Daily Practice Revisited

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Yesterday, I was thinking about my word for 2017: Practice. I was thinking about how, like so many things in my life, I figured that I could just set it and forget it. Practice! I’m going to practice. Every day. Writing, being a writer, mindfulness. Poof! Done.

I feel like I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again because apparently I’m not getting it: it’s not that easy. It seems funny to me that I chose such an active word. The word itself exhorts me to do something, and yet, I don’t. I just sort of expect it to come, I’m just magically writing every day and it flows like water, easy. What I am coming to realize is that practice is hard (how embarrassing! I’m just coming to this realization?!) Developing any kind of daily practice takes a lot of effort. It feels really awful, in the beginning. Each day, I have to drag myself to the thing I want to do and basically force myself to do it. After the doing, I might feel better, but not usually. Often, I feel disappointed. Like, is that it? That’s what daily practice looks like?

This may be a function of social media and the sharing of carefully selected moments of life. I scroll through Instagram and see a lovely photo of someone doing a headstand, or sitting in a peaceful spot writing, or their running shoes on the ground. What these pictures don’t show is everything that led to that moment. I’m realizing that what goes into those moments is a lot of push, a lot of preparation. A lot of choosing to be there. That is the rub of it, for me. I have to choose to practice.

This week I have: gone for a run that was mostly a walk; gone to a yoga class; not purchased a big bag of chips to inhale; meditated once; sat down to write this blog post; gotten out of bed to work on a poem. All of these things took monumental effort. Took me getting outside of myself for a moment, acknowledging what I reflexively wanted, recalling what I wanted ideally, and taking a step in that direction. So much of my life is just reacting, reacting, reacting. Thinking “I want to eat a whole big bag of chips” happens in a fraction of a second, and in that sliver of time my hand reaches for the bag and puts it on the belt at the grocery store and then opens it in the truck and eats it on the drive home. If I don’t stop and check myself, before you know it, it’s gone.

I am realizing that I will take the path of least resistance, always and forever. If I don’t push myself a little, I’ll never make any changes. I’ll sit and stare at my phone and let my kids binge-watch The Wiggles until they’re ready to move out of the house. I’ll never write another poem, climb another mountain, or drink a glass of water if I don’t make myself do it. Practice is a series of choices, every single day. I choose and choose and choose again. Sometimes, I choose the easy thing: the whole bag of chips, the staying on the couch, the not-writing. And often, I think, “that’s it. This is me, forever and ever. I’ll never be different.” But that’s not true. The beauty is that there will always be another choice to make, right around the corner, and I can choose differently. The hard part is remembering that. The hard part is not listening to the nasty voice in my head that tells me no, never, not good enough, give up.

I did not want to write a blog post today. I do not want to work on some poems. I don’t want to read a book, or go for a walk. Today, I am mentally and emotionally exhausted. But I will do some or all of these things, because I know that this is how I build a practice. I just fucking do it.

What will you do today?

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Spring Fever

 

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After almost 12 years of living in Dawson City, Spring’s arrival still manages to take me by surprise. It’s the daylight, I think, that gets me the most. I become so accustomed to hibernation, to hunkering down in the long dark hours with the kids. The cold, brief days are the perfect excuse to never leave the house. But then, suddenly, the equinox passes. We adjust the clocks an hour forward, and the brilliant sunlight bouncing off the hillsides blares in through the windows like a reproach: get your kids dressed and get outside! As a concession, I open a window and let the fresh air inside after months of being cloistered.

Eventually, though, I recalibrate. Last night after dinner, with at least 2 hours of daylight still ahead of us, I dressed the kids up and took them to an empty lot with a huge snow pile at one end. They climbed up and slid down as I watched the sun slip behind the hillside across the river.

The snow buntings are back, too. They arrive every year at the same time: the weekend of the The Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race. They love to browse in the litter of straw left from one of the games that takes place over our spring carnival weekend, in the same empty lot where the kids played last night. I watched the birds land and take off as one, their stark black and white plumage flashing. I took a deep breath, looked up to the dark spruce trees, free of snow now: we made it.

This weekend we move back to our Dempster house. The interior has been finished after many years of sitting unfinished. I’m eager to settle, to stop moving. I look forward to unpacking the books and clothes and toys and kitchen things and then not packing them again any time soon. I want to start basil in our sunny south facing windows, and maybe a couple tomato plants (though I’m the only tomato eater in the house, so I can’t get too crazy.) I’m a bit nervous about the challenges we face living 40 kilometers from town, but I’m feeling stronger, confident we can tackle them. I’ve gotten better at asking for what I need. I just have to keep doing that.

Outside my office window, a strong wind blows hard pellets of snow down the street. Just last night I was thinking I’d need to get rubber boots for everyone soon–I am always unprepared for the seasons changing. I never seem to have the right gear at hand. But today, it looks like we’ll be wearing our winter boots just a little bit longer. One more month until bare ground, until the crocuses bloom, until sunset at 11 pm.

I can feel the energy gathering inside of me, can see it in my kids and in the folks I serve in the bar. We’re restless: the miners trickle back in, removing snow from their sites, getting ready for another season of pulling gold from the ground. People are ready to shrug off their parkas, put their heavy winter boots away. The kids are hard to settle come bedtime; I have to pull all the curtains to convince them it’s night. Summer is almost here, the manic time of fitting it all into that brief window of 24 hour light.

The change of season is so pronounced up here, but I wonder, do you feel it, too, where you are? Are you ready?

Small

 

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Image via Flickr user Tamaki Sono

I came here to write about choosing gratitude. About how, even though things aren’t perfect, I am grateful to have a home in town to live in for the winter. I’m grateful for running water, friends within walking distance. I’m grateful that self-care will be a little bit easier now.

But scrolling through my Facebook feed and reading about First Nation’s people taking peaceful and powerful stands to protect their land, their rights, and their water, in North Dakota and, here in Canada, at Muskrat Falls, I feel like my little gratitudes are so meaningless. Talking about my small life, about walking to the grocery store or watching the ice form on the river, is so useless. There are people out there right now, mothers with their children in their arms, facing down cops in riot gear. Tear gas and sound cannons and military vehicles meant to intimidate. My triumphs and problems, though large in my life, are so insignificant in comparison.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed. I could expand my view to include all of the people fleeing their war-torn homes. All of the people who are being hit hardest by hurricanes, floods, droughts, record high temperatures. All of the people starving while we send perfectly edible food to landfills. Dead zones in the ocean. Mass extinction. I could go on, and on. And on. I could throw up my hands in despair because how could I or anyone else ever have any effect on all of this? It feels out of control, too big, unmanageable.

So I come back to the small. I come back to what I can do today. I can amplify the voices demanding change. I can add my voice to it. I can donate money and supplies. I can educate myself about the damage of colonialism, capitalism, misogyny, rape culture. I can challenge all of my own biases and privileges. I can raise my children to be aware of these things, too. I can raise them to ask uncomfortable questions, to call out wrongs when they see them, to be compassionate and generous and thoughtful human beings. I can hope.

If we all practice taking these small actions each day, if we all take them together, maybe they’ll add up to something greater than all of us. Maybe they’ll add up to the massive change we need, for the planet and for all of us living on it. My small gratitudes don’t seem quite so insignificant, when they go hand in hand with these actions. I am grateful to have my eyes open.