I woke up early to do my practice. Crept downstairs, trying to avoid the squeaky floorboards. Didn’t want to wake either Dave, or incur the wrath of the Russian. I drank hot lemon in the sun-flooded back room… thinking, but what is my practice?
Morning pages may have originated in Dorothea Brande’s brilliant Becoming A Writer (first published in 1934). You wake at the crack of dawn, and proceed DIRECTLY to your writing desk (before your daytime personality, with its inhibitions and doubts, has had a chance to take over). You write anything at all, for three pages, releasing unconscious lunar treasures.
But what if you’re a yogi, and the crack of dawn is the best time to meditate? And, to prepare your body for meditation, you need to do at least 20 minutes of physical practice? I drink my hot lemon and furrow my brow. The Daves will be awake soon. I haven’t got that long. Decide, then!
I unroll my yoga mat, and get going with a sun salute. But then I get a flash of my dream, and I worry that I will forget it again if I don’t scribble it down straightaway. Say if it holds the key to Novel Number 2? I pause in Downward Dog, my mind flitting everywhere. I close my eyes, listen to the sounds, in order to hear the silence between them. The rumble of an aeroplane, he tweet of a bird. A door slamming, the patter of not-so-tiny feet. A collision, a shriek… A Russian roar.
Dorothea Brande believed that anyone could write. Her book unpacks the elitist myths and instils confidence and determination. I love that book. I always wonder, though, when I think of her: how did she feel about not being an acclaimed fiction writer herself? (See also Warts and n All Yogi, re M Scott Peck.)
Later I had a conversation about yoga and creativity with my friend Leonie. We’ve talked about it before: the feeling of yoga encroaching upon valuable art/writing time, of the possibility that it’s an unnecessary distraction. So, combine the two? Make the creative work a spiritual practice. Maybe it already is.
The sutras of Patanjali (CE400) advocate practice (abhyasa): persistent effort, going ever deeper, to attain a state of stable tranquility. Hand-in-hand with abhyasa is vairagya, or non-attachment: no longer thirsting for earthly objects or spiritual attainments; surrendering to what is, letting go. So, together, abhyasa and vairagya are “never give up” and “always let go”. How do they relate to writing a novel? Never give up, yes, fine. Always let go. Tricky. Can success be achieved by, or in spite of, letting go of the desire for it? Leonie said that for her making art isn’t about the outcome, but the doing of the thing. I nod, but I wonder. Would I have written my novel, and could I start my next, if there was no hope of anyone ever reading them? Is my writing practice too tainted with the desperate desire for recognition, fame and fortune to be a spiritual practice?
Then the conversation turned to the warrior Arjuna, and his battlefield qualms, and Krishna talking him back into warrior mode. (See the Baghavad Gita). I couldn’t ever get my head round this. Wasn’t Arjuna right not to want to plunge into battle, wasn’t he being a good pacifist? But then I had a light bulb moment, understanding that to fight that battle was Arjuna’s dharma, his unique purpose, or destiny.
I’ve thought about giving up writing, and my desire to be a published writer, many times. Deciding I could throw myself into my “day job”, get more status, more wealth, and have time for cooking, gardening… yoga. I’ve always had distaste for the concept of the Born Artist, special people, for whom the usual rules don’t apply. But, sitting in Leonie’s kitchen, eating olives, I thought about how I’d never shed the desire, nor given up the activity. Maybe it was my Dharma Code to be a writer! And to go against it would be to go against the very fabric of the cosmos.
I pedalled home, exhilarated. My au pair had picked up the two Daves from school, and the three of them were watching Andy Murray play Kevin Anderson. The washing up still wasn’t done. And the Russian was drinking a beer.
“Have you ever thought about your life’s purpose?”
“My life’s purpose? Oh my god! What are you talking about now?” He took a gulp of beer.
“I was just wondering if you’d ever thought about it. Whether you might be blocked in some way. Resisting your true calling.”
His eyes fixed on the tennis, he shook his head a few times. “There is no such thing as truth. Truth is a fatal delusion.” He crunched his beer can and dropped it on the floor.