Since I was a lot younger than I am now, I’ve wanted to be able to write well. Even more than wanting to be able to write, I’ve wanted to have something to say. Even at times when I haven’t been thinking very clearly, I’ve realised that there’s no point in having a metaphorical car if you’ve no interesting places to visit.
Usually, if I put enough time and effort into the process, I’m able to string sentences together in such a way that they’re not difficult to read. It’s an aptitude that papered over many cracks during my time in college. Being able to construct reasonable prose is of course an advantage, but it certainly doesn’t mean that you’ve anything meaningful to say. I’m one of the many people who have always believed that I have a book in me, but I’ve also been realistic enough to realise that I’ll probably have to wait until the book is ready to be written.
Despite my notions of developing as a ‘writer’, it took me a long time to come around to the conclusion that, if I wanted to improve, perhaps I should practice a little. Having been allowed to contribute small pieces to some football programmes, web-sites and a couple of magazines, I remained content for many years to generate quite similar and largely inconsequential pieces of material. It was only when I came into contact with journalist Liam Horan that I was able to move the process on a little. Liam is one of the most encouraging, positive and generous spirits that you could ever hope to encounter. Having accepted some small pieces of mine for a website that he was managing at the time, Liam then took the time to encourage me in taking some chances with my writing. My experiments weren’t all successful, but it was the start of a change.
I was recently recommended to read Natalie Goldberg’s ‘Writing Down The Bones’, a book on creative writing. It seemed like a good fit. Natalie is both a successful writer and a Zen practitioner. Having sold over a million copies , the book is hardly a hidden jewel but I hadn’t known of it previously. The book deals with the fine detail of the process of writing and with how, if you choose, that process can be employed as Zen ‘practice’. Traditionally the main practice in Zen has been meditation or ‘sitting practice’, but Natalie’s teacher, Dainan Katagiri Roshi, suggested that, instead, she make writing her main practice, saying, “If you go deep enough in writing, it will take you everyplace”. When I read this, the idea immediately occurred to me that perhaps it could be possible to treat running as a form of Zen practice.
Just as soon as I had that thought, I checked myself and thought again. Perhaps this was just wishful thinking – drawing connections where none might exist. And then I read on.
The second chapter of Writing Down the Bones, “Writing as a Practice” begins;
“This is the practice school of writing. Like running, the more you do it the better you get at it. Some days you don’t want to run and you resist every step of the three miles, but you do it anyway. You practice whether you want to or not. You don’t wait around for inspiration and a deep desire to run. It’ll never happen, especially if you are out of shape and have been avoiding it. But if you run regularly, you train your mind to cut through or ignore your resistance. You just do it. When you come to the end, you never want to stop. And you stop, hungry for the next time.
I don’t think that Natalie is saying here that running is Zen practice, but I do think there are similarities between her writing and how many people train for running. Perhaps informed by good motivation, running could be practice.
If nothing else, it’s food for thought.
Fred Rohe’s book downloadable from here