The gift of time. Rocking in a white porch chair, drinking Stash Fusion Green & White tea. My stomach is full on residual Thanksgiving, a small feast for two (plus two cats). I am grateful for those who checked in on red Ravine while I took a break. It started as a short week away from the Internet, and turned into boots on the ground living—time for Liz, for my brother’s visit to Minnesota, for Mr. StripeyPants and Kiev. I checked in with my family on Facebook once in a while, but rarely fired up the laptop during the week. It was refreshing to take time to think, to sit, to be.
I stopped all my practices for a month, including red Ravine. Since 2001, I have done at least two yearly practices, one writing, one visual, each beginning in January and ending in December. Writing practice, haiku, haiga, renga, BlackBerry 365, the Great Round mandala series; I stayed true to them. I honored them. This year it felt like all I was doing was trying to keep up with the many practices I had taken on, my agreements to others, my commitment to myself to keep going for a full year. I made it January through September. It was freeing to choose to take a break rather than force myself to continue.
But I miss this place, this creative space. Something I learned when I stopped doing my practices was that a part of me went into hiding. I am not happy when I am not taking photographs, writing, painting or drawing. Last night Liz and I watched A Very Gaga Thanksgiving. Lady opened up in a short interview. She said her song, “Marry The Night” was about the moment she made a choice to give her all to music. Right or wrong, up or down, her first relationship would be with the music; she would be true to herself. It is another form of befriending the Black Dog, the dark shadowy side that comes with deep exploration of your writing or art.
When I listened to her, I knew she was right. It takes great sacrifice to marry the night. And part of the ritual is to know when you need a break. Near the end of the silent workshops with Natalie in Taos, there is a short meeting with her in the round. We sign up on a sheet of paper taped to the zendo wall. Five or six at a time, we slow walk to the cabin at Mabel Dodge Luhan, take our shoes off, sit in a semi-circle, candles lit, in silence, and Natalie goes around and checks in with each of us. Almost every time, there is one person who says they don’t want to write anymore. Natalie inevitably responds, “Then don’t write. Take a break. See if you come back to it.”
Those words are as important to me as the day at my first workshop when she told us to plan on at least two years of Writing Practice before stopping. Oh, and don’t quit your day job.
If you are listening to your teachers, good advice sticks in your craw, and rises to the surface when you need it. The list of things Natalie has taught me over the years would fill a notebook; I bring each one out as I need it, and practice those I believe will make me a better writer, a better artist, a better person. Sometimes I fail. And that is okay, too.
At the one month mark away from my practices, I started adding them back in, one at a time. I added Writing Practice first and continue to write with my online group. I am grateful they have stuck with me. After a little over two months away, the next thing I am adding back into my practices is red Ravine. I have noticed that I am happiest combining writing and art; red Ravine is a good venue for the collaboration and synthesis that happen between the two. I want to look at restructuring, infusing the past with a burst of new life.
It is Thanksgiving weekend and I have much to be grateful for. I will take time to make my yearly gratitude list and begin work on another mandala. I have not been tossed away. The work continues. Positive effort for the good is the best practical response to a hungry world. I am grateful to be back on the page, thankful you are still here. The silence doesn’t scare me anymore; it is filled with light. The wind bristles and becomes her own wingman, sailing to the next stop. The best I can hope for is a gentle landing.
-posted on red Ravine Friday, November 25th, 2011, Thanksgiving weekend, an edited Writing Practice