While I am off amidst the frenzy and heat of the World Cup in Brazil, I leave you with a post on practice, inspired by Natalie Goldberg’s newest book, The True Secret of Writing. I wrote about finally reading her classic Writing Down the Bones earlier this year, and an article in the July issue of The Writer magazine where she talked about practice had me intrigued enough to dive into that book as well.

I was intrigued by Natalie Goldberg talking about what I would call the metaphysical aspects of practice. I have been practicing writing Morning Pages now for more than a year, and because I really look forward to this daily ritual, I am interested in why I’ve come to cherish it. What does it actually do for me on a deeper level? Why am I doing this? And why do I love it? (I am a “why” person in case that’s not obvious.)

First of all, in The True Secret of Writing Natalie Goldberg defines practice as follows:

[Practice is] something you choose to do on a regular basis with no vision of an outcome; the aim is not improvement, not getting somewhere.” (p. 41)

Then she explains why practice is so valuable:

“At the beginning it’s something that you have chosen, that you wanted, but a week, a month in, you often meet resistance. Even if you love it, inertia, obstacles arise: I can make better use of my time, I’m tired, I’m hungry, this is stupid, I need to listen to the evening news. Here’s where you have an opportunity to meet your own mind, to examine what it does, its ploys and shenanigans. That’s ultimately what practice is: arriving at the front, and back door, of yourself.” (p. 41)

This examining of the mind is obviously very Zen, and, as with Writing Down the Bones, Goldberg approaches everything on the grounding of Zen practice, some of which is beyond my understanding. And yet, her chapter “What is Practice” gave me just enough insight to get a glimpse of what might be the power behind practice:

“Continual practice expresses your true determination, signals to your unconscious, to your deep resistance that you mean business. (And then your resistance roars louder and your roar back.) Over time, this practice kicks in that strong motor, that deep impersonal life force within you. It reinforces and supports your yes to life for no reason.” (p. 41)

“What practice builds in us is a true confidence that can’t be derived from outward signs of success, fame, money, beauty. This confidence comes from the fact that you show up over and over again. That you do what you say you were going to do. That you commit to a practice, one that is possible given your life and maybe with a few missed times, a few times you mess up, you stay in the driver’s seat.” (p. 42)

This is the revelation I’ve been looking for to explain why practice is so important: continued practice builds confidence because through it you conquer yourself, and thus the power rests with you. This is why practice is such a powerful tool. This is still a fragile insight for me, one that I want to hold on to, which is why I wrote this post, and why I want to share it.