My yoga is again informing my writing practice. Really, I guess all practices are the same. But I love that I’m able to learn from one and apply those revelations to the other.
It was a couple days ago when, after helping me into a deeper forward bend, my Ashtanga teacher said: “And to think that once upon a time you weren’t even able to do this.”
It’s actually something I consider whenever he helps me with an adjustment. As we breathe together, as I marvel at the way I’m bending, I try to still my mind and focus on the count. But the thought always flits past: How far I’ve come. How inflexible I used to be. How much I’ve learned, grown, changed.
Before I started this regular practice my fingertips couldn’t get anywhere close to my toes when I stretched toward them with straight legs. My wrists were delicate — no way could they bear any weight. My right ankle seemed all but destroyed, to the point that even trying Ashtanga felt like a joke. Anything upside down? Forget about it.
It’s crazy to notice that when I go into my forward bend now, my chin touches my shins. I can hold my entire body on my hands and wrists just fine. Balancing on my shoulders is almost as easy as standing on my feet.
Sometimes, out of habit, I still think of myself as one cursed with inflexibility and poor balance. But my body has changed. I made it so. That’s important to remember. Though ultimately it doesn’t even really matter what my body is like now. That’s the reward, yes, but the point is the process. Developing patience, slowing down, learning to adjust for an injury, learning to prevent the injury in the first place, shushing the ego. And the most crucial part of the process for me: learning to stop anticipating the outcome and just appreciate the practice for the sake of practice.
I’m finally getting to this same place with my writing. Since the start of the year I’ve been focusing very hard on slowing myself down. My instinct used to be to get through each draft as quick as I could, and plan to fix any newly created problems in the next cycle. We’ve all heard the James Thurber quote: “Don’t get it right, just get it written.” That advice is intended for first drafts of course, but for me the pace had become a habit and I couldn’t help applying some of that antsy speed to later revision rounds. And I had mentors who (maybe inadvertently) reinforced this way of working.
At the end of last year I started to wonder if all that might actually be ineffective — or even counterproductive — for me. It began to feel like the equivalent of adding a million new asanas to my yoga practice without taking the time to correctly learn each one, without building strength between the poses…and expecting I would just master them.
I do think that pour-the-shit-out-fast instinct was a necessary phase for me to go through, because after all the full-length novel drafts I’ve written I’m pretty much cured of the fear that I won’t reach the end. I’ve learned to be confident that I’ll get there. Now it’s just a question of whether I’ll be happy with what I’ve got.
So I’m currently operating at a speed that once would’ve felt excruciatingly slow, and in the last couple weeks I’ve already noticed a huge change. I’m giving myself permission to pause and linger on what I’ve already written. Before I would have forced myself on without a backward glance; now I’m reconsidering and tweaking, pouring layer over layer over layer in my little sandbox.
The result is that I’m writing at a much higher level — the equivalent of multiple drafts in my old process. And a lot is now happening in the breaths between my work sessions. The slower, more careful pace has opened up space for meditation. I’m feeling my way through the dark, learning the lay of the land where I feel like before I was just tearing straight through, bulldozing everything in my way and hoping I was on the right path.
Writing more slowly is teaching me patience and strength and mindfulness. I’m developing a whole new appreciation for the creative process. My brain is stretching and bending, finding its balance, learning to bear new weight.