The Art of Practice
Abhyasa (diligent and continuous practice) and vairagya (non-attachment, unattached awareness) are two Sanskrit words that capture the essence of what my Photo of the Day project was all about. Abhyasa urges us to go deep into life experiences rather than stay shallow. Vairagya is what keeps us humble and reminds us on a regular basis that we may not be ultimately in control of everything.
As daunting as it might sound to add one more practice to your already busy life, I found that the rhythm of daily practice became its own habit and therefore grew easier over time. In fact, taking pictures became the highlight of almost every day! To me, abhyasa was like a lighthouse—a solid, stable, shiny beacon that drew my attention back home to my shores when I felt overextended by life’s busyness and my muse was lost at sea. Daily picture-making created its own fuel that energized me rather than depleted me, fostering a surplus of energy and joy that allowed me to do more each day!
I feel that abhyasa kept me on course and vairagya allowed me to adjust to the unexpected. Having the companionship of abhyasa and vairagya strengthened my relationship to self-inquiry, art, people, and nature. It allowed me to trust that what I do daily makes a difference in this journey and adventure called life.
In the early phase of this practice I observed many fears. These included “stories” such as “I won’t have time,“ “I’m not an artist and therefore the photos won’t be interesting,” “I’ll get bored or distracted,” “ I’ll be too busy to do this everyday,” and “What was I thinking making a commitment such as this?”
How many times do you repeat these kinds of phrases to yourself? How many times do these mantras interfere with your creative process?
One of the amazing things about these self-talk statements is that they are usually not experience based. For example, we anticipate that we will be bored with an experience that we never had; it is only a hypothetical outcome that we are projecting since we really can’t know whether or not we will truly be bored. We make a judgment based upon some rattling of fear or inhibition that only serves to get in the way of undertaking an activity that will likely surprise us with how much it can actually offer to our personal and creative unfolding.
Within the first month of my practice, I discovered that all of the fears I had held were false. In fact, I discovered that the opposite of the assumptions I had held were true.
For example, there always was and is time. I understood that it was simply a matter of how I chose to structure or spend my time. Some days I dedicated only five minutes to taking pictures and it was the perfect amount of time. Other days I spent all afternoon hunting for images. Regardless of which range of the spectrum the practice fell upon, there was always the perfect amount of time to create what wanted to be created that day. I learned that every day IS different and how important it is to be flexible with different amounts of free time or lack thereof. It was helpful to honor the natural rhythms and flow of the day in relationship to work, social life, eating, and other self-care practices, and try not to force the creative process to happen. And when I did this, it just happened.
In some ways, my year with the Photo of the Day practice ended up being the practice I needed to discover my own truths around time management and commitments, as well as to experience the healing potential in nature and art. I also saw how having a creative practice helped to round out and balance my wellness focus. For example, I found that being out in the late afternoon was the best time to catch light, step away from work, and tap into the changing rhythms of the day. And as I did this and enjoyed the sense of vitality that came from it, it energized me so greatly that I found I wasn’t turning as much to coffee or chocolate for a late afternoon energy pick-me-up!
After this year of making pictures, I am completely transformed. I am able to see myself with a much wider lens than ever before. Who would have known that such a simple daily practice could have produced such a deep and lasting gift?
See for yourself, leave your expectations at the door, and digest what you experience via your senses every day. Do this until you are able to articulate for yourself what benefit exist from your daily creative practice without clinging or attaching to the outcome. Trust there is room in your day to practice and that you deserve this creative time.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery has said “A single new habit can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us.” This was my personal experience as I discovered and danced with this beautiful new stranger, who was truly none other than facets of the unexplored me. If you are ready to meet and embrace the stranger in you, I invite you to undertake a daily creative ritual.