Tag Archives: William Stafford

Six Lessons of Persistence and Ritual from William Stafford

Do it daily Let delight guide you Lower your standards Keep it short No preparing is wasted Let your ritual inspire others I’ve recently written about William Stafford’s ritual of writing a poem every early morning. And I’ve covered most of the above lessons – except for two parts. First ‘keep it short’ – Your ritual will usually only work if it’s short. Stafford didn’t try to write Paradise Lost every morning. Most of those poems are short. And blessedly so. They’re a treat to take in, not an indigestible meal. I read Stafford – I don’t read Milton. Sorry Milton, but it’s the truth. I love short poems – it’s why I have a Pocket Poems section in my newsletter. I write long posts and short posts in this blog. People usually respond more to the short ones. Keep it short. Lastly, let your ritual inspire others. I’m a big fan of Robert Bly’s poetry. One of my favorite books of his is called Morning Poems. Guess who he was emulating? They’re all fairly short and there’s an element of sweetness, tenderness and whimsy that to me most likely showed up due to the early hour of writing. You connect with purpose when you let others know about how you persist with your passion and they get inspired. What can Bill Stafford’s six lessons teach you in your quest to persist and on your 40 Days to Change for Good ?

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‘No preparing is wasted” William Stafford’s poem ‘Like Whitman’

We close out our week with William Stafford with a poem of his written on August 27, 1943: If any time was used preparing No preparing is wasted. No preparing at all is wasted. I am meeting you wherever you are. I am on my way. Do not let the distance and the time Of that way influence you. I am coming toward you. Do you know anything of the breakers? (Whatever holds back, outside and inside) Do you realize no preparation is ever wasted? (I am coming toward you). This is another of his early morning poems, his ritual of writing a poem every morning – an inspiration for anyone who has tried 40 Days of Change For Good. Note the date – written in 1943. This was during WWII when Stafford was in a prison-like work camp for conscientious objectors. The conditions in this camp caused a lifetime of bitterness for many of the objectors. For Stafford, it was the ground where a seed of openness to life sprouted. That’s just the kind of man he was. However, I’ll venture that his ritual is the key to unlock his innate openness. He was preparing a life well lived and well written, and as he says above, no preparing is wasted. I play music in a variety of settings and prepare for each of them. Not everyone in those groups goes through the same level of preparation, and I experience frustration. But I’ve noticed over time how true those words that honor persistence, ‘no preparing is wasted’. Every moment of preparation goes into the savings account of experience and expertise and each project somehow aids the others. I don’t know how, but it’s not for me to know, only be grateful for the cross-polination. I experience this as well when I prepare for some trainings that I haven’t led in a while. I over-prepare, but I’m usually thankful I do. And the preparation does something else – it allows me to more fully enter the music, the training content. It allows me to come to you, to ‘meet you wherever you are’. This blog is a form of preparation – it’s a savings account of words from my heart and mind. The 40 Days to Change for Good ritual is another way of depositing into the savings account. The interest from these accounts builds on the deposits and I notice over time – months, years – that I’m more comfortable writing and meeting you wherever you are. We are both on our way – don’t let time and distance dissuade you from that fact. No preparing is wasted.

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When I Met My Muse: William Stafford and looking at the world with your strengths

When I Met My Muse I glanced at her and took my glasses off–they were still singing. They buzzed like a locust on the coffee table and then ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and knew that nails up there took a new grip on whatever they touched. “I am your own way of looking at things,” she said. “When you allow me to live with you, every glance at the world around you will be a sort of salvation.” And I took her hand. –       William Stafford Your muse, your strength, your salvation. Note the phrase, “I am your own way of looking at things.” The things he speaks of are the same things that surround us every day. The difference is that we look at them our way, not someone else’s way. That’s looking at the same old challenges through the lenses of your strengths, your talents, your passion. When we do this, “every glance at the world around you will be a sort of salvation.” The salvation is here, right now, in what Yeats called the foul rag and bone shop of the heart. It’s what we live in every day, today. But when your muse, your talents are allowed to look at your problems for you, often a path opens up where none seemed to exist – a path to a sort of salvation, which paradoxically is deeper into what we often try to avoid. And what a last line! “And I took her hand.” So simple, but it’s as if Queen is playing “We Are the Champions” in that moment. It’s a moment of happiness – a classic positive psychology moment – of looking at and remembering what’s right. There are thousands of moments that go wrong, and few that go right. But to remember when they go right is to amplify those moments’ power and to lay the ground for more right moments. Let’s look at the same old things our own way today. Let that be a sort of salvation. And let’s take our muse’s hand, again and again.

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“I lower my standards”: William Stafford and How Progress Trumps Perfectionism

The poet William Stafford wrote a poem daily – every morning, starting at either 4 or 4:30 AM depending on which account you read. When asked what happened if the poem wasn’t amazing, he replied, “I lower my standards.” Lowering standards – I can see a sea of executives and testing afficionados react in horror. Standards are standards, right? Not if you want to progress at something you care about. There’s time enough for high standards later, when you publish. The daily act of creation, of innovation of producing the work you were born to produce is going to give varying degrees of quality. The important part is to keep the flow flowing, no judgment. And when it does come in, be like William Stafford – lower your standards. This is the second part of a 40 Days to Change for Good ritual – the first part is to do it daily. Robert Frost also tells us to make sure the work is motivated by delight. Progress is the #1 motivator. If you want the power of the #1 motivator as one of your tools, make sure it trumps your urge for perfection. There’s time later for polishing. Lower your standards until you get the flow flowing and the work moving.

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Do It Daily: William Stafford and Persistence

“William Stafford woke up every morning, seven days a week, at 4 a.m., made himself a cup of instant coffee and a piece of dry toast, and stretched out on his family’s living room couch. There, notebook on lap, he wrote until the sun came up. He wrote a poem a day, a process he describes in the short lyric “Just Thinking”: “Got up on a cool morning. Leaned out a window. / No cloud, no wind. . . . Let the bucket of memory down into the well, / bring it up. Cool, cool minutes. No one / stirring. No plans. Just being there.” Stafford was a late bloomer whose first major collection of poems, Traveling Through the Dark, was published when he was forty-eight. It won the National Book Award in 1963. He went on to publish more than sixty-five volumes of poetry and prose.” — “The Poets Laureate Anthology” edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt A poem a day led to sixty-five volumes of poetry and prose. That’s what a sustained, persistent ritual of output produces. This kind of output really seduces me, all the more so because his persistence was rooted in delight. I spent a few years writing a great deal of poetry. Stafford’s ritual inspired me and helped me be ‘in it’. This is what doing anything positive daily consciously can do for you. This is at the heart of the 40 Days to Change for Good ritual. When I play music daily I get inside the music, when I don’t some part of me feels outside the garden walls. What’s important enough for you to do daily at a certain time? What’s your ritual? And is it rooted in delight?

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Just Thinking – a William Stafford Pocket Poem

Got up on a cool morning. Leaned out a window. No cloud, no wind. Air that flowers held for awhile. Some dove somewhere. Been on probation most of my life. And the rest of my life been condemned. So these moments count for a lot–peace, you know. Let the bucket of memory down into the well, bring it up. Cool, cool minutes. No one stirring, no plans. Just being there. This is what the whole thing is about. For a thorough analysis of this poem by Michael Mervosh visit the Hero’s Journey Blog.

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