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Trying to outrun the 21.5.800 challenge...

Today is the final day of Bindu Wiles’ 21.5.800 blog-a-thon. This morning, I wrote my final 800 words. Although this doesn’t feel like the end of something ~ it feels like the beginning.

I’ve been pretty quiet about the whole event, and I haven’t been too active in the #215800 Twittersphere. But I’ve been following the action and working diligently on my writing (daily, 800 words) and meditation (5 times/week, 10 min before bed) practice.

The Writing: I’m pleased to say that I really upheld my commitment to this. I only missed 4 days. I didn’t always write 800 words, sometimes due to time or interruptions. But I’ve ended up with half a notebook filled with reflections, lists, letters, scenes and memories. I stayed with my original commitment to write about my relationship with my brother, and the impact of his recent death. This daily writing practice was the perfect place to channel my sadness and anger and confusion. The notebook is messy and all over the place. I’m kind of scared to read through it. From what I remember, there is no consistent voice, point of view or tense. It alternates between first and third person, past and present tense, memory and fabrication.

Now comes the fun part: I’m going to go through it with a highlighter and coloured pens, and try to find the nugget of the story. I’m going to override my fear. I’m going to start to craft a short story or essay (still haven’t decided what form the story wants to take). I find first drafts to be painful and laborious. The real art is splicing ideas together and playing with language. What I have is approximately 12,000 words, building blocks, raw material to be sculpted and shaped.

The Meditation: This practice wasn’t as successful. I actually haven’t sat at all for about the past week. My attempts were erratic and inconsistent. At times I just completely forgot. I do want to try to persevere with meditation, and this experience has confirmed that I need to seek out a teacher or community. I need support, structure and theory, I think.

The event has been extended for another 10 days, but I’m going to  bow out at this point. I’m tired. I’m kind of glad it’s over. I have a lot of work to do this week, and I’m going on vacation next week. Most of all, I’m excited about digging into that notebook and excavating the gems that have been uprooted.

What I’ve learned from this is a really interesting and effective structure for creativity. I’ve learned how to write without expectation or perfectionism, and to write with the only goal of committing words to a page. I’ve learned how to quiet my editor’s mind and write freely without inhibition. I think this is something I’d do for other projects in the future, to take 21 days for creative exploration and brainstorming, writing a daily quota on a specific topic.

And on a deeper level, for which I don’t even have the words to articulate, healing has taken place, decades of sadness and anger have been reconciled. I felt it happen.

Gratitude to Bindu Wiles and the whole inspiring community (over 500 blogs!) that has sprung up around the 21.5.800 project.

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Okay, so the 21.5.800 challenge has begun and so far, so good! Here is how I’m interpreting the project:

Writing: this is the part I’m most excited about. I’m going to delve into the big F: family. Specifically, my relationship – or non-relationship – with my mentally ill younger brother, who recently died. This story may be one of my essential stories, and it’s the one that I’ve spent my whole life avoiding. So I’m going to use this practice as a way to explore the impact that this relationship has had on my life. At the end of these 21 days, I’m looking forward to having 16,800 words down on paper, which I will then craft into a short story or an essay… or perhaps even a book!

Yoga: to be honest, doing yoga five times a week isn’t a challenge for me. And currently, my asana practice is going along nicely. I could amp it up a bit, by perhaps doing a longer practice, or digging into Shoulderstand. But right now, the aspect of my yoga practice that I want to work on and cultivate is meditation. During my teacher training, my mentor suggested that I take up a meditation practice, which I did, kind of half-assedly. But, as part of 21.5.800, I’m going to train myself to sit in meditation five times a week. As an added bonus, I’m also going to do a simple and powerful yogic practice called the Divine Light Invocation, which I learned while living at Yasodhara Ashram. I used to practice it regularly, but lately only do it sporadically. I’ve found it to be more transformative than any asana practice.

I work well with structure and goals, but not so well with rigidity. My plan is to go out for coffee in the morning for my writing practice (because I love a little ritual, and getting out of the house is good) and to do my meditation practice before bed.

So… Day 1: Since I had planned on having Writing Club (a regular meeting that my writing pal Leesa and I have once or twice a month, to write together and workshop stories and gossip and eat) that evening, I decided to save my 800 words for then. Wouldn’t want to burn myself out on on the first day! Especially since by the time Writing Club started, I had already written three pages in my journal (which doesn’t count ~ nor does blogging!) and finished a 300 word article for the weekly paper I freelance for. The meditation practice didn’t get off to such a good start… I had drank too much wine at Writing Club, so I just crawled into bed and tried to do a reclining meditation before passing out.

Day 2: That pesky wine also caused me to sleep in, but once I was up and mobile, I headed out to Le Boui Boui, my friendly neighbourhood café for an allongé and demi petite dejeuner panini. I pulled out my stopwatch, set it for 30 minutes (a trick I learned from Lynda Barry), opened my notebook and set about writing. While I was working, my friend Laurie stopped in the café – and she knew what I was doing because she reads my blog! And even better, she’s also doing the 800 words/day writing challenge, on her own! Even though she hasn’t officially signed up because she doesn’t have her own blog! That was just the inspiration I needed, and I burned through my 800 words. I mean, they flowed through me. Or something. I haven’t gotten around to the meditation part yet, but I’m planning a quiet, wine-free evening and expect that I should have no problem meditating before sleep.

Stay tuned for periodic updates on how the project is going. Follow along on Twitter at #215800. I most likely won’t be posting the fruits of my writing practice, but I will be open and transparent about the process, and how my meditation practice progresses. Come along for the ride!

The fantastic Bindu Wiles – an inspiring Buddhist writer, yogi, coach, writing advisor and blogger – has created 21.5.800, a community online project and I’ve just signed up for it! How does it work? Starting on June 8, for 21 days I will practice yoga 5 times a week and write 800 words each day. Participants can write anything and practice yoga in anyway that suits them, including just hanging out in savasana.

I can’t wait to get started on Tuesday! But maybe you’re wondering, why would anyone want to take on this crazy  challenge? Bindu offers some convincing reasons:

1. Committing to a short-term project that is challenging and has quotas brings results. In other words, imagine all the writing you will have done in 21 days: 800 x 21= 16,800 words. 16,800 words is roughly 67 pages.

2. Sometimes you need a buddy  and support to get going and get back to the discipline of doing something. It’s easy to blow yourself off, but when other people are doing this and blogging about it, the energy is infectious.

3. The power of community is powerful. With other people online doing the project and blogging and/or tweeting about their process, you know that when you sit down to write or do yoga, many other people are doing the same thing and that’s a motivator.

4. Writing means sitting, and sitting means stiffness. Move a muscle, move a thought. Or for the people who are going to opt into savasana; still the body, still the mind. Either way, putting more movement or more stillness into your life is always a win.

5. Because there are tons of creative ideas and projects banging around inside your head and heart and because I care and want you to get those things out and onto the page, I’m creating a container that can be a vehicle for getting those things actually onto the page. This goes as well for the yoga: it’s easy to blow it off, but this way you are committing to a specific amount for a specific time.

And why I am I doing this challenge? Simply because I want to write but haven’t had the discipline to sit down and do it. I love structured challenges and community support, so I think this will be a good way to get the words down on paper (I’ll have 16,800 of them by the end!). Although I have to admit that the last thing I need this month is a challenge. June is already looking like a very full month. Festival season has descended on Montreal, including my faves, Suoni Per Il Popolo and the Fringe Fest. In addition to my part-time job, I have just accepted another work contract. And the World Cup starts on June 11! I’ve been looking forward to this for the past 4 years.

But somehow, in the midst of dance performances and football matches, I will find time to write 800 words per day and practice yoga 5 times a week (which, I have to admit, I already do… maybe I will vary it up, by writing while I practice or something). You can expect to hear about my journey here!

And head over to Bindu’s blog and sign up yourself!

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