That’s Why They Call It Practice

That’s Why They Call It Practice May 21, 2015

Sit Down, Kid

When I was in my early 20s, I decided to dedicate myself to becoming a writer. Coming from a farming background, no one that I knew was a writers and no one that I knew had any idea about how to become a writer. (This was in the days before nearly every university and community college had a creative writing program.)

So, I decided to go study writing with one of my heroes, the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg was at that time teaching at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, the first Buddhist university in the United States.

Ginsberg required his students to study meditation. As a young person with a lot of restless energy, I have to admit that sitting zazen for an hour at a time was excruciating. I liked walking meditation considerably better. I kept at it despite my boredom.

Ginsberg taught that the writing of poetry itself is a meditative practice. A discipline. A way of getting into the here and now and quoting down. So, since 1982, I have sat down every morning if at all possible and taken a few breaths and meditated. Then, I write. As with Buddhist meditation, writing can be a way to focus on the present moment, the here and now.

I keep in mind the advice of the Roman poet Horace, who said, Nulla dies sine linea—“never a day without a line.” And, with more than thirty years of such practice, you can imagine that I’ve written quite a few lines.

Any time anyone asks me about being a writer, I always advise sitting down every day at the same time of day and writing for at least an hour. It’s a practice; a routine. I advise the same thing for anyone who asks me about meditation—sit down and do it, the same time every day.

What’s the point? Reaching equanimity, compassion and wisdom. Calm, wise, love.

This has always been the point. From the Daoists to the Buddhists to the Stoics to the latest strip-mall fad.

News From the Front

I think perhaps the Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius put it best in his book of daily practices that came to be known as his book, Meditations:

You must at last decide what kind of universe you are part of; you must decide what the order of your universe proceeds from; and you must realize that you have only a short time here to clear away your illusions before your time is gone, never to return.

Oh, do I have to? Marcus says it’s a darn good idea if you’re going to have any depth of character at all:

Does all the busyness distract you? Give yourself time to learn something new and good and stop being whirled around. The shallow weary themselves by doing, doing, and yet have no goal toward which to direct their movements or their thoughts.

That’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it?

Marcus puts it even more succinctly:

Those who do not observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy.

Daily practice. It’s not rocket science. And it’s not about expensive retreats or exotic positions. It’s about taking some time to get into the moment, looking at the reality that surrounds us, and looking at the movement of our own minds. You don’t have to be a Stoic or a Buddhist or any other “ist” or “ism.” Marcus Aurelius points to a simple way:

Always keep in mind the nature of the whole and your own nature and how the one relates to the other and what being a part of the whole means.


Those afraid of the ways of nature are childish.

"Pogo" by Walt Kelly
“Pogo” by Walt Kelly

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