American novelist Sinclair Lewis had been invited to Columbia University to deliver a lecture on the writer’s craft. He arrived drunk. When the time came for his lecture, he stepped up to the podium, looked out at the host of eager young faces, and asked, “How many of you here are really serious about being writers?” Hands shot up across the lecture hall. Lewis paused, and then said fiercely, “Well then, why the hell aren’t you all home writing?”
And with that he returned to his seat.
This from a man who won both a Pulitzer (which he refused) and a Nobel Prize in Literature. I wish I’d been there to laugh and leave. As a yoga teacher, I often told students that they couldn’t really find yoga in a classroom. Of course there is need of fundamentals, a few rules to guide. Beyond that there are too many distractions in a classroom: other students, the teacher’s voice, and the mirror just to name a few. The learning process itself is the most paradoxical obstacle to the goal. The endless pursuit of technique and preparation leads the yogi in a circular path around the center, never breaking to the core of the issue. Self practice is the key to end this useless cycle. It is the best teacher. It is when you take the practice home, applying it to your life both on and off the mat, that the process begins. The practice itself quickly reveals where work must be done in our relationship with ourselves and our surroundings. Where can we be stronger? Where and why do we hold tension? That is where diligence must be applied to break through to yoga. It is dangerous to seek too much guidance and endless learning. Questions only breed more questions. The practice, however, liberates the practitioner from theory. Through direct experience, all the theories become obvious.
The truth is, transition from theory to practice ain’t easy for me. In a sense, my education made it worse, keeping my nose in a book, my head in the clouds. Like pinballs in my mind, theories and words bounce around full of potential energy. If released, they’ve produced friendships, works of art, amazing journeys. When bottled up, they gain momentum, eventually causing irritation, neurosis, and trouble in my life. The practice of writing opens the gates letting the mental plane exhale onto the page clearly visible. It cuts through the noise of my mind by releasing the pressure. Of course the process is cyclical. Pressure builds and must again be vented. It’s true for everyone. That’s why the practice of yoga has gained such popularity in recent years. People stuff the pressure of life somewhere inside. The practice finds it, and lets it go.
Writing is something I’ve put off for too long. My words writhe in me, anxious to escape. Instead of writing, I distract myself with all manner of diversions, letting them sit in their cage unloved and disrespected. It’s not that I have anything really important to say. There is nothing profound that the world needs. The words in me just express every color of my experience. In the course of each day, they love, question, desire, judge, and ultimately express gratitude when allowed to run free. Finally, I’ve found every excuse is lame. I have no more option but to write.
Any craft requires desire, a pinch of talent, experimentation, constant correction, persistent baby steps, and the occasional giant leap. This leap has always been the first step to great things in my life. It takes courage to jump into the unknown. Thankfully I’ve found some.
Thank you, Mr Lewis. Your perfectly concise lecture from 75 years ago was all I needed to get back in the game.