A writer sifts his reading through his emotional, psychological, spiritual and aesthetic experience, transmuting into language that is his own. This in itself is stabilizing. Instead of floating around on effervescent clouds of disappearing thoughts, he gradually becomes rooted in his own approach, his own vision, and imagination. Even if he just writes a paragraph, he will “have” something from which he can build. Money isn’t the only commodity subject to the “power of compounding.”
Robert D. Richardson, Jr., quoted in Gail Sher’s One Continuous Mistake
The art of practice is not different. It slips through the openings of our experience and transforms into a lexicon, a syntax that is unique to who we continuously become. If we trust it, it is stabilizing. In my practice, I find myself tentative about trusting this ever-shifting process. I realized when I read this passage that this sense of ungroundedness may be related to my focus on watching those “effervescent clouds of disappearing thoughts.” It makes sense then – this feeling that I am continually sliding off to one side or the other of the path. Or, in an effort to not let a single disappearing thought feel unwitnessed, I tend to cultivate a meta-ruminative approach which has me spiralling out in ever-widening arcs of watching the disappearing disappear.
As much as it seems blasphemous to aim for stabilizing, it is unavoidable if practice is to have a solid base. (I think we’ve become to caught up in the literal language of practice anyway, rendering it into pseudo-dharma gobbledegook at best.) It is interesting to bring attention to my language about practice. Not just the verbal lexicon but also the physicality of how I communicate my concepts and understanding about practice are revealing. We got a late start one morning and I noticed how my body moved as if sitting was no longer an option; the time had come and gone – as if once the clock hands moved past the appointed hour, intention too is spent. I noticed the hugeness of the effort to break through the trance of “too late.”
It’s easy to reframe these moments as some type of noble truth. Oh, notice that suffering. Oh, isn’t it great that you noticed the noticing noticing. Oh, do a metta practice of not-sitting. This is the tyranny of the forebrain which loves to complicate to obfuscate. How about we just sit? How about we eat? How about we write? How about we pick up that brush?
I think this is the process of stabilization. In doing what is intended, I build the core, the central mold around which I can layer on the materials of my life. This is the “having” Richardson writes of in his biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Not the acquisitive, avaricious greed of materialistic or spiritualistic ownership but rather a confirming of true nature.
On the cedar chest is a wooden unicorn that once lived as a mold for making sculptures. Some years ago, it broke in two around the girth and the right leg fell off. I finally got a moment that was a repair opportunity and glued it back together. The gouges in along the midline of the creature are a revelation of building that core of practice. The channel marks where the material was cut to separate it from the wood carving. I imagine the hundreds of sculptures it took to create the deep groove and in some places, where there isn’t a sufficient volume of wood, an eventual wearing away.
The strength in the core of the unicorn sculpture came from a long timeline of compounding that began in the walls of cellulose cells of the tree it once was. Building that core in the art of practice means compounding the strength in the body, heart, mind cells so that it endures our efforts to sculpt it into a form at once unique and of service to all.
Thank you for practising,