This post is part 16 of a series on the psychological and practical benefits of daily practice. To read the first post in this series please click here. Complete information can be found in The Power of Daily Practice.
I regularly run a four-month “Get Your Book Written!” online support group. One goal is to help the writer-participants get their book written. But a second goal is to help them establish a daily writing practice. Of course, the second goal supports the first goal. But they are also separate and distinct goals. A writer might discover that she has good reasons not to be working on the book she thought she was writing, and so that book may not get written. But, if she’s gotten her daily writing practice in place, then she will still keep writing, whether on a book she put aside a decade ago, on a new book, on a new kind of book, on a series of blog posts, or on something else.
What typically happens is that the first few weeks are difficult on both counts. Most of the writers in the group find it hard to tackle their book and hard to keep to anything like a daily practice. This isn’t surprising, since they joined the group exactly because they were having difficulties. My work is to encourage them every day, to hold them accountable, and to help them get very clear on the benefits—I would say, the necessity—of a daily practice.
To begin with, they balk. But after a few weeks, something interesting begins to happen. One of the writers will say in her daily check-in, “I enjoyed writing today!” This is so different a message from the messages that the participants have been posting that the group explodes with excitement. “You enjoyed it! Amazing! You mean … this could be enjoyable?” The excited emails pour in. I smile, sit on my hands, and say nothing, letting the moment—and the joy—just be.
Then, two days later, another writer will share a similar, maybe even more excited bit of amazement: “I had fun today! I can’t believe it!”
This doesn’t last. The joy is typically quickly replaced by resignation. Back to the slog, back to the hard work, back to not knowing what the book wants, back to being agitated and distracted, back to doubting the whole project, back to … the norm. But each writer in the group now has a trace memory of joy and their grumblings are somehow lighter in tone, less grumbly, ameliorated, or modulated by that memory of joy—a joy that may not even have been their own! Just that someone in the group enjoyed herself, maybe even only for a day, maybe even only for half an hour, has made an impact.
This is all by way of saying that your daily practice is unlikely to prove a joy day-in and day-out. But joy may sometimes punctuate it. Maybe only a quiet joy, a joy so quiet as to hardly raise a small smile. But real, palpable joy nonetheless. And the joy may begin to come more frequently and may begin to stay longer. Maybe you’ll enjoy your whole summer of practice. Maybe you’ll simply love learning that concerto. Maybe you’ll paint for a full month with enthusiasm. What’s a secret power of daily practice? That it will increase the amount of joy in your life.
Can you forcibly add joy or demand that it come and visit your daily practice? No. But you can invite it. This is a kirist idea, the idea of invitations. Without quite realizing it, rather inadvertently, we’re likely to have gotten down on life, maybe even so far down that we find life a cheat. Having given life that rousing thumbs-down, like some cruel Roman emperor we execute joy. It is our job, then, to give life a thumbs-up, hearty or otherwise, even if we can’t exactly find the reasons to do so. From that calculated stance, we open our hearts and invite joy in.
Maybe your daily practice is rehabbing your body. Invite joy in. Maybe your daily practice is sending out begging emails in support of some much-needed research. Invite joy in. Maybe your daily practice is mindfully managing your anxiety. Invite joy in. Maybe your daily practice is trying to memorize your one-woman show. Invite joy in.
I think you can sense how less likely it is for joy to arrive without that invitation. None of these activities are particularly joy-producing by their nature. They aren’t anything like being silly with your child or sharing a quiet moment with your lover. They don’t cry “Joy!” on the face of it. So, you must say, “Come in, joy, come in and visit.”
In what must have been a moment of rapture, the poet and critic Louise Bogan explained: “I cannot believe that the inscrutable universe turns on an axis of suffering; surely the strange beauty of the world must somewhere rest on pure joy!” Pure joy? I wonder. But some joy? Most definitely. Each of us has personal knowledge of that. Some joy is not only not impossible but, if you prop open your door, throw open your windows, and invite it in, even likely.
Let your daily practice bring you some joy as you take pride in your efforts to live your life purposes and to make and maintain meaning. Your practice may not bring you joy every day and it may bring at least as much pain as joy, as you do your real work and confront life’s realities. But at its heart, it is a joyous thing to meet life with so much effort, responsibility, and personal pride. See if a quiet sense of joy can begin to inform your daily practice.
This post was previously published on Psychologytoday.com.
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