Love Is the Key to Daily Practice
It takes more than a sense of duty to sustain daily practice over the long haul.
Posted Sep 20, 2020
This post is post #20 of a series on the psychological and practical benefits of daily practice. In this series, I’ll explore the elements of daily practice, varieties of daily practice, challenges to daily practice, and strategies for meeting those challenges. Please join me in learning more about this important subject!
You sit there slogging away on your muddy novel. What’s to love? That last tortured paragraph? That plot hole staring you in the face? Maybe you feel some respect for your efforts. Maybe you appreciate your discipline and your devotion. Maybe you’re charmed a bit by the way you’re able to bring a little lightness and playfulness to such a dark endeavor. But love? What’s to love?
Life, I think. I think that the love that you might let filter into your daily practice, like light filtering in through sheer curtains, is a gentle love that has something to do with those rare bits of life that are worth loving, bits like freedom, decency, and a child’s smile. Can the love that fills you up when a child smiles find its way into your daily practice? Somehow, it should. Wouldn’t that be lovely?
Or maybe it’s a fierce love, not a mild love at all. I love singing La Marseillaise. I sound terrible but I belt it out. All that rebellion and that ironclad demand for freedom. A song banned by kings and emperors. Exactly! “Tremble, tyrants!” Yes, the precise meaning of its lyrics is up for debate, given that it was written by a Monarchist. But, seriously, we know what it signifies. Just ask the ghost of Humphrey Bogart, still smoking that cigarette, still letting Ingrid Bergman go, still walking off with Claude Raines to fight some fascists.
Likewise, I love visiting the treasures’ room of the British Library. There you’ll find, virtually side-by-side, the original Alice in Wonderland and an original copy of the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta! Or, precisely, Magna Carta Libertatum: The Great Charter of the Liberties. To my mind, they are intimately connected. Skeptical Alice, not at all pleased by queens lopping off heads, a child of liberty falling asleep in the bucolic English countryside, permitted her skepticism by the document right there in the nearby case, the Magna Carta.
Likewise, I love D-Day and the Invasion, for all the above reasons. Has the world ever seen anything like it? Seven thousand ships crossing the English Channel. Thousands of aircraft and gliders overhead. Has there ever been anything more magnificent, more important, more heart-pounding and more heartbreaking? Hundreds of thousands of casualties, wounded and dying for the very best of reasons. Do you share my love and my reverence?
These are not daily practices but they suggest where a person’s fierce love may reside. Somehow that love infiltrates my daily practice (as it is doing right here). What do you love with a burning, unquenchable love? How might that awesome love infiltrate your daily practice? There must be a way! How sad if there isn’t. Stop for a moment and think. Can what you love somehow makes its way into your daily practice?
Or maybe yours is a very quirky love. I wrote a book called Brainstorm about harnessing the power of productive obsessions. In it, I described all sorts of quirky loves, obsessions and fascinations. A love of the cemeteries of Queens, New York. An obsession with keeping track of the local tides. An obsession with printing press font types. A fascination with fallen leaves. A love of the science of wine-making. The joys of star-gazing. An obsession with restoration. Who’s to criticize or complain?
Yes, if the obsession prevents you from doing the next right thing, like picking up your fallen child or showing up at your day job, that’s another matter entirely. But if you love something with what we might call an innocent love, and even if that something is wet, fallen leaves or the microbes that make wine, who’s to say anything? And if you want to build a daily practice around that quirky love or celebrate it by, say, surrounding yourself with autumn leaves, why not?
I remember coaching a woman who loved Italy. She ran Tuscan-based nonfiction writing retreats for popular science writers and traveled to Italy as often as she could. She got her love of Italy into her daily writing practice by painting the stuccoed walls of her small study Naples yellow. It didn’t matter that she was writing about subjects like nanotechnology and chaos theory, subjects that had nothing to do with Italy. That yellow warmed her heart and warmed her books.
Then there was Barry. Barry was fascinated by the Doomsday Clock, that metaphoric device maintained by members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announcing how close, in their estimation, human beings have come to the midnight of global catastrophe. He loved that we were a mere two minutes to midnight. That macabre love motivated him to work ten hours a day on his paintings. “Not a moment to lose,” he would laugh. “The clock is ticking!” That sardonic love was somehow also genuine love, like the love at the heart of the writings of the great ironists. Wouldn’t Mark Twain and Jonathan Swift have loved the Doomsday Clock?
I have a small daily practice that is a place of love for me. Every day I glance for a moment or two or three at the compilation of artists’ quotations that I’ve put together over the years. I have hundreds that move me. This all began when, 30 years ago, the publisher Jeremy Tarcher asked me to gather quotes for the margins of the book of mine that he was publishing called Fearless Creating. I love the quotes that I gathered then and have continued to gather over the years and I love spending a little time with them every day.
It’s clear where an element of practice like discipline or repetition fits in. But love? How can you translate the idea of love as an element of practice into some actual loving? I hope that you can find the way and I invite you to try. A loveless practice is exactly that. It is colder than it need be and maybe too cold even to contemplate. Warm it up with love.
In this series, I intend to explain the elements of daily practice, the varieties of daily practice available to you, and what to do to deal with the challenges to daily practice that inevitably arise. If you’d like to learn more about the psychological and practical benefits of daily practice and better understand the great power of daily practice, I invite you to get acquainted with The Power of Daily Practice. It is available now.