains a rich source of creative stimuli and prompts for those seeking to make writing a daily practice. It no longer houses online groups but collaborative blogs remain as testimony to the work done during those years. However, those wishing to make writing a practice can make full use of this free resource. Anita Marie Moscoso was involved in the Cafe during those heady days and she has recently decided to explore the cafe again and use the prompts. You can view her writing journey and see how she is using Soul Food at The Crossroads.