This past week, I’ve returned to my usual routine of writing morning pages after a week or so of being too busy to write. For writing instructors, April is a busy time–the cruellest month–as we’re neck-deep in drafts from our students’ semester-long projects: a recurring cycle of writing, reading, and re-visiting as students and instructor alike rehearse their same old thoughts in search of something new.
Revising is largely a matter of courage: the courage to return to something you said yesterday, last week, or last month to see what (if anything) can be recycled, reused, or re-purposed. Returning to a neglected notebook demands a similar kind of courage. When I was new to journaling, I’d despair whenever I missed a few morning writing sessions, sure I’d never establish a lasting habit if I allowed myself to miss days at a time. Now that I’ve been keeping morning pages for years, however, I know better. Now that keeping morning pages is an established part of my morning routine most days, I know that occasionally missing a day here or there won’t destroy that established habit. What’s important is the underlying pattern: a settled sense that even if I fall off the bandwagon today, I’ll surely climb back on it tomorrow.
Over the years of keeping morning pages, I’ve learned that the simple act of keeping them is the point. It doesn’t matter what I say in my journal, but it matters that I do say something: it matters that I show up. It turns out that most spiritual disciplines are like that. Did you show up, and did you stay? And if you didn’t stay, did you at least come back, and do you keep coming back, again and again, no matter what the result, even when you’re not sure whether your practice is actually working?
If you keep showing up–if you keep returning–the pages and the practice are working. The simple fact of returning is the whole and entire point. This is true in writing and meditation alike. It doesn’t matter if you miss days or weeks in your journal if you subsequently return to the page, and it doesn’t matter if your mind wanders countless times while you’re meditating if you subsequently notice it wandering and then bring it back, bring it back, bring it back. If you keep showing up–if you keep coming back–if you keep try, try, trying–the words, the practice, the discipline won’t fail you. Words will appear under your pen; strength and stability will sprout beneath your rising and falling ribcage, as present as any breath. If you show up in prayer sincerely seeking the face of God, God’s face will appear to you, albeit in a guise you might not recognize. Ask, seek, knock, and return, return, and return. This is the universal truth of both spirituality and creativity.
Last month in a consulting interview, I described our inherent Buddha-nature like this. There is inside us a loving, compassionate being who wants nothing more than for us to wake up to our clear-minded and selfless potential. This being sits by our side like a patient grandmother, lovingly watching our every breath as we sleep in muddle-headed ignorance, looking for any sign we might stir. We might be sleeping late because we are sick; we might be sleeping late because we are drunk. Our Inner Grandmother doesn’t care: she just wants us to wake up, come home, and be present.
Our Inner Grandmother ultimately doesn’t care how long we slumber in our own selfishness; she’s patient and has brought plenty of knitting. Whenever it is that we stir and finally open one eye then the other, our Buddha-nature will sit up in her seat, smiling with kind eyes as she hands us the cup of tea she’s kept warm for us. It doesn’t matter to our Inner Grandmother how long we take to come home to the blank page, our meditation cushion, or our own true nature; what matters to our Inner Grandmother is that like a long-awaited spring, we finally return.