You do not need a sabbatical or a grant to write a book.
Nor anyone’s permission to do a whole host of things. At 89, Doris Haddock, pictured above, decided to walk from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. to publicize the need for campaign finance reform.
Practice: Asking yourself “What do I lack permission to do?” may not work.
Sneakier, and more effective, is urging others to do something they hesitate to do: play the harmonica or run a marathon; get a gizmo that works in theory to actually work, and then patent it. Give enough other people permission for long enough, and a pattern will emerge. That’s what you need permission to do.
Related Practices: No Easy Jobs, Please
At least one aspect of boredom is a failure of perception. We can never be legitimately bored by the world. Moss, under a microscope, exceeds our imaginative and intellectual capacities.
Focus, we are told. Bear down. Lean in. Boredom is a state to avoid.
Or a state to study. Boredom is worth looking at, in the same way a kaleidoscope is.
Practice: With so many lively patterns present, how has stasis become the one you focus on? What interests you about your loss of interest?
Related Practices: Vicarious, Alert emptiness
She kept encouraging her mind to feel its discomfort, trying to let it intensify so she could identify what it was.
The pain that never bothers you enough to pay attention to it is your enemy — medically, psychologically, operationally.
Practice: Leaning into pain and allowing it to intensify is counterintuitive, to say the least. But it is this month’s practice.
Allowing a sensation to intensify is a way to gather information: You cannot address what you have not acknowledged.
Related Practices: Play, Contraries
Every spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment.
Not only is it the only spring, no one appreciates it the exact way you do.
Practice: Sink more deeply into your own senses; they are what allows you to take in the season. Your sense of smell plus lilacs. Your visual acuity (or lack thereof ) and the changing angle of light.
The annuals that have started to crop up at the grocery store? They’re waving at you.
Related Practices: Patchwork Quilts
Also thanks to the people who advise and guide and patiently explain why this bit is rubbish and that character wasn’t even in the story until page 274 and everyone in the book has glasses on …
Dinise Mina, in the Acknowledgements to one of her mysteries
Other people help us all the time, if only by growing the produce we eat or keeping the traffic lights in working order — matters we tend to notice only when they go wrong. We see them as part of modern life, which is to say we don’t see them.
Practice: Trying to “practice gratitude” is an iffy proposition. Instead identify a specific place and a time — the entrance to the grocery store, the traffic light at the bottom of the hill — to name a benefit you appreciate and acknowledge those who made it happen.
See also: Rough Drafts, The Mind Craves Images
The pictures from the Hubble telescope are so astounding, so pleasing, so beautiful: they’re like patchwork quilts.
Bobbie Ann Mason, Master Class, by Nancy Bunge
Notice the effort Mason puts into describing what she sees. After three tries, she’s still not satisfied: “They’re like patchwork quilts.”
Getting to what you see, what you think, what you feel takes effort. The reward is getting to savor, in greater detail, your own way of being in the world. Metaphor is particularly rewarding in this regard: Only you would compare this to that.
Practice: Come up with a metaphor for something, anything, that catches your attention. The more often you do this practice the more precise — and odder — your comparisons will become.
Related practices: Rough drafts
She taught herself French while she churned butter, so that she might read Rousseau’s
Confessions in the original — a book, as it turned out, that she hated.
Maria Popova on Elizabeth Bisland
Oops. Plans are one thing and outcomes are another. Both are real, but our minds eagerly fasten on plans that don’t turn out as intended.
Practice: When you hear yourself describe something as a mistake, recast the story: “She churned butter while she taught herself French which — as it turned out — improved her capacity to focus.”
Silence is so accurate.
Rothko finds silence accurate. I find it restorative. You have your own experience of silence.
Practice: Seek silence. If you generally surround yourself with sound, turn it off — not as policy, as an experiment. (If you find the silence unpleasant, try to identify what puts you off.)
In most fields of endeavor there are no easy jobs; there are only graceful ways of performing difficult ones.
Whether something will be easy or hard is rarely worth considering. Instead, identify what you consider the initial task in the sequence: Sending a one-sentence email. Starting a forty-page report. Calling to apologize. Confronting the contractor.
Practice: Once you have defined the task, picture what executing it gracefully (or forcefully or bravely) would look like. Then let that image lead you. It’s up to you to nudge your behavior toward your ideals — case by case and moment by moment.
“Vicarious” is not a strong enough word to describe the effect of mirror neurons.
Mirror neurons come close to running the show when it comes to empathy and, possibly, to morality as well: We respond to what engages us.
Demagogues dumb us down. People we admire inspire us to try harder. Encouragers rouse us; gloom-and-doomers deplete us.
Practice: Notice which encounters lift you up. Once you tune in, they are easy to identify.
Caution: You may discover you have people in your life you no longer want there.