More on Blocking Writer’s Block – Maintaining Bad Habits (Advice from the Dalai Lama?)

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At the Dalai Lama’s lectures in New York City over the last weekend, he advised (naturally) meditation as a means to slowly effect change in one’s life.  “One lecture not enough,” he chuckled.

He encouraged the audience to start a practice even if their beginning steps felt very small.  He advised just “five minutes” every morning, particularly if the five minutes were “quality time;” that is, five minutes spent with some attempt at genuine focus.  A small period of quality time seemed better to him than a longer, more wandering attempt, simply because it helped one avoid bad habits.  In His Holiness’s view, a bad habit was harder to break than a new habit to instill.

All of that sounds right.   And I hesitate to argue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  Particularly about matters related to meditation.

So I won’t.  Still, I was thinking this morning as I did my slightly desultory, bad-habit-infected, yet daily, yoga practice that I’m not in complete agreement with these principles, at least not when they are applied in areas other than meditation, such as a practice of daily writing.

Here’s my problem:  of course, quality time writing is better than going-through-the-motions time.  But what if you are faced with a choice between going-through-the-motions-time vs. zero time?  Is a bad habit really worse than no habit? (That is, not writing at all?)

I am concerned that many people when starting any kind of discipline make a good and earnest beginning–then, things bog down, especially as the glow of initial results fades, and the hard slog begins in earnest.

I don’t know what His Holiness would advise for a bogged-down meditator—I’m guessing that it would be a combination of continued effort, and a little less fretting.

I would co-opt that same (surmised) advice for a writing practice.  At times, it is likely that some bad, escapist, habits may creep in;  they may in fact be all that keeps you going–the background distraction of a book on tape; the muddled support of three cups of tea and a glass of wine;  writing on the elliptical machine;  relaxing with vampire novels so as to avoid the schaden freude of more challenging works.   Perhaps it does make sense to scale down during such a period–when you are having a hard time finishing anything, you may be better off working on a short story (or  blog) than the great American novel.   Still, it’s important to keep putting in your five minutes, even a fitful five.

The most important caveat here is not to get smug about your fitful efforts.  Stay honest.  Sometimes you may not feel capable of more than a thread of creativity; but don’t assume either (i) that it’s all you will ever be capable of; or (ii) that it’s enough.

One other suggestion (taken from a yoga teacher, David Life, who was trying to help me with backbends)–if you need to cheat a little to do your work (or pose, in the case of yoga), try alternating your form of cheating.   Rotate your bad habits to avoid letting any single one become the norm.  In the case of backbending, that meant sometimes turning out my feet too much, other times, bending knees.  In the case of a writing practice, that may mean sometimes just writing a very boring journal entry; other times, a very boring prose poem!

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